My 2 year old daughter just loves to swing on the little swing-set we have set up on our back lawn. Last summer I found myself often in the backyard, soaking up the sun and pushing her in the swing. I would gently put her legs in the leg holes of the toddler swing, and she would hold on to the sides giggling with delight as I pushed her from the front and watched her beaming face. But in my efforts to be a multitasker, I have been known to reach into my pocket and engage with my phone in these moments with my daughter. The laughter soon stops, and Ellie will say, “No, Daddy, swing me.” I hadn’t stopped swinging her. It wasn’t that. It was that I had stopped swinging her the way she wanted me to, giving her my full attention. It was my full attention that she wanted. It was me being fully with her. The same thing happened with my youngest daughter when she was 6 months old. Holding her and walking around gently bouncing her while reading on my phone or checking Facebook often wouldn’t cut it. It took putting my device away and just simply being with her without distraction.
God longs to be with his people
As I seek to be a Daddy like our Heavenly Dad, I’ve realized something about Him. He always has time for me, and He wants to be with me. He seeks that out. Taking the story of the Bible as a whole, we see God creating us for fellowship with Him in the Garden of Eden. He desires to dwell with the humans He created. We find “the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” in Genesis 3:8 like that’s what He was accustomed to doing in having fellowship with Adam and Eve. But this time they hid themselves from Him because of their sin.
As the history of humans turns into a recounting of the history of Israel in the Bible, we find God dwelling with His people through the Tabernacle and later the Temple. In the New Testament, we find Jesus sent into the world from the Father. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” God with us, Emmanuel.
The message of the gospel is that the work of Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection brings about reconciliation with God, a relationship with God for the believer. Here is Paul’s message: 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” When Jesus ascends to heaven, He makes this promise. John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” As new covenant believers, God the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Our bodies are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
God has demonstrated through the story of the Bible that He longs to dwell with His people. He longs for relationship.
But we also look to the final consummation of our salvation that is prophesied in Revelation 21:3, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” There is awaiting us in the future a much fuller experience of God, an experience of God face to face. God has demonstrated through the story of the Bible that He longs to dwell with His people. He longs for relationship.
Spending quality time with your children is a display of the gospel
If I want to demonstrate the gospel to my children and have my family be a demonstration of the gospel to those around us, then I need to strive to be like our Father in Heaven. I need to spend quality time with my children, to be with them without distraction, to show them that I love being with them just as our Father loves to be with His children, to show them that I want a close relationship with them just as our Father wants a close relationship with people.
The question I pose to myself is: “How can I spend time with my children in meaningful ways?”
This is something I’m trying to learn.
Here are a few thoughts: (geared toward my small children, 5 and under).
1. As a dad of little children, I need to learn the art of play—playing with my children.
Be with them in what they are doing. With my phone and computer put away, I need to watch them, listen to them, learn about them by just being with them as they play, and be available to answer their questions. Presence and availability is key.
Be with them by doing whatever they are doing. Engage in the play they already have going. If they are driving trucks along the deck, I need to be down on my hands and knees with them driving a truck.
Be with them by initiating stuff to do. “Come on guys, let’s go for a walk.” “Come one guys, let me swing you.” “Let me push you around in your little car.”
2. As a dad of little children, I need to learn how to talk to my little children.
I have found this rather difficult, but I’m try to learn how to engage them in conversation. Around the dinner table, I will ask them questions like “What was it like picking blackberries?” “What is your favorite animal?” “What kind of construction vehicles did you see on your walk?” A lot of times, this is all that it takes to get the kids to tell a story about something. Usually the three toddlers will all talk at once which is hilarious. The point is to initiate conversation and then to listen and ask good questions. Being an undistracted, focused listener is what my children need.
As we seek to be more like our Daddy in Heaven by being with our children, we will point our children and others to the amazing reality of our God who has acted through the work of Jesus so that He could be with us—this amazing message of the gospel.