Where can a parent learn how to raise his children?
Decades ago a pediatrician wrote a bestselling book advising parents how to fulfill their responsibilities. Literally millions of people looked to that book for advice.
One magazine said that we are today what that doctor made us.
So, doctor, are you happy as you look at a generation that was raised on your advice? No way! At the end of his life that doctor was in despair.The very generation that had been raised according to his guidelines had let him down.
He described the young people his advice produced as by and large “money grubbing, oversexed, selfish and spiritually deficient”.
Stop and think about that a minute. You follow his book to raise your children.
The results are a disaster. What do you do then? Do you turn back the clock and reraise your children? If you can figure out how to do that, please let the rest of us know. Do you sit your children down and say, “I’ve raised you wrong the last 15 years. You really should be doing this, this and this and not that, that, and that?”
How do you undo the damage you have inflicted on your own kids?
More than one parent has asked, “What school can you go to in order to learn how to raise your children?” Well, maybe all this time rock solid advice has been closer than you think. How bad do things have to get before we turn to Proverbs which was written 3000 years ago and learn eternal truths upon which to raise kids?
That doctor lived to see he produced a disaster. Solomon, author of Proverbs, has been dead for 3000 years, and to this day he would have no regrets about his child raising guidelines. What can he teach us?
Let’s focus on four lessons Proverbs gives us to discipline children:
- the reasons for discipline
- the regularity of discipline
- the restraints on discipline
- the results of discipline
The first lesson: the reasons for discipline
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of correction will drive it far from him.
There are a few key words in this verse that we need to zero in on. The verse begins “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” It does not say childishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Those words have radically different meanings.
Foolishness is our tendency to evil. It is related to sin. Childishness is related to immaturity. As a child when I spilled a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor that leaked down into the basement, I didn’t get disciplined for that. That milk was spilled because I was clumsy at that age which is no reason for parental correction.
On the other hand, when I sassed my dad – well, that is sinful conduct meriting a parental response.
This foolishness – this tendency for evil – is bound in the heart of a child. A friend tied rope around my suitcase so tightly that it took forever to untie it. that’s what “bound” means. Foolishness is wrapped so tightly around the heart that strong leverage like a rod is needed to pry it loose, to remove it far from the child and give the heart room to wrap itself in wisdom.
By the way – a rod can take various forms in addition to a stick. Any discipline that inflicts sufficient pain to discourage bad behavior and encourage good behavior qualifies as a rod.
It takes the rod of correction to free a child from foolishness. The child can’t do it by himself.
That’s a solid reason for discipline.
Unfortunately, some parents would rather do other things than use the rod of correction on their own kids. During a gold rush in the 19th century, a fiery evangelist with a passion to lead people to Christ left his wife and children behind and traveled hundreds of miles to witness to the prospectors hunting gold. You probably never heard of him. But his sons became world famous gangsters, Jesse and Frank James. If their dad had not abandoned them, likely their career paths would have been honorable.
That makes you wonder how many Christian evangelists and workers are running around right now wanting to be where the spiritual action is while leaving neglected children behind.
All too often our character largely takes the form of that mold into which our early years were cast.
What kind of a mold are you pouring your children into?
Proverbs 22:6 gives us another reason for discipline:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
“Train” doesn’t mean just to have the child pray to receive Christ. It means a regular pattern of love and correction that will curb a sinful heart and motivate the child to want to walk down God’s path.
What training manual should a parent use? How about Proverbs with its guidance on sexual purity, money management, honesty, diligence, speech, friendship, and most importantly – our relationship with the Lord?
“In the way he should go” in Proverbs 22:6 means the parent is to respect the child’s individuality and unique gifts and unique God given calling in life. In other words don’t force your child to fulfill your own goals for his life. Where is the child gifted? What is he interested in? Let him run towards those. Encourage him to run towards those.
Someone said, “Give me your child until he is 12, and I care not who has charge of him after that.” Those are the formative years which will heavily influence the rest of his life.
Tender, consistent training almost always brings beneficial results.
For those who think that Solomon is out of touch with the 21st century someone has (sarcastically) written the following:
“How to train your child to be a delinquent:
1.When your kid is an infant, give him everything he wants. This way he’ll think the world owes him a living when he grows up.
