A Father’s Motivation

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1 Thessalonians 2:10-12

INTRODUCTION: Our series is called “Christian Home Fixer Upper,” and we’ve been doing some remodeling as we look at what the Bible says about Christian home and family. So far we have looked at moms, couples, singles, and children. And today being Father’s Day we are going to look at a passage dealing with dads. [Read 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 and pray.]

I remember talking with a good friend once about the difference between Mother’s Day sermons and Father’s Day sermons. This person made the observation that while moms tend to receive lots of encouragement, accolades, honor, and general warm fuzzies on Mother’s Day, dads on Father’s Day basically get chewed out for not doing a better job. And you know, there is probably something to that. Fathers do get treated differently than mothers – right down to the gifts we receive! Mothers rarely receive a new tie on mother’s day, or a new tool, or fresh socks.

One young boy described Father’s Day in this way: “It’s just like Mother’s Day only you don’t spend so much.” Dads often get the short end of the stick. I like what one eight-year old student said about his dad for a school composition. He wrote: “My father can climb the highest mountain or swim the biggest ocean. He can fly the fastest plane and fight the strongest tiger. My father can do anything. But most of the time he just takes out the trash.”

Back to sermons, I don’t think it is a matter of intent, but somehow we really have fallen into the pattern of encouraging the moms on Mother’s Day, and challenging the dads on Father’s Day. We honor the position of mother, but we examine the quality of fathering.

So in that spirit I want to begin by honoring our dads here today. After all, the fifth commandment says to honor your father and mother – both are included! So Dads, we salute you today, and we acknowledge all that you do for your families. We recognize that your hard work often goes unappreciated, and that we have an obligation to stop and say thank you: “Thank you for loving your wives and your children, for the spiritual leadership you provide in the home, for the example you set each day, for the knowledge and wisdom you pass on to the next generation, for providing income for the family’s basic needs, for working hard around the home to keep it in good shape, and for being there for your family.” These are all important aspects of fatherhood. None of us does it all perfectly, but thank you for all that you do for your families. We honor you as fathers today.

Having said all that, I’m still going to challenge you this morning. Today’s message still comes out more on the side of challenging dads than simply honoring them. It must be the nature of the beast. But let’s get started.

In this morning’s text we find a divinely inspired description of a good father’s qualities. You may recall back on Mother’s Day we looked at verses 6-9 where we found a description of a mother’s qualities. Now here in verses 10-12 Paul describes the qualities of a godly father.

Just as with mothers, Paul shares this description by way of analogy. He is sharing how he and his friends ministered to the Thessalonians, and he says that “We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” And so here we find in God’s Word a concise description, a divine blueprint, of what fathering is all about. Once again, it is not the whole story, but God gives us here three essential qualities that every father should emulate. A godly father is one who encourages, comforts and urges his children to live lives worthy of God. Naturally we have other responsibilities as well, and there are other verses in Scripture which address those. But this morning I want to concentrate on this divine trilogy of essential father qualities – encouraging, comforting, and urging our children to live lives worthy of God.

If I were to sum up these three qualities in a single word, I would choose the word “motivation.” I believe a father’s special role in the home is that of motivation. This is in contrast to verse 7 where Paul described his ministry to the Thessalonians in terms of mothering – “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” I would sum up the mother’s special role with the word “nurture.” Generally speaking, I believe God has given mothers a nurturing role, and he has given fathers a motivating role. Now that’s not to say that mothers don’t motivate or fathers don’t nurture. There is certainly overlap in the parental roles. Single moms and dads have to do it all – and I applaud you, for you work very hard in fulfilling what God intended to be a dual role. It’s not easy. But when it comes down to what we naturally do best, I believe mothers have a God-given gift for nurture, and fathers have a God-given gift for motivation.

