Who wrote these words?
“God takes pleasure in Himself and rejoices in His own perfection.”
If John Piper sprang to mind you are obviously steeped in his theology. Good! Perhaps you went further back and thought of Jonathan Edwards. Terrific! Both pastors have written these words or words like them. But, the answer I’m looking for is A. W. Tozer.
My wife and I are reading through a book of a collection of Tozer’s writings called The Attributes of God (Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread Publishers, 2007). The sentence above is from a chapter entitled “God’s Infinitude.”
Tozer goes on to explain how God delights in his creation and his Son. Jesus delights in the Father and the Spirit delights in the Father and the Son. Then quoting from a “dear old hymn writer,” Tozer tells us of Jesus’ delight in his incarnation: he did not “abhor the virgin’s womb.” “The second person of the Trinity, the everlasting Son,” Tozer wrote “the eternal Word made Himself flesh – joyously!”
This little section of Tozer’s book sparked a timely discussion for my wife and me. Does God delight in our losses? If so, isn’t that cruel and mean-spirited?
Here’s the background. Our youngest daughter is soon moving out of state – way out of state; sixteen hundred miles and seven states away. Our oldest daughter and her husband and their children (our grandchildren, I might add) live nearly twelve hundred miles and four states away. For the first time in thirty plus years, our family will be living in three different states.
Granted, that’s not unusual by today’s American standards. It’s just that it is unusual for us; and uncomfortable. For nearly thirty plus years, our family has lived in close proximity to each other. No more than thirty minutes away at the farthest.
My wife isn’t delighted about this.
I am not delighted either.
But what about God? Tozer, Piper, Edwards and the Bible agree: God delights in all that he does. In fact, my wife pointed out to me that “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Ps 25:10).
Because we are committed to the sovereignty of God at work in our lives, our daughter’s move falls under the category of his “steadfast love and faithfulness.” Fair enough. But how does “his delight” square with our dis-delight?
As we talked, we reminded each other that God cannot do anything wrong; he does all things well (Mark 7:37). The problem isn’t with God’s doing things, but our perspective of them. Is it possible to see something we dislike as something that will bring pleasure to God?
My wife reminded me further that plenty of biblical parents had to relinquish their children: Jacob had to let Joseph “go,” assuming he’d been killed (Genesis 37). Hannah had to let Samuel go for the service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1). Eventually, Moses’ mother had to let him go too (Exodus 2). Need it be mentioned that God “gave up” his Son for our salvation?
Does that mean he doesn’t care about how we feel about the loss of a daughter to the East Coast? No, not at all. Piper says it: God taking pleasure in himself is the way he blesses us and does good to and for us. God has never been unhappy or lonely.
“He has always rejoiced with overflowing satisfaction . . . God is not constrained by any inner deficiency or unhappiness to do anything he does not want to do . . . This is what distinguishes us from God. We have an immense void inside that craves satisfaction from powers and persons (our family) and pleasures (proximity) outside ourselves. Yearning and longing and desire are the very stuff of our nature. We are born deficient and needy and dissatisfied.”
Part of the answer for God’s delight in himself and all that he does is so that there is an overflow from the reservoir of his goodness into our souls as we delight in God. “God is not like an insecure bully, who likes to show off his strength by putting weaker people down. God loves to show off his greatness by being an inexhaustible source of strength to build weak people up. His exuberance in delighting in the welfare of his servant is the measure of the immensity of his resources (Phil 4:19).”
Our losses and the suffering and the dis-delight they bring become for us an opportunity to receive from the Spirit everything his Names imply: Intercessor (he will plead for us), helper (he will get in there and shoulder the work on our behalf), Counselor (he will help us see what we need to see by faith), and Comforter (Someone to lean on in times of sorrow). The loss opens an opportunity for us to delight in Christ’s all-sufficient riches. Our dependence on his riches delights God and shows that we really do believe he is greatest treasure we have. Piper writes, “If we hold fast to him ‘when all around our soul gives way,’ then we show that he is more to be desired than all we have lost.” Paul said, “Gladly then will I boast in my weakness that the power of Christ may dwell in me . . . for when I am weak (lacking something, dis-delighting in something), then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10).
