By Josh Cousineau
My children don’t need me to teach them to be selfish. If you have children, you know exactly what I mean. It doesn’t take long for your loving one-year-old to rear his ugly self-centeredness in one way or another. Maybe it’s that he doesn’t want the food you made, so he throws it. Or maybe he wants food and you have taken a minute too long to get it to him, so screaming ensues. No matter what it is, children need no help wanting the world to revolve around them. Because of sin, it’s become hardwired into their human nature.
One of the harder things you will have to teach your children is the act of serving others, loving others, and caring for those who are of no benefit to them. Heck, this is the hardest thing for me as an adult man to learn. Yet, as their nearest discipler, our children need us to show them the ways of Jesus. As a father of four children, I have been thinking about what it would look like to have a family live on mission. What does it look like to lead my 7-year-old, 5-year-old, 2-year-old, and 3-month-old to live contrary to their natural, self-centered ways and to live on mission for Jesus. What would it take for me to, empowered by the Spirit, live in such a way that they would start to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them?
1. Mission is Selfless
There is a ton of talk these days about being missional, living on mission, and missional living. At the core, there is a desire to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples who make disciples. Yet, making disciples takes selfless living. Just as Christ gave Himself and poured into His disciples, we likewise should follow His lead by living a life focused on others for the glory of our Heavenly Father.
One way we are to do this as fathers is to lead our children to live on mission. It is to not simply proclaim the gospel to them – though we should obviously be doing this – but also to show them what it looks like to be so radically changed that we are willing to be selfless for the glory of God. This means that I should be willing to die to self for my wife, my children, those within my church and neighborhood. If all my children see me to is what I want, than I am not showing them what it looks like to live a selfless life. One question to ask yourself is, ‘what has my week consisted of? Have I been at the center of my week, or has Jesus?’
2. Broken for Others
Not only do my children need to see me as one who gives to those who are in need, they need to see that I am broken for others. It is easy to have compassion on someone in visible need; it is another thing to be broken for spiritually lost people. Being broken drives you to give more, pray more, and invest more. It is more than simply giving a check to someone in need; it means that we would give our lives for them also. I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, where he says that his love was so deep for them that he was willing to give himself. This is being truly broken for people and having a deep care for them!
I can do all the good I want, whether it’s feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to the thirsty, and even put up with the rowdy neighbor kids, but I will accomplish little if my children don’t see that I am totally enamored with Jesus. If my foundational focus and motivation is not on Jesus, I am showing my children that my good deeds are being accomplished by my own works, or that they are earning some type of moral value. Please do not miss this. Your children need to know that everything that is given, every prayer that is prayed, is done not so much for the person in need, but for the one we ultimately serve: King Jesus!
Now if I am honest, I like my time, my stuff, and my money. I would rather spend time watching a Boston Bruins game than serving the people in my church or community. Yet, this is my flesh speaking, not the truth of Jesus informing me. This is why I must continually be led by the Spirit. If it is up to me, I will miss the chance to bless someone because I will be so focused on what I want.
Something that I try and do is pray with my children, “God, would you lead us to see how we can serve someone?” and then watch for Him to show up. You can also share times that the Spirit answered your prayers. This builds into our children a sense of selflessness, teaching them to look for opportunities to serve and be thankful for occasions to do so.
One final example for our children is a father who constantly blesses other people with the blessing Christ has given him. Far too many children watch their fathers consume and stockpile their whole lives, collecting trinkets, spending exorbitant amounts of money on toys, and using their time to do what they want rather than what God is leading them to do.
What my children need is to see that all those things – time, money, energy, and every other blessing – are not mine. I am merely a steward of these things. I must teach them to give to the church, but also encourage them to use their money, gifts, time, and energy for others as well.
The Upside-Down Kingdom
What happens in the end is that your children start to see that the Kingdom you are living for is not your own. Not only so, but it’s also not the kingdom that the rest of the world is pursuing. They need to see that you are living for a Kingdom that is not of this world; a Kingdom exhorting those who call it home to live differently.
Your children need to see that you live your life for more than yourself, your wants, and your hobbies. Your children should see you pick up hitchhikers, and invite neighbors to cookouts and parties at your house. They should go to bed and have other people sitting on your couch who are there to chat. They should see that you spend your money on people who have real needs. They should hear prayers filled not with things you desire God to do for not only you, but for the souls of those people they know. My children need to have people in their lives that are broken who are finding Jesus through the investment of the person they call daddy.
Josh Cousineau is church planter of Redemption Hill, located in Auburn, Maine, and core team member of the Gospel Alliance New England. He enjoys spending time with his high school sweetheart – now his bride since 2002 – and their four children. He blogs at JoshCousineau.com.
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