2. When he picks up swearing and off-color jokes, laugh with him.
3. Never give him spiritual training. Wait until he is 21, and let him decide for himself.
4.Avoid using the word “wrong”. It will give your child a guilt complex.
5.Pick up after him – his books, shoes, and clothes. Do everything for him so he will be experienced in throwing all responsibility onto others.
6. Let him read all printed material he can get his hands on….(never think of monitoring his TV or Internet usage). Sterilize the silverware, but let him feast his mind on garbage.
7. Quarrel frequently in his presence with your spouse.
8. Satisfy his every craving for food, drink and comfort. Every sensual desire must be gratified; denial may lead to harmful frustration.
9. Give your child all the spending money he wants. Don’t make him earn his own.
10 Take his side against neighbors, teachers, and the police. They’re all against him.
11. When he gets into real trouble, make up excuses for yourself by saying, “I never could do anything with him.”
Follow that advice and be prepared for a life of grief.
I once saw a 14 year old kid who used to come to our teen group driving a car through my town. (It is illegal to drive that young where I live.) He later committed murder and spent years of his life in prison. I wish he would never have dropped out of our teen group. I wish he would have walked with the Lord, but it is hard for Christian teen leaders to undo in a two hour meeting once a week all the damage that parents have inflicted on kids for so many years.
That is why ministry to teens can be so challenging. That is why our teens and teen leaders need so much prayer.
And those are some of the reasons for discipline – the first lesson.
The second lesson: the regularity of discipline
He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.
He who loves his children disciplines them promptly. Withholding punishment is a sign of hate, not love. Bad behavior is rewarded by neglect. The teachable moment to correct is lost.
When my sister got married, she told me that she was going to spank her kids once a week whether they needed it or not to show them who’s the boss. If you ever met her kids now, you would know they were not spanked at all. Two extremes to avoid.
This verse tells us that prompt, appropriate discipline is love. It is irritating when someone tells you that three months ago you did something wrong. Like three months later I am expected to recall clearly what I did? Memories become fuzzy. When is the best opportunity to learn from your sins? Right after you’ve blown it.
Someone has said that it’s easier to bend a twig than a mighty oak. Start discipline when the kids are young. “Character is a plant that grows more sturdy when cut back and cut back often”.
Hebrews 12:5-11 fits in right now:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we aid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
If God the Father who is the Father of all who receive Jesus as Savior is totally pure and loving in all He does to us is not afraid of disciplining us, earthy fathers should follow His example.
“The way to death is soft; the way to life is hard”. Satan starts in the nursery.
Why don’t we?
And if you don’t believe in regular discipline
Chasten your son while there is hope,
And do not set your heart on his destruction.
What does that mean? “It means that you have only a brief period of time in which to mold your child. There may come a time when it is too late to correct. Your refusal to discipline your child might mean you’ve just signed his death sentence because harmful behavior has become ingrained in his character. To withhold discipline is to rob a child of all hope of solid development and maturity.”
You can pray for your children when they leave home, but your biggest impact on them is while they are young. “No parent who understands life from a biblical perspective will ever be surprised at the frequency and intensity with which discipline is required.”
The necessity of regular discipline is obvious for wise people.
And there you have the second lesson of discipline – its regularity.
But discipline needs reasonable limits so
The third lesson: the restraints on discipline
Some people would lump parents who discipline children in the same category as the horrible child abuse stories that make us cringe. We are told that killing your children and disciplining them are equally cruel. Be sure that when the Bible talks about discipline, it is not talking cruelty.
Here are a few verses that make that clear:
Who can say, “I have made my heart clean,
I am pure from my sin”?
I am much better than you. I cleaned up sin in my life by myself, I am now sinless, but you are such a jerk for committing all those sins. What’s the matter with you?
There is no one on planet earth who can say that. No one can parade his own purity.
This verse is another way of saying that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All men are totally incapable of cleaning their own hearts so all of us need a Savior to do the cleansing for us. That restrains us when we have to discipline others. No one can get a swelled head about his own sinlessness. Yes, today I have to reprimand this person for sin, but I have been reprimanded for sin in the past, and I will face reprimands for sin in the future. So I am hardly better than you.
The fact that each of us has our own sin problem restrains us when we have to discipline others.