So, although our daughter will move, we will miss her and feel the sadness of the loss of her company. We will call her and write to her and definitely create excuses to visit her. This new circumstance will become for us a way to live in and magnify Christ’s grace in delighting to move her away for a time and depend on him for our delights.
You will look in vain for a section of the Bible entitled “Guidelines to Christian Parenting.” There are a few texts and they are extremely important and they fall under the general heading “Families that serve the Lord and live for him do these things.”
With regard to children, parents are to instruct their children in the ways and commands of God (Prov 22:6; Eph 6:4). Fathers in particular are to guide their children in the way of godly living. That means being able to discern ungodly living (Prov 1:8; 6:20) and giving wisdom for godly living. Instruction at home is both of the formal kind and the informal. Purposely setting aside times to teach in an incremental and age appropriate way the Christian faith is encouraged in Scripture(Prov 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15, 17).
A father’s spiritual leadership was an important part of daily Christian living (Exod 12:3; Josh 24:15). It was so important to Paul that he required men who wanted to serve as elders to be proven at home (1 Tim 3:5). As has been said, leadership in the home is the proving ground of leadership in the church.
Abraham serves as a good illustration for us. Think of all that God called Abraham to become and do. God called him out of the darkness of pagan religion and culture. Told him to leave his hometown and head out to a place where God would show him. God promised Abraham a land of his own (which he never possessed) and a people (of which he saw only one person: Isaac). Yet, Abraham and Sarah were going to give birth to a nation of kings and priests to God. They would have more descendants than could be counted. They would become the light of God’s truth to the world. Through Abraham and Sarah, the Savior of the world would be born, the mercy and refuge of the gospel would be revealed, and God’s glory would be made public.
That’s a tall order for Abraham’s “job description.” When God was about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, he knew he had to include Abraham in on his plans. Yet look at the basis of God’s choice of this man:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, [with the purpose] that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen 18:17-19)
The promises of God to Abraham – and to the whole world – rested on the unique role he would fulfill in training his children “to keep the way of the Lord.” Abraham was to become the primary teacher of practical biblical theology in his home. His students would be his wife Sarah, his wife Hagar, his son Ishmael, his son Isaac and all his servants – pagan or God-fearer. And we know that he did this faithfully. When Abraham took Isaac to offer him up to God as he was commanded, Isaac asked about the lamb for the burnt offering.
There’s a pattern to take note of. God ordained that the message of gospel hope was to be advanced in the world through the next generation in Abraham’s household. The same has been true ever since. God’s plan for spreading the gospel starts with Christian parents evangelizing and discipling their children.
Some encouragements from history
Through the 2,000 years of the church since the first apostles, we find church leaders practicing and encouraging Christians in family worship. The earliest mention comes from the church father Jerome (AD 347-420).
From Jerome’s works, we read this:
“At an early hour in the morning, the family were assembled, when a portion of Scripture was read from the Old Testament, which was followed by a hymn and a prayer, in which thanks were offered up to the Almighty for preserving them during the silent watches of the night, and for His goodness in permitting them to meet in health of body and soundness of mind; and at the same time His grace was implored to defend them amid the dangers and temptations of the day, to make them faithful to every duty and enable them in all respects to walk worthy of their Christian vocation. In the evening before retiring to rest, the family again assembled, when the same form of worship was observed as in the morning with this difference: that the service was considerably protracted beyond the period which could conveniently be allotted to it in the commencement of the day”3].
Moving forward in history, we find similar examples from church leaders like Martin Luther. Luther was the first busy evangelical pastor. He preached almost every day, wrote numerous tracts, pamphlets, theological books and Bible commentaries. He pastored the first evangelical church in the world and taught what we’d call a seminary for missionary-pastors from all over Europe. Yet, he recognized the important role of a husband and father leading spiritually in his home. Luther wrote,
Abraham [who] had in his tent a house of God and a church, just as today any godly and pious head of a household instructs his children . . . in godliness. Therefore, such a house is actually a school and church, and the head of the household is a bishop and priest in his house.
The Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
During the 17th century, the Presbyterian and Baptist churches in England considered family worship important enough to include a paragraph on it in their respective confessions of faith. The London Baptist Confession (1689) said,
In present gospel days neither prayer nor any other aspect of religious worship depends for its efficacy on the place where it is performed . . . for God is everywhere to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; as, for instance, in the daily worship carried on in private families, in the worship in which individual Christians engage in secret, and in the worship of the public assemblies.
The Westminster Confession, which preceded The Baptist Confession by about forty-five years and heavily influenced it, was not meant to be a list of suggestions. In fact, the Presbyterian body at Westminster published a Directory for Family Worship to guide families in the practice family worship. From the introduction we read that the head of a household was to be encouraged and held accountable for such formal practice. These were the instructions:
He [the head of a household] is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the [elders] [for the exercise of his responsible] after which reproof, if he be found still to neglect Family-worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offence, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, till he amend.
Incidentally, our own FBC church covenant points us to the important personal responsibility of the family in the discipline. It reads, “We also pledge to maintain family and private devotions [and] to teach the Bible to our children.”
Samuel Davies (1724-1761)
Samuel Davies, sometimes called “the apostle of Virginia,” gave several strong arguments to the men in his congregations to practice family worship. In one sermon dedicated to the objections fathers presented, he implored the church this way:
If you love your children; if you would bring down the blessing of heaven upon your families; if you would have your children make their houses the receptacles of religion when they set up in life for themselves; if you would have religion survive in this place, and be conveyed from age to age; if you would deliver your own souls – I beseech . . . you to begin and continue the worship of God in your families from this day to the close of your lives . . . . [It is] your greatest privilege granted by divine grace.”
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Charles Spurgeon likely had to address the role of parents and the role of the church in a sermon. He said,
First, let us begin by emphatically declaring it is parents (fathers in particular) and not the church who are given the primary responsibility for calling the next generation to hope in God. The church serves a supplementary role, reinforcing the biblical nurture that is occurring in the home. It is not the job of “professionals” at the church to rear the children of believers in the faith.
John G. Paton (1824-1907)
I want to mention John G. Paton because of the significant role his father played in Paton’s success in ministry. Paton was a missionary to the South Pacific islands of the New Hebrides. He arrived on the island of Aniwa in November 1866. The natives were cannibals who occasionally ate the flesh of their defeated foes. They practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice, killing the widows of deceased men so that they could serve their husbands in the next world. Paton admitted fear and doubt about his life and ministry. There were many dark days of service there; Paton buried his first wife there.
In his biography, Paton attributes his courage and perseverance from the times of family in worship at home. He wrote,
“How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.”
The depth of love between father and son forged in times of family worship left a lasting mark on Paton. Reflecting back on his home life after forty years on the mission field he wrote, “I watched [my father return home] through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.”
Paton’s strength to live the Christian life as a missionary came from the encouragements of faith during family worship. Paton and his wife Margaret saw the entire island of Aniwa come to Christ. He wrote in his journal, “I claimed Aniwa for Jesus, and by the grace of God Aniwa now worships at the Savior’s feet.”
There was no secret spirituality behind the discipline of these men. No father or mother has to be a theologian. The only qualification necessary is to be a parent who will do three simple things in the home on a regular basis: read the Scripture, sing a song and pray together. That is all Jerome, Luther, Spurgeon and Paton did in their families! No need to be a giant of the faith; just a dad and mom who love their children enough to form Christ in them.
And remember, it’s not just about children but for the entire household. In NT times there might be another generation in the home (e.g., grandparents) or in wealthier homes servants and/or slaves (Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31-33; 1 Cor 1:16).
We need these encouragements! Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
J. W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship (Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), 20-21. Jerome was a Bible scholar and the author of the Latin Bible known as the Vulgate published in the late 4th century AD.
Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship (Shepherdsville, KY: The Center for Biblical Spirituality), 9.
N. A., A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith or 1689 Rewritten in Modern English (Leeds, England: Carey Publications, 1975), 51.
Whitney, Family Worship, 10.
“FBC Church Member’s Covenant.” See paragraph three.
