Disciplines of Family Modeling
Discipline! The very word conjures up images of pain, tears, and foreboding, woeful consequences. A young mother, in her attempt to maintain control and order in the home, had prominently displayed the rod used for spanking on her kitchen wall with the sign, “I Need Thee Every Hour!” Another man, looking back on his childhood, said that he was brought up ON his mother’s knee and OVER his father’s!
Despite the negative connotations of discipline, there are also very positive truths linked with it. The word itself implies the idea of “discipling” or “disciple-making.” Discipline is vitally linked to outcomes and intended results. This truth is a foundation stone, both for God’s dealings with His own redeemed people as well as for parents who are seeking to raise their families for God. As Paul wrote to Titus, “the grace of God” that has brought salvation is now “teaching us by discipline” (Newberry) how to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” God’s dealings are intended to lead us to greater conformity to the character of His Son.
In a similar way, parents are to be partners with God in making disciples of their children. Our methods of dealing must correspond to God’s methods. What is instilled in them, both by example and instruction, will have an overwhelming bearing upon them in the values they choose and the courses they follow. Ultimately, the home is to be the “launching pad” for the future. Parents dare not be complacent in their sphere of disciplining their children, for the results – both positive and negative – are far-reaching.
Arrow in The Quiver
Psalm 127 deals with both the “foundation” of the home and its “furtherance” through children. Parents are exhorted to be laborers under the hand of the Master Builder and to be confident watchmen under the security of His presence and power. Children are presented as “a heritage of the Lord” and “His reward” to us. Interestingly, the Psalmist takes up the image of an arrow in the quiver to illustrate the extension of family influence and the effectiveness of godly testimony in times of spiritual warfare. Just as an arrow goes far beyond where the archer is standing, so our children, if raised for God, will carry truth and testimony as instruments of God far beyond our immediate sphere. What a great blessing to see children seeking to honor God by their lives, young couples themselves establishing homes for God, or other believers laboring as missionaries in far-off fields, all “arrows” of extended testimony from homes that sought to honor the Lord. Timothy is a sterling example of a man of “unfeigned faith” but the scriptures document carefully that it was a faith that was first seen in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). Any Christian parent knows that such a statement carries with it the weight of years of steadfast confidence and faith in God, fervent prayer at a throne of grace, genuine tears through the trials of life, and the reality of a living hope that God’s ways always triumph. Godly homes don’t just happen! They involve tremendous labor, the “patience of Job” and constant discipline, both of ourselves and of our children. Why, then, is discipline so important in the development of our children?
Life’s lessons and eternity’s truths are not easily learned. Discipline serves to place a healthy “stress” factor into our lives to help us grow and develop. It is a tool, not a weapon, a process, not a crisis. With proper instruction and training, our children will learn to face life’s issues and problems in a realistic way and then make right choices. They will be confronted with the reality of self-control and the delaying of satisfaction, not the “pleasure NOW and pain LATER” mentality of the world. It will teach them the acceptance of responsibility and the importance of commitment to truth above all else. Discipline also teaches our children the need for the balance that not all issues in life can be handled the same way. If home life and early childhood discipline leave an indelible mark on our children and mold them for the future, what are the realities that all parents should seek to instill into their child?
The Discipline of Knowing God
Without hesitation, the discipline of knowing God is paramount. The great commandment stands with all of its forceful claim: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…thy soul…thy strength…thy mind” (Luke 10:27). Israelites were commanded to diligently teach the Word of God to their children and to even write it on the posts of their houses and gates (Deut 6:6-9). The cultivating of the Lord’s presence in the lives of our children is both practical and varied. One believer has related that he wasn’t forced to get up early in the morning to read his Bible and pray. Yet when he did get up early, he would find his father in his bathrobe either reading the Bible or praying. That picture is forever etched in his mind.
The daily reading of God’s Word together and a time of prayer, both collectively and personally, will establish the importance of God’s claims and interest. Encourage them to read with you and seek to teach them the truths of the passage in a simple way. Timothy had been taught the scriptures from the earliest years (2 Tim 3:14-15). Even when planning the events of the day or week, the addition of the simple phrase, “Lord willing,” will impress itself upon the child’s thinking. The regular assembly gatherings provide a framework for consistent testimony but if these meetings become optional to us, they will inevitably become optional to our families. A spirit of thanksgiving, the joy of singing together, the worship of priesthood, participation in the Bible readings, and involvement in the affairs of the assembly will model a lifestyle that is better “caught” than “taught.”
