Session 4: A Child’s Rest - The Mercy of God.
Bonus Section included.
One of the biggest errors we can make is allowing ourselves to forget. If you allow yourself to forget the daily mercies you receive from your Father’s hands, mercies you could never earn, it will become easier for you not to parent your children with mercy. Mercy is tenderheartedness and compassion toward someone in need. Our children are just that—needy. They need guidance and protection, they need help and rescue, they need wisdom and instruction, they need confrontation and discipline, they need patience and grace, they need love and compassion, they need support and provision, and they need to see God and themselves with accuracy. There is not a day when your children do not need your mercy. Because of this, your primary calling as a parent is not first to represent God’s judgment, but rather to constantly deliver his mercy.
You see, God’s mercy is the need and hope of every human being whether they know it or not, and God’s mercy is the place of comfort for every one of his children. Every day you are blessed with God’s mercy. Check out these passages.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps. 23:6)
“Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.” (Ps. 28:6)
“As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!” (Ps. 40:11)
“Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” (Ps. 103:4)
“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Ps. 145:9)
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” (Isa. 30:18)
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us.” (Eph. 2:4)
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
Parenting is about being God’s ambassadors in the lives of our children. It is about faithfully representing his message, his methods, and his character to our children. It’s about working to make the invisible mercy of God visible as we respond with mercy toward our children. Hebrews 4:14–16 explains to us exactly what that looks like. Jesus was willing to subject himself to the hardships of life in this fallen world and be tempted in all the ways that we are, so that he would be an understanding high priest, able to sympathize with our weaknesses. The word that is used for weaknesses in verse 15 is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to many different kinds of weakness. It really could be translated that Jesus is able to sympathize with the human condition or with our human frailty. Because he can sympathize with us, we can rest assured that he will bless us with mercy that is form-fitted for the need of the moment.
Parents, that’s our model. Allow yourself to reflect on how much you need God’s mercy now, reflect on how much you needed the mercy of your parents as you grew up, and let sympathy grow in your heart. Mercy is not about being wishy-washy. Mercy is not about letting down your standards. Mercy is not about acting as if the bad things your children do are okay. Mercy doesn’t mean that you abandon discipline and correction. Mercy doesn’t mean that you quit holding God’s law before your children. Mercy is not letting your children decide what they are not mature enough to decide or control what they aren’t able to control. Mercy is not about always saying yes and never saying no.
Mercy is parenting with a tender heart. Mercy is not taking your children’s failures personally, but viewing their struggles with compassion. Mercy is about blessing your children with your patience. It’s about being as careful to encourage as you are to rebuke. It’s about discipline that is kind and correction that is gentle. Mercy is about being firm and unyielding and loving at the same time. It is about refusing to indulge your irritation and your anger. If you’re parenting with mercy, you don’t condemn your children with a barrage of harsh words. If you’re parenting with mercy, you don’t compare your righteousness to your children’s sin, letting them know that their problem is that they’re not like you. Mercy means not allowing your heart to grow bitter or cold. It is about always being ready to forgive, not making your children pay today for the sins of yesterday. Mercy is about moving toward your children with love even in those moments when they don’t deserve your love. Mercy is about being willing to do things again and again without throwing it into your children’s faces that you have to repeat yourself. It’s about refusing to motivate your children by shame and threat. Here’s what mercy means for your parenting: mercy means that every action, reaction, and response toward your children is tempered and shaped by tenderness, understanding, compassion, and love. Parenting is a life-long mission of humbly, joyfully, and willingly giving mercy.
How about stopping right now and confessing that you regularly lay down concrete evidence of your need for God’s mercy as a parent? How about also celebrating that that mercy is yours as his child? And how about looking for ways to make the invisible mercy of God visible?
