Fathers in Command

By David Feddes

“Command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:46‑47).

Patrick Welsh is a public school teacher and a father. As a teacher he knows many of his students go to wild parties, but as a father he doesn’t keep his daughter, Claire, away from such parties. One day Claire came home with the tragic news that a classmate had been killed in a car accident after a party the night before. But a few hours later Claire headed out the door, as usual, to be with her friends. Mr. Welsh writes in an article,

“I couldn’t stop worrying. I imagined all the dangers that might await an 18‑year‑old girl in the anonymous night—reckless drivers, creepy boys, alcohol and other drugs. And I knew that Claire could be exposed to every one of those… The wild party scene has become ingrained in the culture of our teens… and parents like me are confused and ambivalent about what to do about it.”

Patrick Welsh goes on to describe a party where more than 200 young people from an elite private school gathered at the home of a student whose parents were out of town. Eventually the police broke up the party and took many of the students into custody. Mr. Welsh writes,

That very evening Claire and I had been having a rare Saturday night together when one of her friends called to alert her to the revelry just a few blocks away. The father‑daughter time was over just like that as out the door she went. When she came back within the hour, I was surprised, but two days later I learned why: She told me that as she was pulling up to the party, she had seen the police and decided to head back home.

Over the years, my students have told me a lot about what happens at parties. They’ve said that many of them simply drink to get drunk as fast as they can and that the designated driver is often the one who “only has four beers.” So why did I let Claire go when I knew the temptations kids face at these gatherings? … The answer, to be honest, is that, like many parents, I’m at a loss.

There was no way I was going to tell Claire she couldn’t go to a party with “nice” kids a few blocks away on a Saturday night. I know I have to trust her to do what’s right, to follow her conscience and learn from her mistakes. At the same time, like most parents, I deplore the weekend party scene and fear that I’m being too lax and letting my child walk into temptation.

Still, Mr. Welsh feels he’s ahead of most parents. At least he knows what’s happening in the teenage party scene. He knows how teens use cell phones to quickly spread the word where the hottest parties are. He knows that besides booze, marijuana, and acid, the favorite drug lately is Ecstasy. He knows that many kids start getting into the party scene when they’re in grade eight or nine. And he knows, as one girl told him, “Most parents can’t or won’t do anything. They think it’s other parents’ responsibility because their kid is the angel of the group –it’s other people’s kids who are involved.”

Patrick Welsh knows all this, but he still doesn’t keep his daughter away from the parties. He’d rather think that she will indeed be the angel of the group. He writes, “I know we can’t control exactly what she does when she’s out and having fun. Sometimes she may do things we’d rather she wouldn’t do. But every time she goes out the door and heads into the night, we know there’s a pretty good chance she’ll make the right decisions.” (Washington Post, March 4, 2001).

Patrick Welsh hopes his daughter will make good decisions at out-of-control parties, but if a girl makes the lousy decision to go to such parties in the first place, why believe she’ll make good decisions when she gets there? Mr. Welsh tells the truth when he writes, “Parents like me are confused… I’m at a loss.”

Can Dads Do Anything?

Does it have to be that way? Do dads just have to admit they’re helpless, get out of their kids’ way, and hope for the best? Or is it possible for a father to take command of his family and to be confident of how his kids will turn out?

Let’s find out what God says. In the Bible God said of Abraham, “I have chosen him in order that he may command his sons and his descendants to obey me and to do what is right and just. If they do, I will do everything for him that I have promised” (Genesis 18:19 TEV). God’s promise to bless Abraham and his offspring would take effect as Abraham believed God’s promise and commanded his household in God’s ways. God didn’t just expect Abraham to make polite suggestions to his offspring. God expected Abraham to command them, to direct them with authority.

Throughout the Bible, God speaks of fathers in command. Through Moses God told his people, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:46‑47). God’s Word isn’t optional. It’s essential. It’s life. Accepting the Bible means life. Rejecting the Bible means death. So if you’re a father, command your children in God’s ways.

In the book of Proverbs, a wise father says: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, …you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (2:1,5). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (3:1). “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye” (7:1-2). That’s how God wants fathers to speak to children: with love, with a desire for their wellbeing—and with authority! Fathers, take command! Give your children commands based on God’s commands.

Why do some parents feel so helpless? Why do some kids do whatever they please? Often it’s because dads don’t pay attention to God’s commands and have no command over their families—and the kids know that nobody’s in command. Fathers may pay bills, provide transportation, and make sure the kids have a place to sleep. But being your kids’ fundraiser, their taxi driver, and their motel operator doesn’t mean you’re in command. It doesn’t mean you have their respect or shape their choices.

