Jeff Norris: Powerful Parenting
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Jeff NorrisJeff Norris is the senior pastor of Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, GA. Jeff graduated from Metro Atlanta Seminary and was previously on staff with Cru as a college campus minister for thirteen years. He is married to Rachel and is father to Samuel, Ellie Kate, Abby, and Annie. jeffnorris.org
Powerful parenting might not look like you think! Author Jeff Norris reveals habits to let go of self-reliance and embrace Jesus’ call to depend on God.
Jeff Norris: Powerful Parenting
Dave: Alright, I’ll ask you this—and I think I know because you wrote a book on it—but let’s see. [Laughter]
Ann: Let’s see if I get the answer right.
Dave: You might have a different answer now: “What do you think the most important thing a parent can do—Christian parent—if he is hoping, and dreaming, and praying he or she to raise radical followers of Christ in his children?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
First, pray—I mean we all say that; we all know to pray—but seriously, pray. But the other thing is you live it in front of them. I didn’t realize how big that is until we had teenagers; because they are basically saying, “I really don’t care what you say. I’m watching what you do.”
Ann: I would say that is the most important because, when you are radically following and loving Jesus, they can’t help but notice that—and not in a way—if you’re doing that, you understand the grace that God has put on your life; you understand what it means to love people. If you are being the Pharisee—and you are being super-legalistic—your kids will totally not buy it; but if you are living a life like Christ—and by no means did we do that perfectly, at all!—we failed miserably—but we told our kids, “You guys, we are failing; we are not doing very well”; but even that honesty seemed to help.
What would you say?
Dave: Well, it doesn’t matter what I think. [Laughter] I think we want to ask Jeff Norris, who is sitting in the studio with us, pastor of Perimeter Church up in Atlanta, Georgia. Jeff, welcome back.
Jeff: Thank you; thank you. So glad to be here again; yes.
Dave: The reason I’m asking you is you wrote a book called Rooted: A Lifestyle of Radical Dependence. I’ve read it; it’s a great book. You’ve got kids; you’ve got teenage kids.
Ann: How many kids do you have?
Jeff: We have four—19, almost 15, 13, and 10.
Ann: Okay, so you’re in it.
Jeff: So three teenagers: we are in the thick of it; we are in the thick of it.
Dave: Yes; so I’ll throw the same question out to you. I agree with Ann; I think living it is huge. But you are right in it, right now. We have grandkids now, so we’ve gone through that season.
You wrote a book about radical dependence on Christ for yourself; but as you are living that, and being a parent, what would you say the number-one thing a parent can do?
Jeff: Well, first, let me say this—and this is classic sucking up to the hosts—but you guys do not look like you’re old enough to have grandkids.
Ann: Oh, you are so nice.
Jeff: You’re going to have to tell: Rachel and I want to know your secrets.
Dave: That is sucking up to the hosts; [Laughter] that’s what that is.
Ann: Can we schedule Jeff back? Can we keep having him back more and more? [Laughter]
Jeff: You know, here is what I would say about parenting: it’s—
Jeff: —news flash—“It is so hard. [Laughter] It is so hard.”
I’ve felt the need, a lot of times, to feel like I have to give right answers to church members, because you sit in a seat—you’re senior pastor; you are supposed to have the answers. It is so freeing to tell church members, and friends, and whoever: “I don’t know. I know some things, and there is a lot that I don’t know.” Here is what I do know—I do know that I agree with Ann—we have to live it out; we have to pray; we have to be dependent upon the Lord to do what only He can do.”
I keep bringing up Randy Pope, the founder of our church, [whom] I followed as senior pastor. He had a great phrase that he used all the time, which was: “Attempt something so great for God that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.”
Ann: I love that.
Jeff: Yes—and we use it—it’s our church motto. I think that describes parenting really well.
