How To Fail as a Father


Today I’m going to continue the message series that we are doing here at WPA for the summer entitled, “The Bible’s Biggest Losers”.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t paint all the heroes in the stories as infallible or perfect. In fact, the Holy Spirit is careful to include the “losing” moments as well. It gives hope to all of us who read the Bible who know full well that we’re not perfect people that maybe, just maybe God can use us too!

With it being Father’s day I thought it’d be a good idea to take a look at a father from the Bible and I was drawn to talk about King David. Now, we know David as a great king of Israel and he’s even described as a “man after God’s own heart”. We know the story of David and Goliath, and the incredible odds he overcame to fulfill the anointing God placed on his life as a King of God’s people. David was so great that one of the titles for the Messiah, Jesus Christ is “Son of David” tying the human lineage of Jesus to David himself. What an honor.

However, those familiar with King David also know that there are some tragic stories in David’s life where he failed dramatically and it cost him dearly. If you want to read up on the incredible story of David and his reign over Israel you can find it in 1 Samuel 16-31, all of 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-2, and 1 Chronicles 11-29. You can also get a feel for David’s passions and artistry by reading many of the Psalms he wrote.

Today, we’re going to zero in on a particularly tragic moment in David’s life in 2 Samuel 18,

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. 6 The army marched into the field to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There the army of Israel was defeated by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great–twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword. 9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going. 10 When one of the men saw this, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.” 11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.” 12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy–and nothing is hidden from the king–you would have kept your distance from me.” 14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him. 16 Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them..
2 Samuel 18:5-18 (NIV)

In this snapshot of David’s life I chose to begin with the words of David instructing 3 of his generals to be gentle with his son Absalom. Yet dramatically, we discover that they are far from gentle. In fact, Absalom’s life is brutally taken. How did things get to this point? How did things get to the point where Absalom is leading the army of Israel against his father King David? How did things get to the point where David’s generals would kill his son?

To understand the answer to that question I did some reading over the story of David’s life and I’m going to give you a quick rundown of some things I discovered about his children:

  • The Bible names for us 19 sons and 1 daughter that David had but there is the suggestion that he had many more that were born to his concubines.
  • Of those children we gain greater insight into the lives of five: Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah, Solomon and Tamar:
    • Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar
    • Tamar is Absalom’s full-sister and when he hears of Amnon’s deed he is furious and plots revenge. He rigs up a celebratory party and invites all his brothers including Amnon to the party where he has his people murder Amnon
    • Absalom is banished from the kingdom for two years to his grandfather’s (on his mother’s side) land and when is returned to Israel he plots to take the kingdom from his father David. Absalom ends up heading up this conspiracy against King David that hit its peak when he had himself crowned King in Hebron and David fled Jerusalem.
    • Absalom raped his father’s concubines when he arrived in Jerusalem.
    • Absalom leads Israel’s armies out to battle David and his men and they lose (as we’ve already read)
    • Adonijah follows in Absalom’s footsteps and plots to undermine David’s authority and steal the kingdom from him but is kept from doing so when King David is informed by the plot and accelerates the crowning of Solomon as King.

It is clear as you read the story of David and his family that David had some faults. From the example of David and the teaching of scripture I’d like to spend a few minutes today answering the question, “How to fail as a father”. Some of you men here today are fathers. Some of you are going to be a father in the coming months. Some of you know someone who is a father or who is going to be a father. Listen up, because I think God has something to say to you today. For the rest of you I also want you to listen carefully because I’m going to share with you how God as our father doesn’t fail!

Now I need to make a couple things clear.

One, there is the reality that each person is responsible for the actions he/she takes in life. Just because a father fails doesn’t necessarily guarantee that his children will do terrible things or live fruitless lives. Just because a father succeeds doesn’t necessarily guarantee that his children will live exemplary lives and be Godly individuals. But a good father will increase the positive potential for their children.

Two, as you listen to this message you may discover some areas where you may be failing as a father or have failed. Don’t allow this discovery to discourage you but instead take it as a challenge to do something about it. Placed before you is the opportunity to make changes so that what you discover is no longer true in your life as a father. Even as I was preparing this message there were some things the Holy Spirit nudged me about that I need to work on in my own life as the father to my children. Being a father is hard work, and no father is perfect. The biggest losers are not those who fail, but those who let their failure define their future actions and decisions because they become comfortable with that failure.