Responses of Mercy
Parents, here’s what God has called us to: he has called us to be his first responders in the lives of our children. The fireman who willingly runs into a burning building or the EMT who runs up the stairs to assist a man who has just had a heart attack is on a mission of mercy. Being a first responder is always motivated by the combination of an awareness of need and compassionate desire to help. You are God’s first responders, called to rush in with help when your child is in danger because of burning desire or an attack of temptation. That first responder is not there to lecture, judge, or condemn, but to provide the rescue that is needed but that the person cannot give to himself. First responders willingly expend their time and energy day after day on missions of mercy. God calls us as parents to live with the heart of a first responder, ready to run toward difficulty to provide, rescue, protect, help, and heal. You have not been called to be a bystander or a critic, but to be an agent of rescue. First responders don’t take the needs of others personally, and they don’t get mad that their day has been interrupted. They know what they are trained to do, and they are ready and willing to do it each time the need arises. So it is with us as parents; every day that you have with your children will provide you with another set of opportunities to go out on another mission of mercy. Every day you will be called into action to meet needs that your children can’t meet on their own. Yes, parenting really is a lifelong mission of mercy, so let’s consider what that looks like.
Look for every opportunity to shower your children with grace.
Remember that the law of God has the power to expose the sin in your child’s heart and the law is a wonderful guide for your child’s living, but it has no power at all to rescue, transform, or deliver your child. As a parent you have to daily resist asking the law to do what only grace is able to produce. So you have not only been called to introduce the law to your children, but to be a constant model of God’s grace in their life as well. Grant them the grace of compassion, the grace of tenderness, the grace of acceptance, the grace of loving wisdom, the grace of tender love, the grace of kind instruction, the grace of gentle discipline, the grace of perseverance, and the grace of fresh starts and new beginnings. And as you do these things, remember that grace is not about calling wrong right, because if wrong were right grace would not be needed. No, grace moves toward wrong, not to condemn, but to rescue, restore, help, and forgive.
Be careful to help your children see the heart behind the behavior.
You must never forget that the mission of mercy you are on as you parent your children does not target just their behavior, but what forms and shapes their behavior: the heart. Anytime anyone is helped to see his heart, and in seeing his heart, to own his need, he is experiencing God’s mercy. Asking your child what he was thinking and feeling, what he was wanting, or what he was seeking to accomplish gets him to examine his heart even for a brief moment. As you do this over and over again, day after day, you child grows in heart awareness. And his growing heart awareness gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work conviction into his heart and a desire for help and change.
Be patiently committed to process.
You have to work to remind yourself that the mission of mercy you’ve been sent on by God is seldom an event and almost always an extended process. You won’t have your first heart conversation with your son or daughter and have them say, “Mom, I get it. I have sin in my heart and my heart is ruled by things that shouldn’t rule it and I need rescue and forgiveness. Where can I find the Redeemer?” That just won’t happen. God has called you to a process of many mini-moments of insight that lead to many mini-moments of change. You must be patiently willing to have similar heart conversations again and again, praying each time that God would do in the heart of your son or daughter what you could never do.
Point your kids every day to Jesus.
Because the only true hope and help for your child is found in the person, work, presence, and grace of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, you must introduce your children to him early in their lives and look for opportunities every day to talk about his wisdom, power, sovereignty, love, and grace. Talk about why it was necessary for Jesus to live the life he lived, die the death he died, and rise again conquering death. Talk about how Jesus purchased their acceptance with God because they could never earn it on their own. Talk about how Jesus delivers them from sin, because they could never escape it on their own. Talk of how, if they come to him for help, he will never turn them away. Talk about how much you need the grace of Jesus every day.
Every time you discipline or correct your children, talk about their spiritual need and how it is met by the person and work of Jesus. Don’t let a day go by without your children somehow, someway hearing the beautiful truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ once again. The mission of mercy you’ve been sent on as a parent has the gospel as its center. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate rescue mission.
Humbly accept your limits.
You must daily resist the temptation that by the volume of your voice, by the strength of your words, by threat, guilt, or manipulation, by the power of your anger, by pointed finger and the stern look on your face, by elaborate or extended punishments, or by shaming and name-calling you can do what only God can do. Faith as a parent means that you rest every day in God’s presence and power, and because you do, you aren’t frustrated by your limits. It is vital to remember that God will never ever ask you to be anything more than a tool in his powerful and capable hands. You are freed from the burden of changing your children. You have been liberated from the responsibility to make them believe. You have not been asked to cause them to think or desire what is right. You are simply called to expose what is bad, point to what is good, and talk about the Redeemer who can lead them from the one to the other. Resist loading onto your shoulders what your shoulders can’t carry, and celebrate the fact that Jesus is with you, in you, and for you, doing through you what you couldn’t do.
