Impotence: The Crisis of Fathering in Australia Today

Impotence: The Crisis of Fathering in Australia Today


Several years ago I intentionally left theological lecturing to focus on more effective ways of making disciples. Unexpectedly this has lead to spending a lot of time with individuals (nearly always men) on one to one basis. This sermon is deeply connected to my present “mentoring” ministry.


A few weeks ago a teacher who had spent time in remote Indigenous communities remarked to me that the greatest social problems came from children not knowing who their father was. Then we had a mentally disturbed dad murdering his 11 year old son and a 15 year old fatally bashed his infant child. If this was not a clear enough message I was walking along the street in Belmont at 5.10 am Thursday morning when hailed by a young man in his 20s; the “missus” was pregnant, she had thrown him out of the house, penniless, and he wanted help getting back to his mother in Karratha. One more fatherless child was about to enter the world. The Lord was emphatically confirming today’s message, Australia is in the midst of a crisis to do with fathering.[1]

Biblically this tragedy goes back to Adam and Eve as the parents of our race. When they sinned and lost the glory of God this wounding was felt as shame, shame that has been imparted to every successive generation (Gen 2:25; 3:7; Ex 34:7; Rom 3:23). Through the neglect, pain or confusion imparted in their own childhood, fathers and or mothers no longer have the intimate strength needed to raise children into the beauty of humanity God originally intended. The most serious concern in all this is the widespread breakdown of fatherly discipline in the Church. I was talking to a 30-odd year old recently who has perplexingly found himself pastoring young Christians in the work place, teaching them to reads the Bible and to pray, because they have never been discipled by mature age believers. The decline in holy living and spiritual disciplines are symptomatic of impotency in fatherhood. We are sharing the condition of the church in Corinth; “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:15-16, ESV).

The Father however has a strategy to bring a fresh revelation of his intimate care and discipline.[2]  The Church will experience a release of spiritual fathers and or mothers able to bring spiritual sons and or daughters to maturity[3] once it is freed from its confusion over “the wrath of God”[4].  In addressing this situation I want to start with the clearest paradigm of spiritual fathering in the Old Testament, the Elijah-Elisha relationship

Lessons from Elijah

These prophets appear at the time of the greatest threat faced by Israel since the exodus from Egypt, the cult of Baal[5]. Elijah’s great opponent was the pagan promoter of Baal, queen Jezebel. Jezebel has a bad press[6] but “For every Jezebel there is an Ahab.” that is,. a weak-spirited man who submits to the control of his wife (a condition rife in our culture.) As king of Israel, Ahab was called to image the fatherly care of the LORD to Israel as his “firstborn son” (Ex 4:22; Deut 14:1; Jer 3:19; 31:9; 20; Hos 11:1; Mal 2:10)[7]. When Ahab abdicates the power of his throne to the ruthless law breaking Jezebel it is as if there is no F/father in Israel[8]. Jezebel’s attempts to annihilate the prophets is an attempt to make Baal rather than the LORD the father-deity in the land ((1 Ki 18:4, 13 cf. Jer 2:23-27), this bring terrible judgement. The drought the LORD pronounced upon the earth in the time of Elijah is a sign of his sovereign power over the dominion of rain claimed for Baal (1 Ki 17:1; 18:1). This punishment will be completed in the triumph over the false prophets at Mt Carmel and the sending of rain (1 Ki 18). Jezebel is however not intimidated and her fierce threats cause Elijah to flee the land[9]. The ageing prophet may seem finished but his greatest act is yet to come, the transmission of fatherly presence to Elisha.

“9 When they (Elijah and Elisha) had crossed (the Jordan), Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”” In Israel the firstborn male was granted twice as much property as other sons (Deut 21:17), so Elisha is seeking the fullness of the father’s blessing. “10 And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.”” Only if God is pleased with the request[10] will the spirit within Elijah pass by divine grace over to his successor Elisha. “11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.” (2 Ki 2:9-12). The young prophet sees his mentor rise in a fiery whirlwind into heaven and his cry “My father, my father!” testifies that the power of the spirit of fathering [11] has been imparted to him. The supernatural phenomena surrounding this scene – wind, fire, chariots signify that the glory of a father is to transmit all he has to his son. This awareness of the presence and protection of a father’s spirit imparts a sense of overwhelming security to Elisha as the son of Elijah[12].