How to fail as a father…

1. Don’t spend time with your children.

This is obvious but so easily forgotten. You want to decrease the positive potential in your children then don’t spend time with them. The next few points I make are dependent on the time that you invest in your kids.

King David teaches us that it doesn’t matter how important of a role you play in the world – your most important role is the one you have in your family as father. If you don’t spend time with your kids then you are abdicating that role.

In King David’s story it is revealing that when Absalom was plotting to get revenge on his brother Amnon for raping his sister he went to his father…well let’s just read it:

23 Two years later, when Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there. 24 Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his officials please join me?” 25 “No, my son,” the king replied. “All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go, but gave him his blessing.
2 Samuel 13:23-25 (NIV)

Now why would Absalom even bother to invite his father to come to the celebration knowing full well that if David accepted he wouldn’t be able to pull off what he had planned? Here’s the thing. Absalom had to give the appearance to David that nothing was up by inviting him but Absalom knew that David probably wouldn’t accept. How would Absalom know that? Because of the pattern David had set in his life of not spending time with his children.

Not only that but did you catch the excuse David gave for not attending? “I don’t think I should come, I don’t want to be a burden to you”. What kind of lame excuse is that? I wonder how many lame excuses like that David had given in to his sons when they wanted to go riding horses with him, or have him teach them how to throw a spear, tuck them in at night, or be at their birthday parties?

What are the lame excuses you give your kids for backing out of spending time with them?

I remember once my daughter Jenna came to me and gave me a hug after I spent some time wrestling with her and my other three children (getting to be more dangerous the older they get!) and she said, “Thanks Daddy”. I asked her, “Thanks for what?” “Thanks for spending time with us Daddy” and I said, “Daddy always has time for you guys” Then Jenna floored me, “Sometimes Daddy, but you’re always on your blackberry or the ‘puter”.

BAM! What a gut-wrenching thing to hear from Jenna. I realized I was failing as a father because my daughter was seeing me on the computer and the blackberry more than she was seeing me with her. Which brings me to an important point,

The amount of time is secondary to the quality of your time.

Paul writes to the fathers in the Ephesian church, “Don’t provoke to anger (or exasperate) your children” (Eph. 6:4). Do you know one of the easiest ways to exasperate your children? When you’re in the same room or the same house, or around you’re kids but you’re not really there. When you are present in body but not present in any other way. Kids pick up on that, they know when you’re around but not really present. That is what affects the quality of the time you spend with your children.

As I said earlier spending time with your children is foundational for any of the other things you do as a father with your children…let’s continue (How to fail as a father…)

2. Don’t discipline your kids (or forgive them either).

Listen to this revealing statement about David’s failure as a father,

6 Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” (1 Kings 1:6)

The context of this sentence is that Adonijah had begun boasting that he will make himself king and got some chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him. Yet, it appears as though David is oblivious to this.

What about the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by his son Amnon? All scripture records for us is that David got really angry….um with nothing else. It appears that he didn’t even tend to his daughter for scripture records that Tamar retreated to the home of her brother Abasalom a “desolate woman”. I wonder what seeds of resentment were born in Absalom’s heart towards his father because of the lack action by David in disciplining Amnon?

Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.
Proverbs 13:24 (NLT)

Those words were written by David’s son Solomon. I wonder, if Solomon was thinking of the things he saw as a child as a result of the lack of disciplining in his brothers lives?

Where does spending time come in with discipline? If you don’t spend time with your kids then you won’t know what discipline is effective in instructing your kids on the right and wrong in life. (share about how my children differ in what discipline works best in reinforcing boundaries). If you don’t spend time with your children then how will you know WHAT needs to receive discipline?

3. Don’t pass on any spiritual heritage (don’t let you kids know how much you love Jesus) – oh, and don’t pray for your kids either!

Scripture teaches us that David had a rich relationship with God and spent time with Him. But how much of that relationship did David pass on to his sons? Very little it seems because of his not spending time with them.

