Parenting for the Glory of God
Exalt Conference | Cincinnati, Ohio
As I have thought and prayed about the task assigned to me in these two messages (today and tomorrow), what I believe I should do is weave together three realities: worship—because it's the theme of Exalt 94; parenting—because it's the focus of the parents' track; and God—because he is the supreme Reality in every conference and seminary and all of life.
One biblical text where these three realities are woven together clearly is Psalm 78:1-7.
Listen, O my people, to my instruction; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, 6 that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God.
Notice three crucial things:
1. There is to be a transmission from parents to children.
Verse 5: "God commanded our fathers that they should teach their children."
2. The content of this transmission is truth about God.
Verse 4: "Tell the next generation the praises of the Lord, his strength, and the wondrous works that he has done."
3. The aim of this truth transmission is a life of confidence in God.
Verse 7: ". . . that they may put their confidence in God."
First, there is the reality of God, the most important treasure, the most important inheritance, the most important legacy in the world.
Second, there is the relationship between parents and children designed by God as the primary means of transmitting the truth of that reality from one generation to the next.
And third, there is the aim of the transmission, which is not just content in the head, but deep confidence in the heart. And I think we would not be wrong to call the aim of this transmission worship. Our aim as parents is not merely to stock our kids heads with knowledge about God, but to inspire our kid's hearts to worship God.
That's my greatest concern in these two messages—to so portray worship and the God of worship and the transmission process of worship, that our children grow up not just to know about God but to worship the God they know.
Principle #1: The Primacy of Unconscious Influence
Ninety-nine percent of the actions you perform that influence your children are unpremeditated actions. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of them every day. Your facial expressions; your posture; your tone of voice; your gestures; your responses to the dog and the weather and the slipping clutch and the dripping faucet and the late spouse and the TV news; and a hundred other spontaneous expressions of who you really are. Ninety-nine percent of the behavior that influences your child is unpremeditated.
Principle #2: The Contagious Power of a Happy Example
Your children will most likely imitate what they see makes you the happiest, not what they hear you tell them to do, or even what they see you do but don't like to do. They will mostly imitate what they see you do that seems to make you happiest.
The implications of these two principles is that we parents should devote most of our energy to becoming a certain kind of person, not to trying to master parenting strategies. It will never work. You will never stop producing 99% of your child-influencing actions spontaneously. You would go insane if you tried to ponder several options before all the hundreds of minute actions that make up your day and your relationships. Your only hope—if you want to influence your children for God—is to be a certain kind of God-besotted person, so that when you react spontaneously what they see is God.
And if children imitate what really makes you the happiest, then the priority of parenting must be to find your deepest satisfaction in God, so that your joy in him spills over in what you say and do.
With that in mind let me try to tackle this great cluster of themes: worship, parenting and God.
The Essence and Extent of Worship
What I find in the New Testament is a stunning indifference to the outward forms and places of worship, and at the same time a radical intensification of worship as an inward, spiritual experience which therefore has no bounds and pervades all of life, including the home and all that happens between parents and children.
So what I want to try to do in the rest of our time this morning is get at
- the essence of that radical, authentic, inward experience called worship;
- and why it is that this experience not only comes to expression in the gathered congregation, but also pervades everyday life.
My answer in advance is that the essential, vital, indispensable, defining heart of worship is the experience of being satisfied with God. And the reason this worship pervades all of life is that all Christian behavior is properly motivated by the thirst for more and more satisfaction in God.
God's Infinite Exuberance for God
Now let me try to take you with me in a process of biblical reflection that will, I hope, persuade you that these things are true.
I start with God. The root of our passion and thirst for God is God's own infinite exuberance for God. The root of my quest for satisfaction in God's glory is God's jealousy that his own satisfaction in his own glory be known and shared by his people.
God is infinitely committed to preserving and displaying his glory in all that he does from creation to redemption. And in this commitment we see his zeal and love and satisfaction in his glory.
God creates for his glory.
Isaiah 43:6-7 "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory."
God elects Israel for his glory.
Jeremiah 13:11 "'I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me,' says the LORD, 'that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.'"
God saves them from Egypt for his glory.
