Parenting with the Parables – The Persistent Widow

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.  There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ‘  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; likewise, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ” (Lk 18:1-8).

Jesus lays out the point of this story in the first verse.  Jesus is teaching His followers to pray at all times and to not lose heart; to not give up.  The widow in this parable is honored for her persistence.  And Jesus connects her persistence to our own persistence in prayer with His promise that “likewise” God will bring justice to His children who call upon Him.

If we focus too strongly on seeing God as represented by the unrighteous judge, we may conclude that our prayers “bother” God to the point of forcing an answer out of Him.  But that is not the point at all.  Jesus is not comparing God to the judge.  He is contrasting God with the judge.  And the key to understanding this is the little “likewise” comparison is verse 7.  A better translation of that connection would be “how much more” (see Matthew 7:11) rather than “likewise”.  God is not like the judge – answering our requests out of an attitude of annoyance – but is much more in favor of answering our prayers out of our relationship – we being the elect or chosen ones.

In short, our prayers do not “bother” God; they “honor” God.

Let’s turn now to the words “will He delay long” and “quickly” since quick is not always our experience.  We know from the rest of Scripture that God’s “delays” are for our good, not out of obstinance like the unrighteous judge.  They are rather designed to teach us two lessons which this parable highlights.

First, we need to be persistent in our prayers.  As Dave Gibson has shared many times, “When it comes to prayer, it is never too late to start and it is always too soon to quit.”

Second, we need to pray in faith.  This requirement is given in the end of verse 8.  Regarding our prayers, Jesus asks, “Will I find this kind of faith on the earth.”  Will He find those who pray persistently and expectantly?  Will He find those whose prayers are infused with faith?  We have written many times in these pages about the importance of faith in living the Christian life.  And here, Jesus highlights it as invaluable to this aspect of living the life; our prayers.

So what lessons does this parable have for our children?

  1. We honor God with our prayers.
  2. We need to be persistent in our prayers.
  3. We need to pray in faith.

As our lives and schedules get busy and overbooked, it is easy to send family prayers to the back burner.  Please fight that inclination.  Teaching our children to pray and teaching them Jesus’ lessons on prayer will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Parenting with the Parables – The Two Sons

“Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, ‘What do you think?  A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.”  And the son answered, “I will not”; but afterward regretted it and went.  The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?’  They said, ‘The first.’  Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him’ ” (Mt 21:28-32).

The second son in this story represents the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.  They loudly proclaimed their commitment to God and in theory were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.  But when John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom, they rejected him.

The first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, a class of citizens often referred to as “sinners”.  They had been rejecting God’s call on their life.  However, when John appeared, they responded enthusiastically to the announcement of the kingdom of God.  They ultimately were the ones who “did the will of the father”.

How does this apply to our parenting?  We are all familiar with the smooth talking kid; the polite child who sounds obedient but never seems to follow through.  They are like the second son, saying “yes” to obedience but going their own way.

This parable teaches our children that the right choice is obedience like the first son.  Even if they are not excited about it, they are to follow through on their commitments.  We want action, not just talk.  We want doers of the word, not just hearers – or talkers.

We want obedience even if that action is not accompanied by a good attitude.  In our early child training years, we concentrated more on obedience than attitude.  Even begrudging obedience was better than a cheerful attitude that never quite got around to finishing the job.  Does this mean that attitude is not important?  No, and in fact we will get to some parables that teach a godly attitude while doing our jobs.  I am just saying that attitude is more of a long-term project while obedience is easily measured in each situation.

I will also add, on a personal note, the value of modeling the lessons of the parables that we are trying to teach.  My wife, Rhonda, is a stellar “doer of the word”.  There is not a person I know who takes this charge more to heart.  Her compassionate “doing” rather than “talking about it” was a great example for our children.  And I say as humbly as I can, they caught the message.

Teach and model for your children the obedience of the first son.  Even if the attitude still needs some work, reward the obedience.

Parenting with the Parables – Introduction

As parents, we have a mandate to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).  The backbone for accomplishing this training program is through the pages of Scripture.  And one of the themes that Rhonda and I found particularly appealing in teaching our children were the parables of Jesus.

When Jesus was here in the flesh, He primarily taught His followers in three ways: through direct instruction (the Sermon on the Mount), by His example (washing His disciples feet), and by storytelling (the parables).  Each of these methods has an appropriate time and place in how we teach our children.

In this upcoming series of posts, we will focus on what we learn from His storytelling; what we learn in the parables of Jesus.  The parables are a description of what living in God’s kingdom looks like.  Many of the parables begin with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or its synonym, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”.  And the wide range of stories that Jesus told give us insight both into the theology of the kingdom as well as its everyday application.

