Tennis superstar Venus Williams won 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 5 Wimbledon championships and 4 Olympic gold medals. Her little sister Serena won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 7 Wimbledon championships and 4 Olympic gold medals. These two sisters becoming two of the greatest athletes of all time did not happen by accident. It was the result of their father, Richard Williams, executing his plan for his daughters to become tennis royals, which he had formulated before they were even born. “King Richard” is the movie that tells the story of the leadership of a father relentlessly committed to helping his daughters reach their potential, becoming tennis phenoms. I know of no claim by Richard Williams to be a Christian. Yet, his remarkable devotion to helping these daughters reach their God-created potential in the athletic world stands as a powerful challenge to every Christ-following man who is the leader of his home: Am I that devoted to equipping those under my care to reach their full potential in Christ?
This is the final episode in our January series, Leading Our Homes Well in a Culture That Doesn’t Want Us to Lead. We’ve addressed the first two leadership questions, Where am I taking my family and How do I motivate my followers to come with me. This episode answers the third question, How are we going to get there? The leader equips his followers to reach the goal. Richard Williams could see his daughters’ potential as superstar tennis players and provided the knowledge, training, coaching, encouragement, and opportunities they needed to reach that potential. Biblical leadership requires a relentless commitment to helping those under our care to be champions—reaching the full potential God designed into them spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and athletically. There is no greater treasure loaned to you by God, to be cherished, and whose potential for radiant inner loveliness you are to bring out than your wife. If you are a dad, you have been entrusted by God with the greatest of all treasures, a priceless child, on loan from God for the purpose of helping that child be all God created him or her to be.
The rest of this episode examines how we do that. Remembering that the goal and destination of our leadership at home is spiritual maturity as Christ’s disciples, it makes sense that Christ’s leadership of his family, the church, would serve as a model for us. In fact, God went to great trouble to enable us to understand three specific roles that Jesus fills that enable US TO GROW UP TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY. These three roles, called the three offices of Christ, are directly related to the Hebrew word MESSIAH and the Greek word CHRISTOS, which both mean “Anointed One.” The three offices in the OT to which men were anointed were prophet, priest, and king. The early chapters of Hebrews make clear that these three offices in the OT were pointing to and fulfilled in Christ. Each of these roles of Jesus as leader of his family, the church, gives US specific concepts to understand what knowledge, equipping, training, and encouragement WE need to provide OUR family members to help them grow up into Christ.
The OT prophet was the mouthpiece of God. We read in Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God SPOKE to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has SPOKEN to us by his Son. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. As we consider the means God has appointed for growing Christ-followers to full maturity, we discover that God’s Word is the ultimate equipping tool. 2 Tim 3:16 tell us, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, EQUIPPED for every good work. Here is a four-step process in Deuteronomy 6 for maximizing impact when teaching kids the Word.
A. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (vs 5). Teaching Scripture to our kids begins in OUR hearts with wanting to obey his Word because we love him and want to please the one who redeemed us, NOT because we think God is a rules-obsessed tyrant or that we need to earn his love. The Ten Commandments were given to Israel after they had been freed from slavery to Egypt to show us how to respond to his redemptive love already poured out upon us. Out of delight and confidence in his goodness proved at the cross, we trust that his law is for our benefit. Counselors, Cloud and Townsend point out, “When we finally understand that God isn’t mad at us anymore, we become free to concentrate on love and growth instead of trying to appease him” (How People Grow).
B. Deuteronomy 6 continues: And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (vs 6). There is a natural flow from loving God with all our being to having his Word on our hearts, so that we can obey it. In this text, God is saying what Jesus would later repeat, in John 14:6, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Psalm 119:11 says, I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin aginsst you. Devotion to obeying Scripture is not legalism; it is the proper expression of love for the God who first loved us. Jesus taught that the mark of kingdom people is hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt 5:6).
C. Deuteronomy 6 continues: You shall teach these words diligently to your children (vs 7) The Hebrew word for teach is used for imprinting the official seal upon a letter. It pictures rote memorization. Especially from ages 4-12, we have an awesome opportunity to anchor our child to God’s truth through memorizing Scripture verses and catechism questions. A three-part plan is required: 1) Decide with your wife on a meal or time-block each week when you will do this. 2) Make these times creative and fun while staying focused on memorization. 3) Decide which foundational truths you want to plant in your child’s soul. My favorite starting point for kid’s memorization is Psalm 1:1-3. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
I highly recommend the New City Catechism for Kids: It has a curriculum for parents to use to teach the biblical ideas surrounding each question, making “family memorization times” easy to lead. Here is a sample of early questions.
