This is part two of this article. You can read part one here. In the first four practices we’ve seen these principles: Regularly ask for the filling of God’s Spirit, pray together consistently, resolve conflict immediately, and play together abundantly. Let’s move on:
Step Five—Grow and Serve Together Continually. Local church is huge for healthy family life. Contentious families generally treat church with a casual, half-heartedness. It’s easily tossed aside for a Sunday night movie, a birthday, or a ball game. While church isn’t an immediate “fix-all” for every family problem, it is a vital and essential part of the healthy family recipe. When every family member is growing in Christ and the knowledge of His Word, and every family member is involved in serving the Lord through a local body, family life is dramatically impacted for the better.
This is not only God’s design, it’s His command. Ephesians 4:16 teaches that we, as a local church body are “fitly framed together… unto the edifying of itself in love.” Casually commit to that process—prepare for ongoing weakness in your family. Fully commit to that process—prepare for a stronger home.
Step Six—Respond to God’s Spirit Instantly. Sometimes we call it “intuition”—that still, small voice cluing us in on a need, a parental oversight, or a needed response. God does this all the time with parents, but His promptings are often drowned out by distractions or rationalization. In contentious families, parents don’t hear or respond to God’s prompting. In healthy families, God’s leading is given careful attention and obedience.
God will prompt you to take your daughter out for a talk, invest a morning into your son, or write your wife a love note. He will prompt you to get counsel from a pastor, check your son’s iPod, or place your arm around your girl and give a firm word of affirmation. He will remind you of little things, warn you of danger, and lead you to take right steps. He will give you a peace about some things and not others. We don’t need to rationalize away His promptings. We won’t usually understand why He is prompting us a certain direction. When it comes to God’s promptings, just obey. And make that your explanation too if the prompting doesn’t line up with your kid’s expectations: “I’m just obeying what God has put on my heart.” Galatians 5:25 teaches us to “walk in the Spirit…”
Step Seven—Nurture the Heart Faithfully. Kind words, teaching words, affirming words, and encouraging words—these things nurture the heart. Many kids only hear their parents on two channels. Channel #1 is “I want you to do something.” (Mow the lawn, pick up your room, do your homework, quiet down, get ready for bed… you get the picture.) Channel #2 is “You did something wrong.” (Get in here, stop that, I can’t believe you, What were you thinking, You’re grounded, etc.) And often both channels have one mode—harsh. Some Christian parents even scorn, ridicule, and curse at their children. Both unthinkable and devastating to a young heart.
Do your kids ever hear you on other channels? What about kind? Uplifting? Gentle? Spiritual? Loving? Do they know when they are doing a good job? Do they sense how proud you are of them? Do they know you take great pleasure in just being their parent? There’s something deeply inspiring and motivating about this kind of nurture. If you yell at me, I will do better temporarily because I don’t want to upset you. (And in fact, I may avoid you!) But if you nurture me, I will do better because you inspired me through love and acceptance to be a better child of God. Now that’s healthy parenting! Proverbs 25:11 says, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
Some years ago I was out on a Thursday preparing to purchase a car. I really hate shopping for cars, but on this day, I felt the Lord was leading me to do so. That day shatters all of my normal car-shopping practices in every way. Through a series of Divine circumstances, I was paired up with a kind car salesman named Jason, in his mid-fifties, who began to show me around the lot. Less than three minutes into our time together, Jason began to pour out his heart for his teen daughter and their broken relationship. When he began to weep, I knew God had brought me to Jason that day. He was a Christian father desperate for answers for his child.
Jason was saved, but neglectful of his daughter and family. And several years of brokenness were leading to a very dangerous path in her life. For the next eight hours (yes, you read that right) I had the privilege of becoming a spiritual mentor to Jason regarding his family, and especially his daughter. We prayed together. We studied Scripture together. We counseled. We talked about biblical priorities, family time, honoring God, and the needs of teens. Jason asked me if I was reading his mind. His heart soaked up every word and every principle like fresh water falling in a parched desert.
Morning turned to afternoon which turned to evening. By the time I left the car lot, Jason had made some critical decisions. He decided to work less, give his daughter more time, apologize for how he had hurt her, and honor the Lord in his family life. In particular, he decided to turn away his sales appointments that Saturday to spend the entire day with his daughter. As I left the lot, he hugged my neck, wept, and said “Thank you! God sent you to me today.”
It was Easter weekend and Jason had told me he would come to church Sunday night for our musical. On Saturday, he called a co-worker and told her that his daughter had accepted his apology and that they had hugged for the first time in several years. He shared how their relationship had been restored on their special day together. Sure beats selling cars.
Sunday came and went, and I didn’t see Jason. On Monday morning, a friend from the dealership (Jason’s boss) called me with sobering news. Jason had gone to Heaven Sunday night after having a massive heart attack. We were both speechless on the phone. The realization hit me. I had spent Thursday, by Divine providence, helping a man choose to restore his relationship with his daughter during his last day on earth. The weight of the moment reminded me how critical our family relationships really are and how little time we actually have together.
If God has given you a family, and your heart is still beating—then you have a great gift. Don’t waste another day in the mire of contention and family strife. Refuse to give Satan such victory. For you never know when you might be facing your final opportunity to cherish and love those who are so precious in your life.
Remember, these seven practices are atomic bombs—small packages, big results! God’s Word promises that these things make a difference in family life. The question is, will you take the prescription so God can heal the brokenness? May God bless you as you seek to build whole and healthy relationships in your Christian family.