Immature giftings (godly parenting)

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I had a fight last week with one of my daughters who pushed her brother and then wouldn’t own up or apologise.  She was so stubborn that I had to send her to her room whilst I calmed down.

Back track 11 years to when we had her dedication at church. Whilst it was a good celebration my wife and I were a little disappointed to receive only one prophetic word: they saw her standing on a battlefield after everyone else had given up and gone home. It was an image of perseverance.

As I calmed down I realised that her stubbornness was the immature form of her gift of perseverance*.

So when I spoke to her again, I called out† who she was going to be “You know you are going to be someone who keeps on going when everyone else has given up. You are going to do great things for God because of this,” but then guided her from where she currently was, “but you can also use this great gift that God has given you to keep resisting when you should say sorry.” She grinned sheepishly.  The atmosphere had changed, she saw who she was going to be and in light of that apologised.

As parents it’s all too easy to see bad behaviour as just something that needs to be stamped out and by doing so we can then crush the very gifting God has given them.

We need discernment to see if it is an immature form of a godly gift.

We can see Jesus do this with his disciples – they were constantly clamouring for being first (Luke 9:46-48;22:24-26) but Jesus didn’t rebuke their desire for being first, instead he redirected it.  Greatest means being a servant, greatest means welcoming those you see as “less”.  Their desire for being greatest was an immature form of their gift of leadership.

Here’s a summary of some immature forms of a godly gift that I have discovered so far:

  • daring/naughty – apostle
  • bossy/wants to be first – leader
  • speaks out inappropriately/black or white opinions – prophet
  • gives things away carelessly – generosity
  • stubborn – perseverance
  • overly sensitive – compassion
  • unrealistic expectations – faith
  • dreamer, nonconformist – creativity
  • critical or fault finding – discernment
  • fussy, easily put-out, doesn’t like disturbed routine – administration

If you have others to add to this list then I would love to know – please comment below.

Also as parents we shouldn’t despise the days of small beginnings (Zech 4:10) – that is we shouldn’t look down on a fledgling gift.  For example when my eldest son was about 5, he overheard my wife and I discussing that we were short on money.  He went to his piggy bank and brought us some of his pocket money.  It was such a small amount, like 5 pence, and at that time I’m ashamed to say that I thanked him but refused his offer as it would make no difference.  But by doing so I crushed the beginning of his gift of generosity.  As parents need to humble ourselves enough to accept help from our children.  As parents we want our children surpass us – not remain below us.

It’s only by God’s grace that I later recognised his gifting and let him give his pocket money away.  He gave a £1 to a friend’s dad who had lost his job.  He gives money to the homeless.  He buys sweets for his siblings.  He saves up so he can buy Christmas gifts.  By encouraging his gift of generosity I have found that I want to keep up with him and so he has spurred me on in the faith.

Father, open my eyes to see beyond my frustration.  Help me not to crush my children’s immature gifting but give me wisdom to help redirect them towards their calling.  Help me to humble myself to learn from them and be transformed as a result.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

* I am indebted to David Freeman who first opened my eyes to this whole area.
† For more information on how to call out a child see my previous post here.

Speak to the desires of the heart (teach your children godly sexuality)

So one of my boys kept lifting up the skirt of one of my girls to see their knickers.  An excellent opportunity to talk about godly sexuality with them I thought…

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So true to form I followed the principles I give in my workshop and talked about the goodness and the holiness of sexuality with them.  How it’s a good and beautiful part of a lady made by God but it’s also a special part and so we need to treat it with honour.

However he kept on doing it, despite talking about its specialness and despite disciplining him for repeatedly doing it.

I know, I know, I should have called out to God for help sooner – but sometimes we have to get desperate before we find ourselves on our knees actually listening – but He’s so gracious that when I did he gave me the wisdom I needed:

“Speak to the desires of the heart”

You see the trouble was that I was saying all the right things but I was talking to his logical mind rather than his desires.  And if we want to see change then we need to address the desires:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

But the question is: how do we address desires in a godly way?  In the same way as we teach any other aspect of godly sexuality; we talk about the goodness and the holiness of our desires.

You see God made him a boy and so there is a godly fascination and yearning in him for to complete the whole image of God:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6 emphasis mine)

The holiness is the fact that this fulfillment occurs in a covenantal relationship and this yearning is a shadow of our yearning for Christ (Eph 5:32) who is the “desire of all nations” (Hag 2:7).

Since he was only about 5 at the time, I had to keep things a bit simple, so I began:

“There’s something really interesting about girls, isn’t there?”  He nodded.  “God made girls attractive to us so that we really want to find out more.”  I could see that I now had his full attention.

