It’s Not Natural

For wisdom will enter your heart,
  and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Proverbs 2:10

The wise in heart are called discerning,
  and pleasant words promote instruction.
Proverbs 16:21

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your
father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go
well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3

This is the final post in this series about pleasant words
and communicating the Gospel. I am also responding to comments left by Shannon
and Ann. Thank you both for sending them.

In the last post I focused on the futility of attempting to
reason with young children without first establishing the foundation of God’s
authority. A child’s ultimate well being on planet Earth is directly connected
to his attitude towards God’s authority. In other words, through repentance and
faith in Christ, he must joyfully submit to God in every area of life.

Is this even possible for children? Yes, it is, just as much
as it is possible for adults—which is to say, very imperfectly!

Submission is not the natural state of children (or adults).
Children naturally do things to please themselves. Pleasing self makes sense to
them. It is reasonable. But parents are charged by God to challenge this
natural selfishness (Ephesians 6:4). As Ann indicated in her comment, this is not
a simple thing; it is difficult. You are engaged in serious combat for the souls
of your children from the day they are born, and the battle is not easy. That is
why conflict arises when you teach your children what God requires of them. Training
children is hand-to-hand spiritual warfare. But this war is not conducted with
fleshly weapons like manipulation and force of will. This battle is conducted
with the weapons of the Spirit – pleasant words and the rod.

That is why the knowledge of God must be pleasant to your
soul. As parents it is pleasant that God has given you the way to lead your
children from their natural state of self-centeredness. You have the word of
God to give your children. This word that teaches that Jesus is the way, the
truth and the life. With this knowledge you can lead your children from death
to life. What an awesome responsibility we have as parents! This knowledge of
Christ is pleasant to our souls. When the fatigue of daily parenting battles threatens
to overwhelm us, this reality drives us forward.

This age range of 0-5 is the time to firmly establish that
your children are accountable to God. It is his world and they are here to
serve him and not themselves. As I mentioned in the last post, sometimes
parents believe that they can reason their children into obedience. The problem
is that the child sees things from his own reasonable perspective and he thus
he reasons that he should have what he wants. Others make the mistake of
thinking that they can spank their children into obeying God. By itself,
spanking will not yield long-term biblical fruit. It is the combination of
pleasant words and the rod that will bring biblical results. The tendency of
too many parents is to attempt to reason first, then challenge and then scold
and finally to spank. This pattern only leads to exhausted parents, unhappy
children, and endless frustration.

Okay, so what does the biblical pattern look like?

In these early years God’s authority must be firmly
established. It is the combination of the rod and pleasant words that makes the
difference. I would again refer you to the material in Shepherding a Child’s Heart to give the biblical practice of using
the rod in a way that is honoring to God. Let’s revisit the scenario with
Heather and her refusal to give up her doll. Please note carefully the clarity
of Mom’s direction.

“Heather, I would like you to let your sister play with the doll
for a while. Please find another toy to play with. You will be able to play
with the doll again later.”

Notice that Heather has been given only one option.
directions are clear. Her tone is pleasant, but firm. The choice is not
Heather’s, but Mom’s. This addresses some of the questions that Shannon
raised. Young children will not naturally submit
to God and serve others. Therefore, Heather is told that she must give the doll
to her sister. For her to do otherwise is direct disobedience to Mom and,
therefore, to God. Remember, there is not an exception clause to Ephesians 6:1
that says for children obey your parents, unless it means giving up your
favorite toy. Do not expect a 2, 3 or 4 year old to decide to do the unselfish
act on her own. God gave them parents to teach and instruct what is right.

Someone might be saying, ”So you are going to discipline
this child because she wanted to keep her doll?” No, Heather must be disciplined
because she disobeyed Mom and, therefore, disobeyed God. This is why parents
must give careful thought to their instruction. Attempting to avoid
confrontation with children by giving indirect or vague instruction will only
lead to frustration. The short directive given to Heather puts the issue
clearly on the table. If Heather challenges Mom or is overly reluctant to give
up the toy, then discipline is appropriate. Remember, this is not about Heather
and her mom. It is about Heather and God, and about Heather learning that she
must be accountable to God in this world. That is why your instruction must be
clear and direct. I realize that this approach invites confrontation, but the
reality is that the confrontation will come anyway, so it might as well be on
your terms.

Trying to avoid conflict only leads to frustration; you can
often manipulate children into doing what you want, but that only postpones the
loving confrontation that is needed.  You
have a biblical message to give to your children. The message must be delivered
clearly, compassionately, pleasantly, and authoritatively. It is literally a
message of life and death. Sometimes we comfort ourselves by thinking that we
have many years to train our children and talk to them about God. But the
reality is that we don’t know how long we have—and your children need to know
the blessings of obedience and submission to Christ at the earliest possible

If your children learn quickly that you, as a parent, are
unwilling to disobey God and let your children do what they want, it will be a
great blessing to them and to you. The stakes are high. As Deuteronomy 30 says,
you are laying life and death before your children. Giving them too many
choices will only slow the process of them realizing that they are accountable
to God.

So, with young children, establishing God’s authority must
be paramount. It is the kindest and most pleasant thing you can do for
children. I am sure that at least some of you have some thoughts or questions. I’d
love to hear from you.

The material on
pleasant words is drawn from pages 172-175 in Instructing a Child’s Heart and
from Chapter 4 of Everyday Talk.


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