Gospel Driven Schoolwork

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

In the last post we looked at a request regarding motivation
and children doing 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?

I asked you to think about this topic and consider how you
might answer the question raised by the commenter. Now that you have had time
to do that, let’s see what you think about my response.

This familiar proverb is often found on wall plaques. It is
too often 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. God orders all
things and determines all earthly authorities, including teachers (Colossians
1:15-20; 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. Most
children fall into the ratherbe camp.
That is, I would rather be – making snowballs, playing ball, playing Wii games,
etc. This is where they are to trust God and not their own understanding.

Does this mean your children will never have an unreasonable
teacher who consistently gives unrealistic assignments? No, of course not. But that
is 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; it is not an option for your child to rebel against authority.

Verse six complements the truth in the first couplet. Bruce
Waltke, in his excellent commentary on this verse (The
Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15
[NICOT], Eerdmans), shows that the word acknowledge here means much more than
just a tip of the hat to God. The word has the same root as the other OT
passages that talk about knowing God intimately. This verse is urging God’s
people to show love for him in all they do. If God is acknowledged with this
sort of conscious devotion, God then promises to make their paths straight.

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 saying by now 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 not all children are motivated by those desires. What do
you say then? Doing work for God’s honor seems pretty intangible.

Parent, be thankful for the opportunity to address your
child’s difficulty.  What is needed is
the gospel. And when are people most drawn to the gospel? Isn’t it when they
are most discouraged by their failure, weakness, and need? Help your children to
be see the desires that drag their attention away from obedience. Remind them
of the gospel and of God’s grace, which is available to help them whenever they
need it.

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 so that he would 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 as the primary
means to accomplishing schoolwork you will give your children a faulty picture
of how life works.
Your children need 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 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
. This book addresses the formative, foundational perspectives needed
to help you and your children know God more deeply in all of life.

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