“And that means that there’s something in us that wants to see their knickers.”

“But God made seeing a girl’s knickers to be something special for marriage just like you only get presents on special days like Christmas.”

Now it’s tempting to stop here, but doing so means that we are expecting them to conquer desires by self-effort which is law not grace. So now we need to offer to pray for them:

“But in the same way it’s hard to not open presents until Christmas day, it’s hard to stop looking at knickers.  So we need Daddy God’s help.  Can I pray with you?”

He nodded and the rest is history.

You see affirming the goodness of our children’s desires speaks to their reality, only then can we begin to steer these desires towards their intended goal.

Wired for intimacy part 1 (godly sexuality)

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Before we had our first miracle baby we read the book “The Social Baby” which shows that even from birth babies are wired to seek faces over other images:

“Within minutes of birth, the baby will turn her head to the sound of someone’s voice, when another sound, even if of the same pitch and intensity, will not attract her attention…the baby is also attracted to faces…Given a choice between looking at a face-shaped pattern, and one with the arrangement of eyes nose and mouth scrambled up, the newborn baby will spend longer looking at the face”

wired for intimacy

Recent research has now identified that the part of the brain used for recognising faces is far more developed in babies and is almost equal to that of adults by even 4 months.

As Christians we don’t believe that this design is merely for survival, we believe that the things made reveal God’s divine nature (Rom 1:20a) for “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1).

In the same way the physical tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb 8:5), this physical realm is a shadow of the spiritual realm.  A baby seeking the face of his/her parents is a shadow of the reality that we as children of God (1 Jn 3:1) are designed to seek the face of our Creator.

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18)

In the Father’s face we are going to find the love, affirmation and protection that we need.

A baby know this – they take delight in looking at faces.  Children know this as any parent who hears a their child say “look at me!”.  This is why God instructed Aaron to bless the Israelites with the phrase “the LORD make His face shine upon you” (Num 6:23-25).

To have God’s face turn from us is to be cursed and cut off from our hearts desire (eg Ps 27:9; 2 Chr 30:9).  Babies know this – they become distressed if there is no response from a parent’s face (you can see an example in this YouTube video).

We are wired to seek the Father’s face, to have His face shine upon us and to have Him respond to us.  But not just a father’s face but the mother’s face too:

“A babies vision is a little blurry at birth but within a week a baby can focus on objects about 8 to 12 inches from his face which is the distance between a mother and baby’s face during feeding.”

One of the names for God used in the Old Testament is “El Shaddai” which is translated as “God Almighty” in places like Gen 17:1 and Gen 49:25.  Now shaddai could be come from the root “shadad” which means powerful (hence Almighty) or “shad” which means breast.  If it is the latter root then “El Shaddai” could be translated as “many breasted one” (sources: here and here).  Implying that God, like a mother, is our comfort, our sufficiency, our nourisher.

Given the current environment there are parties that sit firmly on both sides, each fiercely arguing that their version is correct translation.  The complementarians will argue that it’s a powerful, strong masculine God, the egalitarians will argue it’s a nurturing, tender, feminine God.

I believe that both are incorrect.  Each side only sees one part when both parts are needed*.  You see we are made male and female in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and only both together represent the fullness of God”†:

“Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam” (Gen 5:2 KJV).

Adam was created in the image of God as one being – both male and female (Gen 2:7).  This is a shadow of the heavenly reality of the Father and the Son being intimately one (Jn 10:30) and indeed his nature of Oneness despite many opposing characteristics (eg grace/mercy vs truth/judgement).

Adam was then separated into two: male and female (Gen 2:22-23 the word rib is literally “side”) as a shadow of the plurality of the nature of God (both in the Trinity and His nature).  But designed to become one again (Gen 2:24).   Hence the fullness of the image of God on earth is male and female together as one.

So babies are wired to look into the face of their parents and receive all the love, affirmation, protection, comfort, nourishment from them.  This is the shadow of the spiritual reality of us as God’s children looking to Him (whose nature includes both masculine and feminine aspects) and receive all that we need from Him, our all-in-all:

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev 22:3-4)

* Why then does Jesus say we should call Him father and why is Jesus the Bridegroom if God is both masculine and feminine?  This requires us to understand how sexuality reflects the relationships in the Godhead and between God and man, which will be covered in a later post.

† So does that mean that only married people image God?  Not entirely, because ultimately the one flesh union of a husband and wife is also a shadow of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32).  Perhaps this post might help.  And so if you’re single, you image God by being one with the Body of Christ becoming one with Christ.

