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Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking a lot about obedience.
Obedience is a universal parenting concern. It doesn’t matter if the parent is born again or as pagan as can be, we all want our kids to be something. It may be as specific as a disciple of Christ or as general as a vague notion that we want our kids to be “happy,” and we all have opinions about how they can achieve such goals. These opinions may be as detailed as knowing the Gospel or as vague as “be true to yourself and follow your heart,” but the reality is that we all have expectations for our kids. And it doesn’t matter how vague those expectations may be, you want your kids to embrace those expectations.
And that’s called obedience.
According to Merriam-Webster, to obey is to “to follow the commands or guidance of” or "to conform to or comply with.”
When your children acknowledge the value of your trajectory for their lives and follow it, they’re doing what you’ve put before them. Some people may feel uncomfortable calling that obedience, but that’s exactly what it is.
But then on episode 435 I suggested that making obedience the main goal is actually counterproductive and harmful to our kids. If you missed that episode, I strongly suggest you listen to it before jumping to conclusions and judging me too harshly.
Yes, God demands obedience but never at the expense of true worship.
And then on episode 436 we looked at how parents who make obedience the main goal can be fooled into believing their kids are actually obeying when — in fact — they are doing anything but.
And my upcoming conversation with Jerrad Lopes will further solidify many of these ideas as we talk about his devotional called “Stop Behaving.”
But today I want to pull back a little and — assuming that the lessons from the past three shows have been understood and learned — I want to deal with another obedience issue that comes up frequently in Christian homes.
But before we do that, if you haven’t subscribed to The Celebration of God Podcast yet, you really should. Though it’s grown into its own entity, I originally created the Celebration of God to be a resource for parents who want to disciple their kids for Christ.
Truth.Love.Parent. is my labor of love for God and for your family. I create these episodes and the ones at Celebration of God, and I send them out into the world praying that God uses them to help a family mature into the likeness of Christ. But — if no one’s listening — they can’t help anyone.
So, make sure you subscribe to this podcast and The Celebration of God, and then listen in every week.
And — as always — you can download our free episode notes and read our transcripts at TakingBackTheFamily.com.
Now, let’s talk about what it means to parent more than our kids' disobedience.
The snare of obedience-parenting is so incredibly alluring. Allow me to explain why.
1. Parents want what’s best for their kids.
This is true whether or not the parents know what’s actually best for their kids. So, regardless of their worldview, this means that good parents are going to try to teach their kids what they believe will lead to the best life possible.
2. Parents cannot see their child’s heart.
Not only does the average human being know very little about the all-importance of motivation, when they do consider it in their parenting, it feels like a fruitless endeavor to spend so much time on it because — in the end — it’s impossible to really see why their kid did what they did without long, honest conversations. And — even then — why bother if the behavior is good?
Motivation is too often a mysterious, misunderstood, and messy facet of parenting which most people feel very comfortable avoiding.
3. Therefore, parents focus primarily on teaching their kids lessons that will be easily observed in their behavior.
Have you ever considered why you enjoyed teaching your kids to count, recognize colors, tie their shoes, and use the toilet? You liked it so much because it was simple. You liked it because it was easy to assess if the lessons were learned. And you liked it because it was one and done. Once they learn how to tie their shoes or use the bathroom, you’re not going to have to revisit that in their teens.
The easiest lessons to teach are the ones that are verifiable and finalize-able. All I have to do is teach you that the color in front of you is green. If you correctly identify it in life. We’re done.
And so most parents like to stick to these kinds of lessons. This is how you use the toilet. This is how you tie your shoes. This is how you clean your room. This is how you hold a pencil. This is how you clean a plate. This is how you drive a car. This is how you balance a checkbook.
But there are a bunch of life lessons that aren’t so easily learned because sinful human nature not only is forgetful, it’s rebellious. It wants to do things its own way.
I want to be able to tell my children that hitting other people will only hurt the child and the other person. I want to never hear that my child has ever hit anyone else again, and I want to be done teaching that lesson.
That’s why parents say things, “If I ever hear that you’ve . . . .”