I know at least in our family, Rosi has always had that gentle, caring, nurturing heart for the boys in a different way than I do. She focuses more on their emotional state and how they feel. I focus more on their actions and what they do. When the boys were younger and got hurt or needed a Band-Aid, they always went straight to Mom. It’s not that I couldn’t help or didn’t know how to put on a Band-Aid, but they wanted her, because that is her natural strength. But whenever they were hitting a baseball, or jumping over a log, or catching a lizard or a snake, even if Rosi and I were both standing there, they wanted me to see what they were doing. It was always: “Dad, watch this! Dad, wanna see what I can do? Dad, look at me!” Kids look to their moms for nurture, and they look to their dads for motivation.

Paul focuses on this motivational role here in 1 Thessalonians 2 when he talks about fathers encouraging, comforting and urging their children to live lives worthy of God. Let’s look at each of these three qualities this morning.

I. Motivate your children by encouraging them … (words, presence, support)
   – Proverbs 18:21

The first way you can motivate your children is by encouraging them. Dads, you have incredible power to encourage your kids. You have no idea how much they need you to encourage them and support them. They need your vote of confidence. They need you to believe in them. How do you encourage your children? Primarily three ways – with your words, with your presence, and with your support.

   A. With your words

First, you can encourage your kids with your words. Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death . . .” Fathers, your words carry extra weight with your children. And the words you speak to your children help to shape them as they grow. You have probably heard the saying before: “If a child grows up with criticism, he learns to condemn, if a child grows up with praise and encouragement, he learns to appreciate and to have confidence,” and so on. Trust me, your kids will remember specific things you said to them years after you speak the words and long after you have forgotten them.

So be sure you use your words to encourage your kids. Tell your children that you love them. Tell them how proud you are of them. Speak words of encouragement that relate to their accomplishments. If they’re young, encourage them by saying: “You did it all by yourself – great!” “Do that for me again!” “That’s a terrific paper – let’s put it up on the refrigerator.” As they get older you can tell them things like: “I can see you worked really hard on this! Good job! I’m proud of you!” I like to tell my kids even now: “You guys are the best. You guys are the greatest!”

Don’t our kids need to hear those words from their dads? Didn’t we need to hear those words from our dads? There are too many men and women today who have problems with motivation in their lives because they never heard those words from Dad, or even worse, because Dad spoke words of discouragement to them instead. Discouraging words like: “You can’t do that. You’re no good. You can’t do anything right.” The book of James says the tongue has great power, both for evil and for good, and a father’s encouraging words are vitally important to a child’s self-confidence and motivation. So first of all, encourage your children with your words.

   B. With your presence

Secondly, you can encourage your children with your presence. The word translated “encourage” here is a word that literally means “to call someone alongside.” It also carries the idea of strengthening the other person. It’s the picture of a coach calling one of his players to his side, and telling him or her: “You can do this. Settle and focus. I have full confidence in you.”

Do you encourage your kids? Do you call them alongside for regular pep talks? Of course in order to call them alongside, you have to be near their side, which means that a Dad needs to be present. We need to be involved in our kids’ lives and activities.

Did you know that parents in the United States spend less time with their children than parents in almost any other nation in the world? Look for ways to spend time with your kids each week. Be involved in your kids’ activities. Do they play soccer? Then go to their games. Are they in the school play? Sit in the front row. Do they run track? You be their greatest fan. Attend every activity you possibly can. Root for them; cheer for them from the stands – “Go for it! You can do it! I know you can!”

And you know what Dads? We need to be home more often. Work inevitably takes us away from home for large portions of time. But there are other times when we simply choose to be away. We need to re-examine our priorities and make sure that we have plenty of down-time at home scheduled in, time just to be with our wives and with our children.

Dinner time is especially important. A report published in USA Today (August 1997) found that teens who eat dinner with their parents at least five times a week are less likely to take drugs, less likely to be depressed, more motivated in their school work and have a happier social life. Why? Eating together promotes communication, which promotes discussion, which promotes sharing, which promotes love. It’s a time for the whole family to re-connect with each other.

