Love children? You have something in common with God. He calls them to join in representing his kingdom life on earth:
Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV)
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honour your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise — 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Every child is a life full of promise. I can’t look at a baby without wondering what this life will bring. Each one arrives with their own giftings from God. Just as gardeners recognize different seeds and plant them where they can flourish, parents recognize each child’s uniqueness and help unfold their potential.
But parenting can feel like a tough gig. We’re conscious of our own failings, and we want better for our kids. We struggle to find the balance between being too strict or too lenient. How do you decide?
This text doesn’t say you have to be a better parent. It doesn’t demand you to get your kids under control so they don’t shame themselves or you. It’s full of promise.
The fifth Commandment came with a promise attached. When children respond respectfully to their parents, they end up living the blessing that Star Trek could only wish for: live long, and prosper.
The core commandments God gave Israel reveal that, at least when it comes to children, God prefers rewards rather than threats. The Heavenly Father inspires children with the promise of a world where people live well and live long.
And God’s approach to parents here is similar. God doesn’t treat us as bad parents. He doesn’t tell us to get those kids under control. The one thing he asks of us is not to exasperate our children.
When I think back over how I raised my boys, I exasperated them when they felt they couldn’t attain what their Dad expected of them. We are to be careful not to demand too much of them, because God doesn’t want his little ones becoming embittered or discouraged (Colossians 3:21).
Next time you feel unsure whether to be lenient on the kids or to make them measure up, God’s advice is, “Don’t exasperate them.”
No, that doesn’t mean letting them do whatever they want. You also want to nourish them with the training and instruction of the Lord. When they grow up and no longer answer to you, they’ll be empowered to answer to their Heavenly Father.
At the heart of parenting is the realization that we’re modelling the Heavenly Father to our children. And he isn’t someone who exasperates his children.
God sees our children as full of promise. We’re leading them towards a world where they can live well and live long because of Messiah’s reign.
That’s why God calls us to raise them, not put them down.