We only want to teach the lesson once, and we believe that the lesson has clearly been learned if the outward negative behavior ceases.
But, as we’ve been learning recently . . .
4. Children can have the right behaviors for really bad reasons.
This means that parents who view outward conformity as the goal will believe their job is done once they see the good behavior. They’ll also be shocked and surprised when the child reverts to their sinful behavior later on. “Didn’t we already deal with this? Why are we having to have this conversation over again? Didn’t you learn your lesson?”
Of course, even if the child continues in their outward conformity to the rules, it’s very likely the child isn’t really pleasing the Lord because their obedience is motivated by all the wrong reasons.
But let me circle back to this idea that when a child externally follows the rules, parents start to feel like that lesson has been learned. There are so many issues with this.
For example, it’s overly simplistic. I understand how it happens to parents, though. The first few years of our kids lives are filled with lessons that can be mastered very easily, and — as we observed earlier — don’t have to be revisited later in life.
But if we approach the rest of our parenting this way, we’re going to be sorely disappointed because the lessons that really count have to be revisited over and over for the rest of the child’s life because those lessons simply aren’t able to be mastered in this life.
This is probably the biggest danger of the kind of superficial parenting that happens in the first five to seven years of life.
We get this idea that our kids can’t understand deeper realties about life, and so we avoid talking about them until later.
However, the Scriptural approach is to give our children the whole counsel of God from the very beginning. Yes, it will sound different as they age. Yes, I’ll use different vocab words as the child matures, but the reality is that we should be talking to our infants about how awesome God is.
This accomplishes two tasks, A. I — the parent — won’t fall into the false belief that every lesson I have to teach my kids is as simple as teaching them their colors. And B. My children will start to learn from a very early age the importance of God.
But when outward conformity is the end goal, my parenting changes. I’m tempted to no longer proactively parent toward new life lessons, I start parenting only when disobedience creeps back in.
And this is what I want to discuss with the remainder of our time. We need to talk about the temptation to parent disobedience but then to “friend” everything else.
Let me set this up for you with an illustration I’ve seen over and over again.
Let’s say the child is ten. She’s an outwardly obedient child who gets good grades, treats her siblings well, has upstanding friends, enjoys youth group, and knows how to keep her room clean.
I know — dream child, right?
So, what happens is that this girl seems to have aced all of the really big expectations her parents have for her. Sure, there will come a time when mom and dad have to start talking about boys, but — even then — they’re confident their obedient child will follow the rules just as much then as she does now.
And so parenting becomes more like hanging out. The daughter is trusted to do her homework, she’s trusted to finish her chores, she trusted to brush her teeth well, and we’re all just enjoying life together.
Now — before I continue — please know that what I’m describing is not inherently bad. It’s not bad for a dad and mom to be able to enjoy their children without having to police everything in their lives. In many ways, this is the direction to which all of our parenting is pointing. We teach our kids what’s right and wrong, we confront them when they’re wrong, we help them move from wrong to right, and we help them continue doing right. And it’s then that parenting becomes a lot of fun — when we’re in that training stage.
The problem occurs when we imagine that parenting is designed to produce obedience, and as long as everyone’s obeying, I no longer have to parent.
I’ve even seen this happen with boys from Victory Academy.
We’ve recently gotten a bunch of new listeners, so — for those of you who don’t know — I used to work at a boarding school for at-risk teens called Victory Academy for Boys.
So, we’d get this guy who’s been an absolute terror at home. He comes to Victory, makes some good choices, and returns home a seemingly new boy.
Of course, when the boy initially returns home, the parents are very wary. They’re uncertain what to expect, and they’re not really giving the benefit of the doubt.
But after a few weeks, when they’re not having to deal with 80% of what used to overwhelm their lives, they start to let down their guard. They’re enjoying their son so much, and they’re not really having to correct him all the time, they pretty much stop parenting.
And that’s when the nearly imperceptible slide begins. Before long — it’s sad to say — the family ends up right back where they started.
That’s why the most successful cases from Victory Academy were the ones where not only did the boy embrace Gospel change, but the parents did too.
