Gracious Love, Not Provocation

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” – Ephesians 6:8

Our desires, or emotions, are typically good, godly desires that sin robs and twists into selfishness, tantrums (the child or adult kind), and an entitled heart. Like the Israelites who demanded manna, we demand from God good things like food, love, affection, affirmation, and joy. However, we either already have these things in Him, or they are things He would gladly give us. Likewise, our children demand manna from us instead of just asking.

They want attention; they throw the milk on the ground. They want affection; they hit their sister. They want food; they disobey and climb on the counter to get it. Total depravity is a heart condition even a two-year old suffers from and it is provocation enough — a father works against his child and not for his child when he joins in the provoking.

How do we work for our child in the midst of their selfish desires?

soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
(Proverbs 15:1-2, 4)

A soft answer. A wise word. A gentle tongue. Is this not how our Father responds to us?

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
(Hosea 2:14)

In the great story of Hosea, we are Gomer, the prostitute. We have godly desires that we seek to satisfy in ungodly ways. We continually go back to idols, selling our bodies as we pour out time, money, and energy for things that promise to satiate, but will leave us still thirsty. Like a toddler that wants more and more and more, we want more of what has never satisfied. And when our God won’t give us our god, we throw a tantrum.

Our Father responds to us, not as an annoyed Father fed up with the sensitive feelings of an ungrateful people, but with a gracious love that is more appealing than any additional cookie, a box of crackers, a toy, a new job, more money, or whatever earthly desire we are coveting.

He allures us. It is the face of a loving Father, the countenance of a patient, strong, gracious Daddy who gently kneels down to get at our level (remember, Jesus came down!). In the same way, my wife and I, try to gently, calmly, lovingly embrace and respond to our paroxysmal daughter. Our face not conveying ire, but love. A soft answer.

He brings us into the wilderness. He leads us out of temptation. He leads us into His presence. He is peace (Eph 2:14). He is love (1 John 4:8). And now we are in the presence of Peace and Love. Often, immediately after a tantrum, I will take Harper into her room, “Let’s talk, honey.” Sometimes, in the middle, I discipline her, but it always ends and begins the same way: It ends with a kiss and an embrace. It begins with me explaining to her why we shouldn’t respond in that way when we don’t get what we want. How we have so much. How more of what she wants could hurt her. How I am not trying to rob her of joy but be a force-shield for anything that would try. A wise word.

He speaks tenderly to us. How can He do this? How can a holy, righteous God not light us up for our constant rebellion, our continual transgressions? Because His love is patient. It’s called steadfast love. The Jesus Storybook Bible calls the Father’s steadfast love His, “Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” As well, I want to speak tenderly to my daughter. Not assuaging her conniption and selfishness, but tenderly and lovingly speaking truth to her. A gentle tongue.

*This is an excerpt from my book Like Father, Like Sons