The Faithful God
Discipline in the Home
by David Posey
I’M WRITING THIS on the Monday following Father’s day. My son has recently moved away and begun his career, and will be getting married in August. My daughter just graduated high school and will be attending Florida College in the fall. In other words, at our house, the disciplinary die is cast. All I hope for now is that the decisions my wife and I made during the past 18–22 years have been mostly wise ones. Did we “train them up in the way they should go”? (Proverbs 22:6)? We take some comfort in the promise of that passage, but still remember that it is a proverb, not an ironclad guarantee. So, like all Christian parents, we pray that our upbringing will lead to Christ being formed in them.
I don’t mean to imply that discipline is a matter of luck, or that the Bible doesn’t give us instruction in the matter. As Branch Rickey once said about baseball, “Luck is the residue of design.” Discipline requires design as well as hard work. The Bible provides the design, and we supply the hard work, along with fervent prayer. Of course, in the end, children make their own choices, and parents hold their breath.
We cannot force children to become Christian adults, but we can train them to be. It takes discipline. By “discipline,” I do not mean “spanking.” Spanking is an important part of the whole, but it is just a part. Proper discipline requires the use of a whole satchel of tools, including correction, nurturing, encouraging and warning (see Ephesians 6:4). Discipline requires setting some real boundaries and defining rules of proper behavior in the home. It demands that parents be parents and treat their children as children.
The dictionary defines discipline as “training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. The “specific character or pattern of behavior” which Christian parents are trying to achieve is holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15–16). Every step in the training process is designed to raise up Christian children. In comparison, nothing else matters, and the children know that. Education, job, and social skills are secondary. We always told our kids that we didn’t care if they were ditch-diggers, as long as they were Christians. If our children do not clearly observe that priority in us, what can we expect of them?
Hebrews 12:5–11 connects discipline with love. God loves us and disciplines (“chastens”) us. Likewise, if parents love their children, they discipline them. This is love in the fullest sense of the word—doing what is best for the child, not what feels best to the parent. Afterward—not before!—it yields the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11). Unfortunately, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want the results without the work. But any discipline takes time and work, and this is especially true in trying to mold these little minds and hearts into God-fearing men and women.
Researchers have shown that children desperately want this discipline. James Dobson illustrated this by removing the fences that encircled a school yard. Did the children run out in the street, delighted with their new-found freedom? No, instead they huddled in the middle of the playground. For a small child, a school (or a home) without boundaries and rules can be a very frightening place.
If discipline is this crucial, then it deserves all the time and effort we can give it. A survey in Maryland found that, on average, parents spend just 15 minutes per week in meaningful dialogue with their children. Sounds like many parents want to raise their children like the operate their TV set—by remote control! Without time and effort, we sacrifice our children on the altar of Murphy Brown and MTV, and they will not produce Christians.
Discipline is the best-rewarded hard work and the most tragic easy work there is. It is at once time-consuming, tedious, frustrating and exhausting. But, if you’re a parent, it is the most important work you do. It has far-reaching effects on the church and the world. But it takes time, your time (see Deuteronomy 6:6ff). Discipline is instruction, so we take time to tell the child how to discern between right and wrong. Discipline is training, so we take the time to show him how to function, and then let him try and fail, and try and fail again (that’s frustrating!). Discipline is correction, so we take the time and energy to help him adjust his attitude and behavior, not just lash out at him in anger when he makes a mistake.
Communication comes before correction. Before we punish a child for disobedience, he needs to know precisely what we expect of him. When the child obeys, we ought to show our approval. But when he violates the (clearly stated) rules, swift and firm correction must follow. We must both clarify the rules and then enforce them (Proverbs 29:15 says that permissiveness brings shame to the mother). The child may need a spanking (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13–14, though “rod” may well refer to both verbal and corporeal punishments), but there are other alternatives as well. Betty Chase, in Discipline Them, Love Them (David C. Cook Publishing) lists six methods of corrective discipline, beginning with communication, and including spanking. For a simple example, “logical consequences” would require the child to clean up his own mess. “Natural consequences” means the child suffers the consequence of his or her action (e.g., if little Sally refuses to wear a sweater to school, let her be cold for a day). Knowing and using more than one form of corrective discipline can make a spanking more effective.
