The Desire of Our Heart

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” – 1 Samuel 1:9-11 (NIV)

I love the story of Hannah, not only for her devotion to God, but because of her desire to have a child.  This is a desire that men and women have had at varying degrees of intensity since Adam first loved Eve.  It is a desire I had even as a young man. Fatherhood was as much of a goal as any career aspirations I held.  Even so, I can’t imagine the depth of desire that Hannah felt.  She wanted to serve God through motherhood more than anything else in this world, and God fulfilled her desire.

My daughters are amazing and special girls and I am grateful to God for Him allowing me to be their father.  They inspire me and challenge me in my walk with God and the manner in which I live my life.  Unfortunately, I forget how desperately I wanted to be a father in the midst of being a father.  I forget that God’s desire to hold His children close never waivers or wanes.  Hannah seemed to hold onto this with all of her heart.

I want to have a greater desire to become a better father than I did to become a father in the first place.  My daughters deserve a better man tomorrow than they have today.  My girls need someone with the devotion, commitment and passion like Hannah and I want to be that someone.

Lord, please remind me of the amazing gift fatherhood is each day.  Help me to be a better father, husband and friend in increasing measure.  May your love and grace be evident in the way I love my children. Amen.

Growing in Stature

And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men. – 1 Samuel 2:26 (NIV)

My oldest daughter is 11 years old now, and it amazing to me the immense and numerous changes that she has gone through.  She is a gracious, tender-hearted and humorous young woman and every day she gives me reasons to be proud of her.  It has been humbling to hear the good reports from teachers at school and church about her character and heart.  She is growing in stature and favor.

God asks us to do the same for Him – to grow in stature and favor and be more the person He desires us to be than we were the day before.  He wants us to grow and flourish and bear fruit.  He wants us to press on and press in to get closer to Jesus.  He desires his children be rooted in love, ready to bear fruit at His pleasure.  Watching this happen in the lives of our children is the great privilege of parenthood.

As my daughters get older, I will have to trust them more and more to make the righteous decisions they should.  It is one of joys of parenthood to watch them succeed and it is beyond measure to witness their unique personality being revealed through spiritual transformation.

Lord, thank you for the amazing people you have put in my life and allowed to call me father.  May I continually look for ways to lead them deeper into the depths of your love, grace and mercy.  Help me to give them what they need to make the righteous decision, and help them make it. Amen.

A Notable Life

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” – Ruth 2:10-12 (NIV)

Ruth was a noble and honorable woman. She had left behind home and hearth, family and friends, to choose a life among strangers.  She earned a reputation for fidelity, honesty and humility and it had gained her favor in another’s eyes.  She lived a notable life.

It is easy to think that a notable life is more accessible in the age of information, but it is actually the opposite.  Because we can put ourselves out into the world so much more easily, we are less than a face in the crowd.  We can confuse fame or popularity with a notable life, but a life that is worth taking note of is usually not the one focused on fame or popularity.  Ruth was not worried about anyone but her mother-in-law and it set her apart.

Teaching a child that worthiness and popularity are not the same thing can be difficult, but it can make a marked difference in their long-term approach to life.  When we are focused on doing what is right and righteous, it will result in noteworthy actions.  When we are focused on popularity or status, it will result in our downfall.  I want my daughters to learn the difference between pleasing God and pleasing man.  I hope they will put others first and live notable lives.  I pray they will be like Ruth.

Lord, help me to teach my children the difference between a life approved by You and one approved by the world.  Give me the opportunities to speak into the moments of their lives that will move them in the right direction.  May they be women of note.  Amen.

The Strong Man’s Pride Becomes the Weak Man’s Regret

Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him.  And his strength left him. – Judges 16:15-19

Samson had incredible strength and really good hair, but he lost sight of who they belonged to.  He also had a problem with women; he liked them a lot.  When he finally found Delilah, he had made plenty of enemies, not least of which was the Philistine nation.  Delilah was a Philistine.  She had tricked him several times and yet his need for her outweighed God’s gifts to him.