It’s been said that “The best gift a father can give to his child is the gift of himself – his time. For material things mean little, if there is not someone to share them with.” (C. Neil Strait) Fifteen hundred children were asked the question: “What do you think makes a happy family?” The children didn’t list money, or big homes, or large screen TV’s. The most common answer? “Doing things together.” Children spell love t-i-m-e. We need to encourage our kids with our presence.

   C. With your support

Thirdly, you encourage your children by supporting them in their endeavors. I remember a friend coming over to my house when I was in college. We had a piano in the living room, and I sat down and started playing and singing at the top of my lungs. I was making lots of mistakes and my voice was cracking here and there, but I was having a lot of fun. My friend, who also played piano, just stared at me and said: “Don’t you know your parents are in the other room?” I said: “Oh I know, they don’t mind.” Then he shared with me how he never played the piano at home when his parents were around. They would criticize his every mistake, and he eventually just stopped playing for them. How sad. Both he and his parents lost out on that deal. Do you pick out all the wrong notes your child plays, or do you encourage your child for all the right notes?

Your children need your support not only in the present but also for the future. Never put your kids down or be-little their ideas. Listen to their dreams and their future plans. If your five-year old boy announces that he wants to play for the Florida Marlins when he grows up, it’s time to get out the ball and glove and start practicing! If your eleven-year old daughter wants to paint, go out and get her an easel or some sketch pads. If your teenager has a dream, help him or her pursue it. Listen to your children’s interests and encourage them in those directions. Sure, they may change their interests a hundred times before college – you just try to keep up with them. Do you know your child’s plans and dreams? If not, then make it a point to ask them. “What are you interested in? What things would you like to pursue this year? How can I help you?”

Paul says: “We were like fathers to you, encouraging you.” Dads – look for ways to encourage your children every day – with your words, with your presence and with your support. You hold the key to motivating them to excellence through your encouragement.

II. Motivate your children by comforting them … (listening, empathizing, touching)
   – Proverbs 20:5; Luke 15:20; 2 Corinthians 1:3

A second aspect of motivation which Paul addresses here is that of comforting your children. If encouraging has to do with motivating your kids to get started, comforting has to do with helping them get back up and going again when they’re down. You may have done a great job encouraging your child. You may have boosted their confidence so they are ready to take on the world. You may have helped them to appraise their own abilities and to give their best towards a project or goal. Well, what happens when the chips are down? What happens when their dreams are not coming together the way they hoped? That’s when the child needs a father’s comfort.

This word in the Greek means “to console,” or “to encourage someone to continue in a course of action.” We all experience setbacks in life, and Dads, your kids need you to help them stay the course when the going gets rough. But notice we do that by comforting them, not by criticizing them or by ignoring their hurt. Poor kid gets thrown off the horse and we just want to throw him right back on! Paul says: “We were like fathers to you – comforting you.”

When our boys were younger, and one of them would fall down, I could always tell whether they were really hurt or not by whether they came to Rosi or to me. If they were really hurt and needed some good old, tender loving nurture and care, they made a bee-line for Rosi. But if they weren’t really hurt and just needed a boost of morale to get going again, they would come running to me. A quick hug from Dad, an “Are you okay?”, a pat on the back, and they would be off and running again. I believe that illustrates well the father’s role in comforting his children. A father’s comfort provides the strength and motivation for the child to press on through discouragements. So Dads, how do you comfort your children? Once again there are three basic ways – by listening, by empathizing, by touching.

   A. By listening to them

First of all, we comfort our children by listening to them. How often we just want to jump in with the quick fix-it, the obvious solution, when what our children need most is for someone to listen to them. Your children are going to suffer many disappointments in life. There will be times when they feel like giving up. Don’t discount their feelings. Ask them about it. Let them share their discouragements with you. Don’t rush them through it – hear them out. Proverbs 20:5 says: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” Take the time to be that man of understanding. Draw your child out. Often just listening to them will help them regain the strength they need to continue their course.