I like to think of our families as little outposts of God’s kingdom here on earth; a place where God’s reign is evident.  With that picture in mind, I propose we launch off into our series with an eye toward what we and our children can learn about kingdom living from the parables of Jesus.

“Holiness Befits Thy House”

“Holiness befits Thy house, O Lord, forevermore” (Psalm 93:5).  God’s dwelling place is adorned or decorated with holiness.  It has the aura of holiness.  It has the look and feel of holiness.  It has the taste and smell of holiness.  It is literally filled up with holiness.  Holiness befits God’s house.  Does holiness adorn your house?

God has placed us here as a family to be salt and light.  If we “bubble wrap” ourselves and our kids, we are making a mistake.  Jesus was called “friend of sinners”.  He didn’t get that title by withdrawing in isolation.  At the same time, I think it is safe to say that Christ was not influenced by the sin He encountered.  While there is danger in being legalistic, of imposing our gray area views on others, or becoming boastful about what we do or don’t do, I think our greater danger is going the other direction.  We hear much advice about engaging the culture.  Unfortunately, I fear much of our cultural engagement is taking place around the culture’s sewer.  Is our effort to relate just an excuse to conform?

The New Testament has plenty to say about not conforming to this world.  We demonstrate and offer a radically different option to our unbelieving friends than the life they are now living.  We are radically different, not because we are better, but because we have been rescued to a new life.

How different is the rescued life?  I Peter 4:3-5 says, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

The time for sin is “past”.  The time for the practice of sin is in the rear view mirror for the rescued believer.  Could there be any more accurate description of our entertainment culture than we see here in verse 3?  God says run away from these sins of our past, not continue to participate.  Our unbelieving friends should be “surprised” (vs 4) by our refusal to participate.  Why?  Because it is so rare.  Are people surprised by how we parent?  Are people surprised by how we spend our money?  Are people surprised by our refusal to join the gossip and complaining in our workplace?  Are people surprised by what we feed our minds?  This is where we often lose our impact.  Sadly, our Christian life is not surprising.  Let your life be a surprise by your radical identification with Christ.

Surprise the world around you by refusing to “run into the flood of dissipation” that is our current culture’s mentality and be prepared for rejection as “they malign you.”  Stand firm, even if it offends, if it is for the cause of Christ.  Do not offend by being obnoxious, by being angry, by being judgmental.  There is no blessing in that.  And rest in the judgment of Christ.  After all, “He who is ready to judge the living and the dead” is the one we seek to please above all others.

May holiness be the adornment of your house.

Authority and Friendship

Grace based parenting is about finding the balance between love and control, celebration and responsibility, relationship and instruction, truth and grace.  It is about developing a well-rounded relationship with your children as both their authority figure and their friend.  It strikes a balance between well-meaning, but old covenant, advice that emphasizes your authority role at the expense of any friendship expectation and the experience of parents who error in the other direction.  These parents, desiring a friendship relationship with their children, have abdicated their authority and, not wanting to rock the boat, have lowered the standards at home driven by the desire to fit in better with the world.

God has given us a beautiful picture of an authority and friend relationship in none other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).  Did you catch that?  Jesus Christ, Lord and Master, is calling you His friend if indeed you are a disciple, a Christ follower.

We imitate Christ when we parent with a balance of authority and friendship.  Somehow, Christ is my Master and Friend at the same time.  In the same way, you can lead your family from a combination of authority and friendship.

In To Love as God Loves, Roberta Bondi identifies a three step process whereby the early church learned obedience to Christ.  Step one is obeying Christ as a slave out of fear.  Step two is obeying Christ as a hired hand to receive a payment (reward).  Step three, as we progress in Christian maturity, is obeying Christ as a friend in a love relationship such that we want to please Him in all things.

Our parenting follows a similar pattern.  In the early years, we teach our children to obey out of fear of discipline.  As they grow older, we turn more to rewards to motivate good behavior and leave physical discipline behind.  Finally, if we have developed a relationship along the way, we expect obedience based on our love relationship as we approach the teenage years.  I had the joy of being raised in this kind of home and have the distinct memory of staying on the straight and narrow in my young adult years out of a desire to not disappoint my parents.  I gradually transferred my love relationship allegiance to my Master and Friend; Jesus Christ.

Parenting.  It’s all about balance.  Not just because I have seen it work, but because I believe bringing a new balance to all of life is one of the million beautiful things that happened to us when Jesus rescued us.  Praise to our Lord, Savior, and Friend; Jesus Christ.