Quick, tell me the last verse of the Old Testament. Do you know it? Malachi 4:6 says,
And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers ...
Whatever else this verse means, we know that God desires reconciliation between children and their fathers through His Son Jesus Christ. More than ever we're seeing the need for this kind of reconciliation in the church.
By far, most issues adults bring into counseling are directly related to their fathers. ~ Minirth, Neman, and Warren, 1992, pg. 12.
Why is this the case? I believe it comes from the dramatic influence a father has on his child's perception of God. For many, the God that children meet as a child is sorely misrepresented. He's seen as a condemner and finger-pointer who always has a chip on his shoulder. With this view of God, children grow up feeling unaccepted and fearful with walls built up around their hearts. What then is the answer? How do we break down these walls of bitterness and pain?
There are no simple answers. But John Piper gives us a place to start when he says,
The chief task of parenting is to know God for who he is in his many attributes, and then to live in such a way with our children that we help them see and know this multi-faceted God. (Read the rest here)
Obviously, this is no small task. But as fathers we must know God if we want to show God to our children. Along these lines, C.J. Mahaney reminds parents that "modeling always precedes teaching." Indeed, there is power in our example. And so I ask you fathers, are you daily being transformed by the gospel? Are you daily being affected by the Savior? It will show. And your children are watching.
One warning, though. Our example will never be perfect, but it can be authentic. An authentic, grace-driven pursuit of God can influence our children to follow Christ (2 Tim. 3:14-15). So don't underestimate the power of an authentic love for Jesus. And don't underestimate an authentic love for others (most notably your wife) when it comes to pointing your children to God. There is power in your example.
I don't know about you, but I'm sobered by all this. What a huge responsibility we have as fathers! And so if you're a daddy like me, admit your need for help. Admit your weakness and depend on God to reveal himself to your children. Perhaps when we start there we will begin to see the hearts of fathers turn back to their children and the hearts of children back to their fathers.