- What is our only hope in life or death? That we are not our own but belong to God.
- How did God create us? God created us male and female in his own image to glorify him.
- How can we glorify God? By loving him and obeying his commands and law.
Helping your child memorize foundational biblical truths and key passages of Scripture is indisputably one of the best investments in your child’s soul that you could ever make. So, the third step of teaching Scripture for life-impact is the hard work of impressing it upon the brain, i.e. memorizing it.
D. Deuteronomy 6 continues: And shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (vs 8). The reason for having the Law on our hearts is so that we can meditate on it during the day and so we can teach it to our children all through the day, applying it to everyday life. Arguably the most successful believer of the OT era was counseled by God, This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua defeated the most enemies in Israel’s history and his family leadership influence caused four generations to walk with God. Equipping our kids to be all God created them to be requires doing the prophet’s job—getting God’s Word into their lives applying its wisdom for everyday life.
Hebrews 5:1 explains the priestly role of the OT that was a pattern, pointing to Christ. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. This rich image of Christ as our Great High Priest points to three components of our leadership role in helping our wives and kids reach their full potential in Christ.
A. Our Great High Priest SACRIFICED HIMSELF for us. In Ephesians 5:2, Paul commands, Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Godly manhood has always meant that we sacrifice for the welfare of our loved ones. We take the bullet and die so they may live. The problem is that men are better at the heroic than the mundane—dying to ourselves every day to put the needs of my wife and kids ahead of my own desires. Our delight in our wives and kids take us a ways towards denying ourselves for them; but feelings don’t have the power to overcome selfishness for long. To love with Jesus’ love is only possible by leaning upon Christ who indwells us through the Holy Spirit to produce agape, self-sacrificing love. When our feelings dissipate, the raw power to put others first comes from saying to Jesus, “I need you to love them through me because I can’t.”
B. Our Great High Priest GIVES US MERCY when we draw near. The author of Hebrews encourages us all, We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we MAY RECEIVE MERCY and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15-16.) This Greek word, ELEOS refers to compassion for the one suffering because of his sin. When giving painful consequences for wrong behavior as fathers, two seemingly contradictory attitudes are required: firmness—whom the Lord loves he disciplines—and compassion—as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:14). Let’s consider what this might look like in a parenting conversation with a son who did not get his chores done. “I know that you were looking forward going to the park this afternoon with Billy’s family, but the deal was that you had to have your room cleaned before then.” “But Dad, I’ve been looking forward to this all month.” “Son, I know it sucks to miss out on being with your friends because you put off tackling the pile of work you had to get done. Believe it or not that happens to be sometimes—I missed going skeet shooting a few months ago with Jim and Pete because I put off replacing the kitchen light fixture until the Saturday morning that your mom was having the bridal shower. Then I had to get it done.” “So, since you know what it feels like, let me go.” “What I know is that painful consequences teach life lessons. The answer is, ‘No.’”
C. Our Great High Priest INTERCEDES for us. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus’ vocation right now is praying for us. He ever lives to intercede for us. In Paul’s Romans 8 text demonstrating that God is for us, he argues that Christ died, for us, rose for us, ascended for us, and IS INTERCEDING for us. Even when our Great High Priest was on earth, he interceded for those under his care in prayer. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Heb 5:7). Jesus’ words to Peter on one occasion are sobering for fathers. “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you.” (Lk 22:31-31). One of the great tragedies of our day is that fathers and grandfathers don’t realize how much power they can access in prayer to help their children fight their spiritual battles. One prayer veteran reminds us,
“God wants your prayer life to be filled with petitions and intercession for others and for the advance of His kingdom. He wants answers to such prayer to become your thrilling and frequent experience. One of the great joys of prayer is securing wonderful answers that seem so long delayed and so humanly impossible. God wants answers to your prayers to be frequent and blessed. He wants you to prove repeatedly the mighty power of prayer in your own experience. He wants you to become not only a prayer veteran but also a constant victor in situations where the answers bring great glory to God and great consternation and defeat to Satan" (Wesley Duell, Mighty Prevailing Prayer).