Remind your heart each morning to rest in the presence and power of your heavenly Father.
For most parents worry is more natural than rest. It is more natural to once again work through your catalog of parenting “what ifs” than it is to trust God. It is more natural to dread what may happen than to believe that God is at work in your daily efforts. It’s natural to envy another parent who seems to have it easier than you or whose kids seem to be doing better than yours. It’s tempting to have a bad moment with one of your children and then become anxious about what their life might become if they don’t change. It’s easy to have your parenting more driven by fear than it is by faith. So you need to start every day by reminding yourself of God’s incalculable glory, his awesome power, his boundless love, and his amazing grace. And you need to tell yourself daily that God’s glory doesn’t just define him, but redefines who you are as his child. He has showered his glory down on you by grace. You need to start each parenting day remembering that all that God is, in his magnificent glory, he is for you by grace. Take a moment to remember and rest and then go out and parent with a heart filled with hope and courage, not because things are easy or going well, but because God is your Father, and he has unleashed his glory on you.
Willingly confess your faults.
It is vital to remember that it’s not just your children who are in that long process of change; you are too. You are not yet all that God’s grace has the power to help you to be. You have not graduated from your daily need of God’s rescue and forgiveness. Because of this, you will think bad things, you will desire wrong things, and you will give way to frustration, impatience, and anger. There will be moments when you lose your way. You will have a bad day. You will fall into saying and doing things more out of anger than grace. Good parenting is not just about being a good example; it is also about humbly confessing when you haven’t.
If you’ve blown it, don’t activate your inner lawyer and defend yourself; don’t reason away your wrong and resist denying what you’ve done. You don’t have to defend yourself, because Jesus has presented the ultimate defense to the Father in his life and death. So you are free to be humble, free to be honest, and welcome to confess without fear of God’s rejection.
But your children need to hear your confession as well. It won’t be long before they begin to understand that their mom or dad is less than perfect. They will be at the other end of your anger. They will feel the tension of your frustration. They will experience the pain of your harsh words. And if you talk all the time about their need to confess and seek forgiveness, but they never see you do the same, their frustration will grow and their hearts will be hardened. Humble confession turns wrong into a grace. It is a grace whenever your children see a humble heart modeled by you and as they do, it helps them to be more tender and willing to confess too.
Your children probably do not live under the delusion that you are perfect, and you better not give way to that delusion either. Encourage your children to seek God’s help by being willing to show them how you seek God’s help too.
Root all that you require, say, and do in the wonderful wisdom of Scripture.
Your job as a parent is not to produce little clones who like what you like, dress like you dress, eat what you eat, enjoy the music you enjoy, share you aesthetic tastes, and are committed to your politics. Your job is be God’s tool for the purpose of forming the image of God’s Son in your children. And for that job, the Bible is your primary tool. You goal is not only that your children would stay inside God’s boundaries, but also that they would think about all of life from the perspective of God’s Word. In the Bible your children learn who God is, who they are, and what the meaning and purpose of life is. They learn about the danger of sin and the rescue of God’s grace, they learn how to fight temptation, and they learn what is right and what is wrong. In Scripture they are taught God’s plan for their bodies, their minds, their relationships, their money and possessions, their sexuality, their relationship to authorities, and much more. But most of all they are confronted with the radical truth of a God of glorious love who sent his Son to provide us rescue because we could not rescue ourselves.
Don’t let Sunday or the children’s or youth ministry be the only time your children are taught God’s Word. Determine that how you relate to them, what you say to them, and the daily counsel that you give them will be driven and shaped by the truths of God’s Word. Talk to them about how thankful you are for God’s Word, how it not only has rescued you but also taught you to think about everything in a new way. Schedule a time every day to sit as a family and learn from God’s Word and then talk about the truths of the Bible as your children are getting ready for their day, as you’re providing transportation, as you’re hanging out in the kitchen, and as they’re on their way to bed (see Deut. 6:4–9, 20–25).
