Parents Are Works in Progress

Parents Are Works in Progress

Paul Tripp on Parenting and Grace


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Paul Tripp: It’s 10:30 at night on a Thursday night and your son comes to you and says, “I have a science project due tomorrow.” You know that project was assigned six years ago. So, already a bit upset having a conversation you don’t want to have, you say, “Well, what do you need?”

Kids are good at these conversations. They start easy. “I need some poster board.” Well, you have enough duct tape and cardboard around the house. You can approximate poster board. You’re not too upset at that point. Say you say, “What else do you need?”

And they say, “I need some markers.” We learn very early in our parenting always to buy water-based markers. There’s a reason for that. When they dry out, you can cut the blunt end off of those, you can pour water down in them, and you can get life out of them again. Again, I’m a Christian, I believe in the principle of resurrection. And then you say, “What else do you need?”

And this child mumbles very quickly, “Twelve baby chickens.” You can’t believe it. And you launch into this diatribe. “Well, in my day…” I would have never thought of coming to my parents the night before to talk about a science project I had not thought of at that point.

“Well, in my day, we didn’t even have science projects. I made them up myself. I was such a good student and I sat on those eggs myself.” Now, think about this with me for a moment. As your children, as your child is hearing you say, “Your problem is you will never be as righteous as I am.” What do you think he’s thinking inside?

“I’m so thankful this person is my parent. This person is so wise, so loving.” I just wish we’d have more of these conversations. I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

Think with me this evening. What is wrong with that conversation? Well, I can tell you what’s wrong with it. It lacks the gospel. And the reason it lacks the gospel is because the thing that you are not recognizing, this is very important, is that you are more like your child than unlike him.

Think about this. What is the issue? What has gotten this child into this mess on this Thursday night? You could say it in one word. The word is procrastination. Now, can we talk about this?

I don’t know why I’m asking permission. I’m going to. Are you willing to say, as a parent, there’s absolutely no procrastination anywhere in your life? Anybody here have a garage you can no longer drive into? It’s bulging, it may explode, and take out the neighborhood?

Anybody here do your taxes the night of? You know the post office that stays open ’til midnight? You know all the other procrastinators, every year it’s like a family reunion. This year you’re going to bring the brownies. You see, if you are honest as a parent, there’s few things that you will ever identify in the life of your children that you can’t yet find artifacts of in your own life.

That’s the gospel in parenting. The playing field is level, and every moment that I’m parenting, the wise Heavenly Father is parenting everybody in the room because everybody in the room still needs to be parented. You forget that and you’ll have shockingly self-righteous things to say and things to do in those moments when God has given you an opportunity.

What’s actually going on is that both people in that conversation desperately need the rescuing grace of Jesus, both people do. And how different it is to stand alongside of your child and say, “I know exactly how you got yourself in this mess because I’m like you.I tend to prioritize the things that I enjoy and I put off the things that are distasteful to me until I get myself in trouble. I’m like you. But hear me, son. There’s help for you and me because God sent His son to live the life that we could never live on our own, to die a death that we should have died, to rise again, conquering sin and death.So, on Tuesday night, you and I could be rescued from us, on Wednesday morning so we could be rescued from us. There’s help from us, for us. Because you and I, son, can run from a situation, we can run from a location, we can run from a circumstance, but we can’t run from us. Our problem is us.And no, I’m not going to take you to the all-night chicken farm. I’m not going to write that magic note to your teacher that gets you off the hook, but God loves you and He’s already provided exactly what you need for moments like this. I love you son. Go to bed.”

Who wouldn’t want that person to be his father? That’s what the gospel does. Now, if you’re going to go there, there are some things that you have to know. First of all, you have to know your position. And if you would think with me of one word that the Bible uses that best captures the position of a parent in God’s economy, what word would you use?

Think with me. What word would you use? What word would you say, “This word really is an awesome, beautiful, helpful, practical summary of what God has called every parent to be and to do.” Can you think of one word? That one word is found in 2 Corinthians 5.

Is found as Paul is explaining the nature of his ministry and he says, “We, therefore, are Christ’s…” You know what the next word is? I love this word, ambassadors. There it is.

One single word that is a comprehensive definition, but a practical explanation of what a parent is supposed to do. Hear this. Everything a parent does, everything a parent says, in every moment, in every day throughout the life of the child is meant to be representative.