Samson was eventually humbled and regained his strength, striking a final blow against the Philistines and losing his life in the process.  This is the path of pride.  We warn our children about drugs, sex, texting while driving and a multitude of other things that are dangerous and deadly, but pride kills more effectively than all of them.  In fact, it is often pride that leads them toward those deadly things. 

The story of Samson is a warning that no matter how gifted and strong you may be, our faith and confidence must remain in God.  Our children need to have their pride challenged.  They need to learn the value of humility before God.  By all means, cut their hair, but don’t cut them any slack when pride rears its ugly head.  It is a killer.

Lord, help me to teach my children the value of humility.  Grant my children the opportunities to learn the strength of giftedness under submission to God.  Let them grow in character and spiritual maturity.  May they be tools of excellence in Your hands. Amen.

A Promise Sized Box

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.  But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. – Judges 11:36-40

God makes promises.  God keeps His promises.  We benefit from His promises if we live in His will.  We are not God.  Jephthah took a bad detour on a successful campaign when he bartered with God.  His promise was contingent on God granting him victory.  He was putting God in a human sized box.

This is why we must be careful about the promises we make to our children.  We are not God.  There are things that are bigger than us, that can prevent us from following through on our word.  It is this limitation that should give us pause when tendering a promise.  We should be honest with our children, even about our limitations. 

Jephthah paid a dear price for making a promise that didn’t need to be made.  God had given the Israelites victory battle after battle, but at some point Jephtah lost sight of God’s promise and latched onto his own.  We need to point our children toward the promises of God, not the promises of men.  Every time we make a promise and break it we break hearts and they can be long in mending. 

Lord, help me to be man of my word and let me be wise in giving my word.  Help me turn my children’s eyes and ears to Your promises.  Let me live each day in the light of your promises. Amen.

How Soon We Forget

Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live.  He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives.  His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek.  Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.  They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them. – Judges 8:28-35

Repent, rebuild, rebel, repeat.  This seems to be the pattern for Israel, but it is eerily similar to my own walk with God.  It is clear from the Gideon’s legacy and the long list of judges who ruled over Israel, that they had trouble staying on track with God.  It really didn’t matter where the distraction came from; it was where it led them – disobedience.   

Both of my girls struggle with distraction.  They will be given clear and simple directions to accomplish a task, but a side trip inevitably ensues.  A stop by mommy or daddy, depending on who gave the instructions, just to make sure the other one really meant what they said.  A delay filled with questions and comments completely unrelated to the task at hand.  I am reminded of the fantastically accurate depictions of this behavior in the comic strip, The Family Circus.  One of the children by sent on a mission and the picture is a hash mark trail of everywhere he or she went instead of the original goal.  Classic.

Our children can get on a spiritual hash mark trail without someone keeping them on task.  It won’t always be us, but often it will be.  We need to remind them of God’s promises.  They need to be given a nudge now and again to get their eyes back on Jesus.  They need encouragement when the world is bullying them into choices that will take them further from the will of God.  They need us.

Israel was a child off track.  They kept getting distracted by the ways of the world, and even though God gave them the direction, guidance and nudges to keep them on track.  God never failed Israel, but Israel failed God again and again and again.  This is the patient persistence of grace and love that should define parenthood. 

Lord, help me to be like you toward my children.  Give me the strength of will and heart of grace to love them without fail despite any detours they take in life.  Let me be an instrument of guidance for my children to direct them to you again and again and again.  Amen.

Preparing for Battle

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced
any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience):  the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from
Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.  They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. – Judges 3:1-4

Israel had lost their fight.  The tenacious commitment to claim what God had promised had faded and years of living in safety had softened them.  They needed to
go back to basic training.  In order to get them back into shape, God kept a thorn in their side by allowing surrounding nations to stick around – some on the job training, if you will.

This brought to mind a question for parenting: Can my girls protect themselves?   Are they equipped to turn away the attack?  Have they picked up the skills and qualities that they need to venture safely through this world?  We are working on it and that means facing the enemy.

The only way for the Israelites to be prepared for battle was to go into battle. Anyone in the military can tell you there is a difference between obeying orders in the safety and security of peace, and obeying them when the bullets are flying. It is the difference between a trained soldier and a seasoned soldier.  One has equipment and information, the other has experience and wisdom.  I want my girls to be seasoned soldiers for Christ.

