Many Christian dads feel like they’re failing. Maybe you or someone you know can relate to that feeling. According to research by Manhood Journey on the challenges facing Christian fathers, more than 44% of the Christian dads they polled feel like they’re not doing enough. Many feel like they’re losing the battle for their childrens’ hearts and aren’t confident in leading them spiritually. These men want to set a great example and be intentional with their kids, but often they didn’t have strong role models themselves. The good news: God provides hope for fathers through His example and His Word. So what does a godly father look like?
A godly dad, while still imperfect, depends on the Holy Spirit to follow God’s example by loving his children sacrificially, providing for and protecting them, and teaching and training them in biblical truth.
The Bible reveals God as the ultimate father who desires a relationship with His children. In the beginning, God the Father created Adam and Eve and provided for all their needs in the Garden of Eden. He gave them clear instructions and warned them that their disobedience would bring harm to themselves. After they experienced the initial consequences of their wrong choices, He showed grace and mercy in providing for them and offering them future hope.
God repeatedly showed Himself as father to the nation of Israel all the way through the Old Testament. He loved, guided, provided for, protected, disciplined and corrected His wayward people. Psalm 103:13 describes the Lord as “a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (New Living Translation). Hebrews 12:7-11 reminds us that His discipline — which is never cruel, abusive or harsh — is evidence of His love for us.
God demonstrated His sacrificial, fatherly love for us by sending Jesus, His perfect, sinless, only Son to pay for our sins by dying on our behalf (Romans 5:8). “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV). Our Heavenly Father desires for us to have new life and a restored relationship with Him.
Jesus taught His disciples to address God as Father in a radical new way, using the intimate, familiar term, “Abba,” in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.
Jesus also shows His disciples God’s character as Father through His parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son’s father looked eagerly for his wayward son. The father welcomed him back with open arms, celebrating his return — loving, forgiving and accepting him unconditionally.
Every Christian father needs to make his relationship with his Heavenly Father a top priority. Jesus, who was both fully God and fully man, depended completely on His Father. He spent time alone with His Father and trusted and obeyed Him, even when faced with the crucifixion.
Just as Jesus fully depended on God the Father, so Christians are to also fully depend on Him. Jesus tells us that “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5, New Living Translation).
You can’t give away what you don’t already have. How are you experiencing God, your ultimate role model, as your Heavenly Father? How well do you know Him and His character? How is He dealing with you as His son?
At the start of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized by John. God speaks from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, English Standard Version). God delights in Jesus simply because He’s His Son, expressing that before Jesus’ ministry even begins. If you have trusted Christ, the same is true for you. God delights in you just because you are His, and He knows you’ll make mistakes (Psalm 103:13-14). This is good news. Your prime identity is not as a father, but as a child of your heavenly Father.
I had a father in the military, who retired after 40 years as a two-star general. Although he was a strict, sometimes impatient disciplinarian, he was a good role model in many ways, as a loving provider and protector who taught me right from wrong. He’d grown up going to church but didn’t begin a relationship with Christ until the day before he died. Because of this, I sought out and found several wonderful, godly mentors and examples to learn from.
I have some regrets about my own parenting. If you’re a father, you may also have regrets. I wish I had spent more time intentionally teaching my kids and engaging with them in spiritual practices and experiences, rather than leaving much of it to their wonderful, capable mother. Like many Christian fathers, I devoted too much time and energy to my job, often barely keeping my head above water, hoping that church programs and youth leaders would make up the difference. Our grown daughter and son are wonderful, responsible adults now, but looking back, I wish I had been more present. Thankfully, God is not limited by my mistakes or yours. He loves your children more than you do and longs to see them walk with Him. It’s never too late to pray for them and be available to them for encouragement and counsel.
Whether you are a biological father, a stepfather, an adoptive father, a spiritual father, a soon-to-be father, a father of adult children, or a grandfather, you can practically live out godly fatherhood in any season in which God has placed you. Here are ways that you can be purposeful in your parenting:
Walk closely with God. Seek His wisdom and guidance through His Word and through other Christian fathers. Teach and train your children by word, example and experiences (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Fathers, you can’t be a godly father without God empowering you. Thank God that He promises to transform us as we abide in Him (John 15:5-10; Ephesians 5:18-20; Galatians 5:22-26).
Your presence matters. According to the 2022 US Census, 19.5 million children in America have no biological, stepfather or adoptive father in their home, and 92% of parents in prison are fathers. Just by being there, loving them and actively engaging with them, you’re benefiting your kids tremendously.
Like Job did, pray with and for your children.
Ask for forgiveness when you realize you have wronged them. Model a posture of humility and teachability, which builds trust and relationship.
Seek to know your children deeply. Ask them questions to discover who they are and how God has designed them. What interests do your children have that you can encourage them in?
Resist the temptation to disengage. Your children need your emotional presence as much as your physical presence.
Do the best you can to give them a strong foundation and example, depend on the Holy Spirit and then entrust your kids to Him.
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