If you’re a father, how can you be in healthy command of your family? Start with faith in God and his promise. God promises that if you keep his Word in your heart and command your children to walk in God’s ways, the Lord will bless your family. Do you believe that? Do you believe that through God’s rule of your life and your command of your children, you and your kids will be blessed? Be confident in God, and be confident in what he will do through you when you live by faith in him.

Small Things, Big Difference

A bestselling book claims that parenting has almost nothing to do with how kids turn out. According to this book, kids are shaped by only two things: genetics and peer relationships. Parents’ actions make little difference. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible urges parents—fathers in particular—to command children in God’s ways, and God promises that such fathering will bring rich blessings. What do you believe, the Bible or the bestseller?

If you believe the lie that parenting has little impact, you won’t even try, and your kids will indeed become like their peers. The less parents are involved in kids’ lives, the more likely the kids are to be shaped by their peers’ behavior, their peers’ music and movies, their peers’ use of alcohol and drugs. Joseph Califano of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse says, “Kids who do not smoke pot credit their parents with their decision; kids who smoke pot credit their peers.”

The fact is that dads can make a huge difference, even without doing all that much. Just showing up at mealtime can help a lot. “Only six percent of kids who eat dinner with their parents six or more times a week smoke compared with 24 percent of those who eat dinner with their parents twice a week or less; for marijuana use, it’s 12 percent compared with 35 percent” (Califano). You don’t have to be a hero or a genius to sit down with your kids at mealtime. Just do it. Otherwise your kids will be three to four times more likely to get into harmful habits. If you simply show up every day and share some food and conversation, you are well on your way to being in command.

Another small thing that makes a big difference for kids is weekly church attendance. Researchers find that teens who go to church each Sunday are far less likely to use cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs than those who attend services less than once a month. Church attendance is no cure-all, but it helps a lot. As a father, you don’t have to be a scholar or a martyr to spend one hour per week with your family in church, do you?

A third thing small thing that makes a big difference is teaching some rules about right and wrong. Set basic boundaries and hold your kids accountable. Even without knowing a lot about the Bible’s teaching, a few commands go a long way. Insist that your kids obey you. Teach them not to lie or cheat. Command them to avoid substance abuse. Direct them not to misuse their sexuality but to save their bodies for marriage. Insisting on such rules may sound simple, even corny, but it makes a big difference. Yes, kids may test some boundaries and do some wrong things, but research confirms that parents who lovingly present clear rules and expectations do have a major impact.

Now, if such small things can make such a big difference, if a father can make an impact just by sharing a daily meal and a weekly church service with his kids and insisting on a few rules, then imagine the impact you can have if you go beyond the bare minimum. What if you don’t just make a few rules to keep kids out of trouble but actively show them a thrilling vision of living in the joy and power of God? What if you don’t just go to church once a week but show in your everyday life that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is living in you? What if you don’t just eat a daily meal together but also talk with your children and listen to them, read the Bible to them and pray for each one individually every day? Your kids won’t merely stay away from drugs and other stupidity. They will grow up to become strong, dynamic friends of Christ who love their heavenly Father. They will also honor their earthly father and mother and be glad to have you as parents.

Godly Example

To be in command of your family in a godly way, you must communicate with your life as well as your words. If your children can see God at work in your life, they will be far more likely to hear God in what you say. To command your children properly, you as a father must yourself be under the command of your Father in heaven, and your life must shine with the life of Christ in you.

If you don’t practice what you preach, your preaching will disgust your children. What if you went to a restaurant and the cook looked like a slob, had grubby hands, wore a filthy apron, smelled bad, and had a cloud of flies buzzing around him? Would you want to swallow any food he offered you? Of course not. Likewise, if you live a dirty life that stinks with sin, you can’t expect your kids to swallow anything you say about God.

You must live a holy life when your children are looking and also when they’re not looking. Don’t think you can have a secret life that won’t affect your kids. Hypocrisy stinks, and your kids will smell it and be turned off, even if they don’t know all the dirty details of what you’re up to. If you look at pornography, you may think it’s just a private matter that won’t hurt anybody. But it will. Everything in your life will somehow affect your kids one way or another. One of the dumbest beliefs in our society is that some things are bad for children to see but okay for adults. What nonsense! As a general rule, if there is something you wouldn’t want your kids to see or do, then don’t look at it or do it yourself.

Your life, whether good or bad, has a commanding effect on your children. Teens whose fathers have more than two drinks a day have a 71 percent greater risk of substance abuse. Teens whose fathers love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ are far more likely to trust Christ themselves and walk in his ways.

What a difference it makes when parents are the kind of people their kids can admire and look up to! What a blessing to be able to say, “Parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6)! Can you say with integrity, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)? None of us has Jesus’ full perfection, of course, but if Christ is living in you and directing you, then at least something of his goodness, love, and joy will shine from you. Your example will command your children’s respect and make you worth imitating.