Ann: Yes! [Laughter]
Jeff: “Attempt something so great for God that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.” A lot of days, I feel like that: “God, I’m trying to raise these children to glorify You, and raise them in the admonition of the Lord, and I feel like I am messing it up at every turn,” “I don’t know how to deal with this situation or that situation,” “Sometimes, my wife and I aren’t in agreement on how to handle this situation, and I think she is handling it wrong; and she thinks I am handling it wrong. What do we do, Lord? Unless You show up, our kids are going to fall apart,”—which is not true; it’s all under the grace of God—but that is how you feel.
I have often said—I probably, hopefully, Lord willing, I’m a better dad than I think I am in my mind—but I have often said that: “If I’ve done anything right in front of my kids, it’s that I’ve been faithful to repent.”
Dave: That is what I was going to ask you: “What have you done right?” I would love to hear what you think you’ve done wrong; or if you want, just tell us what your wife has done wrong. [Laughter]
Jeff: There you go!—no; what’s she has done right.
Dave: But that is one of them?—that would be: “…confessor, repent-er, apologizer?”
Jeff: Well, yes; and of course, I haven’t done that perfectly by any means; but I feel like, “Okay, in front of my kids, I have prayed with them. They have heard me say, many times over:
- ‘Father, forgive me,’
- ‘…forgive me for the way that I just raised my voice,’
- ‘…forgive me of how I jump to conclusions,’
- ‘…forgive me how I didn’t believe the best in my daughter in this situation,’
- ‘…forgive me of how I lost my temper,’—whatever it may be.”
Ann: And you’ve prayed this out loud in front of your kids?
Jeff: Yes; yes. Then, secondarily—that’s first and foremost: prayers of repentance with my kids to the Lord—and then admissions or repentance to my wife, apologizing to Rachel in front of them: “Sweetie, I’m really sorry,” “Hey, I really over-reacted there,”—and not doing it for my kids—but if they are in the room, not telling them to “Go away. I need to talk to your mom,”—no—“You need to hear your dad admit: ‘I was wrong.’”
That’s a hard thing for everyone to do, for whatever reason. Men tend to struggle with that even more, traditionally, at least.
Ann: I think I am the worst in our family. [Laughter]
Jeff: Man, that is just so huge. There is so much that, in doing that, breaks down walls of hostility that can exist within the home. I would rather parent out of weakness, showing my dependence upon the Lord, than out of giving a mirage to my kids that I have it together.
Ann: Well, I think, for our kids to watch us do something that, to them, looks like, “That’s dumb. Why would you do that?—that feels really risky.” I’m thinking about—
Dave: Are you talking about a step of faith?
Ann: I’m thinking about money; yes. I’m thinking,—
Dave: —giving away/tithing?
Ann: —“We pledged this amount of money to tithe to our church.” It was a capital campaign that we were running; and Dave came to me one day and said, “Here is what I feel like God is saying.” And I said, “That would be dumb! [Laughter] That would be irresponsible. That would not be wise. That would not be frugal.” And I said, “But let me pray about that.”
I can remember—our kids were teenagers at the time—and we brought them in on this. And they said—
Dave: It was the equivalent of one year in college; that’s what it was.
Ann: They were like, “That seems dumb!”
Dave: We were going to give away tuition for one year, basically.
Ann: And it’s on top of our regular tithing. I can remember one son said, “That just doesn’t even make sense that you would give that amount of money.” We’re like, “We know; it doesn’t make sense to us either, but we feel called to that.”
Ann: So when I went to Dave and said, “I prayed about it, and I feel like it is the same amount that you said.” So it was by faith we—it was a radical dependence upon God—because we had kids in college. That felt really irresponsible.
Ann: Yet, I think our kids were watching. I think they were all sitting back, as teenagers, like, “Oh, this is going to be interesting. Let’s see what God does—if He does anything—or this is just our parents being silly?”
Dave: What?—about two years later?—
Ann: This doesn’t always happen—we will say—
Jeff: Sure; sure.
Ann: —this hasn’t always happened.
