Parenting for the Glory of God
Exalt Conference | Cincinnati, Ohio
What we saw yesterday was that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The greatness and beauty and all-sufficiency of God is seen most clearly when his people are so satisfied in him that all competing allurements lose their power. Therefore the essence of worship is being satisfied in God. Worship is when we show the worth of God. And the worth of God is seen best when we cherish him most.
This has stunning implications for being a parent and fulfilling our biblical duty of transmitting the truth of God to our children and bringing them into the experience of authentic worship.
We can boil it down into one main implication: The passion of every biblical parent should be to pursue as much satisfaction in God as he or she can possibly have in this life.
Why Being a Christian Hedonist Is the Best Parenting
Let me spell out some of the reasons why this is God's way of fulfilling your responsibility to transmit the reality of God to your children and help them come to worship God.
1. This is the only way to keep true worship central in your home.
There are millions of Christians who have absorbed a popular ethic that comes more from Immanuel Kant than from the Bible: that it is morally deficient to seek our happiness, to pursue joy, to crave satisfaction, and devote ourselves to seeking it.
This is absolutely deadly for authentic worship and authentic spiritual joy in the family. To the degree that this ethic flourishes, to that degree authentic joy and worship die. For the essence of worship is satisfaction in God. To be indifferent to, or even fearful of, the pursuit of what is essential to worship (namely, your own satisfaction in God) is to oppose worship.
But on the other hand, God is mightily honored when a person knows that he will die of hunger and thirst unless he has God. And so our craving and longing and pursuing after all that God is for us in Jesus magnifies his worth and is therefore the very essence and heart of worship.
If you want to keep God, authentically worshipped, at the center of your home, you must be a parent with a passion for satisfaction in him.
The second reason that a passion for satisfaction in God is the primary goal of parenting is that
2. this agrees with Principle #1 that I mentioned yesterday: the primacy of unconscious influence.
Ninety-nine percent of the actions you perform that influence your children are unpremeditated actions. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Yes, and not only the mouth but the eyes and the hands and the feet. If you are satisfied in God it will come out in a hundred ways that you do not premeditate, because that is what is real and full inside of you. If it's not there you can try with a dozen parenting manuals to build a system of parenting, and it will be contradicted 100 to 1 by the reality of what you are.
The best thing you can do for your children to show them the truth and worth of God is to set your face like flint to maximize your satisfaction in God—until you are so God-saturated that when the child pricks you you bleed God.
The third reason that a passion for satisfaction in God is the primary goal of parenting is that
3. it agrees with Principle #2 that I mentioned yesterday: 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 do what they see you do that makes you happiest.
If this is true, then your aim to influence them to worship God demands that you pursue your own satisfaction in God. They are not blind. In fact they see right through us. They know if God is a mere external ritual and a mere inherited tradition, or if he is the passion of our lives. They can tell if he brings us joy. They can see if our hearts are satisfied with him. And if our hearts are not satisfied, why in the world should they heed our words that he is true and great and to be worshipped and loved and obeyed?
It won't work. The only parenting that works is reality. The only influence that works is authenticity. Real begets real. Authentic begets authentic. Not infallibly. The best of parents can lose a child to the world. But authentic joy in God is the God-appointed way. And it is the most likely to win them.
The startling truth is: if you want your children to be happy in the true God, you should make it your life's passion to be happy in the true God. They don't tend to imitate what they see makes us miserable or bored. They tend to imitate what makes us happy. If God is not seen to be our true satisfaction, it is unlikely that 18 years of church-going will make them think God is worth much.
The number one strategy for transmitting truth about God and worship of God to our kids to be parents whose primary passion is to pursue satisfaction in all that God is for us in Christ.
The fourth reason that a passion for satisfaction in God is the primary goal of parenting is that
4. this breaks the power of parental sins.
A great hindrance to transmitting the reality of God to our children is that we are so prone to sin against them. To use them for our convenience. To take out our frustrations on them with irritability and anger. To refuse to apologize when we have wronged them. To neglect them because of desire for other things. Sometimes we sin against them directly. More often we sin against them indirectly by sinning against our spouse. The pain and disappointment of the marriage relationship takes a heavy toll on the children.
Where does the practical power come from to break the power of cancelled sins, as Charles Wesley put it? Where do we find the spiritual resources to have peace and even joy in the midst of a marriage relationship that simply is not what you want it to be?
It comes from what Thomas Chalmers called "the expulsive power of a new affection." In other words, when your heart is increasingly satisfied in God, that new affection gradually expels old cravings and old frustrations from the heart.
What if you feel that you just must have a spouse to touch you in a certain way, or be with you a certain amount of time, or share in spiritual things with you as you desire, or lose weight, or stop wearing what he or she wears, or fix different food, or get places on time, or not talk so much in public, or not waste money? Suppose you feel that you just must have that change or you will be miserable all the rest of your life.
Your children see this. They are measuring—often unconsciously—where your treasure is, what you really value, where you joy comes from, how sufficient God is to you.
