By H. Lynn Gardner
Fathers and grandfathers either leave a godly heritage or a godless legacy. What inheritance is our priority: money, property, a business, or a succession of spiritual, committed Christians? Is our focus on transient or eternal values? How we invest in our children and grandchildren defines the inheritance we leave.
The spiritual legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren is the greatest investment we make as fathers and grandfathers.
A Biblical Mandate
In God’s plan for the family, parents are responsible for the spiritual instruction of their children. The father leads, with his wife’s help, in conducting biblical and moral instruction in the home, not leaving this duty to the church and youth minister.
Through Abraham, God wanted to develop “a great and powerful nation” so that “all nations on earth will be blessed.” God could accomplish this promise as Abraham would “direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:18, 19).
Moses urged the Israelites not to forget the works and words of the Lord but keep them in their hearts as long as they live. “Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” God wanted the people to “hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children” (Deuteronomy 4:9, 10, emphasis added).
Hear, O Israel. . . . These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; see also 11:18-21; Proverbs 22:6).
God instructed the Israelites to listen to his words spoken by their fathers:
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done. He . . .
established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands (Psalm 78:4-7, see also 103:17, 18, emphasis added).
In the Jewish family, the father taught the law of God to his sons, prepared them for a trade, and guided them in finding a wife. Mothers taught their daughters to be housekeepers, wives, and mothers.
Christian fathers nurture their children as they “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
The Role of Fathers
A child’s relationship with his or her father greatly influences the child’s idea of and relationship with God. Especially crucial is the father’s role as moral authority, example, and in discipline. He must teach the child to respect authority and to realize the serious consequences of wrong behavior.
Children learn the law (right and wrong) before they learn the gospel (grace). A primary goal should be to teach children to know God and to follow Christ as their Savior and Lord. Christian men can be spiritual encouragers for children who do not have a father’s guidance.
After interviewing 10,000 fathers, the National Center for Fathering identified four functions of fathering: involvement, consistency, attention, and nurturance (The Heart of a Father: How You Can Become a Dad of Destiny, by Ken Canfield, Northfield Publishing, 2006).
Fathers seeking to leave a godly spiritual legacy in their children and grandchildren will seek to fulfill the following functions.
They will be involved in the spiritual instruction and development of their children in the home. Significant interaction of parents with their children helps them mature. As with absent fathers, the uninvolved father has detrimental effects on his children’s behavior and well-being. Involved fathers read Bible stories and pray with their children and continue Bible studies with their teens. Fathers are responsible for biblical teaching in the home and making worship and church attendance a priority.
They will strive for consistency in what they say and teach about spiritual matters and what they do in their personal life. Values, attitudes, habits, and priorities are caught by children observing us. Our conduct exposes our character. If we do not practice honesty, self-control, kindness and service to others, generosity, respect for women, and purity in thought and behavior, how can we expect them to develop these traits? Does our commitment to Christ and the church match what we profess? Just as ballplayers dislike inconsistency in an umpire calling balls and strikes, children cannot respect a father whose conduct contradicts his Christian profession. Consistent fathers provide a stability enabling children to mature spiritually.
They will give attention to know their children and their world, especially their spiritual development. Keep the lines of communication open so children feel free to express what they think and feel about spiritual matters. What a tragedy to wake up one day and realize we don’t know our son or daughter. We must not let programming our children to succeed in sports, academics, and extracurricular activities overshadow and crowd out encouraging growth in their Christian walk. A good father teaches his children that commitment to Christ and the church has top priority over everything else.
They will love their children by acting in their best interest and nurturing each child by seeking to meet his or her emotional and personal needs. Many men—over 50 percent in one study—never felt close with their fathers because their fathers kept an emotional distance from them and failed to express and demonstrate love. The emotions and mood of fathers largely determine whether a home is a happy welcoming place or a tense and uncomfortable place. A father demonstrates his love to his children by giving his time and presence, by appropriate touch and praise, and by listening to their heart questions and needs. A wise father loves his wife, his children, and the Lord’s church.
The Role of Grandfathers
God expects grandfathers to be spiritual teachers of their children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 78:4-8). “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22, NIV 1984). Through stories and memories, grandparents can be a bridge unifying the generations by shaping a sense of history and family heritage. Grandfathers have special opportunities and responsibilities in the spiritual instruction and development of grandchildren.
The primary responsibility of grandparents is to be supportive of their children and grandchildren. While not in charge of parenting, grandfathers must not be preoccupied with their own pursuits and pleasures so they ignore their children and grandchildren. Praying daily for our children and grandchildren, we will be sensitive and available to help and encourage. Grandparents provide an outside voice supporting and reinforcing the moral and spiritual teaching of parents.
The lives of grandparents provide examples and role models watched by grandchildren. Grandfathers who live irresponsible lives pursuing their selfish pleasures will undermine godly teaching that parents try to instill in their children. Lives well lived by grandparents demonstrate to grandchildren that Christianity provides the abundant life. Meeting the difficulties of one’s declining years with faith, patience, joy, and hope speaks volumes to watching grandchildren.
Grandfathers can mentor their grandchildren. Survey your strengths and identify what you can offer to your grandchildren. Possibilities include handyman skills, woodworking, gardening, electronics, sports, and learning their family heritage. Teach grandchildren Christian principles that relate to whatever you share with them.
I, with Barbara’s assistance, have found joy in teaching the Bible to our grandchildren in Grandpa’s Bible Club (“Grandpa’s Bible Club,” by H. Lynn Gardner, The Lookout, September 9, 2007).
We often visit Christian organizations and then eat together. Our last study focused on the main characters of the Old Testament. Recently health concerns and children’s schedules have limited our meetings. Begin your mentoring early.
A grandfather who is a friend and listening ear to his grandchildren can help them learn from and relate to the older generation. Growing up in a digital and virtual world, young people have relational needs that grandparents can meet. Grandfathers can contribute to the health of families by affirming and esteeming their children and grandchildren.
The Most Important Legacy
John reflects, “It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 3, 4). Fathers and grandfathers have supreme joy when our lasting legacy includes our children and grandchildren walking in the truth.
H. Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer in Carl Junction, Missouri.
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