Read: Nehemiah 8:1 -18
… Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand… All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law. They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. Nehemiah 8: 2 – 3, 8
My wife and I were watching an episode of the 90’s TV sitcom Friends the other day, and a line by one of the characters stuck out. As she was lamenting to one of her friends about her failed relationship, the character said something along the lines of life just didn’t work out like anyone dreamed it would in high school — that you would marry the person you love and have a perfect family.
I don’t think anyone reading this would be surprised when I say that many family situations are less than what we would have dreamed them to be. I don’t write that from a lofty perch. I was divorced, and I’m remarried. My first marriage was a mess: it was one where neither my ex-wife nor I put the Lord at the center of our lives or our relationship. We didn’t enter into the relationship asking whether it was God’s will for us to be together and become a family (which I now know is a major mistake). Without going into the circumstances, I’ll just say that we were both selfish (in our own ways) and neither of us was too concerned about what God’s will was in our lives or for our family. God, however, was merciful to me, and He blessed my life with a wonderful daughter.
Obviously, divorce isn’t the only challenge facing families today; there are a myriad of other obstacles and pitfalls (some of which lead to divorce or estrangement): an abusive partner, rebellion, drugs and other addictions, a workaholic spouse, baggage that hasn’t been dealt with… I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Let me be clear lest I open myself up for a lecture – God never meant for a husband and wife to get divorced (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:4-8, etc). However, God is also merciful. He isn’t blind to the condition of humanity (Jesus lived a sinless life on Earth, but He experienced first-hand the filth and nastiness that surrounds the human condition because of the nature of sin in our world and lives). Because He is graceful, He offers forgiveness, salvation, and the opportunity to be in a right relationship with Him for anyone regardless of their circumstances through faith in Jesus. I believe that He is a God of not just second chances, but multiple chances.
That being said, Sherri and I went into our marriage with our eyes open. I had lived through the painful mistakes and consequences from my previous, failed marriage, and we both knew the challenges of “blending” a family. We committed to each other and to God that we would intentionally place Him at the center of our marriage and family. As part of that, we committed as a family to praying, reading the Bible together regularly, and spending time as a family learning about God in addition to our own private times with God. A large part of that is open, honest family conversations about what we’re reading in the Bible and our devotionals and how scripture applies directly to our lives and family. We also committed that we would regularly talk as a family about any struggles we were facing and how God was speaking into those. I would be lying if I said everything was peachy perfect (I don’t think anything on this earth can be); however, I am constantly amazed at how God has blessed this reliance and commitment to Him as the foundation of our family. When we start struggling with something in life (financial, illness, family matter, parenting, etc), we intentionally lift that to God as a family; in each case, God has answered us in a tangible way (often directly through scripture). Sometimes, the answer has been we need to walk through it because God has growth for us in it; however, in those cases, we walk through it knowing He is walking beside us.
OK; so how does that long story relate to today’s reading? I think it relates directly because it points out something that I often see missing from families that was addressed in the focus verses. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible commands us to put God as the foundation of our families and to raise our children to know Him. For example Isaiah 54:13 tells us: “And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord [taught by the Lord and obedient to His will], and great shall be the peace and undisturbed composure of your children.” Wow! That’s quite a promise and something I definitely want for my daughter.
There are plenty of other verses that also tell us to make God the center of our family and teach our children about Him, and He will bless us for it. For example:
Proverbs 22:6: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
2 Timothy 3:4 “You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.”
While it’s critical for you to have private time with God (personal prayer time, Bible reading, reflection, etc), God wants us to give Him more than just that. He wants to be at the center of your life, and that includes your family. Don’t you think He knows what a mess this world can be? He sees the temptations and pitfalls that our families and children face. But He has an answer for that – He wants to show you there is a better way. Make God the foundation for your family. Teach your children who God is through sharing scripture, prayer, struggles, and reflections for how God answers prayers in your family. Trust God to be the center and foundation of your family, and I promise you, He will faithfully show you that He is bigger than anything you face.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your grace, Your mercy, Your forgiveness… for everything. As my faith in You grows, I ask You to please help me to live my life for You. Help me to make You the foundation of my entire life and my family. I worry about the temptations and pitfalls our society poses for those I love; please help me to shine Your light and truth into their lives in such a way that they know You and can be grounded in Your ways. I ask this in Jesus’ name… Amen