Here is a question asked by one of readers regarding schoolwork:
I’d like to see you address the topic of motivation in schoolwork sometime on your blog. How do we use the Scriptures to instill in our kids a motivation to do their best in
their studies? What form should discipline take for children who do not apply
themselves the way they should?
This is a great question. I will take several posts to address it. Let me start by quoting from the Proverbs:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. —Proverbs 3:5-6
This familiar proverb is often found on wall plaques. It is frequently used as a Christian platitude, without any particular application. But it is specifically designed (as one of many applications) to help motivate your child to honor God with his schoolwork. The first couplet contrasts trusting God with relying on one’s own understanding of life. The second couplet gives a directive and a blessing.
What is there about schoolwork that should point to trust in God? First and foremost, it is God who assigned the schoolwork. Yes, this truth applies to schoolwork! God orders all things and determines all earthly authorities, including teachers (Colossians:15-20; Romans 8:28). Schoolwork, no matter how random, tedious or difficult it might be, is ultimately directed by God in his wise providence. One of the purposes of all the work that we have to do is to drive us to Christ and his gospel (Col. 3:17). In order to encourage your children to trust God, you must first encourage them with the gospel message of grace. Their schoolwork is sent to them by God. Therefore, schoolwork becomes an opportunity to call your children to faith in Christ.
So, when your children are unmotivated to do schoolwork, your first step is to encourage them to trust God. He didn’t make a mistake. He actually ordained that they would have this work to do at this time. Encourage your children to trust God’s wisdom in providing their work for them. In doing so, you are encouraging them not to trust their own understanding.
One challenge here is that most children fall into the “ratherbe” camp.
That is, I would rather be – making snowballs, playing ball, playing electronic games, daydreaming, etc. This is where they are to trust God and not their own understanding. Following their own desires does not lead to a good end. Starting with the reality that God is involved in their schoolwork assignments is a good way to address the “ratherbe” mindset.
Does this mean your children will never have an unreasonable teacher who consistently gives unrealistic assignments? No, of course not. But this where you function as a parent to protect—not coddle, but protect them—from this sort of thing. It is your responsibility as a parent to work out a solution when things are unfair; it is not an option for your child to rebel against authority.
Now, back to the child struggling with schoolwork. God has not made a mistake in giving the assignment, even if the human teacher did! Encourage your child not to rely on his own feelings and understanding, but to actively trust God’s wisdom. The ultimate reality is that your child’s assignments are from God. (Colossians 3:23 teaches that this is true for all tasks, not just schoolwork.) Therefore, this is a matter of obedience to God—schoolwork is not primarily about getting grades or pleasing teachers and parents. Schoolwork is about bringing honor to God.
You might be thinking that your child is not particularly interested in honoring God in schoolwork. Well, that’s the fundamental problem, isn’t it? Of course it’s not natural to want to please and honor God. That’s true for all of us. Children may want to work for a good grade or some reward or recognition—that’s natural, and we are usually quite satisfied with that, because the homework gets finished and our own task is much easier. But God desires a higher motivation for all of our children. Doing work for God’s honor seems intangible, but it is the building block for leading a life that is given over to the glory of God in all that we do.
Parent, be thankful for the opportunity to address your child’s difficulty. What is needed is the gospel. Help your children to see the desires that drag their attention away from obedience. The gospel means that we don’t have to live for the praise of others. It means that our self-worth is not bound up in grades and human accomplishments. Remind them of the gospel and of God’s grace, which is available to help them whenever they struggle.
As a parent you are commanded by God to teach your children to acknowledge and love God in every area of their lives (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Ephesians 6:4, etc.). Schoolwork assignments are opportunities to show just how intimately God is involved in the life of your children. These assignments were handpicked by God especially for your child! This means that you child should look to Christ for the strength and wisdom to accomplish the task (Philippians 4:13). Even if your child does not understand this, it is still your obligation as a parent to help him see it this way.
This is reality.
If you teach discipline and hard work are the primary means to accomplishing schoolwork you will give your children a flawed picture of how life works. Yes, discipline is important, but underlying our endeavors is the power and grace of God. Your children need to depend on Christ to do their work in a way that honors God. They need Christ, and they need to see that their work has been given to them by God so that they will come to trust him for the strength to do their work. True biblical discipline flows from seeing the need for Christ’s grace in all of life.
This addresses the principles of the motivation issue raised in the commenter’s original question. In the next post we will look at some practical ways to present these issues to children to encourage them with the gospel. Then we will take a look at appropriate discipline and correction in light of the biblical, gospel driven purpose of schoolwork. In this light I strongly recommend Instructing a Child’s Heart. This book addresses the formative, foundational perspectives needed to help you and your children know God more deeply in all of life.
As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.