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Parenting Discipleship

By Craig Caster

PROLOGUE

HIS PRECIOUS GIFTS

I have three children, and I love them all and want the best for them, but I have fallen so short in love as compared to God’s love for me. There were times, while raising my children, that I did not always have the best attitude toward them. In ignorance I thought, Oh my gosh! God, I think you made a mistake.  This one is defective. I have come to understand that God does not make mistakes, and not one of my children is defective. In fact, each unique child is a gift that God knew I needed.

We learn in Psalm 127 that our children are a gift from God. So, my question to you is not, “What are the gifts that God has given you, but who are the gifts? And what have you done with those gifts? Think about how you have valued them, and realize that God has seen the way you have handled, or mishandled, the gifts that He has given to you.  

In the past, I thought that God was always very disappointed with me. Every time I would consider what God must be thinking about me, I feared that He was thinking, Craig, you ding-dong. When will you get it together? And then, Ok, that’s it. That’s the last time Craig. I had a terrible idea of how God viewed me because of the things I had done in my life. I thought He was downright upset and angry with me all the time. Eventually, I learned that this thinking was a lie from Satan.

If you went to the beach and scooped up sand with both hands, the grains in your grasp would outnumber all the seconds you would live for the rest of your natural life. In His Word, God says that all His thoughts toward us are good, and they outnumber all the grains of sand in the entire earth (Psalm 139:17-18).  With all of these good thoughts, when can our Creator have a bad thought about us?

God predestined all of our days, including the “bad days” and the difficult trials that will touch our lives.  God knows that people are not perfect and, as such, parents make mistakes. But He uses all our mistakes, trials and difficulties to reveal Himself and bring us into a closer relationship. Within His providential permission, God allows us to do some foolish things, and there will always be consequences. We see this in many families today, non-Christians and Christians alike, because parents have been leaning on their own understanding to raise children. This has created such pain and confusion, and resulted in a lack of peace, joy and other blessings for both parents and children.

But, praise God! He does not leave us or forsake us when we do such foolish things with His precious gifts (Hebrews 13:5). It is so important to remember that God will never leave or forsake (abandon) His children (us). So, let us receive the discipline of our Lord so that we can experience His peace and righteousness in our homes. Remember, God knew every single one of us before time itself began, including the good, the bad, and the ugly (Psalm 139:1-18), and He still chose us to be His children. Thank God for that!  

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, Jesus speaks to a mixed group of believers and non-believers, commoners and elitists, about a relationship with His children. He says to them (and to us), “Listen to me and I will teach you how My Father in Heaven looks upon His children.” It is glorious when we really come to know and understand our relationship to the living God.

In Luke 15:4-7, Jesus begins with the parable of the lost sheep, telling how God lovingly pursues us when we go astray. In Luke 15:8-10, Jesus tells us the parable of the lost coin, which reveals the value that God places upon each one of us, how precious and unique we are to Him. In the parable commonly known as The Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-24, Jesus teaches us about the gifts that God has given to His children. God has given each one of us gifts that He says are uniquely personal. This is the perspective that He tells us to have about our spouse and children, to consider them very special gifts from God.

A prodigal son is someone who takes the inheritance his father gives to him, then misuses and abuses it according to his own desires. Even when we foolishly abuse God’s gifts, just like the prodigal son, He is not condemning us as, “Oh you stupid idiot.” In His foreknowledge, God already knew we would do the things we have done. Truly we cannot understand His love and mercy; the Word tells us that “His ways are above our ways” (Is 55:8-9). We also are told to listen, believe in the love that God has shown us in Jesus, and to follow His wisdom rather than our own understanding. Jesus came so that we could know the Father, and begin to experience the miracle of His lovingkindness toward us.

In Luke 15:11-13, Jesus tells us that, “A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that fall to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and journeyed to a far country and there wasted his possession with prodigal living.” Notice it was the prodigal son speaking to his father, asking for his portion of goods and then going his own way. As God’s sons and daughters, this message is meant as an example to us.

When the prodigal son says, “Give me the portion of goods that fall to me,” he is asking his father for all that is legally coming to him. He is not asking for more, just what’s coming to him. In a sense, this is us saying to our Heavenly Father, “I want it all, God. Give me those blessings you promised me.” Do you want all of the gifts He has for you? It is not wrong to ask, “God, give me all that You have for me.” In fact, He loves it when we want it all. The sad reality is that most of us treat the gifts He gives to us recklessly. When we don’t look upon all His gifts as blessings, we treat them incorrectly.

How many of us have treated our spouse, or our children, who are God’s gifts to us, carelessly and inappropriately?  How many of us do not know what to do with the gifts He has given to us? By the time my oldest son was three, I wanted to wrap that gift up and send it back. Even at such a young age, there was no other human being on the earth who could make me so angry. He was a mere eighteen pounds to my two hundred, and I was praying, “God where can I go and trade this one in? I think you made a mistake!  This one is broken.”