It’s not what you want for your children, it’s not what you want from your children, it’s always, “I am representing the message, the methods and the character of the King, the message, and methods, and character, the King.I am put to make this invisible King visible in the life of my children.”

Every time I exercise parental authority, here’s the plan. God makes His invisible authority visible in the lives of children by sending parents of authority to exercise authority in the life of their children. That means, parents, are you ready for this? Every time I exercise authority in the life of my children, it must be a beautiful picture of the authority of God.

I don’t know about you, but just saying those words makes me want to drop to my knees. Say, “God, help me. God, help me.God, help me. God, help me.” God will make His invisible grace visible by sending parents of grace to give grace to children who need grace.

Everything I do is representative. And I would ask you, tonight, in this holy moment we have, in this hall together, how are you doing?

If I watched the last six weeks of your parenting would I say, “Wow, what a beautiful example of what it means to function as an ambassador of the Lord of Lord and King of kings in the lives of children?”

I see His character, I hear His message. There’s parents making God’s invisible authority in a visible grace, visible in the lives of these children. How beautiful is that? Well, you also have to not only understand your position, you have to understand God’s plan.

Here’s the plan. This is hard for us. I’m going to repeat this so if you’re taking notes you can get it. If your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption.

It’s always grace. God loves those children, He’s put them in a family of faith, and He will reveal the need of those children to you so you can be a tool of His rescue and restoration. You want me to say that again? If your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption.

It’s always grace. God loves those children and as an act of His love, He’s placed them in a family of faith and He will reveal the need of those children to you so you can be a tool of His rescue and His restoration. Praise God.

Praise God. Praise God. What a gorgeous plan. Now, the problem is God won’t wait ’til it’s comfortable for you. If God’s goal for the family was that it would be comfortable, he’s a massive failure.

A family is not meant to be comfortable. Are you ready for this? A family is meant to be transformational. So, we head off on a family road trip. If you want to experience depravity, go on a family road trip. You won’t just experience your children’s, you’ll experience yours.

And my son was 12 years old and he had polyps in his nose and he would wheeze as he breathed. It was really quite distracting. His sister is sitting next to him in the backseat. Somewhere on the trip she says, “Daddy, Ethan is bothering me.” I couldn’t resist. I said, “What is he doing?” And without hesitation, she said, “He’s breathing.” This is a true story. Now, I really can’t resist. So, I said, “What would you like me to do?” And this little girl actually said, “Tell him to stop.” “If you would die, this trip would be easier for me.”

Now, in those moments, it’s tempting to say, “Are you completely crazy?” But when Paul introduces the word ambassador, he introduces that word because he’s previously said this, that, “Jesus came…” this is 2 Corinthians 5:15… “So that those who live would no longer live…” Can you finish it?”…for themselves.” What he’s saying is this, “The DNA of sin is selfishness.” That’s woven into the very fabric of the heart of my children.

Children exit the womb reducing the field of their concern down the claustrophobic confines of their little wants, their needs, their feelings. When that child fights with you about what you’ve served them and they don’t want to eat it, they’re not doing that because they’ve read a diet book, they’re doing that because they want to be in the center of their world and they want only to put in their mouth what would please them.

It’s the selfishness of sin. When that child fights you about what time to go to bed, he hasn’t done a sleep study. It’s because he wants to be in the center of the world. He wants to be sovereign, he wants to make his own choices. Parents, hear this. You have no power whatsoever to change that.

None. Hopelessness is the doorway to parental hope because only when you begin to believe it’s not by the force of your personality, it’s not by the volume of your voice, it’s not by the logic of your argument, it’s not by the scariness of your punishment that your child will change, it’s by divine grace that you change the way you parent.

It’s sad that thousands and thousands of parents, maybe even parents in this room get up every day and they ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish. The law’s great at exposing sand. The law’s a wonderful guide for life, but it has no power to rescue and transform the hearts of your children.

It won’t work. No wonder you’re frustrated, no wonder you’re overburdened, no wonder you want to quit because the tool you’re using doesn’t have the power to do what you’re asking it to do. You’re not a change agent, you’re an ambassador of the One who changes.

You must not think that you can do what He alone can do. You must not load messianic delusion into your brain. He holds the power of change in His glorious hands.