What is the answer to this kind of frustration and all the sins that come with it? Jesus points toward the answer in Matthew 13:44. "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
Notice what drove him: in his joy he went and sold all that he had. The God-appointed way to break the power of a sinful pleasure in our lives, or the power of a frustration at the loss of a legitimate pleasure, is by the surpassing joy that comes from discovering the treasure of the kingdom—that is, fellowship with God. When we find that God is all-satisfying, we are freed to sell everything in order to maximize our enjoyment of that treasure.
Don't take this lightly. Selling everything is no small loss. It may be the loss of some business, or some long cherished habit, or some legitimate marital desire—whatever it is, Christ is more satisfying. And when you experience that, you are freed from the enslaving power of resentment and irritability and anger and self-pity and moody distractions.
In other words, the power of sin and the power of disappointment and frustration are broken by the surpassing pleasure of knowing God in intimate fellowship. This was Paul's testimony in Philippians 3:8, "I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . I count all things as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ."
This is what I mean by a passion to be satisfied in God. When all that God is for us in Christ satisfies our hearts this much—so that by comparison all else is rubbish—then we are free from the dominion of sin. Our children will see this and feel this. It will mean we are free for them. They will recognize that it is the value of Christ that keeps us from being crushed by financial stress, or health breakdown, or job disappointments.
O how I recall my father's faith in the midst of great financial difficulty growing up! There was never any doubt in my mind as a boy where my father's joy came from. It came from God and he trusted him implicitly to take care of us. My father was not overcome by gloomy anxiety so that he couldn't play with me. He was not driven to outbursts of irritability. Why? Not because the stresses weren't there. It was because he got his hope and his joy and satisfaction from God, and not from circumstances. He had a passion for staying satisfied in God. And that broke the power of loss and frustration and anxiety and sin. I was the beneficiary of my father's pursuit of satisfaction in God.
How to Parent with Pleasure in God
Let me conclude with some suggestions of how to be that kind of parent—a parent whose passion is to be as satisfied in God as you can be in this age.
One crucial part of the answer is prayer.
Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ is not natural for sinful human beings. If we are going to have that kind of satisfaction, it will be a supernatural working in our lives by God himself.
Therefore, if we long to experience this freeing satisfaction in God, we should ask for it the way Moses did in Psalm 90:14-15,
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
If we want to be satisfied with God's love and be glad in his goodness, we should cry out for it in prayer. We often have not because we ask not (James 4:2).
The reason prayer is so crucial in God's economy is that more than anything else it highlights the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. In prayer we get the satisfaction as beneficiaries and God gets the glory as the benefactor.
That's why Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete . . . I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father" (John 16:24; 14:13). Prayer is the admission of our weakness and the Father's strength, our emptiness and his fullness, our need and his all-sufficiency. Let your child turn 13 and if you don't pray—desperately pray—you don't realize what's at stake. Both in your need for resourceful satisfaction in God, and for their protection.
Meditation on the Word of God
Prayer does one of its most deep and satisfying works when it intersects with the Word of God in our lives. Without prayer the Word lies before us as a blank page. We must cry out again and again with the psalmist, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Psalm 119:18). "Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees" (Psalm 119:12).
When God draws near to a person and answers these prayers, the Word becomes a source of life-changing delight. "His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:2). "The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart" (Psalm 19:8).
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey form the comb (Psalm 19:9-10).
Meditating on the Word of God in a spirit of prayer is the primary means of replenishing the satisfaction in God which frees us for sacrificial love. The Word gives life (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23); it begets and sustains faith (Romans 10:17; John 20:31); it encourages hope (Romans 15:4); it sets us free (John 8:32); it works holiness (John 17:17); it revives the soul (Psalm 19:7); it gives light to the eyes (Psalm 19:8); it nourishes assurance (1 John 5:13); it defeats the devil (Ephesians 6:17; 1 John 2:14).
It is no wonder that Jesus said of his own words, "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11 RSV). And no wonder Jeremiah and the psalmists exulted to know and "eat" the Word of God. "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long" (Psalm 119:97). "Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart" (Psalm 119:111). "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight" (Jeremiah 15:16).
This experience has been true for God's people all through the centuries. Consider for example the story of "Little Bilney," one of the early English Reformers who was born in 1495. He was outwardly rigorous in his efforts at religion. But there was no life within. Then he happened to receive a Latin translation of Erasmus' Greek New Testament.
I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Timothy 1: "It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principal." This one sentence, through God's instruction and inward working, which I did not then perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that ... immediately I ... felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, insomuch that "my bruised bones leaped for joy." After this, the Scriptures began to be more pleasant to me than the honey or the honey comb.1
Another great man of prayer and faith discovered the satisfying and sanctifying power of the Word in his own devotions. George Mueller lived from 1805 to 1898 and is famous for establishing orphanages in England and for depending on God for all his needs. In his Autobiography he told the story of how he discovered the need to use the Scriptures to satisfy his soul every morning.
I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished ...
I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began therefore, to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning.2
1 From a letter cited in Norman Anderson's, God's Word for God's World, p. 25.
2 Autobiography of George Mueller, compiled by Fred Bergen, (London: J. Nisbet Co., 1906) pp. 152-4.