Wise Direction

As you offer your children a godly example, give them wise direction as well. Be in command of what they are learning. Instruct them with authority—not your own authority, first of all, but God’s authority. Impress on your children what the Bible says. “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Bring them up not just in your opinions but in the truth of the Lord himself.

Now, to teach others what God says, first find out for yourself what God says. Study the Bible personally each day. To have real authority in teaching, you need to know what you’re talking about. How can you teach others and steer them in the right direction if you’ve never studied the directions yourself?

Being the father of a family is like being in charge of a ship. If you steer the ship safely to its destination, you not only make it there yourself but you take others with you. But if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going and you sink the ship, you will not only ruin yourself but the others in the ship with you. A ship’s captain who won’t study maps or pay attention to warnings will endanger himself and everyone with him. Likewise, a father who ignores the Bible’s directions and warnings will not know how to steer himself and his family through the icebergs, rocks, and storms of life. He puts his own soul and their souls in jeopardy of disaster. Get to know the Bible yourself so that you can steer your family to safety.

Loving Protection

As you take command of your children’s instruction, you must not only give them God’s truth but you must also protect them from lies. Don’t put them in a school where the teaching goes against the Bible. Find a school where the teachers teach what is right and where your kids’ friends do what is right. Or take charge of their education through home schooling.        A bad school is a curse. Good education brings blessings.

To protect kids from garbage, you must also take command of music, movies, computer games, and television. If some strangers walked into your house and started cursing each other or hitting each other, would you sit and watch and enjoy it? No, you’d kick them out of your house. If sleazy people sneaked into your house and started undressing in front of your kids, would have your kids sit and watch? No, you’d throw those disgusting people out. But when such people walk into your house every day through your television or your computer, what do you do? You may let the sex, violence, and filthy talk in without doing anything to stop it. If your kids have a TV in their own room or have their own computer without supervision and without an internet filter, you as a parent have unlocked the doors for evil to walk in and fill your children’s minds, and you cannot claim God’s promises for those who command their children in the right way.

It’s time fathers took command of the TV and all the other ways that sleazy strangers sneak into their homes. Can you say with the Bible, “I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing… No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house” (Psalm 101:2‑3,7)? I know a father who taped a sign above his TV which said, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” That affected the man himself and kept him away from most of the programs he had been watching. When his kids first saw the sign, they complained, “Dad, get rid of that. It interferes with our TV watching.” The dad replied, “That’s what it’s supposed to do!”

To be in command of your family, protect your children from everything that goes against biblical thinking and holy living.

Leading Family Worship

Another vital part of being a father in command is leading your family in daily worship. Some men leave spiritual matters to their wife, but that’s wrong. Sure, a godly wife and mother can have a big impact on kids, but God assigns the task of spiritual leadership first of all to fathers. If dads leave it only to moms, then kids get the message that walking with God isn’t a manly thing to do.

Fathers, take command! Lead your family every day in reading from the Bible. Tell your children God’s great deeds in creation and salvation. Command them in God’s ways. Encourage them with God’s promises. Correct them with God’s warnings. Set aside some time every day—after a meal, perhaps—to read the Bible, apply it to your family, and discuss questions. Lead your family in prayer, and pray for each of your children by name. Your loving and heartfelt prayers will be powerful and effective.

Lead your family in singing songs of praise at home. That may feel awkward at first, but do it anyway. If you sing aloud with your kids, they will see that you’re not ashamed of your love for God. The more you show your love for God and your love for your children, the more credibility and authority you will have with your kids when you impress God’s commands on them. They will hear the commands not just as a bunch of random rules but as precious parts of an overall vision and way of life where your family delights in God, walks daily with the Lord, and has a vibrant vision of doing great things for him.

Set aside structured times for daily family Bible reading and worship, and don’t limit instruction to these structured times. Seize every opportunity. In a car or at a playground, in your kitchen or at the store, be ready to talk with your kids about the difference God makes in spending money, dealing with rude drivers, playing fair and showing good sportsmanship, or being kind to kids that others pick on.

Does this sound unrealistic? Does it sound too farfetched? Well, don’t trash it if you’ve never tried it. I know fathers and families who live this way. I’ve seen the results in others, and I’ve tasted blessings for myself and my own family.

But don’t just take my word for it. Take God’s Word for it. God commands this, and he promises to bless not only individuals but entire families who walk in his ways. Believe God! If you don’t believe God and decide not to do what he says, then don’t be shocked if your children don’t honor you or do what you say. Take him at his Word, believe his promises for you and your family, and put your faith into action by commanding your children. As the Bible says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.