You can become a parent in an instant but learning the art of parenting can take a lifetime. Children don’t come with instructions but thankfully we can glean God’s wisdom through the Scriptures, from other effective parents, and from the common sense that comes from life experience. God describes himself in parental terms (as a “Father”) and calls us his “children.” Each one of us has the opportunity to be “born again” spiritually into God's family (John 1:11-13; Rom.8:14-16; Gal.4:4-7; 1John 3:1-2). No matter what our natural family situation may have been, God wants to be a perfect spiritual parent to his children. As we reflect on the character and behaviour of God, we can learn much about parenting.The Art of Parenting
1. Love Unconditionally
Our Father God is a God of love (1 John 4:7-10, 16-18). Genuine love is not merely an emotion but a choice to act in the best interests of another person. God’s love toward us is his desire for our ultimate good. “Unconditional love” is not a term used specifically in the Bible, but it is a biblical concept. What’s amazing about God’s love for us is that it is not based on our performance or any specific conditions we have to meet. In fact, he chooses to love us despite our sin and our weakness. When God’s first children, Adam and Eve, disobeyed his clear command, God the Father was obviously very disappointed with them and he had to discipline them. But he did not destroy them or disown them. He still acted in a loving manner towards them. He moved towards them to restore the relationship. God the Father does the same to us (see Rom.5:8-11). He is quick to forgive us when we humbly confess our sins. He is patient, long-suffering and slow to anger. Amazingly, his forgiveness is unlimited, based on our confession and repentance (Ps.103:1-5, 9-14; 1 Jn.1:9). We can be secure in his love because nothing can separate us from it (Rom.8:35). His love will never fail (1 Cor.13:8). He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
As parents we need to take a loving stance towards our children no matter what they do. Our love for them is based on the fact that they are ours. We must beware of creating a performance-based environment that causes our children to be uncertain of our love and as a result always seeking our approval. Let’s ask God to fill us with his kind of love – a love that reaches out towards people, no matter what. Love means giving people our acceptance, as well as our time and our attention.
2. Affirm Frequently
God the Father expresses his love in a variety of ways, one of which is affirmation or encouragement. Notice his encouragement of Jesus during his time on earth (Matt.3:16-17; 17:5). On a daily basis, Jesus knew and experienced his Father’s love and affirmation. He was always speaking about his Father and was able to stand against strong opposition and criticism because he knew he was doing his Father’s will.
Affirm and encourage your children as people – not just for what they can or can’t do. Our words are very powerful (Prov.18:21; Eph.4:29-32). Authority figures carry great power and influence. God calls us as parents to use that for good – for building up rather than tearing down. To put in qualities such as hope, courage, confidence and faith – not fear, timidity and doubt. Affirmation takes time, good listening and attention. We all thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise. Praise becomes a motivator for proper behaviour.
3. Instruct Clearly
Father God does not leave us to figure out life by ourselves. He gives us clear instructions about every area of life and explains why his way is full of wisdom. Notice his approach to Adam and Eve (Gen.2:15-17) as well as to his people, Israel (Deut.30:11-19). Jesus did the same for his followers and we have the written word of God for our instruction (2 Tim.3:16-17).
As parents, we are to instruct our children in God’s way of living. We are to make our expectations clear as well as consequences. Then we need to be consistent in following through (see Eph.6:4). Frustration for children often comes from unclear expectations and/or inconsistent follow through. We are to show our children how to live successfully and why. We don’t just want rote obedience when we’re around but we want to build values and morals into our children that will guide them to make right choices even when we’re not around. A good parent teaches about what is important in life. Train your child in the way they should go (Prov.22:6). This involves modelling values and character to your children (see Deut.6:1-9). Children do not respond to rules alone. They respond to relationships. Josh McDowell says, “Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.”
4. Discipline Lovingly
Father God is not just a loving forgiving God who is so soft that never deals with our disobedience. Because he loves us he also disciplines us when we need it (Heb.12:4-12). Disobedience displeases the Father. It is a direct assault on his authority and leadership. Also, the consequences of disobedience destroy us. As parents, we have a responsibility to lovingly discipline our children (Prov.29:17). Unless there are painful consequences for disobedience, obedience will never be learned. How we do that is very important. God does not want us to abuse or harshly punish our children in a way that damages them. We must be especially careful not to discipline in anger.
5. Empower Fully
God is not a controlling Father. He is a releasing Father who wants his children to grow up and take responsibility for their lives. He desires to empower us to full maturity and to join him in his work on planet earth. We see this with Adam and Eve. He gave them a free will – the ability to choose.
As children grow and become teenagers and then young adults we as parents must empower them more and more - to make their own decisions and to be responsible for their lives. The degree of empowerment is determined by the maturity. We are responsible “to” raise our children and teach them God’s ways but as they grow and come of age they are responsible “for” their own choices and we have to release them to that responsibility (Rom.14:12). This doesn’t mean we don’t care, or pray or seek to influence, but we have to gradually let them go. This also means that we should not take inappropriate guilt upon ourselves as parents if our children make unwise choices. There are a lot of parents who feel that they are failures because their children are not serving God or have made unwise choices in their lives. If that’s true then God the Father is a failure because his first kids blew it badly! As parents we must empower our children fully – then pray, trust God and believe that the seeds you have planted will bear good fruit in due time.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. What were your natural parents like and how has that influenced your view of God?
2. Discuss the concept of “unconditional love”.
3. Discuss some of the unique joys and challenges of the different stages of a child’s life (baby, toddler, primary school age, teenager, young adult, etc.) and how it relates to parenting.
4. What are some of the changes that need to take place in a parent’s approach as a child moves into the teenage then young adult years?
5. What are some keys to helping children find their own relationship with God?
6. Discuss the concept of “personal responsibility” as outlined in Ezekiel 18:20 and Romans 14:12. How does this relate to the role God requires of parents and leaders?
7. How can we provide more support for single parents, foster parents and blended families?