Steve Wright, “Key Puritan Quotes” [on-line]; accessed 2 January 2010;a available from http://www.alexchediak.com/image/Steve%20Wright%20-%20reThink%20-%20Puritan%20Quotes.pdf; Internet.
John Piper, “You Will be Eaten by Cannibals!” [on-line]; accessed 14 July 2011; available at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/biographies/you-will-be-eaten-by-cannibals-lessons-from-the-life-of-john-g-paton; Internet.
There has seeped into the church culture a “new normal” with regard to children “growing up Christian.” I say “new normal” because I can only imagine it has not been this way in past generations of believers. Nothing in Scripture seems to support the idea that children growing up in a Christian home will “graduate from God when the graduate from high school” and return after they are married with children of their own. That is the “new normal.”
The “new normal” is not supported by Scripture. Instead we find the opposite expectation:
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Ps 78:5-8)
Our teens and twenty-somethings have a “new” view of things relating to God. The church, study of the Scriptures, growing in faith are mostly irrelevant because this generation does not see the connection to things that matter. More immediate concerns matters: self-sufficiency, financial independence, achieving identity. Not necessarily wrong; just primary. Religion is all about the old “dependent child” they used to be.
Our children have grown up breathing the air of the American Dream and expect to pursue that way of life. Breathing this air has its dark side; it may fill their “spiritual lungs” allowing nothing else in. If they come to feel their soul’s desperate need, there is hope. It is still true – somewhat less than it used to be—that marriage and family responsibilities may bring some evangelicals back to the church for help. However, this return does not mean that genuine conversion has taken place. It does mean that they may have a sense that the American Dream was not answering their soul’s need.
The Content of the Command: Love God (Deut 6:4-9)
When God gave his commands to his people in the wilderness, he gave it to them in the context of families living together in a unique society. God expected them to obey his commands, no matter how difficult. There was a great deal at stake for God’s people in obeying God’s commands. Obedience meant the difference between a long and fruitful life in the land; disobedience meant the curse of exile from the land. So, it is not hard to imagine that the next question on their minds might have been: “OK. Where do we start and what do we do?”
Notice that the new life of this new generation doesn’t begin in the law courts, or the civil government, or the king’s palace. The life of the covenant begins in every individual Israelite home. The new life will flow from homes that obey the first of the commandments: to love God with an exclusive devotion of heart, soul and might; and Jesus added the whole mind.
The command to love God is central to understanding the spiritual formation of the home. All the legal stipulations of God’s law were filtered through this love relationship. It is fundamental to this covenant that God is not only Israel’s king and teacher, he is also their Father. God will treat Israel as a father treats a son and expects his son to respond with respect for God’s authority, familial loyalty and childlike obedience. As a good father, God has standards for his children which define their relationship. God says, “You are the sons of the LORD your God . . . For you are a people holy to the LORD your God” (Deut 14:1, 21). Out of the Father’s tender love and merciful acts, the centrality of the command to love God shapes the kind of relationship God desires: family.
Therefore, it only makes sense that when we come to verses 4-9, we come first to the family setting. It is in the family that the greatest commandment is taught, learned and practiced. The divine image of the Father-son relationship not only shapes the nation’s response to God, it simultaneously teaches earthly fathers how they are to lead in their homes, to relate to their wives and to train their children.
God: the foundational truth for spiritual formation
We can see how important it is to have correct view of God for faith-training at home: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This is not only a theological statement; it is also practical for living. The Lord is saying that he is unique. Moses wrote a song about God so that God’s people could have a quick way of remembering what he is like:
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. (Exod 15:11-13)
The Israelites discovered the uniqueness of God when he acted to redeem them from Egypt; an act that inspired their love. They learned that when God spoke, there was no one to contradict him and say, “No, that’s not right.” When God promised something, they learned there was no one to invalidate the promise – not even Pharaoh, the most powerful leader on earth at the time. When God warned them about something, there was no other place to find refuge except in him. They learned that God was not merely “the first among equals;” he was the one and only God; he was worthy of all their affection and obedience.
Fathers and mothers as contagious modelers of faith
Fathers and mothers were to be the primary and contagious carriers of this love and knowledge about God. Parents were to live lives of holy affection for God in front of their children. Moses said, “You shall love God . . . and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (vv. 5, 6).