So here’s the damning state of affairs for too many parents these days: The act of parenting has been reduced to the teaching of basic principles and the correction of disobedience.
Once those basic principles have been communicated, and once a pattern of obedience is in place, it’s easy for parents who think this way to let down their guard and start coexisting with their kids instead of actually leading them.
But that definition of parenting could not be further from the truth.
We don’t have to the time to exegete Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, or much of the Proverbs, but I’ll tell you what they all have in common.
They don’t say anything about passing onto our kids a few basic lessons. They don’t say that our main goal is to keep them from disobeying.
This is what they all have in common: it’s the parent’s job to tell their children all about God.
“The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons.”
”Tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God.”
“Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
And here’s the thing . . . God is immortal, infinite, and eternal. There is no end to the things we can learn about God.
If my job is to teach a never-ending subject, then there will never come a time when my kids have it all figured out. No amount of obedience will ever justify that I don’t have to keep pointing them to Christ and helping them mature into His image.
This is the biblical model of parenting.
Listen carefully to how this works . . . whether your kids are obedient or not, your parenting is too look and sound the same.
Sure, the consequences will be different, but the content of your parenting — and even the level of intensity in your parenting — should remain the same.
“The level of intensity? What are you talking about, Aaron? Everyone knows rebellious kids require more intense parenting than obedient kids.”
Yeah, you’re right . . . if your goal is external obedience.
But if your goal in parenting is to unveil the majesty of God, then, no, my parental-intensity has nothing to with my kids . . . it has everything to do with my awesome God!
The most passionate teachers aren’t passionate because of the children siting in front of them; they’re passionate because they love the subject.
This means that — if I love God — I’m always going to be passionately teaching and training my kids. I’ll reprove and correct when necessary, but I’ll never stop teaching and training.
Psalm 150, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. 2 Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. 3 Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. 4 Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. 5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2)
Revelation 5:12, “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’”
And I love that the command in Colossians 3:16 is not given within the context of sin and disobedience. Regardless of how people around us are acting we’re to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Now, I want to show us what this looks like practically, so let me share with you three final points.
1. Parenting our kids to know God doesn’t only consist of lecturing.
Because of my experience working with families for over a decade, I know that some of you are imagining that I’m telling us that we always need to be in lecture mode.
Yes, there are times to lecture, monologue, soapbox, and soliloquy. Jesus often exemplified this kind of didactic approach to education. It’s important and vital.
But Jesus also exemplified modeling, wrapping truth in casual conversation, and living the Gospel.
Both extremes are necessary.
So, no I’m not telling you that you need to lecture your kids all day every day even if they’re obedient kids.
But you do need to be progressively teaching them more and more about Who God is and how that truth should affect their lives.
2. Parenting our kids to know God extends beyond their disobedience.
Should I show my disrespectful teen that his rude language is a sin against his Creator? Definitely. That’s a much better approach than taking it personally.
But let’s say that I have a respectful child. Does that mean we don’t continue to discuss Christ-honoring communication? Does that mean we don’t talk about how to mature in our respect for others, how to prefer others above ourselves, and how to serve others in our speech? Is there really nothing more for them to learn about letting their speech be seasoned with salt? Have they really reached the top of the mountain?
First of all, no, they haven’t, but second of all, we have to accept the humbling reality that we haven’t made it either. And that has significant import for our kids.
If I am my kids’ sole educator, but I only have a high school education, it’s going to be very hard for me to teach my children into junior high. Yes, if I were a perfect student in high school, I should be able to teach them everything I learned, which means I should be able to take them through high school, but . . . what about college? In my hypothetical illustration, I never learned college-level material; that means I can’t teach it to them.
That point at which most parents stop teaching their kids is the point at which they’ve reached the end of their own knowledge.
I need to say that again.
That point at which most parents stop teaching their kids is the point at which they’ve reached the end of their own knowledge.
Yes, some parents are selfish and lazy and they don’t teach their kids many of the lessons they should, but most of us — who want what’s best for our kids — we pour ourselves into them until there’s nothing left in us that we haven’t given to them.
