A number of years ago a Christian leader spent years building an effective ministry. On the surface, it appeared that this man’s ministry was overwhelmingly successful. Unfortunately, this man sought to “win the world” and neglected his wife and family. Here are the chilling words of his adult daughter:
Daddy was torn. He loved Mother and truly looked forward to the arrival of this child. But he carried a great weight of responsibility, and he had been caught up long ago in what I have heard Dr. Jack Hayford describe as “the evangelical syndrome” – the misconception that a man can serve God to the fullest only if he is willing to put ministry before family. How many times I heard Daddy quote Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children . . . he cannot be my disciple.” Daddy understood that Scripture to mean that he was obliged to put his ministry and the needs of the world before his own family. He used to say, “I’ve made an agreement with God that I’ll take care of His helpless little lambs overseas if he’ll take care of mine at home.” It surely sounded sensible enough, and Daddy sincerely believed it was right. Unfortunately, future events would prove that this was Daddy’s agreement, not God’s.
Years later that man’s family was shredded by a divorce and a suicide. That family felt abandoned by a leader who had apparently lost sight of God’s will for his life: to sacrificially serve, love, and lead his wife and family.
Today, this man’s legacy is tarnished by his failure at home. The question for you and me is: What will our legacy be?
Will you live for the next generation by becoming the sacrificial lover and the servant-leader of your family? If that is your desire, here are 10 ways you can leave a godly legacy in your family.
1: Fulfill your marriage covenant. Because the church has given up much of its influence over the family, divorce has become common in many congregations around the world. As a result many nations in the west suffer from a “culture of divorce.” Your family will never be stronger than the covenant that established it. Your marriage covenant is what sets your relationship with your wife and children apart from the 6 billion people on earth. It provides the safety and security for selfish and sinful humans to establish a family.
2: Pray daily with your wife. Early in our marriage, my wife, Barbara, and I started the habit of praying together before we would go to sleep. If there is one simple ritual I would urge couples to begin adopting in their marriages, it is this one-the habit of praying together every day.
For us, this habit of acknowledging God’s presence in our lives and marriage has, I believe, saved us from many nights of isolation. Daily prayer keeps us from building walls between each other. And it builds bridges across chasms that may have widened between us during the day.
3: Embrace suffering together as a couple. For many years Barbara suffered from a heart condition that sometimes took her heart rate to over 300 beats per minute. She nearly died on four different occasions. In addition, we’ve experienced various difficulties in raising our six children. There have been times in our marriage when all we had was our commitment to God and to one another.
That’s why it’s so important that a husband and wife “bear one another’s burdens.” We must be standing together looking to God to sustain and guide us.
4: Keep romance alive in your marriage. Nowhere in marriage are the differences between men and women more evident than when it comes to romance. Women generally spell romance: “relationship.” Men spell it a different way: “Sex.” A man’s focus is physical and a woman’s focus is relational. That’s why we as men need to learn how to communicate with our wives in a language that communicates love to them.
What would communicate love to your wife? A love letter? Then write one. A hug and a kiss that says I love you? Or helping her at home with the children and household duties? One thing is certain: Romance needs to be cultivated if it is going to grow in marriage.
5: Use words to edify your spouse. Proverbs 18:21 warns us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” James 3:8 tells us, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” Do you build your wife up or tear her down with your words?
Do you praise her for what she does right or find fault with her shortcomings? Are you abusing your wife with your words or are you ministering forgiveness, grace, and mercy in speaking with her?
6: Become a student of your wife’s needs or fears and establish a plan of action to meet them. I’ve got an assignment for you: When you go home, take your wife out on a date or a retreat. I want to encourage you to ask these questions that a friend of mine with a very busy ministry asks his wife every year:
- What can I do to help you feel more loved, honored, and cherished?
- What can I do to illustrate the fact that I respect you, your ideas, and your role as my wife?
- What can I do to assure you that I hear and understand your heart’s desires?
- What can I do to ensure that you have confidence and joy in our future direction?
- What attribute or practice would you like to see me improve or develop?
- What attribute would you most like to develop in yourself?
- What would indicate to you my desire to be more like Christ?
- What mutual goal would you like to see us accomplish together?
My friend takes notes as his wife talks, then writes out a clear statement of his intentions in response to each of these issues and signs a pledge. I can promise you-his wife feels loved and cared for.
7: Take the initiative to resolve conflicts. There’s a reason why the Scripture admonishes us, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” God knows that if we allow issues to remain unresolved in our marriages then that gives the enemy an opportunity to divide us.
Is there any unresolved conflict in your marriage right now? Are you harboring any bitterness toward your spouse? Take the initiative to resolve this issue in a way that would honor Christ.
8: Pursue a relationship with each of your children. Rules without relationships make children angry. That’s why the Apostle Paul admonishes fathers in Ephesians 6:4, “And, fathers do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
If our children are to receive our “discipline and instruction,” we need to build and maintain a relationship with them.
9: Be a good shepherd. Psalm 78:72 says, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands.”
A good shepherd is one who has integrity of heart. Are you a man of integrity? Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Are you the same man in public that you are in private?
A good shepherd is also one who has skillful hands-he knows the sheep and their needs. A good shepherd knows his sheep and he doesn’t lead any faster than the sheep can follow.
Another responsibility for a shepherd is to protect his sheep from predators. In the same way, we need to protect our families today. For example, guard your children from the major negative influencers in their lives: media and peers. Know what they are watching (pornography on the internet? Movies full of sex and violence?) and who they are spending time with. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
10: Call your children to a spiritual mission of what God wants to do with their lives.
Our assignment as parents is to impart not just our knowledge of God, but to give them a vision for their world. Do this by praying for your children. Pray that God’s plan and will for their lives will be fulfilled in your offspring.
Give them a vision for the world by making them a part of your ministry. Share stories of how God is at work when you come home to your family. Take them with you on trips and give them a responsibility in your ministry.
You and I are a part of a generational relay race in which we must make a good handoff to the next generation.
Psalm 112:1-3 declares, “Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord. Who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.”
Remember, your marriage and family are the headwaters of your legacy. Your legacy begins at home. What occurs downstream in your ministry will only be as deep as the source at home.
Copyright ©2000 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. This article is adapted from a message Dennis presented at Amsterdam 2000, a conference organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to train overseas evangelists