Dave: Yes; it isn’t like: “Hey, you do this; you get this…”; but it was a couple years later, our son gets a full ride to play college football. To this day, by the way, he still comes to me and says, “You still owe me money.” I’m like, “What?! I got you a free college scholarship; you are buying dinner tonight.” [Laughter] I’m like, “That only lasts so many years after”; but it was a moment, where our kids could watch, and go, “Wow!”
Jeff: I love that; I love everything about that. I agree with/you know, we often couch stories like that with: “God doesn’t always return what we invest, in terms of, if we are going to sacrifice and be radically dependent.” We say that, and rightfully so, because we are so careful with the prosperity gospel; right? We don’t want people thinking that God is a genie in the bottle/this cosmic grandfather, who is just ready to…
But what we do need to do is press into the reality that, when we are radically dependent upon Him, He takes care of us; He meets us where we need to be met. Now, sometimes, that is with tangible means; but it is always with more of Him. It’s always with more of Him, satisfying us in the deepest ways, and providing for us in every way. Sometimes, those provisions are different than we would have ever asked for; but it’s still His provision.
I think, with radical dependence, and that whole mindset of being rooted in radical dependence—is it has to be so very Jesus-centered and cross-centered—because what do you see Him being?—who is Jesus?—Jesus is God in the flesh, who came to give Himself up to be so very radically dependent upon the Father: “I and the Father are One. I can do nothing apart from the Father.”
If we want to begin to get a definition of: “What is dependence upon the Lord?” then we stare at Jesus—we stare at Him—we watch Him in His relationship with the Father.
Dave: So you’re saying—because when I hear you say, “It’s got to be Jesus-centered and cross-centered,”—part of me is like, “Of course, what else could it be?” But it could very easily be radical dependence on: my career,—
Dave: —my bank account,—
Ann: —my money; yes.
Dave: —you name it; right? Is that what you are saying?
Jeff: And I’m even saying this—absolutely that—but then even think about it this way: “We can make anything selfish and self-centered about us.”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeff Norris on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear more in just a minute.
But first, I wanted you to hear what one listener said about a recent FamilyLife Today episode. She said it was refreshing and a gift: “The conversation that the Wilsons had at the end of the podcast was so real and personal, and I needed that today. I pray other couples hear this today and let it bless their life like it has mine.” That’s just awesome.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Jeff Norris and how, as humans, we can make just about anything all about us, even dependence on God.
Jeff: We can even become radically dependent—for the sake of just being dependent—and feeling the/what feels like religious progression because I’m being sacrificial. In other words, at the heart of being radically dependent—and in the book, I talk about being radically dependent in sacrifice and self-denial—well, there are all kinds of world religions that are centered on sacrifice and self-denial that aren’t centered on Jesus.
Dave: There you go; yes.
Jeff: So is it just, “Hey, let’s be sacrificial and deny self”? Well, if that is it, then go be a monk. You can be Buddhist and do that. You can be/there are all kinds of things you can do and be sacrificial.
That’s why I say it has to be so very Jesus-centered and cross-centered; because it’s not just so that we can feel better about ourselves—“Hey, look at me. I’m being sacrificial, and I feel really religious because I’m doing it,” and “God must be happy with me because of how sacrificial I am being,”—well, all of a sudden, that’s a very self-centered way of being dependent, sacrificially, if that makes sense.
Jeff: It’s self-sacrifice, and it is self-denial so that I get more of Jesus—so that, in my emptiness, He fills me up; then, in my weakness, He makes me strong—that it’s His power at work in me. It’s doomed to failure unless God be in it. You know, it’s that kind of Christ-centeredness that has to be present; otherwise, why are we pursuing radical dependence?
Dave: Yes, I love that you quote John Stott; I’m going to read it back to you. I mean, you wrote it in your book; but I want to hear you respond to what he said. Because in some ways—as we’re having this discussion about radical dependence; and being rooted; and also trying to pray and dream that our kids would be adult followers, who are rooted and radically dependent—I think the world and our kids are not looking for this. It’s an interesting quote.
