Ever since my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child, we have taken our preparation for parenting very seriously. There is something about having a child on the way, that will force you to take a serious look at your living habits, spiritual life, health, finances, etc. For the first few months, Shelby and I bought every parenting book we have ever wanted to read. I recruited 2 other soon to be fathers and we began to read through Doug Wilson’s “Father Hunger”. Shelby and I listened to sermons on parenting, watched videos on parenting, discussed education, family worship time, discipline, and even college. Since her and I are both “type A” personalities, this led to a slew of action plans, and our unborn child’s life being planned out for the first few years, before we even know what sex the baby was.
The point of this post, however, is not to downgrade the importance of these discussions. In fact, the Lord was gracious enough to show us more of our sinfulness and his holiness during this time than he ever had before in our marriage. Shelby and I have grown closer in our relationship, not just as husband and wife, but friends. Furthermore, there were many great decisions made for our family that had been needed for some time. We are thankful for the Lord showing himself faithful, in how he grew us as a couple and individuals over the past 4 months, but no lesson has been greater than the subject of this post.
I believe it was Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the Scottish preacher from the 1800’s, who said of his ministry, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” This was a quote I have heard often, even one that I have thrown out, tweeted, or brought up in a conversation in order to get a “hmmm” or a “that’s good”. But that is, for the most part, where it has stopped. I could not agree more with M’Cheyne. One of the highest callings (aside from our call to know God), is our call to personal holiness (c. 1 Peter 1:15-16).
We do not talk about this reality much or take it as serious as scripture does, and shame on us for not. I spend a lot of time focusing on my teaching and ministry now or the ministry God has for me in the future. I pour over book after book on church, training and teaching strategy. My presupposition when approaching scripture is seeking out transforming principles for the saints, rather than my heart. Holiness is something to be taken seriously, but before it is to be taken seriously in the pulpit, it has to be taken seriously at home. This has been the greatest lesson over the last 4 months. If there was ever a time to get serious about our relationships with the Lord, and our pursuit of holiness it was now. The Lord has seen fit, to knit together a son or daughter, a mind, a heart, a soul and intrust it to our care. This is not something to be taken lightly. I know plenty of people, myself included, that have had to work through false images or attributes of God because of an earthly father who did not understand who God was himself.
One night over dinner, in the midst of conversation, Shelby and I realized that the Lord had been working on both of our hearts. He had placed on our heart, a desire to set aside everything, and press deeply into who God is. So we decided to put down the parenting books for the time being, and pick up our Bibles. To spend less time deciding what the best family devotional would be and press into the one whom those devotionals will be about. We decided that for the next 5 months, until our little one arrives, to spend time getting to know the God who calls us to holiness. After all, if the starting point for our holiness, is not the most holy thing in existence, we are doing it wrong.
Does this mean that we are not preparing? Not at all. We still talk often about how to train up our child in the way they should go, or how we can best be a reflection of God’s grace to our children. We just allow those conversations to flow out of who God is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he is going to do.
The practical side looks like this:
- Scripture and Prayer: This is how God chooses to communicate with his people. We would be foolish to neglect this as the foundation. David, in Psalm 119, says scripture is as sweet as honey. We are going to spend the next 5 months developing a sweet tooth that will Lord willingly be passed down to our children.
- Stirring up. At the top of this blog you will see a line “Finding those things which stir my affections for Christ & filling my life with them. Finding that which robs my affections for Christ & leaving them at any cost.” Shelby and I are taking this more seriously than ever before.
- Books. By God’s providence, there were already a number of books on our reading list this year that had to do with the attributes of God, knowing him, pursuing holiness, etc. We have moved those books to the top of the list. Here are a few:
- Knowing God, Packer (this will be a book I will read and re-read several times this year)
- Gospel Deeps, Wilson
- Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer
- Christ Formed in You, Hedges
- Set Apart, Bridges
- Holiness of God, Sproul (book and video series)
- Community: When my wife and I surround ourselves with people who care about holiness, we find our selves caring deeper about holiness. But, when we surround ourselves with people who care more about other things, we find our affections torn in that direction. So we are going to fill our lives, for the most part, with people who love Christ deeply.
To close, I am not trying to suggest that parenting books are bad. In fact, there are a number of them I would highly recommend. Nor am I suggesting that parents who are preparing differently than us are going to fail as parents. This was something the Lord made abundantly clear to Shelby and I not by some “feeling”, but by what we consistently see in scripture (something I hope to write on more).
I will close with this, when Shelby first told me that I would be a father, she handed me her iPhone with an unusual smile on her face. When I looked down on the screen, it was the ESV app, on Psalm 127 where the Psalmist uses a very specific analogy for children. He calls them “arrows in the hand of a warrior”. R.C. Sproul Jr., in his book “Believing God” points out that this is not some random illustration. If we are truly fighting a war, “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12) than our children are future weapons that will carry on that fight. The point that the psalmist is making here, is that our children are future weapons that need to be sharpened, trained, raised to know and love God, his Son, his Spirit and his gospel. We as parents cannot do this without first knowing God ourselves. It is our prayer that our pursuit of knowing God, takes root in our heart, driving our pursuit of holiness, and ultimately forming the foundation of our parenting.
What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other persons has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God? -J.I. Packer (Knowing God, p. 34)