Parenting advice is not hard to come by these days. Advice from grandparents and friends, articles, vlogs, and books detailing parenting strategies and philosophies all vie for our attention. When I became a new dad, it was the first time I ever crossed into the noble task of diaper changing. Thankfully my mother-in-law gifted me with a dad handbook complete with diagrams and dad-jokes. Parenting advice can be a blessing or an annoyance—some is good, some is bad, and some of it is just plain silly. It can be stressful for parents at all stages to sift through all the nonsense in search of those precious morsels of good counsel.
In the sea of parenting advice for new dads, how many people stop and dwell on the example of God the Father when looking for instruction on parenting? I wish I had done this sooner. The temptation may be to turn every which way to look for parenting advice when the example of our Heavenly Father is clear in the pages of Scripture. David even illustrates the Lord’s compassion as a father’s love toward his children (Ps. 103:13). God reveals himself as the Father on purpose, and his character and deeds are those of an ideal father. When I look to God’s Word, it is clear that the Father raises his children through presence, instruction, and love. And we dads should imitate his example.
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God (Ex. 29:45-46, ESV).
Throughout the Israelite’s exodus through Egypt, God did not leave his children alone. The Father was present with his people. When the children of Israel were sojourners in the wilderness, God provided manna, quail, and water. Later, the Father’s presence through his guiding instruction sustained his people even when he was silent. His presence set them apart from the rest of the world (Ex. 33:16).
In the same way, fathers should be present with their children. They are responsible for caring for their kids. Fathers would do well to imitate God’s commitment to his presence with his people. So many things, even good things, call for our attention, but few are more important than spending genuine time with our kids. Just as the children of Israel did best when they were aware of God’s presence, so too, our children will do best when their dads are visible and active in their lives. Research even shows that children are negatively affected when their father’s are absent.
Of course, fathers must also provide—though that will look different for each family—which usually means spending time away from their children for work. While human fathers can never achieve the omnipresence of God, they can ensure that their children experience their presence through explaining why they are away and how this helps them care for their family. So, for example, when a child is eating lunch and dad is away at work, they can remember they have a father who loves and cares for them. And as the show “Daniel Tiger” emphasizes in one of its episodes, children with present fathers can have confidence, even while their fathers are away, because they know that “grownups come back.”
Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD, And teach out of Your law (Ps. 94:12, NKJV).
God’s instruction of his children is perhaps one of the most neglected practices imitated in Christian homes. The evidence of his instruction is all throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Father made a point to instruct his children in his law. By giving the law, the Lord revealed his character to his people and also made them aware of sin (Rom. 7:7). Then, in the New Testament, he sent his Son, In the fullness of time, to save us from our sin and reconcile us to himself (Gal. 4:4). Now, those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit to instruct them in the Word and lead them into holiness (John 16:13).
Out of this abundant example of God’s priority for instructing his children in his ways, Christian fathers must also place a high value on instructing their children (Prov. 1:8). When it comes to instructing children, opinions abound. But dads can be sure of this: God expects them to diligently raise their children, by his grace, to fear and love him (Deut. 6). Young children are sponges—they perceive new things about the world each day. Even small children will slowly begin to recognize that their parents submit to One who is their authority. However, this must eventually take the form of intentional instruction from the Bible.
The instruction of children is anything but passive. Fathers cannot outsource this responsibility, though other trusted adults will often play a role in a child’s spiritual formation. It is a privilege a blessing for fathers to get to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. And it’s vital, for it helps paint a picture of who our Heavenly Father is, even in the mundane things of life like eating dinner, getting ready for the day, traveling, or doing chores.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
The Father’s love is not contingent on our actions, but proceeds from his very heart. God gave what was most precious to him in order to save his children while we were still in active rebellion against him, while we were his enemies. And he is committed to his children all the way until the end (John 13:1). God’s love is unconditional and sacrificial.
In a world full of independence and self-serving motivations, Christian fathers should see to follow God’s example of sacrificial and unconditional love, however imperfectly. When we forsake other good things to spend time playing with our children, for example, we model a small piece of God’s sacrificial love for us. The love displayed in this sacrifice is not conditional on a lack of temper tantrums or clean rooms. Instead, fatherly love finds its origin in the Father’s love for us. The realization of how it pleased God to sacrifice for the sake of his children in ways that we never could should lead Christian fathers to ask him for a heart to love our kids well.
Even in a world in sexual crisis, society is coming around to the fact that fathers are instrumental. That’s because God’s design for the family—which includes a married father and mother with children—leads to individual and societal flourishing. Because of the fall, families will not be perfect, but fathers should try their best to lavish their children with their presence, faithful instruction in the Lord, and love that points to the One who loves their kids best. As we strive to bring up our children in the ways of God, let us cast aside worldly advice and follow the example of our Heavenly Father. We will not always get it right, but we can trust God to sustain us and ask him to give us the joy of seeing our children walk in the truth (3 John 4).