Praise God, much has changed since then. One of the greatest transformations in me is my attitude toward this strong-willed child. God penetrated my frustrated mind with the understanding that my son is His gift to my wife and me. My anger problem was not my son’s fault, or responsibility; the problem was within me. God used this strong-willed child to reveal my selfish, foolish heart, and to bring me to my knees. As I began to pray and fast, pleading, “God, help me,” He began to transform me according to His promise.

That’s the purpose of having trials in raising our children. God brings us to the point where we say, “Lord, I need help. I don’t know what I’m doing here. You say that my son (daughter) is a gift, but he (she) doesn’t seem like a gift.” That’s when God says, “He (She) is a very special gift, and, if you come to Me, I’ll show you how to treat him (her). I’ll show you how to take care of him (her).” God had to do some real surgery to transform my heart and mind, and teach me how to properly value and treat His precious gift.  

We read in Luke 15: 12-13, where the son said to his father, “give me all that is coming to me.” What he was saying in essence was, “OK, I’m ready father. I’m ready to take care of all the things that I own. I do not need your help or support to take care of them anymore. I can do it on my own.” Then he went out on his own and wasted his possessions with prodigal (reckless, wasteful, selfish) living. This son did not value his father’s blessings; rather he wasted them according to his own desires. He took the gifts that were coming to him and foolishly said, “You know what? I am not going to follow your way, dad. I don’t want your help anyway. I don’t need your support. I am going to take these gifts and use them the way I want to.”  

This is the first part of the message of the prodigal son. When somebody receives gifts from God and then treats or uses those gifts in a different way than God intended, they are living as the prodigal son; recklessly, wastefully, selfishly and foolishly. Why are so many within the body of Christ living as prodigals?  I believe that many are blind to their spiritual condition; living by their own understanding or following worldly advice, plus many are neglecting the gifts God has offered us through His Word. And some of us are simply in rebellion.

Have you ever looked at your spouse and children as gifts from God? The divorce rate in America is staggering. Divorce is terribly painful and devastating for children. If we do not look to Jesus for wisdom and strength, then we will begin to think and act selfishly, becoming foolish like the prodigal and possibly lose our gifts. Numerous Christians are on a path to divorce, while others are living in a strained, unfulfilling relationship where all are suffering continuously.

But don’t let cultural trends discourage you about marriage. Satan would love to paint a bleak picture, but know that God is greater and more powerful. Recent research is showing that among people who choose to marry, the commitment is still strong and brings great happiness and fulfillment. A new book, The Good News About Marriage1 has debunked the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce, both in secular life and within the church. Research reveals that 72% of married people are still with their first spouse (p. 21), and that 80% of all marriages are happy (p. 44). Among Christians active in their faith, they discovered that weekly church attendance alone lowers the divorce rate significantly by as much as 25 to 50 percent of the annual overall divorce rate (p. 67). And “In fact, when both spouses said ‘God is at the center’, fully 53% of those couples were at the highest possible level of marital happiness” (p. 78). These statistics should give us great hope, and motivate us to seek God’s will in our marriages.

Tension can enter the marriage relationship when dad and mom do not agree on methods for parenting.  Friction with the children also develops through frustration because the church and or other believers do not make parents aware of the biblical instruction God has provided on this very topic. Or maybe dad and mom do know the facts, yet continue to indulge in yelling, disrespecting one another, arguing, manipulation and inconsistency. When I finally realized the presence of an angry, selfish condition in myself, I cried out, “Lord, please help me!” And in His mercy He did not turn me away.  

Going back to the prodigal son, what does he eventually realize in the midst of his circumstances? In verse 17 we read, “…but when he came to himself, he said, ‘how many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger’?” There are some very important principles in this verse. The son came to his senses (yielded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit) and thought to himself, “Of course I should go to my dad. He’s the one who had the gifts. He’s the one who gave them to me. He knows how to take care of them. I need to go back to him.” This shows that he had come to the end of himself, or his self-will, doing things his own way.

There are many people on plan number 999 that refuse to admit they are at the end of themselves. Their marriage lacks true companionship, love and unity. And their relationship with the children is strained and out of order. Instead of coming to the Lord, they devise yet another inferior plan. They decide on their own, get “help” from a friend, read some book giving worldly counsel, and embark on their “new” surefire plan without God, the One who gave them the gifts. The prodigal son went to the world and the world had nothing for him. When will we also realize the world cannot help us? There is only One who can! The prodigal son had to come to the end of himself before he would return to his father. What crisis will it take before we admit to being at the end of ourselves, and go to our Father in Heaven for help?