Only in eternity will kids see the impact their interceding fathers had on their destiny. But one son, who ended up on the mission field in the South Pacific, John Patton, recounted the striking impact of his dad’s prayer life upon him. Patton’s father, James, worked in a shop in the family home in Scotland. James used a small room in the house as a prayer closet. His regular visits during the day and after meals led the kids “to understand that prayers were being poured out for us.” On the day that John left home to study theology, he had to walk forty miles to a train station. His father walked the first six with him. They spoke about the Lord. His father gave counsel. For the last half mile, they walked in silence, but John could see his father’s lips moving in silent prayer for him while tears streamed down his face. When they parted, the father grasped his son, saying, “God bless you, my son! May your father’s God prosper you and keep you from all evil.” Overcome, he could say no more but his lips moved in silent prayer. John later wrote that as he walked the remainder of the distance, he “vowed deeply and often by the help of God to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as God had given him." (How Should Men Lead Their Families, Joel Beeke.)
Hebrews 1 continues the story of The Anointed One. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….Of the Son, God says “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (vs 3, vs 8). Jesus rescued Adam’s kingdom from Satan and sin and is now spreading his kingdom of righteousness. But such conquest is only accomplished through community. Paul points out, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry. As prophet, the leader equips through the Word. As priest, the leader equips through the power of intercessory prayer. As king, the leader helps his followers discover, hone, and employ their gifts and opportunities for ministry. Here are four ways to maximize our followers' kingdom impact:
A. Help them discover their unique design and spiritual gifts. In the discipleship process of Romans 12, steps 1-3 are: responding to God’s mercy, offering ourselves to God, and being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Step 4 is focusing on our spiritual gifts. One of the best things I did as a father was to help each of my 5 kids determine their SHAPE (see Rick Warren), spiritual gifts, heart passions, abilities, personality, and experiences that make them unique. (My podcast series, Helping Our Loved Ones Flourish Using Their Spiritual Gifts, S2 E 38-41 7/18-8/8.)
B. Help them link their skills and interests to a vocation. We need to reassure our kids that they are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10) Today, kids don’t just follow the family profession. The mobility and diverse vocational opportunities they have require our help matching the way God created them to a career. (A great resource we used is Crown Ministries’ Youth Exploratory Survey.)
C. Help them connect to Christian friends. As we saw, Jesus’ ascension was accompanied by the outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, pointing to our need to be connected in the Body of Christ. We need to do whatever is necessary for our wives to have sisterhood relationships and our kids to have Christian friends.
D. Help them develop the skills they need for ministry. Parents (and the dollars of grandparents) send their kids to summer sports, art, and music camps. We ought also to think strategically about developing our kids’ ministry vision and skills. My wife and brother were trained in discipleship via the Navigator’s summer program. Short term mission trips are often life changing. I know dads that have taken their kids through books to develop listening, leadership, evangelism, and apologetics skills. In today’s world our kids need training to understand its worldviews, which can be provided through online resources such as the Colson Center.
Dads and Granddads, like Venus’ and Serena’s dad, Richard, we have been loaned a precious diamond to be cut and polished into its greatest possible brilliance. But the time we have with each child flies by in a flash. Even the opportunity to influence our grandchildren is fleeting; they will soon be busy with teen friends and adult life. One dad reflects:
"I pass a lot of houses on my way home—some pretty, some expensive, some inviting—But my heart always skips a beat when I turn down the road and see my house. I guess I’m especially proud of the house and the way it looks because I drew the plans myself. It started out large enough for us—I even had a study; two teenaged boys now reside there. And it had a guest room; my girls and nine dolls are permanent guests. It had a small room Peg had hoped would be her sewing room; the two boys swinging on the Dutch door have claimed this room as their own. So, it really doesn’t look right now as if I’m much of an architect. But it will get larger again—one by one they will go away, to work, to college, to service, to their own houses. And then there will be room—a guest room, a study, and a sewing room for just the two of us. But it won’t be empty—Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories. Memories of picnics, parties, Christmases, bedside vigils, summers, fires, winters, going barefoot, leaving for vacation cats, conversations, black eyes, graduations, first dates, ball games, arguments, washing dishes, bicycles, dogs, boat rides, getting home from vacation, meals, rabbits, and a thousand other things that still fill the lives of those who would raise five. And Peg and I will sit quietly by the fire and listen to the laughter in the walls" (Bob Benson, “Laughter in the Walls”).
For Further Prayerful Thought:
- How might you become and remain as passionate about developing the potential of each of your family members as Richard Willims was about developing Venus’ and Serena’s tennis abilities?
- What are the biggest obstacles to being devoted to the Word of God and leading your family to be shaped with the Word of God?
- What is the biggest obstacle to interceding for your loved ones, giving them the power to exhibit Christ-like attitudes and resist temptation? What can you do to remove that obstacle?
- What struck you about the way that King Jesus gifts us to participate in the church’s mission to make disciples of the nations? What might you do to enhance the fruitfulness of your loved ones for Christ?