Sensitive, godly parents are well aware of the challenges facing them today. It sometimes seems overwhelming. But you can rise above the crowd, and train up children who will grow to love the Lord. God promises wisdom, if we will ask for it (James 1:15). By the grace of God, you can do this job. You must do it. Parents, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Christianity Magazine: September–October 1992, Volume 9, Number 8. 1992. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL
Helping Children Grow Up
by Don Truex
THE NICKELODEON Network has begun showing episodes of the ancient sitcom, Father Knows Best. If you remember the show or have seen it in its latest reincarnation, you know that it focused on a family unit and, in particular, the patriarch of the clan, Robert Young. The interesting thing about that program (and others of its ilk) is that regardless of the problem that arises, it is neatly, fully, satisfactorily solved within thirty minutes! Wouldn’t it be nice if real life was like that? If the challenges associated with rearing children from their cradle to their wedding were so easily conquered? But, much to our dismay, they are not.
It is often said that children arrive sans an owner’s manual. That, of course, is not entirely true. After all, a bewildering array of “child rearing” books can be found in any local bookstore. But more importantly, He who knit our children together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) provides ample instruction so that they might eventually “increase in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). But much of that is left to the discretion and direction of Moms and Dads.
Perhaps that’s why the psalmist observed, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth” (127:4). Like the arrow, our children need purpose and direction. David lived that principle after realizing that he would be denied building the temple. From that day forward, his passion—the focus of his life—was to prepare his son, Solomon, to fulfill the will and work of God for his life (1 Chronicles 28:2ff). To that end he dreamed, planned and provided (1 Chronicles 29:1ff). Can the same be said of us regarding our relationship with our children? Are we as dedicated to our kids being godly as we are to them being academically successful, musically inclined, athletically talented and socially acceptable?
I am somewhere near the middle of the process of “raising my kids.” My daughter, Heather, is 12 and my son, Josh, is 8. Like most parents, I feel inadequate for the job God has entrusted to me (Psalm 127:3; Ephesians 6:4). I struggle with not letting my work make an absentee father of me. I wonder if my influence testifies to the importance of the kingdom. And I wonder if the concepts of their Heavenly Father that my children develop by living with their earthly father are what God desires. I wonder what I can give my kids that will help them the most as they grow up; as they navigate their way from earth to heaven. As I contemplate the last of these issues, my mind continually returns to four areas; four things we need to give our children to help them successfully mature.
1. Respect for the word of God. Yes, I want my children to be sensitive to what others think. Yes, I want them to have an awareness and appreciation of the cultural milieu. But the bottom line, in every issue is the will and word of God. Moses’ counsel is still timely. “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children …” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7a). You see, our kids are going to know whether we think more of what the brethren think, what the tradition says, what the family thinks rather than what God thinks. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to let them see that when decisions are made, when advice is given, when the rubber of faith meets the road of reality—above all else, at all cost, we respect the word of God.
2. Belief in the power of God. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell our children that if they just follow the Lord, nothing will ever go wrong? But, of course, that would be contrary to the word of God (e.g., “In this world you shall have tribulation,” John 16:33). The question is: How will we face the troubles, the vicissitudes of life that inevitably arise? Do our children see us respond with drink, depression or despair? Or do they see us respond with faith and prayer? Do they hear us speak of confidence in the care and providence of God? Or do they see us live our faith that God is not tired or retired? We must illustrate in our lives—and in so doing, teach our children—that Jehovah is still able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
3. Awareness of the reality of spiritual warfare. To merely float downstream in the moral, ethical, spiritual pollution of this world is not an option. Our kids need to understand “in the days of [their] youth” that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). They must know that with sagacious subtlety our enemy seeks to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He seeks to destroy our families, our churches, our lives. To bury our heads in the sand is to commit spiritual suicide. To recognize the reality of the warfare, to effectively wield the sword of the Spirit, and to put our trust in God is to win the victory.
