Topical Scripture: Genesis 46:1-7
A father came home from work to find his little girl brushing the dog’s teeth with his toothbrush. He was horrified, and asked her what she was doing. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, daddy, I’ll put it back like I always do.”
Fathers deserve a day.
You’ve heard the bad news about men and fathers: one in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present; just a quarter of adult men attend church regularly; only slightly more ever read their Bibles; only a third even claim to be “born again.”
The clear pattern from years of family counseling is that a bad or absent father can harm the education, personality, vocation, and future of his children. For example, almost all the members of Chicago’s street gangs come from homes with inadequate fathering.
Here’s the good news: it has been proven that good fathering strengthens children and homes in every way. Self-esteem and individual identity, definition of purpose and direction, a basic sense of worth all derive first in a family from good fathers.
A child psychologist spent years studying the faith of children and comparing it to their relationships with their fathers. Here is his famous conclusion: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.”
What an awesome responsibility, and privilege, we have been given!
What would Joseph’s father say to all of us who are fathers, and all of us who are the children of fathers? Here’s the basic point of our study today: where the father goes, his children will follow. Let’s see if this is true for Jacob and for us, and what it all means to our lives and families.
An example to study
Jacob’s story is one of the real roller-coasters to be found in the word of God, and his family rides every up and down with him. His name means “deceiver,” and his story proves its accuracy.
He is born the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, one of the greatest men in all of Scripture.
But he plunges quickly into family deception. As a young man, he cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright, and later deceives his blind and elderly father into giving him the blessing his brother deserves. As a result, he must flee from his brother for his very life, and runs to his uncle in faraway Mesopotamia.
Now things move up, however. On his way to Canaan, God finds Jacob at a place called Bethel. The Lord reveals himself, and covenants to bless him and his posterity.
But soon he slides down again into the depths of deceit. His uncle deceives him into marrying both Leah and Rachel; he tricks his uncle and increases his herds and possessions; finally he runs from his uncle as he ran from his brother.
But again God finds him, this time at a place called Peniel. He wrestles with Jacob until daybreak, and changes his name from Jacob (“Deceiver”) to Israel (“One who wrestles with God”). This is in many ways the high point of his entire story.
Now the slide begins again. His daughter Dinah is defiled by a man named Shechem; then his sons deceive the Shechemites and kill them all. Jacob says to them, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land” (Genesis 34:30). But they are only following their father’s example, going where he has led them.
Finally Jacob returns to Bethel, where he first met God. Here he leads his family to rid themselves of their foreign gods, builds an altar to the Lord God, and worships him. And again, his family follows him.
But the downward plunge comes again. Now Joseph’s story begins. Is it any wonder that his brothers would enslave him and lie to their father? Any wonder that this family would spend twenty years in dysfunction and pain? What their father was, they became. Where he led, they followed.
But God is good. He restores their family through Joseph, and preserves Jacob’s nation and people. Along the way, he gives us an example we can learn from today.
Where the father goes, his children usually follow. Now, what does this fact say to us today?
Principles to practice
Be what you want your family to become. Hear the word of God: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
And then this text: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Lead your children as God leads you.
A father decided to stop drinking the day he staggered home through a snowfall, turned, and saw his little boy walking in his wandering footprints in the snow.
Be the spiritual person you want your children to become. If your family grows to be exactly what you are spiritually, will that be a good thing? The chances are that they will.
Give your family the time love requires. Hear the word of God: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Training and instruction” refer to the idea of nurturing love, of time spent in the things of God, of time invested in their lives and souls. Love takes time. For children, the two are synonymous.
A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose: time with television or with their father. 92% chose time with their fathers.
A friend sent me a touching story about a little boy who asked his hard-working father how much he made per hour. His father was tired, and upset with his son’s question. Finally he said, “I make $20 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Then could I borrow $9?” His irritated father said, “You just want some of my hard-earned money to spend on more toys. When will you stop being so selfish?” He sent him to bed without the money.
Soon he calmed down, and began to feel sorry about the way he had spoken to his son. He went into his bedroom, apologized, and gave his boy the $9 he asked for. The boy was very excited, and pulled a wad of dollar bills out from underneath his pillow. “Why did you want more money if you already had some?” his father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” the little boy replied.
“Daddy, I have $20 now. Can you play with me for an hour?”
Lead with the result in mind. The famous management principle also applies to parenting: begin with the end in view. Remember always that you are molding eternal souls. What do you want them to become?
Hear the word of the Lord: “Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah became what his father wanted him to become. What do you want your children to be like? What end do you want to produce?
What kind of family will you wish you had when your life is done? Start with that end in mind. Begin now.
A family counselor named John Drescher once listed ten things he would differently if he were starting his family over. See if one of these resolutions applies to you:
Show my children more that I love my wife. Laugh more with my children (Oscar Wilde said, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy”).Be a better listener (the average child asks 500,000 questions by age 15).Seek to be more honest, admit mistakes, be human. Stop praying just for my family, and start praying more for me, that I would be the man God wants me to be. Try for more togetherness (counselors surveying a group of junior high boys for two years found that they spent 7.5 minutes per week with their fathers). Do more encouraging. Pay more attention to the little things.Seek to develop a feeling of belonging. Seek to share God more intimately.
The best advice I can give to any father today is this: guard your heart. Keep your heart close to Jesus.
This week I’ve been reading in the book of Numbers, and have been so impressed by God’s daily leadership in the life of Moses. God tells Moses what to do about each and every situation; his cloud leads the people by day and his pillar of fire by night. The text says, “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites setout, and at his command they encamped” (Numbers 9:17-18).
This past Monday, it occurred to me—they could follow God because they were close to him. They stayed under his cloud and by his fire. They stayed close enough to be led in his word and will.
Are you close to Jesus today? Can he lead your family through you? Are you guarding your heart for your sake and theirs?
Do you have a father who is close to God? Have you thanked God, and thanked him? Do you have a father who needs to be closer to God? Have you prayed for him?
Are you blessed with the privilege of fatherhood? Never sell short the influence of your life on the eternal souls of your children. This is life’s greatest responsibility, and privilege.
Let’s give Charles Spurgeon the last word today: “On the mantelshelf of my grandmother’s best parlor, among other marvels, was an apple in a bottle. It quite filled up the body of the bottle, and my wondering inquiry was, ‘How could it have been got into its place?’ By stealth I climbed a chair to see if the bottom would unscrew, or if there had been a join in the glass throughout the length of the bottle. I was satisfied by careful observation that neither of these theories could be supported, and the apple remained to be an enigma and a mystery. [Later on,] walking in the garden I saw a bottle placed on a tree bearing within it a tiny apple, which was growing within the crystal; now I saw it all: the apple was put into the bottle while it was little and grew there.”
Guard your heart. Where you lead, your children will likely follow. This is the promise, and the warning, of God.