Authentic Fatherhood: Following in God's Footsteps
- Rick Johnson Author, Better Dads, Stronger Sons
- 2007 2 Feb
What does God say about fathers? God could have had any role he wanted, but he chose to be our heavenly Father. He could have called himself any name he wanted. In several passages in the New Testament, Jesus prays to God, calling him Abba, and urges others to do so as well. Abba, literally translated, means "Daddy"; it was the term of endearment used by a young child. Think of the implications behind that. Quite frankly, it scares me to think that I have been bestowed with a title that God claimed for himself.
We have several newborn babies in our church congregation. I love to watch the fathers hold their babies and interact with them face-to-face. It’s a good allegory of our relationship with God. Here is a totally defenseless little human, completely at the mercy of a greater being, dependent upon him for survival. The baby simply sits and basks in the love being showered upon him by his daddy. The infant cannot yet understand the bigger picture of life, but he comprehends with full clarity the nonverbal message of love he receives from this powerful figure.
Besides the fact that God calls himself "Father," in what other ways are fathers connected with God? The Bible is God’s way of truthfully speaking to us. According to my keyword search, the term "father" is used 1,488 times in the NIV Bible. Do you think God was trying to tell us that he considers fathering to be important?
Jesus had ultimate authority on earth, derived from God the Father. God has granted men power as leaders in the family. But with that power comes responsibility—the responsibility to learn about and use that influence for blessing our families. Unfortunately, many men today have abused that responsibility and thrown away that authority. Yes, I understand that some men do not deserve the mantle of family leadership. But society’s attack on fathers is not the answer. As C. S. Lewis said, "to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant."6
I don’t think it’s coincidence that the last words God spoke to his people at the end of the Old Testament—his last words for four hundred years—were on the importance of fathering: "And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:6 NKJV).
God could have used any sign of societal revival to fulfill that prophecy. He could have said, "when people return to church," or "when there is no more hunger or war." But he chose to highlight the restoration of fathers to their children in connection with the return of the Lord.
The Hebrew word for curse in this verse is one of the harshest in Scripture, suggesting complete annihilation. That means only when men stop abdicating their God-mandated role as leaders in their families and communities will we be able to survive and thrive as a nation once again and not risk complete annihilation.
Here’s the good news, though: God has a plan for you as a father and as a man. God chose you to lead your son, to make him a noble man. He didn’t choose you and then leave you on your own to fail. Trust that God will help you if you seek his wisdom and discernment. Kindle the hope in your heart that God will work through you if you allow him to.
Then stand back and enjoy the results.
God’s Blessings for the Journey
In those early days, I didn’t know what I was doing half the time. But I blundered ahead anyway, praying the whole way and hoping God would turn my efforts into something eternal. And he did. He blessed me because I took action. I did not let my fear paralyze me. Just consider the ways that he has blessed me.
I went from being unhappy, stressed, uncomfortable around people and in many situations, confused, hopeless, scared, and miserable with life to having a wife who not only loves me but respects and admires me! She actually tells me she admires me. How cool is that? That has improved every aspect of our relationship—and I do mean every aspect.
When it comes to marriage, my only model growing up was a failure. I’ve now been married twenty-four years. That’s not possible except through the grace of God.
I went from having almost no fathering skills (again, I was programmed to fail) to having kids who respect me and believe that I have at least a little wisdom—on even-numbered days of the month, anyhow.
God took me out of my virtual isolation and gave me rich, full friendships with dozens of men. I even have men regularly seeking my guidance. I’m amazed at the way people often go out of their way to help me. I believe these relationships are God’s blessings for my commitment to living with authenticity.
My family and I now have hope instead of despair. My wife and kids are following in my footsteps, and I expect them to pass on a positive legacy for generations to come.
Remember how I said in my introduction to this book that God did not answer my prayers to stop the fighting and screaming and hitting—then? Well, he has answered those prayers now. None of that takes place in my home—though only through God’s grace, because I had such a bad model set for me.
And one of the most gratifying blessings God has bestowed on me? Sometimes men and women come up to me after they’ve attended my seminars and share tearfully that God spoke through me and helped change their lives and the lives of their families for the better. I can’t tell you what that feels like, except that it has to be a tiny glimpse of heaven. It fills my heart to bursting.
I enjoy all of these blessings because I overcame my initial fear and reluctance to try something that made me uncomfortable. I swallowed hard and chose to become a better husband and father and a godly man—a man who seeks God’s strength to live a life of significance, helping others by sharing God’s grace in a nonthreatening manner. God used my pitiful efforts for great good. He has since used my mustard seed of faith to accomplish more than I will probably ever know.
Be a bold, authentic dad, and step out in faith. God is anxious to use you and your son mightily.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. In what ways has God endowed you with power, as a man and a father, to impact other people’s lives?
2. In what ways are you fulfilling your role as a spiritual mentor to your wife and children? In what areas do you feel you could improve? If you have enough courage to hear the answer, discuss this question with your wife.
3. Think about what your father was like. Talk to your son about your relationship with your father when you were growing up. If you did not have a father, tell your son about the things you missed by not having a dad.
4. Talk to your son about the responsibilities of fathers. Talk about the rewards that come when a father fulfills his God-given role and the consequences when he doesn’t.
Excerpted from Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson. To read Part 2 of this 4-part series on Christian Fathering: The Power of Fathers.
Rick Johnson is the founder of Better Dads, a fathering skills program designed to equip men to be more engaged in the lives of their children. Rick develops and delivers father training workshops for businesses, churches, schools, and other organizations across the Northwest. He previously authored That's My Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Men of Character. Rick, his wife Suzanne, and their two children live in Gresham, Oregon.
Used with permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.