Punishment, education or discipline (godly parenting)

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Discipline has got a bad press.  It has become synonymous with punishment and punishment has become synonymous with abuse which society condemns.  It is no surprise that society has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum and is overly permissive, giving their children whatever they want thinking this is loving.  Christians have rightly seen the error of permissiveness but often just counter this by talking about discipline in terms of “firm but fair” punishments.

But no matter how fair the punishment is it’s still missing the point as it assumes that discipline is about punishment!

Discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus which means pupil, from which we got discipina which meant instruction and then the word disciple – a follower, a learner:

discipline
In fact it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that the word became associated with punishment and it was due to a perverted understanding of being a disciple – that the body was bad and so must be punished by scourging.

Principally parents are called to disciple their children in the same way that Jesus discipled the twelve and Paul discipled Timothy and others in the churches he established.

However, once we get this idea the next mistake we make is to confuse discipling primarily with instruction and knowledge.  That if we tell our children what to do, if we give them the right information then they will make the right choices*.  After all the “expert” in the world’s eyes is the one who has studied and got a PhD.

This idea is not Biblical it’s Greek.  It comes from Plato’s dualistic worldview that said the spiritual realm (which included the mind) was good, but the physical realm (which included the body) was bad.  This was one of the reasons why discipline ended up as self-flagellation because the ‘bad’ flesh had to be punished!

The Biblical/Hebraic worldview is holistic.  If you want to teach someone you show it.  Jesus didn’t just give the disciples teaching and knowledge.  The disciples lived with him they saw, for example, how he healed and then Jesus sent them out to do the same.

This is why repeatedly Christ said “follow me” not “listen to me”.

This is why we as parents should not be saying “do what I tell you” or “do as I say (not what I do)” but like Paul we should be saying “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV) and “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.  Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).

During a prayer time when I was despairing about one of my children I felt God say “be the change you want to see”.  So like Jesus and like Paul I need to live my life openly in front of my children.  I need to model the life that I want them to emulate because God has designed us for discipleship – for copying others.

For example, I want them to learn how to depend on God so I need to show them my dependency on God.  This is why I don’t use a satnav even though I am hopeless at directions.  It puts me in a position where the children see me calling out to God for help in finding the way.  It puts me in the place where I need others to help with map reading.  It puts in a place where I’m on the edge and have to depend on the Spirit to not get frustrated and call for help and if I mess up then my children will see me apologise to whomever is helping. A comfortable life will never come close to modelling this.

* How many times have parents read “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6) and thought this is principally about teaching them the bible and sending them to Sunday school.

Repetition is important (teach your children godly sexuality)

Children with a burnt cooking chicken in the kitchen. Smoke. Fac

So here I am, I’ve given workshops to parents about how to teach godly sexuality to their children.  I live these principles in my own life.  I don’t shy away from talking about sex and regularly have God-focussed conversations with my children about how our sexuality is good and holy.

It’s all too easy after you’ve had one conversation with your children about sex to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  But just because you had “the talk” doesn’t mean they actually understood what you said.

This was brought home to me when one the mother of a friend of my youngest son said he had told her son that babies were made by the man peeing in the woman’s china.

I was mortified.  I was also humbled and repented of my self-satisfaction.  I learnt an important lesson that day:

Repetition is important, repetition is important and did I mention repetition is important.

I mentioned in a previous post about how talking about sexuality with our children should be “the talks” and not “the talk”.  Well this is another reason why.

It’s just like discipleship – understanding is something that happens gradually over a period of time it’s never a one-time brain dump.

Father may we never tire of sowing into our children’s lives until they grow into a mature knowledge of you, your creation and your nature.

Calling out your child’s true identity (godly parenting)

calling out (big)
In a previous post on godly parenting we briefly mentioned prophetic calling out of our children.  I want to look at this topic in a little more detail here.The classic example of this is the story of Gideon.  When the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon he speaks out his identity:

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judg 6:12)

But hold on a second!  Where is Gideon when the angel of the LORD speaks to him?  He’s hiding from the Midianites by threshing wheat in a winepress!  The angel calls him a mighty warrior when he is anything but.  Then the angel of the LORD (=Jesus) commands him to rescue His people but Gideon makes excuses:

“How can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judg 6:15)

We can see that Gideon sees himself as small, weak, insignificant and doesn’t see what God sees at all.  So God promises to be with him, but he needs a sign and brings an offering which is burnt up.

