4 Things Every Child Needs to Hear from a Father

You know what it’s like to go out to dinner and have the waiter pop the question. No, not that question, but “Would you like dessert.”

If I’m paying, I find it rather easy to decline, unless… unless it is one of those restaurants where the waiter doesn’t just ask if you’d like dessert; he brings out a tray of dessert samples—red velvet cake with buttercream icing, apple pie a la mode, the mega fudge brownie—also a la mode—, and the strawberry cheesecake. By showing you samples, he is unapologetically attempting to influence your decision.

We are defining influence as “the capacity to be a compelling force that affects how someone else thinks, what they believe, and how they live.”

When it comes to fathers, I think most of us deeply desire to be a positive influence on our kids. But what does this influence look like?

We need a tray of samples.

1 Timothy 1:15-19 provides that tray.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

What we learn in this statement from the apostle Paul to his spiritual son is that there are four things children need to hear from a father.

The first thing a child needs to hear a father say is…

“I am the bigger sinner.”

Last year our church staff changed insurance plans to reduce our monthly premiums. As part of the process, I had to take a blood test to check my glucose and cholesterol levels. While my glucose was fine, I was shocked when the test revealed my cholesterol number was over 250. High cholesterol runs in my wife’s family, not mine. I couldn’t believe that my numbers were higher than her’s. I had the bigger cholesterol problem.

In verse 15, Paul says that he has a bigger sin problem than anyone else. What makes this amazing is that he wrote to Timothy in 64 AD, near the end of Paul’s life. He is not saying he used to be a sinner who needed the mercy of God to save him.

As the “foremost” or “worst” of sinners, he is saying, “If anyone is an example of a person who needs the medication of mercy for the scandal of sin, it is me—now.” Compared to anyone else, Paul claimed to be the bigger sinner.

Fathers, this is what our children need to hear us say. “I am the bigger sinner.”

That probably feels like a huge risk, doesn’t it? What about respect? How will my kids listen to me if I let go of the moral high ground and confess to needing Jesus more than they do?

Here’s the deal. Our kids and wives already know we are big sinners. To act like we are not makes us not only big sinners, but big hypocrites to boot. Self-righteous parenting may get some results when our children are small but will backfire on us when they get older.

While on spring break back with the family in March, I decided it would be a good idea to limit our family’s social media engagement and engage with each other instead. Revolutionary idea, right? But rather than having a conversation about this with my kids, I just turned off the data on my kid’s phones without saying a word. On our way out to dinner they inquired about why they couldn’t access Instagram. I acted surprised that data wasn’t working. But they knew. Eventually, I realized how deceitful that was and sat them all down to apologize. While turning off phone data isn’t a sin; lying about it was because it struck at the core of our relationship, which is honesty and trust. I had broken that trust. As a result, I was forced to sit in the big sinner chair and confess. The big sinner’s chair feels like an executioner’s chair. Because the chair of repentance is the place where my self-righteousness and moral high-ground goes to die.

As someone has said, “If repentance doesn’t feel like death, it isn’t repentance.”

I’m convinced that one of the best things we can do for our children is show them how to sit in the big sinner chair. In fact, it may be that there is nothing that will be more positively influential in my kids’ lives than my repentance to them. My biggest influence may not be when I get it right, but when I blow it and show them what it looks like actually to live by God’s mercy, knowing that Jesus has already sat in the executioner’s chair for me. That why he was born. It was his single mission. As Paul says, “To save sinners.” Big sinners like me.

Now, the reason why we can sit in the big sinner chair is because we are able to say, secondly,…

“Jesus is the hero, not me.”

We’ve all seen post-game interviews where the sportscaster questions the hero of the game about what it was like to make the winning shot. In my opinion, the most powerful interviews are when the apparent hero deflects credit away from himself to someone else or recognizes that what took place was a team effort. In effect, the interviewee is giving up his hero status.

In verses 16-17, Paul is giving up hero status, acknowledging Jesus as the only true hero, even erupting in praise of Jesus in verse 17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” In view of such a worship worthy hero, Paul is glad to give up any claim to hero status in Timothy’s eyes, or anyone else’s eyes.

Fathers, we are called to give up hero status, too. Let me suggest two ways to do this.

(1) Honor others above yourself.

  • Honor your wife. Praise your wife in the presence of your children. Tell her she looks beautiful in their presence. Show her affection in their presence.
  • Honor God. Give thanks to God at every opportunity, For your job and financial provision – thank God. For daily bread / meals – thank God. The prayer is not a blessing. It is recognizing God as the hero of our lives—he is the Giver / Provider. The hero. Even in times of need… thank God that we can trust him.

(2) Give up hero status by being a safe place for your kids to share their struggles and sins.

After all, if your kids know you are the bigger sinner through your vulnerability and honesty, they will feel safe sharing their struggles and sins with you. They know you will not condemn them but will empathize with them as a peer in need of mercy.

If I express shock, disappointment, or anger when my children share a struggle or sin, I reveal how much I don’t understand the sin nature—about theirs or my own.