Why, for so many, does it take a huge crisis before we go to our Savior and say, “Lord, help me”? God wants us to come to Him, but Satan is working on believers to convince them that the Word of God is not applicable to these areas of our lives. Satan has convinced many that God is uninterested, unconcerned, unable or unwilling to help us. Few would outright admit this, but look at the condition of the body of Christ. We are saying it with the choices we make in our daily lives.

It’s by God’s grace alone that we are able to take care of His gifts. Did you know that in every area of your life where you are not experiencing the power, peace and understanding of God, it is because you have not truly brought it to God? What will it take before you turn to Him for the information and power that will enable you to take care of your spouse and children? Proverbs 3:5-6, tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. But in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” Do you know what the word “all” means? Nothing is excluded. Everything is included.  Are you ready to look to Him and say, “God, please help me,” and then be willing to follow His instructions?  

The prodigal son wakes up to reality in Luke 15:18 – 19, and declares, “I will rise and go to my father and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” This is important to understand. When some of us come to Christ, we try to make a deal. But repentance is not about negotiating with God. For example, “Ok God, I’ll love my husband, but if he does not do this or that…forget it!” or “Lord, if you don’t give me what I want, then you know what I don’t have time for You.” When you examine your attitudes and behaviors, are they telling God, “I’ll go to church on Sunday, but I am to busy to spend time with you each day.” or “When my son or my daughter quits acting this way, then I will quit screaming and yelling at them or if they start obeying everything I say, then I will quit acting this way.”

Sinful behavior can never be justified. We cannot rightfully say to any other person, “You made me sin.”  Why do you think God gives such a complete definition in His Word of what love is, and is not? When parents hear how this love applies to raising children, they often begin weeping over their sin. Able to look honestly at themselves, they see the unloving acts committed against their spouse and/or children every day. Do you know the opposite of love? It is hate, which God calls sin. You cannot practice sin by ignoring God’s instruction and still reap His blessings (Gal 5:7). God is pure and cannot condone or reward sin.

As we look again to Luke 15:, verses 20 – 24, we see how the prodigal’s father responds to his return. The Bible says that, “…when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran to him, fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him. And put a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry, for my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and he is found, and they began to be merry.”

Father was not sitting in the house thinking, “My jerk son is ruining my name out there and making me look like a dirt bag. He’s taking my gifts and throwing them away and wasting them. You know what, I hope he never comes back!” He was not complaining, whining and fretting over the foolishness of his son. Instead, the father was waiting for his prodigal son to come home to him. This is a picture of your heavenly Father.  He is waiting and hoping that you will come to Him every day to receive wisdom and grace to take care of the spouse and children He gave to you. He knows your mistakes. Remember that He knows you better than you know yourself. He chose you, and gave you these gifts.

God is not going to come to you and take them back. We can abuse them so much that we lose them and, yes, He allows us the freedom to choose. But your God is waiting for you to come to Him so He can wrap His arms around you and kiss you and bless you. He never intended us to do anything by relying on our own wisdom and strength. He is waiting and hoping that you will come to Him. He is not waiting for you to quit being angry. He knows you cannot change on your own. He wants you to come to Him and receive all the blessings and all the power that He so lovingly desires to give.

God knows our sins and weaknesses better than we do, and that we have been trying to do things our own way. He knows that we have turned to worldly, sinful things to help us deal with the pain of not looking to Him. But His love is amazing. His grace and mercy are wonderful gifts. When you come, God will meet you right where you are now, and begin to fill you with the wisdom, strength and power needed to do His will.  He can and will enable you to treat your gifts the way He desires.

I hope that when you have completed these materials, you will see your children through God’s eyes, as His gifts to you. And that you will be better prepared to love and care for them as He desires. I pray that you will cast aside all of your traditional views about parenting, and learn through God’s Word, by the Holy Spirit, what He would have you do with His gifts. By fulfilling His promises in my family, God has shown me that no matter what is in the past, or how you have previously treated your gifts, that He is eagerly waiting for you to embrace Him and His ways. God’s desire is to see you victorious, to see you as the parent He calls you to be. His Word reveals that these are His children He has given to you and His Word is the instruction manual.

Follow Him and He will bless you.

Craig Caster

Are you really ready to follow Him now? Jesus encourages us, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29 – 30).

Prayer:
Father, thank You for Your grace and mercy to me. Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for Your patience, and that you wait for me, with arms stretched out, to come to You every day. I believe that You want to bless me. I believe that You want to give me wisdom. I believe that You want to empower me, Lord, with the grace that I need to love and train my children. Thank You that I can come into Your presence anytime and anyplace. Please help me to hear Your voice, to know Your will in caring for the children You have given me.  Help me, Lord, to be willing to invest time in learning what Your Word has to say. And I pray that Your Holy Spirit will guide me and give me understanding. Lord, I repent of my ways, and I am willing to denounce all worldly wisdom. I ask Your forgiveness for turning to these things in the past. I pray that You would be glorified by my life. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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