Indwelt by the spirit of Elijah, Elisha has become a spiritual father with power to transmit and multiply sonship by parenting many “sons of the prophets”, men of God able to declare the mind and purpose of the LORD to Israel (2 Ki 4:38, 4:43; 6:1)[13]. That the father-son bonding[14] of the Elijah-Elisha relationship is at the apex of prophetic maturity becomes unmistakeably clear at the time of the death of Elisha. Here the exclamation directed to Elisha by King Joash, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”” appears for the second and last time in the Bible (2 Kings 13:14).

The enduring power of the fathering spirit of Elijah is honoured by a prophecy at the very end of our Old Testament[15],““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5-6, ESV). This prophecy is fulfilled in the life of John the Baptist.

The Spirit of Elijah

John, ““will go before him (the Lord) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”” (Luke 1:16-17, ESV)[16].

Elijah and the Baptist are both men of fire. Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed 100 soldiers (2 Ki 1:10-14) and John prophesies “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire….he who is coming after me will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”, this is the language of final blessing and fiery judgement (Matt 3:10-12). John’s expects Jesus’ ministry to bring vengeance on the wicked.

John participates in the spirit of Elijah in a deeper and more painful way. As Jezebel persecuted Elijah queen Herodias demands the head of John while her Ahab like weak husband Herod (Antipas) meekly complies with her wicked request (Mark 6:24-26)[17]. It was in the tension of prison that John sent forth a request to Jesus; ““Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”” (Luke 7:19). John was confused, Jesus’ miracles demonstrated him to be a man of the Spirit, but the absence of God’s fiery wrath made no sense. John did not understand that as the Son of God Jesus would take the burning wrath of God upon himself as the culminating revelation of God’s true Fatherhood (Luke 12:50)[18].

The Spirit of the Father and the Son

The coming of Jesus brings the ultimate revelation of God as the Father of joy; the Father who proudly declares at Christ’s baptism (and at every Christian baptism actually); ““You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22, ESV)[19]. Soon after this Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth and preaching from chapter 61 (Luke 4:18-19) deliberately omits these words “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to proclaim…the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus was in the process of redefining the nature of divine judgement solely in terms of himself. ““Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”” (John 3:36)[20].

Compelling words, but powerless to change our convictions concerning Fatherhood and judgement apart from the action of the cross. Jesus is motivated to be God’s sacrificial Lamb[21] because he knows his suffering alone can reveal the true glory of the Father. ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28, ESV). Only the suffering of the cross can bring “many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10). The punishment which Jesus must endure for our sake on the cross[22] has nothing to do with an insecure, irate, emotionally out of control father, but are judgments to be borne so that his relationship with God as Father might be imparted into the lives of others.

When the dying Jesus cries out, ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) it seems as if the Father is impotent to communicate his loving presence to his only Son[23]. The agony that Jesus is experiencing is so intense that it seems that it can never end[24]. For Jesus is bearing in our place the eternal wrath of God (Matt 25:46; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 1:7).This time of dereliction is a relational crisis of the deepest dimension[25] when the Son can have no experience of the enjoyment of the Father. The joylessness of God is the reality of his wrath, and Christ’s terrible cry tells us that the power of sin to separate us from God as Father has been incorporated into his own all obedient life. The revelation of the cross reverses all our natural fallen thinking; the power of God is not primarily located in his almightiness to Judge, but in power to take judgement away (John 5:24). This is the potency of his Fatherhood[26]. Whilst this revelation is hidden in the cross, it is exposed in the resurrection. The resurrection is the manifestation of the glory of the Father in completing the victory of Jesus over sin, Satan and death (Rom 6:4)[27]. The Holy Spirit is given to us to make these things real in our experience.

Receiving the Spirit

John’s Gospel teaches us that the Spirit would could not be given until Jesus was glorified (John 7:39)[28] by the Father, and at the start of Acts Jesus describes the Spirit as ““the promise of the Father”” (Acts 1:4-5). Immediately after hearing these things the disciples see the Lord taken up into heaven in a cloud of glory (Acts 1:9-10). Just as Elisha’s witnessing the ascension of Elijah was his assurance of receiving the firstborn blessing of his prophetic father, so the apostolic witness of the ascension of Jesus was their assurance that they will soon receive the Holy Spirit. In Old Testament times divine wind and fire generally brought judgement[29], but the wind from heaven and the tongues of fire upon the heads at Pentecost imparted only God’s fatherly blessing (Acts 2:2-3; 17) [30] .