And so, there’s a question I must ask all the time. When that moment comes in the car, when that moment comes with the homework, I must ask myself this question all the time, “What is it that God is doing in this moment, in the life of my child and how can I be part of it? What is He seeking to reveal?What is He seeking to target? What is He seeking to do? How can I be part of what I’m doing?”

It’s not about you winning the day. What is God doing? And how can you be part of what He is doing and the glory of the zeal of His grace in this little moment?

Now, you see, unless you come to parenting with an ambassadorial mentality, there will be four things that happen. I want to give you these and then I’m done.

If you don’t approach parenting without ambassadorial mentality, recognizing your own sin, recognizing your own inability, but recognizing what God is able to do through you as you represent Him, if you don’t carry that with you, here’s the first what will happen. You will turn moments of ministry into moments of anger. God-given moments of ministry, rather than being about Him, they’ll be about you, about your schedule, about your peace and quiet, about something you want to watch on television, about some phone call you need to have, some anger you have at the conversation you’ve had 10 other times.

It’ll be about you. Moments of ministry into moments of anger. Here’s a second thing. And you’ll turn moments of ministry into moments of anger because you will personalize what is not personal. You’ll make it about you. Now, my daughter was not sitting the first 200 miles of that trip thinking, “I got a way I’m going to drive Dad crazy today .I’ll make him nuts. I know what I’ll do.”

It’s not in her head. That child who’s waited ’til Thursday night to talk about a science project hasn’t done that as a plot against his parents. Parents, when you personalize things, it distorts the way, then, you’re going to handle them.

You’re actually not that important. Third, because you personalize what is not personal, you’ll be adversarial in your response. It won’t be you for your children, it will be you against your children.

Now, let me play this out for you, another vignette. It’s Tuesday night about 9:30 and the children you put to bed at 7:00 are fighting in their beds. You got the scene? And you walk down the hallway, feet heavy on the floorboards. You’re probably not saying, “Thank you, God, for this wonderful opportunity to be ambassador in Your hands. How I love redemption and the amazing way Your grace transforms.”

You’re probably saying, “They’re dead. They’re dead.” And you burst in the room and you say, “Do you know how my day’s been like? Do you have a sense of what I do? I do and do for you and this is the thanks I get? I don’t need a mansion or a Rolls Royce, just children from Earth.”

Now, loving, gracious ambassadorial response? No. I’m mad because they’ve taken something away from me that I want.

And by the time I get to the room, I’m not ambassador, I’m adversary. And I’m releasing personal anger against the children who God has graciously exposed to me so I could be part of what He’s doing.

My ears are supposed to hear that. I was supposed to go in and assess the situation. Why? Because God loves my kids. Final thing. So, I’ll settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter.

I’ll bark an order, I’ll bark a punishment, and I’ll walk out of the room. Parents, please hear me. That’s neither Christian nor parenting. You bark an order, you announce a punishment, you walk out of the room, that child has not been parented. I’m not saying don’t exercise authority, but that doesn’t rise to a biblical definition of what a parent is called to do.

Now, maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “I just need to rent out my children because I’m going to wreck them.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve done this all wrong.” Here’s the beautiful thing.

You don’t have to sit here tonight and wallow in shame or be paralyzed by guilt because Jesus took every ounce of your penalty so you would have grace in your time of need. You can also live with the knowledge that God will never call you to a task without enabling you to do it.

If your Lord puts a Red Sea in front of you and He means for you to cross it, He’ll build a bridge, He’ll send a boat, He’ll give you the ability to swim, or He’ll part the waters. You recognize your weakness in your failure, run to your Redeemer and not run from Him.

Say, “I want to be Your ambassador; help me by Your grace.” Let’s pray. Thank you, Lord. What a calling You have given us. And thank You that we are not left alone in our calling, but You are for us, and in us, and with us.

May we function as Your ambassadors and may we watch the good things that You will do as we do. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen. God bless.

“If you’re honest as a parent, there are few things you’ll ever identify in your children’s lives that you can’t find artifacts of in your own. That’s the gospel in parenting. Every moment that I’m parenting, the wise heavenly Father is parenting everybody in the room, because everybody in the room still needs to be parented. Forget that, and you’ll have shockingly self-righteous things to say.” — Paul Tripp

Date: March 31, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 Pre-Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

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