The Gospel Coalition

Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don't really know what's going to happen next. You don't really know when you'll have to enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, hold out for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see his heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love.

What you do know is that Scripture gives you the wisdom that you need, and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace that you need to be ready to respond to the moments of opportunity he will give you. Along with this, you and I must remember that our Lord loves our children more than we ever could, and his commitment to their growth and change is more faithful and persevering than ours could ever be. Because of this, in his grace and love, he will manufacture moments that expose the needy hearts of our children to us. He will faithfully employ the little moments of everyday life to expose to us and our children their need of rescuing and forgiving grace. And he will not do this only at the moments that you feel are appropriate and when you feel most prepared.

Let me give you an example. We had planned a day at a local theme park with our children. I was anticipating a day of familial amusement park bliss. I was hoping that on this day my children would be self-parenting, and if God could throw in a fully sanctified wife, that would be cool! Well, we're getting out of the van at the park and one of my children said, "Dad, may we have something to drink before we go into the park?" It didn't seem like a dangerous request. I opened the cooler, which was full of soft drinks, and all of my children sighted in on the one can of soda that they all knew was the best. Immediately global nuclear war broke out. They were pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling, throwing ice at one another, saying unkind things and hitting one another's hands out of the way. I couldn't believe it. We weren't even in the park yet, and my day was already ruined!

So I jumped in and said, "Do you want to fight? We don't have to pay all this money for you to fight. I'll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it, and you can fight forever!" Soon my children aren't fighting anymore because they're watching the crowd gather as I lose it in the parking lot of the theme park.

Let's analyze what's going on in this moment and what's happening inside of me. What's going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me. He is making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them. But I'm not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing. You see, I'm not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I'm angry that God has exposed their sin, and because he has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them! It all seems like a huge imposition, a hassle that I just didn't want to deal with.

But the reality is different from God's perspective. The sin, weakness, rebellion, or failure of your children is never an imposition on your parenting. It is never an interruption. It is never a hassle.  It is always grace. God loves your children. He has put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace he will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith, and change. And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your agenda for his, this opportunity of grace is not just for your children, it's for you as well.

But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love his. So I'm impatient, discouraged, or irritated not because my children have broken the laws of God's kingdom, but the laws of mine. In my kingdom there shall be no parenting on family vacation days, or when I am reading the paper on my iPad, or after ten o'clock at night, or during a good meal, or . . . I could go on. And when I'm angry about interruptions to my kingdom plan, there are four things I tend to do.

1. I tend to turn a God-given moment of ministry into a moment of anger.


2. I do this because I have personalized what is not personal. (Before we left for the amusement park that day, my children didn't plot to drive me crazy in the parking lot.)

3. Because I have personalized what is not personal, I am adversarial in my response. (It's not me acting for my children, but acting against them because they are in the way of what I want.)

4. So I end up settling for situational solutions that don't really get to the heart of the matter. (I bark and order, I instill guilt, I threaten a punishment and walk away, and my children are utterly unchanged by the encounter.)

There is a better way. It begins with praying that God would give you new eyes; eyes that are more focused on his eternal work of grace than on your momentary plans for you. This better way also includes seeking God for a flexible and willing heart, ready to abandon your agenda for God's greater plan. And it lives with the confidence that God is in you, with you, and for you and will give you what you need so that you can face, with courage and grace, the parenting moment that you didn't know was coming.

Previously from Paul Tripp: Parenting: The Joyful Impossibility

For one week only (January 11 to 18), you can buy Paul Tripp's DVD Getting to the Heart of Parenting from for just $14.99, a 75 percent discount from the list price of $59.95.


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January 14, 2011 at 08:39 AM

The thing I've enjoyed about Paul Tripp's emphasis is how it so often addresses parental posture or readiness. Parenting is so often more about me as the parent than my children. Thank you for this service to the body! And, I especially appreciate the transparency because parenting is a vulnerable project!

With our four (18, 22, 24, 26) we tried hard to remain expected and welcomed parts of their lives all the time. When young, I had family devotions and prayed with each before bed. As they got older, it became harder to follow that pattern and I shifted to a "As you go" Deuteronomy 6 pattern. This required more intentionality than the routine of daily devotions and prayer! But it was a great adventure! Did I have to put off some personal goals and ambitions? Yes. I knew that we get "one shot at this." As a pastor, I also met too many PK's who resented God and the Church. I didn't want to lose this one great opportunity. Now I look back with deep joy (and like all parents, some regrets).

It wasn't always easy. During adolescence children separate and search for identity and this can be a tricky time for parents. Their identity is so tied to us and they're not always sure they like it that way. But our aim is to raise them to release them! Our adult children (two married) have chosen to attend the Church they grew up in and sit under me as their pastor. We have really enjoyed how they've stayed connected to us as a primary source of encouragement and counsel. But there are healthy limits on this that we are learning to respect. During weddings, I do a reaffirmation of family ties before the giving of the bride. I invite all parents (when possible) to join us up front. This is a great opportunity to thank them publicly on behalf of the bride and groom. But I also give them a little piece of advice: "Be available without being overly involved."

As an encouragement to younger parents, one of the men on my elder team is a neurophysiologist. He informed me that the brain is not fully developed until age 20. At the time, I house full of under 20's and told him that it explained a lot of the brainless activity happening at our home! (I also toyed with a merger between theology and physiology when I recalled that God only let the 20 and under crowd into the land of promise). But now with three over 20, I have entered a really enjoyable stage of parenting. For one thing, I don't pay their bills anymore! But more delightful (I think) is the level of fellowship and feeling of satisfaction as they show signs of living out what we (so imperfectly) built in. All praise to God!

Steve Cornell

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February 7, 2013 at 09:32 AM

Excellent!!! Needed this today. Thank you!

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