So, when I’ve worked really hard just to get my daughter to stop sucking on her fingers . . . and she finally stops . . . I’m so incredibly happy! But what about all the other Christ-honoring things she needs to do (or not do) with her fingers? Well, if I’ve never given that much thought (or never had those lessons taught to me) I won’t think for a moment about how she can become a better communicator by gesturing well or keeping a careful eye on her non-verbals or learning to type correctly all to the glory of God.
If I’ve never learned the importance of stewarding my body to the honor and glory of God, then the lessons I teach my kids about the foods they eat will fall very short of what they need to learn.
Now imagine the deeper spiritual realities of the Scriptures I’m going to neglect to teach my kids simply because I don’t know them myself.
Yes, I can imagine that it’s wrong for my child to tell me, “No.” I can do what it takes to finally get my child to stop complaining about school. But will I be able to take my respectful, school-loving child and show him how the Gospel is designed to impact every moment of his day?
Will I be able to help my modest, thoughtful daughter to learn — before persecution comes — how to find her satisfaction in Christ so that nothing the World may say or do to her will shake her faith in God?
The answer is “No,” if I myself haven’t learned those lessons.
And the answer is still “No,” if I have learned them but think that parenting is only limited to stomping out bad behavior.
Parenting is an every-moment of the day discipleship process that involves reproving sin, rebuking, correcting, and admonishing, but it also requires teaching and training, edifying and encouraging, discipling and disciplining.
And, yes, both the positive and negative elements of parenting will happen in lectures as well as everyday life.
Now, I’ve already kind of faded from point two that Parenting our kids to know God extends beyond their disobedience, and started talking about our final point for the day. So, let me enumerate it, and then given some closing thoughts.
3. Parenting our kids to know God effects everything in life.
Here’s the thing.
Yes, parenting includes teaching our kids what not to do.
But parenting also includes continuing our children’s spiritual training even if they’re no longer doing the sinful things we taught them not to do.
But, as I’ve already illustrated, spiritual truths extend beyond mere theological head-knowledge.
The food my kids eat, the clothes they wear, the attitude with which the approach their schoolwork, how they accomplish their schoolwork, the friends they have, the movies they watch, the way they form the words coming out of their mouths, the socks the purchase, the jobs they take, and — literally — everything else in their entire lives are an extension of what they believe about God, His Word, and themselves.
This means that there is a spiritual lesson to learn if my child breaks a glass while unloading the dishes.
Sure, if he were being irresponsible, there’s a biblical lesson that needs to be taught. But what if he weren’t being irresponsible? What if it were one of those freak accidents where the heat of the glass combined with the frequency of the gentle tap it experienced while being extricated from the dishwasher caused it to break with no fault from the child? Yes, there’s still a spiritual lesson to be learned.
There are spiritual truths to be applied to my child doing her best and passing a test just like there are when she failed due to her own sinful choices.
There are spiritual lessons to be learned about brushing our teeth and hair. There are biblical truths to be applied to how we mow the lawn, play with our siblings, and write our letters.
If we only parent disobedience, we’re missing out on the vast majority of parenting opportunities. We’re doing our kids a massive disservice because we’re only giving them a fraction of the teaching and training, edifying and encouraging, discipling and discipline God intends.
So, in conclusion, we parents must realize that . . .
1. Parenting should be happening every moment I’m with my kids.
2. Parenting is teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in every aspect of life.
3. Parenting isn’t just lectures and monologues; it includes formal and informal teaching, it includes modeling, and it includes simply relating to our kids in Christ-honoring ways.
4. Parenting isn’t dictated by the limits of our children, parenting is dictated by the limits of our God.
5. Practically speaking, though, our parenting is limited by our own immaturity.
That’s why I’m so glad you joined us today. Hopefully, you’re learning and growing and maturing, and as you progress in your sanctification, you have more lessons and truths you can teach your kids to introduce them to God and help them grow in their conformity to Him.
So, please subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, and share this episode with your friends so their parenting opportunities can grow as they learn more about God and are changed by Him.
And I hope you’ll join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to parent our children for life and godliness.
To that end, I’ll be giving some very important and exciting information about the future of Truth.Love.Parent.
I’ll see you then!
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