So Gideon now knows God, the creator of the universe, is with him and so everything’s going to be OK, right? Wrong!  His first task: tear down his father’s altar to Baal and Asherah pole

“But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime” (Judg 6:27)

So still scared.  Next task: raise an army.  But this is where he asks for two more signs with the fleece (Judg 6:36-40).  OK, so personal visitation by Jesus and three signs.  Surely he’s not scared now!  Wrong!  And God knows this which is why he says:

“If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with you servant Purah and listen to what they are saying.  Afterwards you will be encouraged to attack the camp” (Judg 7:10-11a)

He does and hears one of the Midianites speaking of a nightmare and the other explaining that it was about the sword of Gideon…God has given the Midiantes and the whole camp into his hands” (Judg 7:13-14).  Only then does Gideon step into his destiny that God knew all along: the mighty warrior.  He routs the Midianites and slaughters them in an act that is recorded forever.

God saw who Gideon truly was and spoke it over him – he affirmed and called out who he was going to be rather than who he currently was.  This is the Spirit of prophecy – calling forth things which are not yet to become true.

Prophetic calling out is not merely encouragement nor the power of positive thinking but speaking the truth of their identity. 

I’ve had well meaning Christians who confuse prophecy with encouragement and thinking by saying something encouraging and adding “God says” on the beginning will make it more than that.  For example, my wife has a degenerative condition that means she is becoming more and more disabled both physically and mentally.  A Christian brother gave me a word that “God says you’re going to have the best Christmas ever.”  It wasn’t – it was one of the hardest ones as my wife’s pain level was so high that she couldn’t celebrate much and my stress level was high trying to care for her and organise Christmas.  This word left a bitter taste.  Why would God say something like that which wasn’t true?

Prophetic calling out is speaking the truth of our child’s identity.  Since Jesus is the truth (Jn 14:6) and the Spirit of prophecy bears testimony to Jesus (Rev 19:10) – ie it speaks truth.  So prophecy will speak of the truth of our children’s identity – it will require us as parents to get on our knees and ask for God to open our eyes to the truth about our children.

Just like when the army of Aram surrounded the city where Elisha was and his servant panicked.  Elisha prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened to the truth – and then he saw the army of God encamped around and outnumbering the enemy (1 Kings 6:17).  Once they saw this truth then how he approached the situation changed as they knew that victory would be theirs.

Once Jesus reveals our children’s true identities we can then affirm and call out who they will become in Christ and keep our eyes on the prize, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2) who will finish the good work he starts in our children (Phil 1:6).

An example is my eldest son Josiah William.  My wife and I prayed over the nine months about the right name: Josiah means “YHWH is my healer” and William means “protector”.  Given that my wife and I were infertile and despite treatments had no children until the church prayed for us, Josiah was the right name for our second child.  But whilst we saw a glimpse of truth, God opened our eyes to even more.  God became our healer through Josiah in two other ways: The hospital was clinically negligent with the delivery of our first child and the trauma of that was still fresh in my wife’s mind.  But God brought healing of that trauma through the fact that Josiah slept almost solidly for a week.  There was no crying, just a baby that you could put down in any position and have him sleep.  The second way was that God brought healing to our marriage through Josiah.  As I mentioned in a previous post my wife had clinical postnatal depression and was put in a psychiatric ward and I had a nervous breakdown.  Our marriage never really recovered and we were sleeping in separate beds for some time before my wife packed the car and our little girl and drove to the office to tell me she was leaving me.  I so grateful to God that He helped me make one of the best choices of my marriage – I said I would do what it takes to fix this – I would even go on a marriage course.  And we did and it was the beginning of the turnaround in our lives.  And Josiah’s conception was week 5’s homework.

God gave us a glimpse of who Josiah’s identity was – it was natural that we would sow into this and call out the healer and protector that God had made him to be.  One day I found myself saying “You know Josiah, God has made your someone who will protect other people’s lives – and I believe that one day you will save your brother’s life”.  And it came to pass that he did when he pulled his brother out of the way of a car that was going to hit him.  God through Jesus revealed the truth about Josiah and I have the privilege to speak that truth and see the Spirit make it reality.

This is so much easier said than done as it’s all too easy to limit our view to the present actions of our children rather than the future man/woman that they will become.  That’s why we need the Spirit to help us see who they truly are going to be in Christ.  God didn’t lose patience with Gideon and say “For goodness sake!  How much more confirmation do you need that I am with you?”  Why?  Because He could see who Gideon was going to be and knew it would come about.

May the Father speak to you now as you think about your own children.  May He reveal their true identity to you and may you have the persistence to keep on blessing the Spirit’s work in your children by calling out this identity no matter how outlandish it may seem.  In Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

God will never give you more than you can handle and other myths (teach your children godly sexuality part 17)

God will never give you more than you can handle...Welcome to the last post of our basic course “teach your children godly sexuality”.  We have looked at four principles:

  1. Good – because our sexuality reflects the nature of our three in one God
  2. Holy – because it reflects God it is not ordinary
  3. As you walk along – we tell stories and answer questions in everyday life
  4. Nothing is impossible – God can redeem all things and gives us wisdom for all situations

To finish this series I want to tackle the myth that “God wouldn’t give you children if He didn’t think you could handle it”.