4. Having done our best to teach and model the aforementioned, we must give our children freedom. Through the multiple passages in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, we struggle to balance between appropriately releasing our grip and holding on to protect, direct and love. Every ounce of discretion and wisdom, bathed in prayer, is required. To loosen the grip is, admittedly, a painful process. Our hearts rail against it. And yet, “as the eagle stirs up its nest” (Deuteronomy 32:11), how rewarding it must be to see our children spread their wings and fly. How rewarding to say with Paul, “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). May God help us to make it so.
Christianity Magazine: September–October 1992, Volume 9, Number 8. 1992. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL
Rearing Godly Children in “Difficult Times”
It is not uncommon today to hear older Christians who have already reared their children comment somberly in the presence of young prospective parents, “I certainly wouldn’t want to be bringing up children in times like these.” It may be innocently done, but it is not helpful. These already anxious young people do not have a choice of times in which to rear children. For them, it is now or never.
Candidly, from the short term perspective, these are certainly not the best of times for the family. Much has happened in this century that serves to tear at the fabric of domestic life. We have become a city rather than a rural people, living in the anonymity of teeming urban anthills where no one knows or cares who his neighbors are. Our increasing mobility has made us “a nation of strangers” and the once supportive influence of an extended family of grandparents, uncles and aunts, has been lost. Even the homemaker mother has been gradually disappearing before the increasing power of industrialization. Today, for the first time, most American women of childbearing years are working outside the home.
Along with these important social and economic changes, there has been a significant philosophical shift. Our society has been increasingly secularized. Biblical values that once had at least some influence on our institutions have been largely set aside. From a world in which certain values were cherished, even though often violated, we have moved to one which denies that absolute values exist. Out of the passionate individualism which arose during the Vietnam War era has come a hedonistic pursuit of personal fulfillment which is heedless of the consequences to others. Marriage and family commitments are seen as less important than the “finding” of oneself. Drug abuse and mindless sensuality abound.
And to this already frightening equation must be added the insidious factor of television, which has the ability to instantly, universally and powerfully infiltrate this moral and spiritual corruption into every American mind.
But if this analysis of our times is accurate in the short term, it certainly does not obtain for the long one. From a wider perspective, current circumstances do not present nearly the challenge to rearing children that past ages have. A few examples will suffice to make the point.
How would you have liked to rear children in the days of Noah, when the whole world was convulsed by violence and every human heart, save two, was wholly set on evil? In spite of the loneliness of their task (you think you’re in the minority!) and the ridicule which it must have brought, Noah and his wife reared three sons not only to trust the true God in the midst of a moral cesspool, but to influence three young women into the same commitment.
What chances of nurturing children in righteousness would you have given Jewish parents during Israel’s abject bondservitude in Egypt when even your infant children’s lives were under threat from an all-powerful state? Amram and Jochebed reared two sons and a daughter in these very circumstances. In order to save the life of Moses, they were compelled to sacrifice the joys of seeing their youngest child grow daily into manhood and were not even allowed to openly claim him as their own, but the little time they were granted with that son was so well used that he never forgot who he was and, at last, chose affliction with God’s people over the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24–25).
The New Testament world was no great advance over that of the Old Testament. Fully half the people of the first century Roman Empire were slaves. Human life was cheap and murder was frequent. Divorce was easy and generally accepted. Unwanted infants were simply exposed to die and the females were frequently saved by the enterprising and reared as prostitutes. Every variety of corrupt pagan religion and superstition flourished and was woven into the work-a-day world of all the people. Devotion to some god or goddess was linked to every job and every social occasion. And yet in a world like that, in the midst of an intensely pagan city, a young Jewish girl, married to an unbelieving Greek, reared her son to be one of the great gospel preachers of the early church. With no synagogue in Lystra and only her mother to help with Timothy’s spiritual training, Eunice not only succeeded in rearing a godly son, she succeeded magnificently!
