Manipulate or Instruct

All’s well that ends well is one of those proverbial threads that form the tapestry of conventional wisdom.  In this case the tapestry is threadbare in spots. This thought leads to the idea it doesn’t matter how we get our children to obey as long as they obey. This thinking may well achieve its purpose today, but create serious problems in the years ahead. 

Specifically I am talking about the distinction between instruction and manipulation when raising children to live for God. 

In it’s truest sense instruction means to teach children about God and his ways so that they are challenged to long for a deepening relationship with God. (see Deuteronomy 6:5-7 & Ephesians 6:4) 

Manipulation cares not the for establishing of a relationship with God. Manipulation is for rescuing oneself from a crisis of the moment. The American Heritage Dictionary, my favorite dictionary by the way, defines manipulation this way:

To influence or manage shrewdly or deviously.

To illustrate:

This particular afternoon the pressure is on. It seems as though there are 17 appointments, 6 music lessons, and 4 sports practices all scheduled for the same afternoon. Then, as mom heads out for the first appointment, she remembers that the new family at church is coming for dinner. Dad just called to say he is hung up at work and can’t make the pick up at the sports practice.  The kids are wired.  Mom says to them something like this:

“I have a lot to do before dinner. I really need your help. If you guys are really good and don’t slow us down, then I will buy your favorite ice cream for dessert. So will you all promise me you will be really good today, please!” The kids roar their approval as they begin to debate what is their favorite ice cream.

This is an example of manipulation. In the short term this strategy appears to work. The kids were marginally better than usual and mom did have to buy two kinds of ice cream because the kids couldn’t decide which was their favorite. But, all the scheduling worked out and the new family was pleased with dinner and dad showed up a few minutes early to help out. All’s well that ends well. But, not really. The delight in helping the day go well so that God would be honored was exchanged for the anticipation of ice cream. 

Things went well this day, but where was the training that one day the kids would be faced with the choice of choosing the affirmation of their friends over against doing what will bring honor to God and build a deeper trust in him.  

Notice how carefully Ephesians 6:4 is worded:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

There is a clear and chilling implication in this verse. If you leave out the conscious acknowledgement of God and his power as you train your children you will provoke them to anger. Your children must understand it is the Lord’s instruction that you are bringing to them. Failure to weave his words and his honor into your daily training will provoke your children to anger. 

More in the next post. Your thoughts are always welcome. 


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