Have you noticed that our children catch our manners, our ways and our attitudes. Children are “mini-me’s” reflecting their parents. They receive impressions from their parents like clay. Parents need to remember that their example will be copied by their children. They will seldom learn to love what you despise or ignore or walk in a way that you don’t. Living an authentic Christian life in front of our children ratifies the things they are taught about God both in the home and at church. A parent’s authentic Christian life makes the gospel truly credible. If our children hear one thing in church but see it’s opposite at home, we communicate to them that God’s authority is irrelevant. One pastor said, “To give children good instruction, and a bad example, is the same thing as pointing out to them the way to heaven, while we take them by the hand and lead them down the road to hell.”
Parents’ first obligation to the spiritual formation of their children is to live Christianly, authentically, and growingly in the love of God.
Get out your whetting stones
The word that Moses used for “teach” can be translated “sharpen.” The sharpening he has in mind is the action of sharpening a knife on a whetting stone. It is also used figuratively to mean using words in a cutting way. That is probably how Moses is thinking here: using words, specifically God’s word to etch his commands into the hearts of children.
It is through words of instruction that God’s word is inscribed onto our children. And notice the formal and informal settings for this activity. First, instruction in God’s word is to be “diligent.” That points us to formal times of instruction, like during family worship. But there are also informal times: “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” In other words, daily and routinely, systematically and with regular unpredictability.
It is through this means that God brings our children to acknowledge their need for a Savior. Our words of instruction, in the formal and informal times, are like the kindling used to build fires. Over time this kindling around their hearts receives a spark from the Holy Spirit who fans the flame of love for God. The only thing that will tamp down that fire is parents who don’t continue throwing the kindling along with the good dense logs of biblical truth on the fire.
So, parents: in order to love your children into the kingdom of God, love God supremely in front of them!
Be of good cheer,
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 78.
Matt 22:37. For which I am grateful!
Deut 8:5; Hos 11:1.
Compare Deut 5:7 with Jesus’ comment in Matt 22:38.
The Hebrew word is sanan; a verb meaning “to whet.”
I have a “dumb phone” and will probably always have a dumb phone. I don’t like being thought of as a “dinosaur” but I like talking on the phone less. That is not to say a personal phone isn’t convenient for quick “check-in” calls like “Where will we meet? See you there in 10,” or “Honey, I just locked me keys in the car again. Could you bring me the spare set? I’ll make it up to you tonight!” But I’ve concluded that smart phones are for smart people and teens.
The only problem with mixing smart phones and teens is that they (teens) don’t look up any more. They look down into their laps and you know it’s because they are tuned into a small screen of entertainment or texting. What worries me is that teens might forget how to look you in the eye when they talk to you. There might be a smart phone between you and a teenager some day in a face-to-mediated-face-by-a-smart-phone talk. Can you imagine the awkwardness of their first real job interview? I shudder to think.
When our daughters were in their teens, personal phones were just coming out of the clumsy stone age when the phone looked like the walkie-talkie of a 101st Airborne communications sergeant. Our daughters did not have personal phones. We gave them a quarter instead. Cruel, I know. But we still had a land line at home and the use of it came with some rules and regulations. Rules like no phone calls after 9 pm on week nights or 10 pm on weekends, regulations like conversations lasting no more than twenty minutes because other people in the family might need the phone. If there were an important call to be made by Mom or Dad,they were off the phone immediately; no questions or complaints. It was easy to govern the use of the phone and at the same time teach our daughters phone etiquette.
With the proliferation of iPhones, etiquette is getting harder to define, except when the latest Lady Ga Ga ring tone tune blasts out of the pocket of the teen next to you in the movie theater.
So, for all parents wondering how to mix the newest technology in phones with lessons on responsibility here’s a link you need read. It’s from a mom (Jannell Burley Hoffman) who drafted an agreement with her son on the responsible use of his iPhone given as a Christmas gift. What I like about what this mom did was not just give her son a bunch of rules and regulations, but explained why those rules reflect the character she wants developed in him. She’s a mom with her eye on sending a well-mannered, responsible and intelligent young man into the world.
May her tribe increase!