The hospital was clinically negligent during the birth of our first child.  I remember the blood steadily dripping into the bucket, the junior doctor taking an age to stitch up my wife after the tears, the colour draining from my wife’s face and then that doctor calling in for more help.  As it was our first baby we thought this was normal.  My wife’s  friends all said that a baby was wonderful and left her feeling inadequate.  I was in a stressful job and was no support.  Truth be told: I actually put more demands on her during this time.  When she told the doctor about her depression he told her to pull herself together.  She spiralled into clinical postnatal depression.  She tried to kill herself and was taken into a psychiatric ward.  I was left holding the baby and had no support from work.  After pouring out my heart to my boss he told me he didn’t want me staying at home moping and so I carried on going to my stressful work and had a nervous breakdown.  This was the beginning of our parenting journey.  This, along with the deaths of two of our children (Rachel and James) and the moment when my wife had packed up the car drove to my office and told me she was leaving, was one of the darkest periods in my life.  I couldn’t handle it.

You see the phrase implies that we have all it takes.  That by striving hard or by having the encouragement of friends we can make it.  It’s simply not true.

If it was then we wouldn’t have to ask God for anything as we’d be self-sufficient. We would be able to live independently of God.  We’d be repeating Adam and Eve’s sin of being the gods of our own lives.   It is the spirit of pride.  The same spirit that led to Satan’s downfall.

The truth is we depend on God for everything.  In Christ all things hold together (Col 1:17).  We are breathing now because of Jesus.  We’re not independent – moment to moment we exist because of the grace of God.

When God chose the people of Israel for His own, He sought to train them up.  As they travelled through the desert they had no food.  They were dependent on God’s manna from heaven.  If they took more than they needed it would become full of maggots (Ex 16:20).  They had to daily depend on God’s provision.

Jesus summed this principle up when he taught us to pray:

“Give us today our daily bread” (Lk 11:3)

We have to ask God daily for what we need.  It isn’t given automatically.  Daily we have to express our dependence on Him.

“I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5)

Doesn’t this verse make you want to add a qualification to it?  “Of course I can do some things – it’s talking about spiritual things or it’s talking about getting into heaven or…”.  Whatever you believe is the exception to this rule is where you believe you are independent of God.

Let’s return to raising godly children and teaching them about godly sexuality.  All the principles in the world aren’t going to achieve this.  Only with God’s help can we do this.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13 NKJV emphasis mine)

Did you know muscles only grow when they are damaged.  It’s the repairs of the microscopic tears that cause the growth.  This is a physical reflection of a spiritual reality.  Only when we are stretched beyond what we can bear do we grow.  Why?  Because then we acknowledge our dependence on Him and call on Him to transform us.

In life we will experience storms and anything built in our own strength will fall flat.  Sometimes in His grace God will allow you to experience events that show our need for Him*.  If we call on Him they become places of growth.  If we don’t they become places of destruction.  I never want to repeat those dark days but I am genuinely grateful for them, as it pushed us into Him and our lives were transformed as a result.

There was the time my friend at church was distraught as their child was refusing to eat and nothing they could do was working.  It had been several days and she was tearing her hair out.  We cried out to God for help.  We recognised that we couldn’t do anything.  We called out to Him and He transformed the situation.  Their child began eating from that moment.

There was the time my middle daughter was experiencing night terrors.  I as a Father could do nothing but call out to God and ask for help.  But a quick prayer didn’t seem to make a difference.  I found I had to stay by her bedside praying in tongues for about 10 minutes, dependent on Him, before the transformation came and her cries in her sleep turned into squeals of laughter.  And I had to repeat this every night for about a week.

All we need, all we have is found in Him.  Run to Him daily and receive what you need.  Amen.

It’s part of the problem of living in the West with the deceitfulness of wealth (Mk 4:19) that we can end up disowning God (Prov 30:8-9) thinking we have it all.  Why do you think the poor are rich in faith (Jas 2:5)?  Because daily they realise their dependence on Him.
* Please understand that I don’t believe God sends us trouble as He is a good father who gives us good gifts (Jas 1:17; Lk 11:11-13).  However, in this fallen world we will experience trouble.  And particularly since Satan hates marriage, sex and children (as they most reflect our God) he will seek to kill, rob and destroy them (Jn 10:10).