Whether you read Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Matthew or Colossians, the first thing that God requires is that he is to be loved. Too often, when it comes to raising children, loving God is tacked on as an after-thought to obedience. The thought process may run like this:
“I can’t force my children to love God, so I will teach them to obey, because I can require that.”
Requiring obedience from your children appears to be a more doable task than requiring them to love God. After all, reaching the heart of your child is way beyond your capacity. Of course, it is beyond your ability, but it is not beyond God’s!
Without loving God, obedience will only produce self-righteousness. Think of the people of whom God required love as a condition of obedience:
The children of Israel were a hard-hearted, complaining bunch. But Moses tells them that their first responsibility is to love God with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 6:4-7). Isaiah 29:13 reinforces this by teaching that rote obedience is actually turning from God.
To the cynical, hypocritical hearts of the Pharisees, Jesus says the greatest commandment is the love of God (Matthew 22:37-40).
To the pagan, cosmopolitan people of Colossae and Corinth Paul says to begin with love (Colossians 3:14 & I Corinthians 13).
Your children’s hearts are no more difficult to reach than the hearts of these folks. The message is the same today. The love of God must come first. This doesn’t mean that this truth will be immediately embraced by your children. But it does mean that you cannot leave out requiring the love of God in your parenting (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Otherwise, your parental direction will be just an empty form of work-righteousness or manipulation.
What does this look like in practice? Here are some examples.
Instead of saying: “The Bible says that you must obey mommy right away.”
Use language like this: “Obeying right away is how you can show your love for God. Remember, that God says that loving him is the most important thing.”
Suppose your child responds something like this: “I don’t feel like loving God right now. I want to keep playing.”
First of all be thankful for the honest response. Next, call your child to love God even when he doesn’t feel like it. By serving himself instead of loving God through obedience to you he is making himself the center of his universe. Because you love God and your child you cannot allow that to happen. So, even as you pursue discipline, the love of God most be uppermost in your mind!
I realize that this approach can be time-consuming. However, this is about much more than a change in behavior. You are in a battle for the heart of your child. There is no more important issue for you to be involved with as a parent.
Living out the gospel with your children on a daily basis must be your focus as a parent. In addition to whatever discipline is called for, the important thing is to address the importance of loving God. This means that loving God first must be your primary motivation as a parent. It is not an optional add on.
Obey first or love God first? How you answer this question will shape the course of your parenting!