The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is the expression of the joyous relationship between Jesus and his Father. As Peter expounds in his Pentecost sermon, ““This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”” (Acts 2:32-33, ESV).

As blessed Elijah his son Elisha with his spirit, Jesus has received from the Father the power to pour out the Holy Spirit to make sons in his image and likeness[31]. The long story beginning with the prophets, continuing with the ministry of the Baptist and issuing in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire means God’s eternal plan to have holy sons and daughters has been fulfilled.

Holy Sons

The first disciples were once fearful and isolated (John 20:19), but after Pentecost they became bold fearless witnesses (Acts 4:13; 31). Their transformation from impotence to authority is a sign of sonship; “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” (Rom 8:15-16 cf. Gal 4:4-6). Underlying all other human fears is a fear of being punished on the day of judgement[32] , but God’s love sees us perfected in Christ (1 John 4:16-18). The gift of the Spirit is the gift of the Father’s joy in having us as his children (Acts 13:52; Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22; 1 Thess 1:6). I can testify to these realities.

Before I came to Christ I suffered from serious paranoia, I literally could not walk down a public street for fear of other people. Then I met Jesus and one day early in my Christian experience the Lord spoke to me through this scripture, “For God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of love, power and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7) and I have never experienced those sorts of fears since[33].  Jesus reveals an enjoyable Father so that we might become enjoyable spiritual fathers/mothers to others …do you know or believe this about yourself?

If Australian culture is to be transformed the change must begin with us.  The drought of mature mentoring in the Church must be broken (cf. Amos 8:11) [34]. There are always opportunities to father and or mother others in the Church and many openings in the wider community e.g. mentoring programmes in schools that could be taken up if we had faith. Only the guilt and shame attached to imperfect fathering/mothering experiences is holding us back from enjoying the Father and leading others into that joy. We need to take our eyes off our failures and “keep our eyes on Jesus… the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him [the joy of bringing many sons to glory Heb 2:10] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews12:2). Jesus never thought of a “wrathful Father” whose presence should be avoided and neither should we[35]. You might say, “I know this.” but sometimes ours lives are not as orthodox as our heads[36].


Popular Christianity has become preoccupied with meeting felt human needs; then churches are surprised when Christians seek worldly pleasures above the will of God. Instead of multiplying holy family likeness we have multiplied family dysfunction. We have grieved the Spirit of the Father in failing to spiritually discern the difference between the punishing wrath of God and the painful discipline of a loving heavenly Father submission to which is the ONLY way to the highest of all human pleasures; enjoying him[37]. A new generation needs to be taught how to submit to the pruning of the Father (John 15:1-11) and the importance of prayer, scripture, fellowship etc. as the means the Spirit uses to keep us close to him.

This fellowship may never be one of the largest in Western Australia, but you can be a church that by consistent fathering and or mothering turns sons and or daughters into fathers and or mothers in the faith. You can be caught up in the vision of the Spirit to multiply the Father’s vision of family reality. This is what brings our heavenly Father his greatest joy. I firmly believe that the Lord will release a revival in the power of fathering in our time[38].” (2008) You are invited to commit yourself to be a part of this release today[39].

[1] Recognized by Christian and non Christian groups; e.g.;

[2] The NT book of Hebrews teaches us that we know we are the children of God through the discipline he exerts on our lives, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:5-8, ESV)

[3]Contrast, “Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Col 1:28).

[4] The furore over the words of the song, “’Till on the cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied”, are an example of this. This matter goes deep, how come radical feminists never consider God an “Angry Mother”?

[5] Baal was a fertility deity whose worship involved sacred prostitution to move the god to mate with his heavenly partner Astarte and send rain to the earth.

[6] e.g.” But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (Rev 2:20)

[7] This function comes to a climax in the Messiah as son of God (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:27, 29).

[8] See especially the incident of Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Ki 21.

[9] Elijah is deceived into thinking he is on the spiritual front line alone (1 Ki 18:22; 19:2, 10, 14). Elijah also knew that those impressed by the miraculous are capable of soon falling away. This is a major theme in John’s Gospel (2:23; 4:48; 6:30; 12:37).

[10] Which seems to hinge on the successful intercession of the older prophet.

[11] Signified a little later in the story by the passing on of Elijah’s prophetic mantle to Elisha (2 Ki 2:12-14).

[12] The Hebrew text indicates that Elijah himself is the chariot and fire of Yahweh in the midst of Israel.

