At the burning core of the parent's heart must be an overwhelming love of God. Jesus didn't mince words when he spoke of our need to love God before everything else - "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Matthew 10:37) When comparing your love for God to your love for your children, there should be no doubt where your heart rests.
A parent's heart needs to beat first for God, second for God, third for God and only then for family.
This reality is counter-cultural, challenging and seemingly-dangerous. It forces surrender and a level of open-handed parenting that doesn't come naturally. "If God genuinely calls my son into the mission field, will I celebrate him leaving, even if he's walking into danger?" "If God calls my daughter into the military, will I support her?" But the truth is that we cannot fully love our children if we don't love God first - our love and appreciation for God will fuel our love for our children.
For years Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet, had longed for a child. One evening she found her weeping in the temple, praying to God and saying, "If you would just give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life" (I Samuel 1:11). That prayer was answered. She conceived, and gave birth to the burning desire of her heart.
How hard it would be to be faithful to that prayer! But she was. As soon as the child was old enough to be weened, she took Samuel to the temple to serve God. Consider the rollercoaster of emotions that year of weening must have been. Hannah watched her child grow, loving and cherishing every minute of blessing but through it all knowing Samuel was the Lord's, not her's.
When she finally travelled to the temple to send Samuel into the ministry, these were her words:
"My heart exults in the Lord
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation."
“There is none holy like the Lord
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God."
When push came to shove, the answer was easy for Hannah - "My passionate love for God is enough for me to fulfill any promise or make any sacrifice to which God has called me."
And why? Because she had seen the unique beauty of God! "There is none holy like the Lord for there is none besides you." Of course she would love God first - there was nothing compared to Him. He was most glorious, He was first, He was greatest. The immeasurable beauty of Samuel - her dearly beloved child - ultimately paled in comparison to God. It wasn't a question of 1a and 1b, it was a question of distant first and then the rest - and Samuel, no matter how Hannah longed for him and loved him - was in "the rest."
This is not simple or easy, and these are not culturally acceptable ideas. A survey conducted in 2012 by YourTango of parenting and family counselors couldn't even conclusively say whether a wife should love her kids or her husband first. They would stumble in fits as to God's place in that order! And it's possible to find other examples of people who cannot conceive of what it means to love God first and then family second - for them, loving God more than your children is the antithesis of loving your children, not the path to best loving your children.
But Scripture is clear. "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). Love him with everything. As your love for God deepens and becomes more and more pervasive, so will your love for your spouse and your children - for you community and neighbors and world. But those loves needs to be led by your love for God, and there can be no mistaking the primacy: Love God first.
Father, I love you. But, I confess, I don't always love you as fully as I should. There are so many things vying for my heart and attention and some of them are so very, very good - but that's not an excuse! The truth is, I don't spend enough time staring into your face. I don't run towards your son like I might, my mind isn't as renewed as it might be, heaven doesn't fill my thoughts like it should. I want my heart to exult in your glory like Hannah's did. And only you can do that.
God, do that! Light my heart for you like it never has been before. Allow that love to fuel my family, my marriage and my parenting. Let my love for you define my life and everything I touch. In everything, help me to love you like you deserve: help me to love you with everything I have.
- Does my soul long for times to spend with God - looking forward to quiet times or times spent in Scripture and prayer?
- If I were in Hannah's place, where would my heart land? What decisions would I make? And what excuses would I be tempted make to place love of Samuel before love of God? Am I making those same excuses today with my children?
- What are the characteristics of a parent's heart who's love for his or her children is defined by love for God? How would that parent's heart look different than a parent who's first love is his or her spouse, or children?
- Does my calendar, bank account and reading list help show my love of God or my love of children? What could I change?
- When you think of "Love of God first," is there a person or people who you feel exemplify this? Why?
- I Samuel 1-2: Read the story of Hannah and Samuel. Place yourself in Hannah's shoes. Where is your love for God?
- John 3: Consider Jesus' words to Nicodemus concerning God's overwhelming love.
- I John 4: What does John say about our love for God - and how we'll be able to prove our love?