John Stott said, “Large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent but thin veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience.”
Jeff: Yes, that’s warm and fuzzy; isn’t it?
Dave: Yes, right! [Laughter] It’s like—bam!—right in your face.
Jeff: —between the eyes—but yes, I love and hate that quote from Stott. I love it because he is spot-on; I hate it because it hurts. If I’m not mistaken, he wrote that in the ‘70s—in the 1970s—and it feels like he wrote it—
Jeff: —for the church today.
Jeff: What he saw back then has only perpetuated, since then, in the American church, at least—that’s our context; so we can speak to that—and that is, that is what we have presented people. That is the Christianity that so many churches and Christians have settled for:
- What we’ve made our God is our comfort.
- What we’ve made our God is—we want that thin veneer—because then we can keep living life the way that we want to and just wrap it in Jesus language, or Christian language, or church language. At the end of the day, we are not pursuing Him; we are pursuing our own/what we want and our own desires.
What ends up happening and what ends up being flipped and twisted is that Jesus becomes the means to the end of what we really want, and not the end, in and of Himself.
I will tell you this story—and we may be out of time—but our son/we have one son; three daughters. Our three girls are biological; our son, we adopted. He is our oldest; we adopted him when he was three from Ukraine. We went over and spent the whole month of November 2005 in Kiev, Ukraine, doing just paperwork, meeting with officials, so on and so forth.
Well, in God’s goodness and sovereignty, we were there that whole month, not only to do that, but to get to know him. Every day, we got to go for about two hours to the orphanage. It ended up being such a blessing, because he got used to us; we got used to him. So the day we took him home, it wasn’t so startling for him. But every day, we would go; and they would put us in this little playroom in the orphanage.
One of the greatest desires that I had is I wanted him, by the end of that month—one of my prayers was that, by the end of that month—he would begin to see me, not as this guy who shows up to play with him, but as daddy or papa, as they say in Russian. And every day, you know, attachment with—for those, who are listening, who have been through adoption, you know that attachment can take a long time—it was probably a little naïve and advantageous for me to think that could happen in a month; but I was praying for that.
Well, one day, I’m standing there; and I feel his hand grab mine. He had never done that, and my heart leapt. Just for a moment, I sat there, and I thought, “Is it happening? Is he seeing me as daddy?”
Well, then, he begins to lead me across the room; I go with him. Before long, we are standing in front of a shelf that went almost to the ceiling—it was a low ceiling—about an eight-foot ceiling. I’m 6’2”; he is little bitty. He starts pointing to the top shelf to a toy that he can’t reach. He just starts saying in Russian—and I don’t remember the word—but he keeps just saying, “That,” “That,” “That.”
It occurs to me he didn’t grab my hand because he wanted me—and he didn’t grab my hand because he saw me as daddy—he grabbed my hand, because I was the one big enough to get what he really wanted; and it wasn’t me.
Ann: We started out our program talking about: “How do we get kids, who are fully surrendered, and walking radically and dependently upon Jesus?”—that kind of parent, who is taking God’s hand every day—not because of what they can get—but because of who He is.
I think, if I have a life mantra, it is: “To be totally and completely sold out to Him,”—like you give Him everything/everything; you don’t hold anything back. Because when you are before Him, and you’ve given Him everything, that’s, to me, when true life begins.
It’s not easy—and it doesn’t mean you won’t have hardship—
Ann: —but there is something about walking with the Father, who wants to be with you at all costs, at all times/to be with you—that knows you, that sees you, that hears you—and He fills me. All of us: wouldn’t we say, “That’s where we want to be”?—
Ann: —totally rooted and dependent.
Dave: And as we’ve said, over the last two days, you have to know Him so intimately to know that is who He is. I do think, even our kids—and the next generation—many are tending to walk away, I think, because of what you just got at.
Ann: It’s a fluffy gospel.
Dave: “Well, I came to a God I thought would give me this;—
Dave: —"and it’s not working out that way. I’m walking away.”
I think the shelf for a lot of us is: “If I follow Jesus, He will make my marriage better.”
Dave: “If I follow Jesus, He will—
Jeff: —"He will take away the hard.”
Dave: —and I’m not saying He doesn’t do that—
Dave: —God, definitely, is the center of making our marriage. But it’s like: “Wow, when it doesn’t go as we think, we’re like, ‘I’m letting go of this hand.’ We don’t know Him as our Father.”
When you really get to know Him as your Father, you’re like, “How could I ever walk away from Him?—because I’ve experienced/I’ve tasted and seen the Lord is good.”
Ann: And then, to ask the question: “When was the last time I did something that I thought, ‘I cannot do this apart from Jesus’?”—like to step out in faith, something radical—not because we should or we’re saying you should do that—but it’s because you are feeling God’s nudge, like: “Step out,” “Step out.”
Jeff: “When is the last time that we attempted something so great for God that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it?”
One last thing, maybe, I could say here is just encourage all of us—we have to be people of the Book/the Bible—we have to know the Word. Here is why: it anchors us so deeply on what is true in the One who is truth; but then, “What is true?”
How many people do we read about in the Scriptures, who devoted themselves fully to the Lord, that God used in amazing ways, as broken as they are—just like us—did they get what they wanted in terms of earthly desires?—how many?—almost none.
Dave: I was going to say: “It’s almost zero.”
Jeff: Yes; I mean, the only one—and I might [think of others] if I can sit here longer—the only one, who comes to mind, that I go, “You know what? He ended up getting even more than he ever dreamed of: was Joseph.” But I mean, incredible amounts of hard for Joseph.
Ann: —but look how he ended.
Jeff: —but look—yes—“Everything is vanity.
Jeff: “Everything is meaningless.”
Ann: He had everything.
Jeff: He got everything; yes.
I just say that to say this: “But what did so many of them get in return?”—they got the Lord; they got His kingdom; they experienced the flourishing of knowing God and being known by Him—and that is irreplaceable.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeff Norris. His book is called Rooted: A Lifestyle of Radical Dependence. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, I’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, here with me. David, it’s been a unique day for you.
David: You know, today has been extra fun for me; because I’ve gotten to be here, in studio, with a good friend. Jeff Norris and I go way back, some 20 years. We were on the same team together when we were serving college students on campus at the University of Georgia. He adopted his first kid; we had our first kid, with special needs, when we were together in that season. That rooted our relationship, and I love having him come and share about a lifestyle of dependence.
One of the mantras that Meg and I have made a part of our lives—because we really do believe it, and we’ve had to live it—is that: “If dependency on Jesus is the goal, then weakness is actually an advantage.” One of the things that happens, when we experience weakness, is our need for others increases. When I think about Jeff being in studio today, and getting to hear from him, I reflected back on seasons, where we felt our dependence and need—adopting from overseas; a kid born with special needs—and we needed one another. But we had a foundation, already, of community. When hard things came our way, we were able to dive into those hard places together and depend upon the Lord together.
As I reflect on today’s program around dependence, and us being followers, who are rooted in radical dependence, I think: “Be rooted in radical dependence with relationships. Go find those relationships; take risks to share with people what’s really going on in your life. You will not regret it; because you will end up, looking back on seasons, some 20 years later, and say, ‘I not only depended upon the Lord, I needed other people; and they pushed me closer to Him.’”
Shelby: Yes, community has been the most essential thing in my life, too, as I’ve walked and grown in Jesus. Thanks, David.
Now, coming up next week, have you been finding yourself upset and agitated with your spouse lately? Maybe, you are on the verge of giving up. Well, next week, the Wilsons are joined by our very own Bob Lepine to help you walk through the challenges that emerge in every marriage, causing couples to become isolated and alienated. That’s next week.
There are a few Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening around the country. You can pray for the couples, who are going to be gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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