Want to fail as a father? Don’t pass on any spiritual heritage…let’s think about his…

To begin with, obviously, you can’t pass on any spiritual heritage if you don’t have any. If you don’t cultivate any relationship with God your self then you’re definitely not going to pass anything to your kids.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV)

Second, if you don’t spend any time with your kids and let them observe how much Jesus means to you and guides you in your daily life then you aren’t going to pass on any spiritual heritage.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NIV)

Third, passing on a spiritual heritage doesn’t mean that you have a game face for when you around your kids and a hang loose face when you are not. You need to be authentic with your children. They need to know what living as a Christian is really like. They need to know what to do when they mess up from learning by what you do when you mess up. They need to see you live out authentically what you are learning together as you read God’s word and as you make decisions.

This brings me to the next point – to fail as a father…

4. Don’t recognize and value the influence you have in your children’s lives. In other words, don’t fight for your kids.

The reality is, especially in today’s world – there are many things competing for the influence of your children. The saddest thing is that there are many fathers abdicating their role as the primary influence in their child’s life. The amount of positive influence you have in your children’s lives is proportional to the amount of quality time you spend with them.

David had tremendous influence as the God’s anointed king of Israel and he had tremendous influence as a mighty warrior but his influence as a father in his children’s lives was withered because of the limited time he spent with them, his poor discipline of them, and the limited spiritual heritage he passed on to many of them.

Listen carefully Fathers and this applies to mothers as well – parents ARE the primary influencers in their children’s lives. You influence them even when you don’t engage with them. If you fail to recognize the affect of your influence in their lives then you are missing the greatest opportunity God has given you to build positive potential into your children’s lives.

Here’s an important question when it comes to influence…Can you say to your children, ‘Live like I do with NO exceptions? In other words, do you have exceptions to following Christ, like “except for my anger” or “except for my looking at other women”? Don’t think for a minute that David’s sons behaviors weren’t influenced in any way by the activities they saw in their father’s life (David and Bathsheba for example).

When it comes to the important stuff in life don’t leave it to what their peers say, what the school says, or what they read or see. Be on the constant look out for opportunities to be a positive influence in your child’s life!


So what are you going to do about it the answers to, “how to fail as a father”? Are you going to get hung up on how you failed as a father or are you going to pursue the responsibility God has given you and be a good father to your children?

I want to finish off with the reinforcement this morning that one of the ways God wants us to relate to Him is to see Him as our Father. Why? Because as our Father God is forever working to build within us increasing positive potential to be better, to do better, and to live the better life He wants for all of us WITH HIM! Do you realize how much he cares about you?

  • God has unlimited time to spend with you and is ALWAYS available. Do you seize the opportunity to spend time with him? Even more He is fully present when you are fully present. Even more, He understands everything you go through, everything you think about, everything about who you are…even more than you understand
  • God cares enough to discipline when necessary. Do you receive or reject that discipline? Do you understand His desire that you would achiever your POTENTIAL?
  • Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.
    • Deuteronomy 8:5 (NLT)
    • God is perfect but He never expects us to be perfect. He requires it, yes, because He is holy, but He made it possible for us to attain perfection via the willing sacrifice He himself made as Jesus Christ. God wants us to be like him. He wants us to be like Jesus. He wants us to be better and KNOWS OUR POTENTIAL. In some ways, God knows that we fail, and He knows that we fall short of the mark – which IS WHY HE IS READY TO PICK US UP AGAIN AND MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR US TO MOVE FORWARD. (
  • He cares enough to make possible incredible spiritual resources in the scriptures, in the church, and in the investment of Himself as the Holy Spirit.
  • Finally, know that God as our Father FIGHTS for you. Not in the sense that He always takes on your battles but that HE makes sure you have every possibility to know Him as the primary influence in your life. HE paid the ULTIMATE price so you could know Him as YOUR Father. Maybe you’ve lived a life where no one has fought for you. Maybe you are even feeling that way right now. You need to know this morning that God fights for you – HE wants you as His child, He DOESN’T WANT YOU to know the pain of hell, the pain of eternal separation from Him. HE’S made it possible for you to know HIM. Once you understand the wooing nature of God’s GRACE there is an irresistible pull to answer His invitation….
  • As our Father God has ALWAYS initiated communication on the important stuff. From the Dawn of creation He has done so. Creation itself is God’s initiation. Of course, nothing speaks louder than the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf – what more could God do to demonstrate His love for us (and the price that must be paid for sin).

Invitation to the altar.


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