The incredible thing about godly parenting is how well it forms part of our spiritual development, and how it develops our understanding of our heavenly Father. It allows us to work together with Him and directly contributes to the furthering of His purpose. So whilst God’s purpose is that all the earth is to be filled with His glory, we can start that work right now in expressing His glory in our families. His purpose to bless all families of the earth in Abraham encourages us to parent in faith just like Abraham.

The Father’s purpose is expressed in who He is, both in name and in character, and it is this character that we want to promote by unveiling His values in the way we parent and develop our families.

The same godly behaviours and principles we stand for in our families should naturally extend further and embrace our ecclesial families. The love and care for each other and the kind words we expect of siblings in our family should be the same care and kindness our children should see demonstrated by brothers and sisters in the ecclesia. And the character of God we are developing in our children and expressing to each other in the ecclesia should be the same as the character that will be seen in the perfected bride, when the ecclesia down through the ages is united as one.

Whilst parenting can at times seem mundane and routine, we must never lose sight of its importance in the divine scheme. We should be motivated by our ability to work with God as part of His plan and with His heritage that he has entrusted to us.

We should always have the mindset that we are parenting with God, that we look to Him for inspiration and support, that our prayer-life as parents is filled with our concerns, our joys and our thankfulness as parents with Him. Children are God’s heritage and hence our work with ‘our children’ is a work of husband and wife and God together.

One key principle we grew to understand was that children do not make a family. A family is formed when we get married before God. Before marriage, we are individuals—with our own individual relationship with God. Once married, we become a ‘threefold cord’ as it were, and our relationship with each other forms part of our relationship with God. This fact becomes very evident if you consider the words of Peter to husbands where, after exhorting them to treasure their wives as ‘precious’, he adds a warning to underscore its importance. “In a similar way, you husbands must live with your wives in an understanding manner, as with a most delicate vessel. Honour them as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing may interfere with your prayers” (1 Pet 3:7 ISV).

In other words God will not listen to our communication with Him if we are not caring for each other correctly as husbands and wives.

Marriage unites two people so that they become “one flesh” and with that, a family unit is created. The fact that we may be blessed with children should not change that foundation unit of a family—husband and wife bound together in love for each other and in loving obedience to our heavenly Father.

Unfortunately, you may know of some couples who, after the children grew up, suddenly discovered they had nothing in common anymore—with sad results. So as a family (for example, as husband and wife) we have a responsibility to nurture and care for and invest time in our family relationship and in our relationship with God.

In a marvellous way, the divine hand is shown in His purpose with families. In developing our characters to be like our heavenly Father’s, what better environment could we have for personal growth than with someone who loves us and wants the best for us. Their honest, loving feedback, their willingness to forgive our flaws, and their devotion to us provides the impetus for us to want to do better, to want to be a better husband or wife for them.

In the same way we may have the opportunity to provide a loving, supportive and positive environment to develop the characters of any children God may see fit to bless us with. So our families (with or without children) should be positive, warm and supportive places of personal growth and love, as we learn to be like God our Father. The same should also be able to be said of our ecclesial family—remember our Father “places the lonely in families” for just this reason.

One of the leading principles of a godly family is that the husband is the spiritual leader of the household, ready to wash his wife’s feet in the same practical, serving and spiritual way that Christ washed his ecclesial bride’s feet. The wife is then encouraged to respond to the Christ-like love of her husband, and together they guide and nurture any children their heavenly Father may have entrusted into their hands.

The lesson we can all learn is that children do not fulfil a family, they just expand it. The love and care and communication exercised between a husband and wife is just extended further so that it is now just simply shared with the children. And the children in turn go forward as ambassadors of God and show the same love and care that they have learnt from you and your marriage relationship with each other. They are living examples to their siblings and friends. In this way everyone your family comes into contact with can potentially honour God, because they express His love, His character and His glory with everyone they interact with. In this way the ecclesia too will be strengthened by experiencing so many practical demonstrations of God’s love and care.

Think about the spiritual principle of Christ and his bride in Ephesians 5, which we know is the divine ideal behind our marriages. In the kingdom, when Christ has waited thousands of years for his bride to be revealed and perfected—do you think at that point Christ and the Saints will then suddenly turn around and devote all their attention and their instruction to the nations at the expense of each other? It sounds preposterous doesn’t it—obviously the relationship between Christ and his bride will be the foundation of the kingdom age, and their relationship will influence the nations. The love, care and tender affection that Christ and his bride have in immortality will overflow into all nations and transform the world. Our marriages should be the same, where the relationship of husband and wife should be the bedrock of the family. This will ensure that our united love and service can transform others by the power of our example.

What can we do then in our families to establish a foundation of love and to positively influence those around us, whether it be to our children or to our ecclesia? An important part of a relationship is open and loving communication. Spending time together, sharing common values and hopes, discussing life’s issues together; all of these things draw us closer to each other and this allows us to work unitedly for others. If we share a positive, helpful commitment to each other, we can then share that with others. How important then is it to spend time every day communicating with each other. If your family is just the two of you, this could be done over a cup of tea or coffee or on a walk, whatever suits your routine.

However, if you have children you need to place your relationship front and centre and not relegate it to the sidelines. From my own personal experience, we learnt to have ‘couch time’ which is just 10 minutes where we could talk uninterrupted, but we would do this in front of the children. The reason for this was that we saw the need to place the importance of our relationship in the forefront of our children’s minds. You can still have your date night where you get to go out and share an ice cream or a walk on the beach together, but your children do not see this. Think of all the conversations they are exposed to on a daily basis, in the schoolyard, out in public, via the media. How will they know what godly, loving communication looks like, unless you demonstrate it to them?

Couch time for us was when I came home from work and we had 10 minutes to ourselves whilst the children were present, playing quietly but listening carefully! Once dad had shown that his wife came first, then he could play with them and razz them up! When our children were older we would sit at the table and have couch time while they cleared up after tea. You can even have couch time in the car, where there is 10 minutes for mum and dad to chat with no input from the back seat!

If you are in the situation of parenting on your own—couch time may be where you show your relationship with God through personal reading and prayer outside the reading you may do with your children. In this way you demonstrate the same principle—that your children are welcome additions to your family, but they do not supersede your relationship with your heavenly Father.

Of course, the rewards of parenting include the spiritual insights it gives us into our relationship with God. We understand Him as a Father who only gives good gifts to His children, and one of His gifts is the incentive to change, because sometimes we suddenly see and recognise a characteristic of ourselves in our children. It can often feel like children are magnifiers of all our worst traits, but that is just because traits are often excused in ourselves and stand out more in others. We can use this insight to work on ourselves and then encourage our children to change with us. Our positive example should become the model they can follow and this approach helps us to resist the urge of coming down on them much harder than they deserve.

The other insight is in understanding how our heavenly Father treats us. His care when we are helplessly in need, His love for us when we try to be like him, His concern for our spiritual development are all things we learn to appreciate over time and this helps us empathise with our children’s development.

How proud we are of our children’s attempts at creativity, where the family fridge becomes a gallery of encouragement in the family. I’m sure our heavenly Father is just as delighted at our attempts at spiritual development and understanding, when we diligently search out the principles of the Word He has carefully concealed.

How true are the expressions of His Word when He wrote: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord” (Prov 18:22 AMP) and “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is filled with them” (Psa 127:3-5 AMP).

May God so bless us as we seek to express His character and show His glory in our families as husband and wife, in the growth and development of children and in vibrant, supportive and encouraging ecclesial families.