And so, when anxious young people approach me with concern and ask if I think it is possible to build solid marriages and rear godly children in these “difficult times,” I simply take them by the hand, look them in the eye, and tell them, “Absolutely!” All that is required is that they be willing to pay the price of a surpassing love for God and a deep love for one another which guided the parenting of those successful fathers and mothers who have gone before us.
Christianity Magazine: December 1987, Volume 4, Number 12. 1987. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL
Rearing Unselfish Children
In the teacher’s manual which accompanies her excellent course of study, Born of a Woman, Dene Ward has the following observation: “We have raised too many spoiled, self-centered young people who think that they are the only ones who matter in any family decision and who expect their parents to willingly give up everything for them with no thought of themselves, much less of the Lord and His people.… We have let our permissive, rights-oriented society determine our philosophy.”
Recently, a ladies’ Bible class, studying this material, addressed the question: “How can we rear children that are not selfish and self-centered?” The following thoughts were suggested:
First, example. Selfish parents cannot hope to rear unselfish children. However, parents whose idea of providing a good example is to give in constantly to their children’s wishes or preferences will produce the very selfishness they want to avoid. Better to let children see parents being unselfish with one another and planning unselfishly to serve those in need outside the family. And the effect of such an example will be greatly increased when the unselfishness is practiced cheerfully and when it is seen to bring genuine happiness.
Unselfish people outside the family can also be useful examples. Point out such people to children and commend them. Children are imitators and they will imitate those they are led to admire.
Involve children in family decisions. Discuss an increase in contribution or a gift to some victim of disaster with them. Allow them to go along when parents are going to help someone in need. All of this enables them to feel that they are personally involved, and they begin to taste the satisfaction of unselfish service.
Taken a step further, parents may help children to look for ways that they can actually help others personally. A toy given to children who have none, something helpful done for an aged or invalid person, even a card sent to someone who is sick can begin to form a pattern of unselfishness. It is better not to tell them what to do. Just help them see the need and let them determine their own response. Though it may not be what you would do, let them carry through on their own decision and then praise them for their generosity.
To learn the unselfish use of money, children need some money to use. They need to give something of their own, rather than something that has been given to them. The best way for them to have money is to earn it—the way it must be obtained throughout life. Once they have money, they can be taught to divide it up—some for the Lord, some for things they need, some for savings and some for pleasure.
At the same time, to be unselfish, children must learn that there are some things that they must do for which there is no pay: such as cleaning their own rooms or helping with the family dishes or mowing the family grass. Children who have not learned to share family responsibilities are poor candidates for successful marriage.
By all means, Christian parents must provide what public schools are not providing—Bible teaching regarding unselfishness. A group of children whom I recently taught knew many scriptures regarding heaven, the church, salvation, and other Bible subjects; but not one knew the words of Jesus demanding that disciples deny themselves and take up their crosses. Surely nothing in the teaching and example of Jesus is more emphasized than unselfishness. And nothing is more contrary to the accepted wisdom of our modern day. Public schools, the press, psychologists, counselors (both professional and non-professional), as a rule, are teaching selfishness—the right to do what you want, to set your own course in life without concern for others. Unless our children are taught otherwise, they will surely accept this philosophy.
Regardless, however, of our example, teaching, efforts to involve them, encouragement of initiative and positive reinforcement, children will still require some parental control if they are to avoid selfishness. They only learn unselfishness by giving in and allowing others to have their way. Accomplishing this may be awkward for unselfish parents, but there is a way. Fathers can require that children be unselfish with their mothers, and mothers can demand that children be unselfish with their fathers. Both can demand unselfishness among siblings and playmates. Selfishness will surface at times, but it must never be accepted.
Such teaching and control must be practiced when children are still teachable and controllable. We must not wait too long. Otherwise, we will wake up sooner than we expect to find ourselves with the kind of self-centered and selfish children so graphically described in Dene Ward’s book and so tragically common in modern America.
Christianity Magazine: May 1990, Volume 7, Number 5. 1990. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL