Lessons my father taught me (Part 1)

Lessons my father taught me (Part 1)
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Joel Beeke
Joel Beeke Joel R. Beeke (b.1952) is an American Christian pastor and theologian. He is minister of the Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
06 January, 2023 6 min read

‘Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:7-8).

Right from the start, let me say that neither of my parents was perfect. Even so, I am not going to share their faults with you. I am going to share their strengths.
I offer their strengths to you so that, first, you may be encouraged with the thought that a godly parent can have a positive impact on a child.

Second, I want you to know that if you will persevere with your child, your impact will be great.

Third, it is my hope that the young people who hear my story will remember some of what I say, that it might be a help to them when they become parents themselves.

My father died very suddenly. The telephone rang during a morning service at church, and a deacon brought the message to me in a note while I was preaching. His note reached me about ten minutes before the end of my sermon. It said, ‘Your father is seriously sick.’

When I saw those words, I knew. He had a history of heart problems, and so I knew that he had gone to be with the Lord. In his providence, I was preaching about the white robes, the glory, and the beauty of being with the Lord forever.

I will never forget the last five minutes of that sermon, how the Lord really gave me special freedom to speak about the future of God’s people in glory. Perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts of all that a father can leave behind for a child – to live in such a way as to leave no doubt in that child’s mind that you are now in glory.

We all miss our parents tremendously when they die, of course. We miss their love. But the greatest balm of comfort to the grieving soul is the knowledge that one’s parents are in glory.

My father lived and died serving the Lord. In fact, he went straight from leading a service to being in glory that day. He had prayed the long prayer with great emotion, and then began reading a sermon. He was on page two when he fell over with a heart attack. He went straight from the pulpit to the throne room of heaven at the age of 73. He was married to my mother for 52 years.

There are many memories, of course, that flood into my mind at a time like this. My dad taught me many lessons. Over the course of two articles, I will offer you nine examples.

1.My dad taught me the value of speaking to your children about God.

My dad spoke to us often about God’s ways with his people. I think his specialty was the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. When I later became a minister, those talks would come back to me with a lot of power and comfort.

In his talks he would often have these ‘sayings’. He would say to me, ‘What I am about to tell you I wish I could write with an iron pen on your heart.’

I don’t know why, but that’s what he always said, and I knew something big was coming when he said it. As a matter of fact, it is almost as if his words were written with an iron pen on my heart, because I never forgot the things he said.

He would save these moments for very special instructions. For example, he once said to me, ‘What I am about to tell you I wish I could write with an iron pen on your heart: It is a wonderful thing to get some comfort from the Lord, but an instruction from the Lord is even more valuable, because a comfort lasts only a little while, but an instruction lasts your whole lifetime.’ He would say things like this all the time. You just cannot forget those things.

Another time he said to me, ‘I wish I could write this with an iron pen on your heart, but the difference between a believer and an unbeliever – and always remember this – is that a believer has a place to go all the time. When an unbeliever comes into trouble, he doesn’t know where to go.’

I’ve only had two surgeries in my life, and both were on my knees. I remember when I was going in for my first knee surgery. I had stood beside thousands of hospital beds over the years, but I had never been in one.

This was strange to think about on my way to the hospital. As I began to pray, my dad’s words came back into my mind. It brought me to tears on the way to the hospital: ‘A believer always has a place to go.’

I thought to myself, ‘There is no need to fear. You are safe in the hands of Jesus. Even if he takes your life, you will just go to be with him, the best place of all.’

I wrote recently about a man in Northern Ireland who awoke out of surgery and was told by his doctor that his body would fully heal. The man replied, ‘I am disappointed. I wanted to be healed altogether. I wanted to go and be with the Lord.’

My dad would find opportunities to teach us. His best time was often on Sunday nights, when he would read to us from Pilgrim’s Progress. Once he tried to read Holy War to us, but we did not understand it well so he stopped halfway through.

With that one brief exception, all of the twenty years that I lived at home, we did nothing but read Pilgrim’s Progress on Sunday nights. I know that book like the back of my hand, and I love it.

My dad would encourage us to ask questions. My brother and I asked many questions during our teen years. After I was converted, I would sometimes ask my dad questions until midnight or later. I would literally sit at his feet on the floor, and we would talk from heart to heart. It was absolutely wonderful.

During the week my dad was so busy that it seemed like he did not have any time for us kids. But Sunday night was a time to ask my dad spiritual questions. ‘Who was Mr Talkative?’, ‘What does that name mean?’, ‘Why did it take Christian so long to find the key of promise in Giant Despair’s castle?’

I asked many questions, and he loved it. He would set the book down and teach us with tears in his eyes.

For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, we kids all agreed to share one thing we appreciated about Mom and Dad. All five of us said the same thing. We all appreciated our mother’s prayers, and we all appreciated our father’s family worships on Sunday evenings as he would go through Pilgrims Progress.

My brother said to him, ‘My oldest memory in life comes from a time when I was three years old. I was sitting on your lap, Dad, and I looked up into your face, and I saw a God who is real as I watched the tears stream down your face. I thank you, Dad, that I never had to question the reality of God.’

2.My dad taught me the value of service.

I only worked with my dad for two summers. When you worked for him, it seemed that he had time for you. My very first day on the job he said to me, ‘You see that hammer there? Don’t try to saw a board with it. You see that saw? Don’t try to drive a nail with it.’

I responded, ‘I know that, Dad.’ He said to me, ‘But do you know why I am telling you? Because God designed us to live to his glory and to be of service to our neighbour. When we try to live for ourselves it is like trying to saw a board with a hammer, and trying to drive home a nail with a saw. It doesn’t work. You will never find satisfaction and joy in life, my son, if you try living for a purpose for which God did not make you.’

I was thirteen years old when my dad shared this with me. I wasn’t converted until I was fourteen. It really made me stop and think. Service is what life is all about. My dad exemplified that, sometimes to the point of frustration.

It was rare for him to spend leisure time with us kids during the week, but if someone from the church called, he would be gone in a moment. He was a servant.
At times I resented him for this, but at other times I understood, especially as I got older. He would say to me, ‘If there are people in need, you meet those needs.’

Now, would it have been wiser for him to spend some time with his family first, and then go? I think so. But that was my dad. All day long he would work, and all evening long he would serve the church. I don’t ever remember my mom and dad just sitting together and talking at night. They were always working and serving.

The idea of making every moment count is something I learned from my dad. He never wasted time. He never occupied himself with things that he felt would not be fruitful in some way.

By Dr Joel R. Beeke, Author, minister, and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI.

Joel Beeke
Joel R. Beeke (b.1952) is an American Christian pastor and theologian. He is minister of the Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
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