While we cannot solve their struggles, we can take those struggles in prayer to our hero Jesus, knowing that he is able to forgive, heal, restore, and transform us from the inside out.

As you become comfortable in the role of the bigger sinner and give up hero status, the third thing a child needs to hear from a father is that…

“There is an important role for you to play in God’s Kingdom.”

I have never auditioned for a play, but my kids have. I’ve witnessed the stress of knowing how well you need to perform to get the role you want. You wonder if there will even be a part to play.

In verse 18 Paul reminds Timothy about “the prophecies previously made about you.”

Paul has witnessed God’s work in Timothy’s life and is now validating his spiritual son in much the same way God the Father validated Jesus in Matthew 17:5, saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

As the Father had the lead role for Jesus to play, Paul wants Timothy to know that God has a role for him to play in God’s kingdom, too.

This is what fathers are to do for our children. We validate them by calling out the glory of the unique gifting endowed upon them by God, letting them know that they have an important role to play in God’s kingdom.

Whether we see artistic talents, an interest in animals, an aptitude for words or mathematics. Maybe they exhibit generosity or kindness. Whatever it is that makes them unique, we can talk about these things not merely as talents or virtues, but as gifts from God—aspects of their unique design that will be part of the role they will play in the Kingdom.

They each have parts to play. But different One may be assigned a seemingly more prominent role than someone else. There are megachurches out there with thousands in attendance today. Am I less valuable in the Kingdom because I don’t preach to thousands?

You see, we need to recognize that every role is important, valuable and necessary in God’s kingdom, whether we serve the King as a preacher, a bank teller, a mechanic, a teacher, a sales clerk, a physician… or as a father, or mother, or whether I am single, divorced, or widowed. As Francis Schaeffer famously said, “There are no little people and no little places.”

Whatever our role in the Kingdom, our value and worth is not in our role (not in what we do)… our value and worth is simply being his (our value is not in what we do, but in whose we are).

This is why we need our children to know that while they have a role, it is not their job or our expectations of them that they “do something great for God.” No, it is God who has done something great for them in the only one qualified to do something great by playing the lead role of Savior. Any role we get to play is a gift. A bonus. Any Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant role in the eyes of the world.

Otherwise, if we expect our kids to do something great or have every gift or always win, we as parents will be tempted to live vicariously through their success, subconsciously longing for our kids to validate us as parents, where we unintentionally require them to be Jesus for us. We will begin to compare our kids to their peers, feeling righteous if ours are successful and unrighteous if they are not. Our kids will feel this. Whether we accept and love them conditionally or unconditionally will influence them deeply.

This is why every child needs to hear a father say, lastly…

“I will always be for you.”

When my son, Schaeffer, was young, he was really fast. He still is. Back then, I taught him a mantra that he can still repeat. I’d ask him, “Does Daddy love you because you are fast?” And he’d reply, “No, you love me because I’m yours.”

We could say it like this, “Am I for you because you are smart or beautiful or good or successful?” No.

“Will I stop being for you when you are not smart, beautiful, or good?” No way.

I am for you because you are mine. I will always be for you.

This is what Paul is saying in verses 18-19, when he encourages Timothy to “fight the good fight, holding onto faith and a good conscience,” He is saying, “I will always be for you in the fight for faith.” I’m in your corner cheering for you as you fight to believe who you are in Christ and fight to live in view of the cross as you play your part in God’s story.

This would be huge for Timothy because, as we all know, we often need others to believe for us when we are struggling to believe for ourselves—especially when we feel like we’ve really blow it.

Author Kevin Young tells the story about a time he attended the Special Olympics.

He writes, “As the 400-meter dash participants were being escorted to their marks, a gentleman wearing a suit jumped up in the stands in front of me and began yelling, ‘Lenny! Let’s go, Lenny!’ An overweight, middle-aged man with Down’s Syndrome looked up in the direction of the voice. The man proudly told the crowd around him, ‘That’s my son!’”

“When the gun sounded the runners leaped forward—except Lenny who seemed nervous and uncertain. Eventually, he began moving forward wringing his hands furiously as he tried to make his way around the track.”

“When Lenny reached the last turn, the other runners had already finished. When Lenny finally crossed the finish line, his dad ran down to the track and embraced his son, who was exhausted, drooling, and still wringing his hands.”

“As I watched them embrace, I began to weep, realizing that I am just like Lenny and that God, as my Father, is for me.”[ii]

He doesn’t see me in view of my sin and human limitations but in view of my sonship. He is for me as his very own son.

He sees me struggle as a father wringing my hands with regret, seemingly far behind other more successful fathers and yet he cries out to the universe, “That is my son! That is my son!”

He is for me. In fact, he is so for me that he allowed my elder brother, Jesus, to die for me as my sin-substitute to remove the guilt that stood between me and my Abba, Father. Through the cross, my faithful Father forgives all my father failures!

It is being the recipient of such extravagant grace that motivates and empowers us to be fathers who deeply desire to be a redemptive influence on our children.

[ii] Kevin Young, Cliffhanger: Reaching Out for the Father (Jan/Feb 2003), p. 40-41