Do not say, “I will recompense evil”;
Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.
Discipline is not revenge. Revenge is saying that God won’t settle all scores.
Revenge is saying we aren’t satisfied with God’s management. Revenge is motivated by selfishness. The unforeseen result of revenge is to accelerate conflict, not to slow it down.
Revenge happens because we have no faith in God. Who besides God is qualified to settle all scores? Discipline is for the sake of the child, not the parent. Discipline is not designed for the stress relief of the adult but for the maturity of the child.
Vengeance is God’s business, and that is another restraint on discipline.
The final restraint on discipline is found in
The righteous man walks in his integrity;
His children are blessed after him.
Very obviously we are being told here that if parents walk a straight line for the Lord in front of their kids, that is what the kids will see, and that is what the kids most likely will mimic. Avoid inconsistency in your life means less need to discipline.
Godly behavior is often learned by observing consistent, quiet, godly living by parents.
When I was about 8 years old my parents had their oldest and closest friends over for dinner. After dinner my dad had me show them my new toy. Unfortunately, the toy failed to work right, and in front of everyone I let loose with some swear words.
My dad was extremely embarrassed and asked, “Where did you learn those words?”
I replied, “You said those words this morning”. That was true. What I didn’t know is that those swear words were said right after he had cut himself badly with a saw.
That was probably the only time in my whole life that I heard him swear. But, if he said it, I thought it must be OK to repeat – much to his great embarrassment.
Little eyes and ears are watching. This verse reeks for the need of consistency.
Our actions have consequences beyond our own lives. There is cause and consequence in this verse.
If day by day children see consistent integrity at work in their family, it will much more likely be coded into their bones. Consistency in our lives restrains us from any excesses.
So we’ve seen
Lesson #1 – the reasons for discipline
Lesson #2 – the regularity of our discipline
Lesson #3 – the restraints on our discipline
which brings us to
The fourth lesson: the results of discipline
If all that we have looked at so far is taken seriously, what will be the results?
Even a child is known by his deeds,
Whether what he does is pure and right.
It has always annoyed me when people say that the young people are part of the church of tomorrow. To say that means that they can make no contribution to the church today. To say that means that we have no expectations on them today. That is wrong.
If children are here today, then they are part of today’s church, and they can make a big contribution to the church today by their good deeds.
Even a child is known by his deeds,
Whether what he does is pure and right.
Young people can distinguish themselves today not merely by receiving Jesus as their personal Savior. They can lead others to Jesus; they can share how God is working in their lives.
A friend of mine rededicated his life to the Lord after an 8 year old stood up in the morning service and shared what he had learned from the Bible. My friend was so convicted about his disobedience to the Lord and humbled by the obedience of this child that he started balling and repented on the spot.
By the way, wouldn’t it be great if children and youth would share regularly during the worship service? I would bet all of us would be encouraged greatly.
Expect nothing from young people, and you get nothing Expect great things, and you get great things.
Evidence of discipline is available to all who know what to look for, and we should be looking for transformation into Christlikeness in our children.
God sees children as children and not merely as future adults. So should we.
Good deeds – quite a broad category – are evidence of good discipline and allow even a child to be recognized as a worthy member of society and a credit to family. Goodness is inward but never only inward – and that is true for young people as well as older people.
By your fruits you shall be known, and that applies to the young as well as old.
So what exactly does consistent discipline lead to?
The glory of young men is their strength,
And the splendor of old men is their gray head.
How does someone live to be old and respected? By responding well to discipline.
On average disobedience leads to destruction. On average obedience leads to longevity. “Gray hair is seen in the Bible as the crown of obedience and faithfulness with blessing. Whatever the physical strength of the gray haired might have been, their spiritual and moral strength are a beacon of encouragement to succeeding generations inspiring younger folk to press on for Him.”
“If we applaud strong youth, we should bow before the noble aged. Growing old is not for sissies. Behind most of the life stories of older believers we can spot firm hands of parents who cared enough and dared to discipline them.”
No pain/no gain is a great slogan not just for physical fitness. It applies also to spiritual fitness.
“If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s to value discipline.” Have you learned that lesson? Will you prove you are a disciple of Proverbs as you raise your children?
(Some of these thoughts were inspired by David Hubbard’s “Proverbs” commentary)