   B. By empathizing with them

Secondly, as you listen, try to empathize with your child. If your child is three years old and afraid of the dark, try to remember what it was like when you were three years old and you were afraid of the dark. If your teenager has just experienced his or her first break-up, try to remember what it was like when you first broke up with someone. Listen and empathize. Identify with your child. Try to feel what they are feeling. Perhaps share a similar time when you faced loss or discouragement. Help them to see that although discouragement is a natural part of life, God is powerful and loving and he will help them through those discouraging times.

I read about one father whose little boy had leukemia and had lost his hair due to the chemotherapy treatments. The father was so overwhelmed with love for his son, that he shaved his own head, leaving only the outline of his son’s initials at the neckline. Now that’s empathy. The son had suffered loss, and his father did not want his son to be alone in that loss. He identified with his son and entered his sorrow with him. When your child needs comfort, look for the ways you can “shave your head” – that is, to identify with your child’s fear or grief.

   C. By physical touch

Thirdly, we comfort our child by physical touch. Don’t be afraid to comfort your child with physical touch.

I know some dads have trouble relaying physical affection to their sons. They can hug their daughter and tell her they love her, but they don’t feel comfortable hugging their son or telling him they love him. Dad, your son needs your physical affection, and he needs to hear those words from you. Tell your son that you love him – you do, right? So tell him. If it doesn’t feel comfortable to you, well, that’s okay. You really do love him, and he really needs to hear it, so tell him. Don’t be afraid to hug him, or to tousle his hair or to hold his hand. If all else fails, give him noogies! Your child needs your physical touch. It will strengthen him and help him make it through the hard times.

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Talk about being down and needing comfort! This son had run away from home, wasted his father’s inheritance, lost all his friends, was stuck feeding the pigs, and finally returns home to work for his father as a hired servant. And how did his father greet him upon his return? We read that “the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) The son needed comforting and motivation to get back on course, and the father ministered comfort to him through physical touch. Dads, don’t be afraid to use physical touch to comfort your sons.

Well that’s sons, let’s talk about daughters for a moment. There are some Dads who loved hugging their daughters when they were little, but for some reason they stopped showing physical affection as their daughters grew older. Dads, your pre-teen and teenage daughters still need you to hug them and affirm them. Studies have shown again and again that when a daughter does not receive appropriate physical affection from her father, she often goes seeking that affection elsewhere in inappropriate ways. Lack of physical comfort towards your daughter now can set her up for promiscuity later.

And so Paul says that the second way we can motivate our children is by comforting them. We sometimes miss out on the opportunity to minister to our children in this way. Years of conditioning have told us that our children don’t really need our comfort. Besides, that’s not “masculine,” that’s soft! Our kids hurt, and we find ourselves telling them to roll with the punches or just get over it. We are not always comfortable with comforting.

And yet comforting is part of fathering as God intended it. Our heavenly Father himself is called: “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) Comforting comes naturally to our God and Father. And so we need to grow in this area. Our intentions are good. We want to motivate our kids to get over the obstacles and keep going, but we sometimes short-circuit the process by neglecting to comfort our kids when they’re down. When our kids are upset about something, they need their dads to listen to them, to empathize, and to touch. This is how we comfort our children and help them regain the strength they need in order to get back on course. A father has tremendous power to help motivate his children through comforting.

III. Motivate your children by urging them to live lives worthy of God … (instruction, discipline, example)

So far we’ve talked about encouraging and comforting our children. The third area of motivation is the one Paul calls “urging.” A godly father urges his children to live lives worthy of God.

What is a life that is worthy of God? It is a life that is centered upon God. It is a life that puts God first and seeks first his will. It is a life that honors God and Christ above all other things. It is a life that points others to the love of God in Christ. It is a life that is lived to the glory of God.

