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One of the desperate needs of the church today is for true spiritual fathers and mothers to arise and pour into the next generation of believers. There is a cry for spiritual fathers and mothers in today’s church; men and women who will invest in others sacrificially, with no strings attached.
As God has brought spiritual fathers into my life, and as I have begun to step into a fathering role, I am beginning to see some characteristics that mark spiritual fathers. While not exhaustive, I believe that 2 Timothy 1:1-7 gives us a blueprint for many of these attributes (All of these could apply to mothers as well).
1. A heart connection
In 2 Timothy 1:2, Paul calls Timothy a “beloved son.” In verse 4 he states that he is “greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy.” A relationship between a spiritual father and a son/daughter is birthed by God, and there is a true heart connection.
I can relate to Paul’s words. I have experienced the heart connection and tears that are involved in these types of relationships. I have held back tears while driving a spiritual father to the airport after a visit. I have cried over spiritual sons and daughters. I can’t quite explain it, except that it is a deep bond that cannot be forced; God brings it about. It is this heart relationship that provides the context for a spiritual fathering dynamic.
2. Consistent prayer
As a spiritual father to Timothy, Paul consistently prayed for him. He said that he thanked God for him and told him that “without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3).
Just as I pray for my natural children on a daily basis, I have a burden to pray for those who are spiritual children on a regular basis. Perhaps our prayers are the most important thing that we can give to those whom we disciple, mentor, and walk with.
Paul imparted into Timothy’s life: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul freely gave to Timothy what God had given to him. Healthy spiritual fathers want to impart and empower others to walk in their gifts and calling. They are secure enough to make room for others to shine and go beyond their own achievements.
But it is not simply gifts that fathers impart. They impart their very lives into sons and daughters so that they will be everything God has called them to be. (This attitude of Paul can be seen clearly in 1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Paul was constantly encouraging Timothy in his walk with God and his calling as a leader. He told him to stir up the gifts of God, and then reminded him that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul was exhorting Timothy not to be afraid, but to be bold in his calling, trusting in God for His help.
Being a spiritual father involves encouraging, coaching, and correcting when needed. It is often the voice of a father that people are lacking. When that void is filled, sons and daughters have the confidence and security to step out into the areas God is calling them.
To be absolutely clear: no earthly relationship can replace our need for a vital connection with our heavenly Father through Jesus. We must find our ultimate security and identity in Him. But like Paul to Timothy, God will often use spiritual fathers and mothers to reveal Himself to us, encourage us, and lead us in our walk.
May God raise up many spiritual fathers and mothers in our time!