Far too often, it is easy to think that the "discipline of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4) is getting them to conform and to do what they need to do (or, rather what you want them to do). You reward good and punish bad--simple. However, if this is all that we do, we are teaching them about God but in a dangerous and distorted way. We can never make God happy by doing good enough—we never could--that is why He sent His Son. God is not happy with us because we did enough things right on our own, but on account of the work of His Son on the Cross who makes us clean and helps us fight against sin. This is our only hope as well as our kids -- do we teach them this?
I want to read a scenario from a book and recommend it to you. It is called Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children by John A. Younts. You can read the enter chapter here.
Here is an example of how you can lead your children to the power of the gospel. For the purpose of this discussion we will look only at Sarah's response, although
also needs attention. Brandon
You hear a loud cry coming from the children's room. You walk into the room and discover that Sarah, your four-year-old daughter, has just hit Brandon, your three-year-old son, because he wouldn't give her the toy she wanted. You take Sarah into your room and administer the appropriate discipline. Sarah sadly tells you she knows that she should not have hit
, but she just was so angry with him that she did it anyway. She tells you that she just can't do it, she can't obey and be good. Brandon
What do you say as a parent?
Response # 1 —Mom replies with an even but stern voice, "Well, Sarah, that is what discipline is for. Eventually, you will learn that it is wrong to hit when you're angry. If Mommy disciplines you enough times you will get the message. Please don't hit
any more. We don't solve problems by hitting." Brandon
Response # 2 —Mom replies with a tone of exasperation. "I know Sarah, you always say that. But, you just have to learn to be good. How many times must mommy spank you? You shouldn't do something you know is wrong. Maybe someday you will change."
Response # 3 —Mom replies in anger, "Sarah, if you wanted to be good and stop hitting
, you would. Mommy is really losing patience with you. Your father and I are going to have a long talk when he gets home. This has got to stop. This is the fourth time this week." Brandon
Response # 4 —Mom responds in dejected frustration, "Sarah, I don't know what to do with you. Mommy has tried and tried to teach you what is right. I just don't know what to do. I can't seem to make you change. I just don't know what to do."
All of these responses are performance-based. They result in broken relationships, not healthy ones. Mom is treating Sarah as if she could solve her problem with sin by responding in her own strength, simply by doing what Mommy says. "Just do it," she says, in effect. The problem is that Sarah, like everyone else on planet Earth, can't do good in her own strength. All of these first four responses might produce a fine Pharisee, but they will not lead to new life in Christ for your child.
Contrast the first four responses with this next one.
Response # 5 —Mom replies with warmth and understanding, "Sarah, I know you can't obey by yourself. I know that. But that is why Jesus died on the cross, because we can't do it ourselves. Remember the Bible says that Jesus died so that we would have new life. You can't obey in your own strength, but you can obey in Jesus' strength. Let's pray right now and ask Jesus to help."
"Dear God, please help me to obey you and love you. I just can't do it by myself. Please forgive me for hitting
. Please help me to trust you. I know that you are the only one who can help me be different and turn my heart to you. Please help me to obey Mommy and to obey you. In Jesus' name, Amen." Brandon
This simple little prayer addresses the issues at hand. Sarah needs Jesus to help her to obey. Sarah acknowledges that she must change. She turns to Christ for help.
At this point I can imagine someone thinking, "What four-year-old child is going to come up with that prayer? Are you kidding me?!?"
Your four-year-old can "come up with this prayer" the same way the disciples came up with the Lord's Prayer. You teach it to her, just as Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer to the disciples. Luke 11 records that Jesus taught His disciples His prayer word for word. This is how you start with your children. Help them pray by teaching them word for word what to say to God. Teach your children to pray phrase by phrase, by repeating each phrase after you say it. Jesus didn't wait for His disciples to become spiritual enough to know what to pray and how to pray. He told them what to say and how to pray, word for word. Spirituality doesn't come by waiting for it to appear. Spirituality comes by teaching what the Holy Spirit has written at the time it is needed. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He taught them word for word—in the middle of their everyday lives. Jesus taught his disciples everyday prayer.
As a parent you must exercise patience as you pray this prayer and others like it over and over again with your children. By doing this you are teaching your children that you can't be a good parent in your own strength either. As your children repeat this prayer, you also pray that God would honor His word and hear the plea of this child who is in deep need of God's love and mercy and power to obey. After they learn to follow the pattern of prayer you provide, they will eventually begin to formulate their own prayers, following that example. This is the power of the gospel. It is the greatest gift that you can give to your child.