This may require our children being in “risky” situations where feelings get hurt and character is tested.  They may go into harm’s way for a good cause.  Words like sacrifice, discipline and perseverance need to be understood at a deeper level. Failure is an opportunity to discover weaknesses to overcome.  All of these must be rooted in a growing love for Christ.

We parents have our work cut out for us, but God is on our side.

Lord, help me lead my children into a disciplined life.  Give me the strength and patience to put them through difficult circumstances.  Help me to shape them into the person you have designed them to be.  Let us all be overcomers for your glory and honor. Amen.

A Forgotten Legacy

that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.  In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they
were no longer able to resist.  Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. – Judges 2:10-15 (NIV)

I want to leave a legacy to my girls beyond a bank account and a home full of things.  I want to pass on more than
information and religious platitudes.  I want to leave my children a hope for heaven, a desire for holiness and a penchant for faithfulness.

Joshua left a legacy of faithfulness and obedience toward God.  His generation had seen the handiwork of God and realized His promises.  Unfortunately the following generations lost sight of God even while living in the light of
His blessings.  This put them in the Promised Land without promise.

There is a way to leave a legacy that lasts and that is if the legacy is rooted in God.  Israel began their history with
God, but slowly God disappeared from their story.  He was something that happened in the past, but not someone they had in their present and placed their hope in for the future.  This is the cautionary tale of a chosen people who made bad choices.

If I don’t want my girls to forget who they belong to, I need to live a life that reminds them who I belong too.  I need to
show the love of God for them to grow in the love of God.   Our children need to see God in action before they allow God act on them.

Lord, help me be a legacy builder.  Help me to live a life that is worthy to emulate. rant me your favor and providence to build a legacy for my children.

Checking With God

The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. – Joshua 9:14-15 (NIV)

This one is simple…a habit of checking with God first saves a lot of trouble.  Creating that habit is not as simple.  Joshua, a good man and leader, makes the mistake.  The other leaders in the Israelite camp made the mistake. I have made the mistake.  It is a common mistake.

My daughters come to me from time to time to see if what they want to do is okay.  There are, however, other times where they did not come to me first.  Results from these instances of self-governance varied in severity and scope, but there were always consequences.  Sometimes cause and effect levied a stiff punishment. Punishments were doled out depending on the seriousness of the infraction, but there was always a consequence.

Getting our children to understand the importance of submitting to a higher authority will take years and will test our patience. (I am sure most children see it as testing their patience)  They will go through their stages of pridefulness and self-reliance.  They will be exasperated with our lack of understanding and apparent ignorance of how special their circumstances are, but we must remain vigilant.  Over the years we can gently shift them from coming to us to approaching God.

Lord, nudge my children toward me today for guidance and direction.  Help me be a source of wisdom and good counsel when they seek it and help them seek it often.  Grant me excellence in preparing my children for a relationship with you. Amen.

History Review

Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law–the blessings and the curses–just as it is written in the Book of the Law.  There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them. – Joshua 8:34-35 (NIV)

This scene will be repeated a number of times through the story of the Israelites.  An assembly gathered to hear the words of God read aloud, reminding them of their history, their purpose and their future.  This practice reminded them of who they belonged to and what defined their thoughts, words and deeds.  It was a discipline of remembering.

Children can be short-sighted and forgetful.  Practicing a discipline of remembering with them helps them overcome the shortcomings of our disposable society.  We have increased our information, but decreased our recollection.  The Israelites didn’t have thumb drives, kindles and the World Wide Web.  They had their ears and minds and a growing appreciation of where God had brought them from and where He was taking them.  Our kids need to have a sense of history if they are going to have the courage to face their future.

Spend time going over all that God has done in the life of your family.  Create time for your family to sift through the calendar and remember the triumphs and trials you faced together with God.  Encourage your children to keep journals and keep on yourself.  Become a family with a history and a vision for the future.

Lord, help us be a people who remember.  Gives us ears to hear and eyes to see where you brought us from and where you are taking us.  Lead us to moments of recollection and renovation through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.