Notice that the godly father urges his child to live this kind of life. He doesn’t just leave it up to chance. He doesn’t adopt a hands-off approach and wait for his child to discover it for himself. He doesn’t say: “Do this if you want to.” He urges his child on; he challenges him; he holds the target high and says: “Aim here!” He makes an intentional and concerted effort to lead his child to live a life that is worthy of our great and wonderful God. How does a father do this? Once again, the Scriptures point us to three areas – instruction, discipline and example.

   A. By instructing them in God’s word (1 Chronicles 28:8-9; Psalm 78:5-6; Proverbs 4:1-4; Ephesians 6:4)

First of all, through instruction. Fathers, you have a God-given obligation to instruct your children in God’s word. We read it in the Old Testament. Psalm 78 says: “The Lord decreed statutes … which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them.” (Psalm 78:5-6)

Or we read these words from David instructing his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28: “Be careful to follow all the commands of the LORD your God … Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:8-9)

In Proverbs 4 we find Solomon also instructing his children: “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said: ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.’” (Proverbs 4:1-4)

We also read of this obligation in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:4 says this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians tells the children to honor their parents, both mom and dad, but then specifically singles out fathers when the command is given to instruct our children.

“But how do I do that?” you ask. “How am I supposed to know what to teach them?” And the answer is: you need to read the instruction manual. Get to know your Bible. Begin a regular Bible reading program. Get involved in a Sunday School class or Bible Study. Listen to Christian radio. I can recommend some good books that will help you. You have more opportunities to learn and grow in your knowledge of God’s Word than you could ever possibly take advantage of. Learn God’s Word, and pass it on to your children. This is part of your spiritual leadership in the home, and the first step in urging your children to live lives worthy of God is to instruct them in God’s word.

   B. By disciplining them when necessary (Proverbs 19:18, 29:17)

The second step in urging your children to live lives worthy of God is to discipline them. It doesn’t do any good to teach them the rules if you are not going to enforce the rules. What if the referees in an NBA Championship game said: “Well, the players already know the rules, so we’re not actually going to call anything tonight.” You’ll never see a basketball game turn into a hockey game quicker. We need to instruct our children in God’s ways, and then discipline them in those ways as well.

Proverbs 19:18 says: “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” If you refuse to do the hard work of disciplining your son or daughter, you are signing their death warrant. You are turning them over to the foolishness and sinfulness of their own heart. Don’t do it. Firm, loving discipline requires a tremendous amount of energy, but it is all worth it in the end. Proverbs 29:17 says: “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.”

   C. By setting the example yourself (Titus 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:10)

Instruction, discipline, and then finally, example. All of your instruction and discipline will have little impact on your child if you do not also set the example yourself. The word “urge” in verse 12 literally means “to solemnly charge out of your own personal experience.” It carries the idea of bearing witness or testifying to those things which you charge upon the other person. I like what Paul says to Titus about the younger men in the church. Titus 2:7: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” (Titus 2:7) That’s good advice for fathers, too.

Look back at verse 10 in our text again. Paul says: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thessalonians 2:10) Before Paul ever urged this life on the Thessalonians, he set the example himself. Fathers, you can pass on no greater legacy to your children than the instruction, the discipline, and the example of a godly life leading your children to live their lives to the glory of God. Urge these things upon your children.

CONCLUSION: So what makes a great father? How does a Dad motivate his children? I can’t think of a better description than what we find right here 1 Thessalonians 2: “We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Think about it for a minute. What if every child born into our world had a father who encouraged them: by their words – loving and affirming them; by their presence – involved in their lives and activities; by their support – learning their interests and helping them out?

What if every child had a father who comforted them: by listening, really listening; by empathizing and identifying with them; by physical touch – hugging them, holding them, showing genuine affection and concern for them?

What if every child had a father who urged them to live a life worthy of God: by instructing them in God’s word, by firmly but lovingly disciplining them when they strayed from God’s path, by setting the example of a godly man who loves the Lord with his whole heart and seeks to follow after him?

What would our world be like with men like that? Dads, you have the power at hand to make that difference. By God’s strength and God’s grace, I challenge you to be that man.

© Ray Fowler

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