[13] His spectacular miraculous ministry, doing [about] twice as many miracles (cf. “double portion”) as his predecessor, serves this purpose.

[14] Reflected in the fact that Elijah is the most referred to prophet in the New Testament.

[15] Following the Greek translation of the OT, which differs from the Hebrew OT book order.

[16] Family restoration is the primary fruit of John’s prophetic ministry in preparation for the coming of Christ. The restoration ministry of the Baptist operates at a level that often passes unnoticed. In John’s Gospel after John declares Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) he sees the Spirit “descend and remain” upon the Son of God (John 1:33) in the presence of his own disciples they pass their allegiance from John to Jesus. One of these disciples is Andrew who fetches Peter and so on.

[17] Jesus interprets these events in terms of Elijah. “And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” “…Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (Mark 9:11-13; Matt 17:13)

[18] Elijah’s flight from Jezebel indicates that he had no notion that his death could profit the kingdom of God.

[19] The soul of the Father delights in Jesus for he is the one who perfectly obeys him in everything (Isa 42:1).

[20] Cf. “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”” (Matthew 25:45-46, ESV). cf. “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16)

[21] This is the “must” of divine indispensability, not inevitability e.g. Mark 8:31; Luke 24:7; John 3:14.

[22] Isa 53:5, 10;

[23] That his love is not “perfect” and able to drive out all fear cf. 1 John 4:17.

[24] It is impossible for him to think, “In a few hours I will be dead, and in a few days resurrected.” To “save to the uttermost” (Heb 7:25) Jesus must experience the limitless dimensions of God’s opposition against our wickedness. As such it cannot be experienced as limited in duration.

[25] Whatever we may make of the physical images of fire and brimstone throughout scripture E.g. Matt 18:6-9; Mark 9:42-48; Rev 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8 wrath is primarily a relational matter.

[26] And why the revelation of “Abba Father” occurs together with the presence of the “cup” of wrath in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36).

[27] John 19:30; Col 2:15; 1 Cor 15:54-56; Heb 2:14-15

[28] A sending that Jesus himself will ask the Father to do (John 14:16).

[29] e.g., Isa 4:4; 30:27f; Dan 7:10; Mal 3:2f; 4:1. In Elijah’s life wind and fire include displays of divine power, acts of judgement, his experience at Mt Horeb and his ascension (1 Ki 18:38; 19:12; 2 Ki 1:10-12; 2:11).

[30] Like the burning bush that was not consumed because of the holy presence of God (Ex 3:1-6) the disciples were aflame with a divine fire that does not destroy but bears eternal life.

[31] This sentence is deliberately ambiguous as the “his” refers to the Father-Son relationship and not simply to either Jesus or the Father. To make sons of God is the pinnacle of S/sonship.

[32] No doubt in some way reflecting the harsh, arbitrary or unjust retribution that began in our infancy.

[33] This is not a claim to be completely clear from all fear, only to testify to Christ’s transforming presence.

[34] The text of Amos speaks of a “famine”, I have used “drought” to align it with the Elijah motif.

[35] We can confidently sing “’Till on the cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied”[35], the prophetic hope uttered so long ago in the prophets “I have no wrath” (Isa 27:4) has come about through the life and death of Christ. The God we approach through Jesus is an exultant, triumphant, and happy Father (cf. Zeph 3:17; Heb 4:16).

[36] I remember a story told by a pastor. He had become increasingly occupied with matters of ministry and was spending less and less time with the Lord. One day he was rung up by a Christian friend who said, “I have a message from God for you. The message is, “I’m missing you.”  We are called by the Spirit of Jesus to many appointments with the Father, in prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, witness, communion…, all of these help to stay in awareness of the joy of the Lord

[37] See for development of this theme.

[38] Every now and then I come across something I wrote or spoke years ago, I came across these words recently, “It is not popular charisma that brings us closest to the heart of God, but the discipline and nurture of spiritual parents whose love images the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I am anticipating a release of a generation of earnest fathers and or mothers amongst the people of God, beginning, as always, amongst the faithful remnant e.g., Isaiah 37:31 -32, Rom 11:1 – 5.  Elijah failed to understand this remnant principle, hence his despair (1 Ki 19:9 – 10, 18).

[39] This requires some repentance. e.g., any Christian who truly understands that the wrath of God has been taken away in Christ will find it impossible to let the sun go down on their anger. Unforgiveness grieves the Spirit because it images the very opposite of the true of the Father which Jesus died to bring (Eph 4:30).

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