I’m not talking here about self-righteousness, quasi-angry biblical lectures used more to condemn than to rescue. I’m talking about your love for Scripture and the wisdom that you have gained from it naturally coloring your moment-by-moment interactions with your children. This is about you being a person of the Word so that you can grow up children who also love God’s Word.
Don’t treat opportunities like hassles.
Here’s the problem every parent faces: your best opportunities to get at issues of the heart in your children won’t be on your schedule. They will come when you’re in a moment you neither planned nor expected. There will be an argument in the car, a skirmish on the way to bed, a heated debate at the dinner table, an unexpected call from a teacher, the evidence of homework undone, something you’ve found in your children’s room, a text that you discover on your child’s phone, or a late-night refusal to obey. It is so easy in these moments to throw your hands up in frustration and say or do things that you shouldn’t. So it’s important to remember what has been a theme in this book. If your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it is never a hassle, never an interruption, never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your children and has put them in a family of faith, and he will reveal the need of their hearts to you so that you can be his tool of rescue and transformation. It is important to see these moments as opportunities of grace and resist turning a moment of ministry into a moment of anger.
Be slow to anger and quick to forgive.
Perhaps there is no more important commitment in parenting than the commitment to own your anger and seek God’s help to resist its draw. The things parents say and do in anger are invariably the things they live to regret. There are angry moments I wish I could take out of history and remove from the memory of my children. For parents, there is probably no more powerful argument for our need of grace than our struggle with irritation, frustration, and anger toward our kids. We need to seek God’s help and to commit to resist. For some of us this means getting out of the room to calm down and pray, if only for a couple minutes. For some of us it means we are too angry to deal with something, so we will either wait until later or look for another opportunity. For some of us this means confessing when anger has gotten in the way of what God intended to do through us for our children.
Start every day by confessing the anger of the previous day and by asking God to give you the grace that you need so that your responses to your children would not be driven by the condemnation of anger, but by the rescue of forgiveness.
Pray before, during, and after.
Parenting really is all about praying without ceasing from before your children are born to long, long after they leave your home. It is about constant prayer for God’s grace for you and for them. It’s quietly praying for them and you as they’re getting up, as you’re making them breakfast, as you’re with them throughout the day, or as you send them off to school. Parenting is about praying for your children when you’re helping them get an afternoon snack or as you’re trying to get them to talk about their day. It’s about praying for them as you instruct, correct, and discipline. It’s about moments when your children hear you pray for them and hear you pray for you. Parenting is about teaching your children to pray.
You pray before, during, and after because prayer requires three things: a recognition of God’s position, an admission of your need, and a surrender to God’s plan. When it comes to parenting, you just can’t pray enough. And the more you pray, the more you confess your limits, the more you rest in God’s power, the more you’ll be freed from the temptation to do in and for your children what only God can do.
Do all of these things over and over again.
Parenting is about the willingness to live a life of long-term, intentional repetition. God has called you to a life of patient perseverance. He has called you to be willing to do the same thing over and over again. He’s called you to slow down, settle in, and let him progressively do through you what only he can do. He’s called you to believe that his plan and his timing are always right. He’s called you to be willing to live with what is incomplete and to be thankful for each new step that is taken. And he’s called you to look for opportunities every day to be part of his process of grace in the lives of your children. Here’s the bottom line: he has called you not only to parent your children but to lay down your life for them. He has called you to expend the major effort, time, and energy of your life for your children’s welfare. He’s called you to be his tool of grace again and again and again. Parenting really is a life of holy repetition.
A PRACTICUM ON GODLY DISCIPLINE:
Godly discipline is loving:
Revelation 3:19 ESV
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Proverbs 12:1 ESV
1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
Godly discipline is necessary.
Hebrews 12:4–11 ESV
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Godly discipline is physical.
Hebrews 12:11 ESV
11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Proverbs 22:15 ESV
15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
Proverbs 13:24 ESV
24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Godly discipline protects.
Proverbs 29:15 ESV
15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 23:13–14 ESV
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
Godly discipline is a blessing.
Job 5:17 ESV
17 “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
Psalm 94:12 ESV
12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law,
Psalm 23:4 ESV
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.