The Discipline of Relationships
From the moment that a child comes home from the hospital, its world is a “closed circuit” around him.” The word “mine” is among the first in its vocabulary and unfortunately will continue into adulthood. To break the chains of selfishness and to establish compassion and concern for others, the discipline of relationship is required. Earliest conceptions of God’s love will be formed through the affection and love of the parents and the apprehension of God’s character will be molded by what they see in saved parents. What will they see in us? Will it be a reflection of the One who came “not to be ministered unto but to minister?” Our Lord was “moved with compassion” when He saw the multitudes and yet gently but decisively rebuked the selfishness of His own disciples. In a similar way, we will have to deal firmly with the innate self-centeredness of each of our children. They will require both praise and punishment. It has been said, “Pat them often enough, hard enough and, when necessary, low enough!”
But what are some positive ways to cultivate a concern for others? Make a point of inviting others to your home for visits. Take your family to conferences and introduce them to other Christians. The friendships they establish could well be life-long. Invite missionaries and preachers into your home so that your children will experience firsthand the dealings of God in the lives of others. Introduce them to great biographies of Christians who made a mark for God. Take your boy or girl along when you make a visit at the hospital or when you drop off a pot of soup to the neighbor next door. Allow them to see your burden for the unsaved and to hear your prayers for them. In a selfish world, our children need to gain the vision of the reality of compassion and love for others.
The Discipline of Testimony
What do your children see when they look at you? What are the character traits you would like to see in them when they become adults? The book of Proverbs is filled with the “rubber-on-the-road” Christianity. Let me just touch a few vital concerns that I have as a father of three sons.
First, I would like my sons to understand that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov 22:1). Character far exceeds possessions! Truthfulness always triumphs. They may have to stand alone against the world, but a testimony for God has eternal rewards. Secondly, they must be taught the value of work and the proper use of money. All of life is a stewardship of time and resources. The slothful or lazy man refuses to work, citing fanciful excuses (Prov 21:25-26, 22:13) but the diligent and righteous person has enough to give even to others. A paper route, odd jobs, daily or weekly chores around the home will all teach our children the responsibilities of work, and the joy of both earning and sharing the results. Thirdly, I want my sons to know the features of a real friend. They will be confronted with all kinds of “voices” – from the enticement of sinners to the allurements of “strange women. The world crashes in on our families with tremendous force and subtlety and, as a parent, I am responsible to plant the seeds of discernment within the hearts of my children and to focus their attention on the unfailing counsel of God’s Word. There is counsel and truth available that will preserve and bless them if they are willing to receive and practice it.
The Discipline of Accountability
Ultimately, our children will not only be “raised” but “released.” They will step into adulthood and assume full accountability for their own choices and courses. But they will reap the results of our sowing in their lives along with the dividends of their own decisions. The prospect is overwhelming. Romans 14:12 teaches us that every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Thus, I need to teach my child that no one “gets away” with anything. This is an increasingly difficult concept for this age to face. We are living with a “no-fault, blameless generation” who are quick to point the finger at parents, teachers, preachers, and even God as the source of their problems. “Everyone else except me!” Children’s rights have toppled the need to obey. Many exhausted, demoralized parents have surrendered to this thinking and are now the captives of their own children. Many more are on guilt trips, fearing that the demand for obedience and the carrying out of corporal punishment will damage their child’s self-esteem. The sad state of the home is the tragic result of such thinking. We must “disciple” our children into the awareness and realities of accountability to God and man.
All authority is from God and has been expressed in various ways. Respect for that authority is a fundamental requirement for time and eternity. If a child refuses to bow to the authority of the parent (or teacher or policeman) whom they can see, how will they ever bow to the claims of God whom they cannot see? Helping young children transfer feelings of responsibility from their parents to God is a process. They will need an environment of acceptance and love coupled with a gradual increase of freedom. Allow them to feel the consequences of wrong decisions and the cost of sin. If started early enough, they will soon learn that sin doesn’t pay. And at the same time, teach your child the wonderful reality of a forgiving God and of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.
Don’t hide all of your failures from them but seek to make them aware that God is still dealing with you as well. We will never model perfection on earth but we do need to model growth to our children. If we fail to admit failure, our children will do the same. But honest confession before God and our families will lay a foundation for openness and reality in our loved ones when they experience the dealings of God in conviction and correction.
All God-fearing parents long that their son or daughter will be a better Christian than they themselves. Thankfully, there are young people across the continent who are already proving the rich dividends of the disciplines of parents that truly cared. While the task is monumental and the thanks may be minimal, the stewardship of our children is heavenly. May we seek to invest generously of our time, energy, and resources into instilling these principles into our children – for the consequences involve eternity.