Psalm 106:7-8 "Our fathers rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake that he might make known his power."
God restrains his anger in exile for his glory.
Isaiah 48:9,11 "For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you . . . For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another."
God sends Christ to earth for his glory.
Romans 15:7-8 "Christ became a servant to the circumcision to show God's truthfulness . . . and in order that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."
John 17:1 "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee."
God sends his Son the second time for his glory.
2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 "Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed."
In other words God is so overflowingly, unashamedly satisfied with his own glory that he devotes all his energies to making this glory known. The creation of the universe, the history of redemption and the consummation of all things are driven ultimately by this great passion in the heart of God—to exult fully in his own glory by making it known and praised among all the nations.
Again and again in the Psalms God commands that his glory be proclaimed among the nations. Psalm 96:3, "Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all peoples." And then he commands the peoples to praise his glory. Psalm 117:1, "Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!"
Is This Loving?
But now reflect on this for a moment. Is not God's overflowing excitement about his own glory the root and ground of ours. If God is so satisfied with his glory that he makes its display the goal of all that he does, then is not his own satisfaction in himself the root of our satisfaction in him?
But putting it that way doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter. To get to the heart of the matter we need to ask why it is a loving thing for God to be so self-exalting; and why, if we come to share his satisfaction in himself, it is the essence and heart of worship.
God Must Give Us God
The answer to the first question—why is it loving of God to be so self-exalting that he does all that he does for his own glory—came to me with the help of C. S. Lewis when I was pondering the fact that in Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14 Paul says that God performs all the acts of redemption so that we might praise his glory. In his early days as a Christian, Lewis was bothered by the commands of God to praise God. They seemed vain.
But then he saw an utterly crucial thing that shows why this is not vain but profoundly loving of God to do. Here the all-important insight that he wrote:
The most obvious fact about praise . . . strangely escaped me. . . I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise . . . The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars . . . My whole, more general difficulty about praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of complement that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 93-95)
In other words genuine, heartfelt praise is not artificially tacked on to joy. It is the consummation of joy. Joy in some beauty or some value is not complete until it is expressed in some kind of praise.
Now if God loves us the way the Bible says he does, then he must give us what is best for us. And what is best for us is Himself. So if God loves us God must give us God, for our enjoyment, and nothing less. But if our enjoyment—if our satisfaction in God—is incomplete until it comes to completion in praise, then God would not be loving if he was indifferent to our praise. If he didn't command us to praise him, he would not be commanding us to be as satisfied as we could be, and that would not be loving.
So what emerges on reflection is that God's self-exaltation—his doing everything to display his glory and to win our praise—is not unloving; it is the only way that an infinitely all-glorious God can love. His greatest gift of love is to give us a share in the very satisfaction that he has in himself, and then to call that satisfaction to its fullest consummation in the expression of praise.
The love of God is expressed by the repeated biblical commands that we rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:6) and that we delight ourselves in the Lord (Psalm 37:4) and that we serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2) and that we be glad in the Lord (Psalm 32:11), and by the manifold promise that "in thy presence is fullness of joy and at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).
From all this I conclude that the essential, vital, indispensable, defining heart of worship is the experience of being satisfied with God. This is why Jesus and the apostles were so stunningly indifferent to external forms and so radically intent on the inward, spiritual authentic of worship. Without the experience of heartfelt satisfaction in God, praises are vain. If genuine praise can flow from a heart without satisfaction in God, then the word "hypocrisy" has no meaning, and Jesus' words are pointless when he says, "They worship me with their lips (that is, with praises), but their heart (that is, their satisfaction) is far from me" (Matthew 15:8).
Satisfaction is Our Service
The reason satisfaction in God is the heart of worship is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is utterly crucial to see, because there are so many people who think that God is honored by dutiful compliance with outward ordinances. But we all know better.
If I arrive home with flowers on my anniversary and tell Noël that I did it out of husbandly duty, she will not feel so honored as if I tell her that I loved doing it and that it made me happy. In fact she feels honored in direct proportion to the degree that my bringing her flowers and spending the evening with her makes me glad.
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
The implications of this for the ministry of parenting are immense. That is what we turn to tomorrow.