Parenting is tough work. Whether toddlers or teens, there are challenges at every stage. For conscientious parents seeking to raise their children to obey, love, and follow the Lord, the to-do list can grow long. Along with this comes an increased sense of failure. In the midst of those challenges, it is easy to focus on just surviving. We can fall into stern obedience or lackadaisical martyrdom. I know I alternated between those.
Looking back on those years now, I wish someone had told me this –
“Focus on joy.”
Because God loves a cheerful parent.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul encourages generous financial giving. And then he states the principal underneath that encouragement – “God loves a cheerful giver.” It was John Piper who first called my attention to this principle and applied it to pastoring. At that time, I was unwittingly laboring under a duty-driven view of pastoring. In reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching he applied this general principle to leadership.
The light bulb went off. I was a changed person. I needed to be a cheerful pastor! That would honor God more. And the change would seep down into blessing my church.
If true for pastoring, how much more is it true for parenting. A stoic, sour, duty-driven obedience does not honor the Lord. A frustrated Martha who is worried and bothered about many things doesn’t reflect our triune God. It merely makes those around her miserable. No, God loves a cheerful giver. I needed to guard my joy and be a cheerful giver – both as pastor and as parent.
We find this theme scattered throughout Scripture and church history. Jonathan Edwards’ first sermon was entitled Christian Happiness, with the thesis that Christians should be happy because God is working things out for our good and the best is yet to come.
George Mueller discovered this practical application. “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished.”
These saints were recognizing the instructions we find all over Scripture.
Joy is a characteristic of the Lord’s relationship with himself. The triune God experiences great joy among the persons of the Godhead (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). The psalmist tells us, “In your presence is fullness and joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Joyful love shows our children the Father. Joy is a characteristic of his relationship with his people. Zephaniah tells us that he delights over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
Joy is a fruit of living a Spirit-controlled life. Galatians 5:22 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is… joy. The Holy Spirit brings Trinitarian joy in our lives.
The joy of the Lord is our strength. Solomon observes that hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:20). Facing the trials of parenting, we need strength. And the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Stoic duty can never sustain our spirit in the long haul. It is having the joy of the Lord that strengthens us for the challenges that come our way.
We are working for our children’s progress and joy. Sin has pleasure for the moment but inevitably leads to pain. As we teach, correct, and discipline we are doing this not so that we can show off to others. We are doing this for their progress and joy (Philippians 1:25).
We are commanded to have joy even in trials. James 1:2 tells us to count it joy or when we face trials of various kind. That includes parenting trials and family trials. These trials are pressures that are making us mature.
Joyful parents make the Christian life attractive. More and more I am convinced that the chief characteristic that makes living for Christ attractive to young people is joy. Do you see the Christian duty to rejoice in the Lord? Or are you a sour saint that thinks of the Christian life as drinking lemon juice?
God loves a cheerful parent and a cheerful family. That means joy is within my control. It is my sacred duty to be happy in the Lord. Stoic duty that moves me on to the next duty without delight in the Lord and my children does not reflect God.
A godly family is a (mostly) cheerful family. If the world saw joy in us, they just might sit up and take notice. Our children will.