All the way. Right away. With a happy heart.
When it comes to kids, you have to choose your battles and obedience is a battle worth fighting.
In our house we spend a lot of time and energy emphasizing the importance of obedience. We teach our kids that obedience means "all the way, right away, with a happy heart." Anything short of that is disobedience and disobedience is unacceptable. That means that if we say "go upstairs and brush your teeth" and they slowly inch their way up the stairs like a slug or if they fall down in a heap and throw a fit, they are disobeying. Slow or partial obedience is disobedience and disobedience always has consequences. (Now, what those consequences are depends on your family and your kids and the severity of the "crime".)
Disobedience at its core is rebellion. When a child disobeys they are saying "I choose my will over your will." (You might recognize that sentiment because it is woven into the fabric of our sin nature.) The Bible says our hearts are desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9) And into our sin-fallen world, Jesus models a better way. He models true and complete obedience when He prays "Not my will but Your's be done." As Christ followers, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are attempting to follow His example and to lead our children in this better way. Not my will. Your will.
Obedience at its core is submission. Submission is a hard lesson to learn, (I know, because I'm still learning) but it is essential to following Christ and that is the key point we must remember as parents. When we teach our children to listen and obey, we are ultimately training them to submit to God. I tell my kids, "My voice is important to you. You need to listen carefully whenever you hear me talking and you need to respond right away." Do I say this because I'm on some sort of power trip and I get a kick out of being the boss? No. I say this because some day God is going to tell my kids to move or stay or talk or be silent and I want them to obey Him all the way, right away, with a happy heart. You know all those stories in the Bible where God tells someone to do something and they say "no" or "I don't wanna"? Yeah...those stories don't go well...just ask Jonah.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
My youngest child is 16 months. Her favorite word is "no". When you have a curly-headed, 20 pound person walking around the house like she's the boss it's adorable for a minute...and then it's not. She's a toddler so of course we give her a lot of grace but even toddlers can be trained to obey. When she says "no" I respond "We don't say 'no' to mommy" and I pick her up, arched back and all, and gently assert my will. She is little but she is learning - not my will...your will.
Obedience takes practice and what safer, more gracious place to practice than in your home? It is easy to start believing that the small offenses don't matter. It is convenient for tired parents to turn a blind eye or let things slide but we do our children a disservice when we allow disobedience. Disobedience is sin and when sin grows up it leads to death. Always. Obedience to God leads to life. Always. This has to be the underlying motivation as we shepherd and discipline the children we love. Obedience is required because it leads to life. In the short run it keeps your kids from running out in the street or touching hot stoves or wandering off and getting lost. But the end game is far greater. The goal is that our children would follow after God - that they would listen attentively to His voice and that they would obey right away. They have learned this quick response. They have learned to bend their will to authority so it is not a far leap to bend their knee in submission to the Lord.
We can't parent our kids into heaven. What we can do is build homes that testify to the goodness and rightness and joy that is found in loving and obeying the Lord.
Now, some of you reading this article are thinking this all sounds a bit heavy-handed and over the top. I want to assure you that while we do take sin seriously, our home is a happy, grace-filled place. My husband and I were both raised in homes that required obedience and, perhaps surprisingly, fighting and winning these "battles of the will" in the early years ultimately leads to a peaceful home filled with people who enjoy each other. I don't know if you've noticed, but obedient, well-behaved children are more pleasant to be around. This is not the goal, it is just a happy byproduct of living according to the wisdom of God's word. Behavior modification is never the end goal but behavior gives us a glimpse into our child's heart. Wrong behavior is the symptom, it is the heart that we must address, and we need God's wisdom and help to do this.
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
When our children disobey us, they are disobeying God. This is sin. Sin is serious because it leads to death. Thankfully, Someone already died for our sins and as a family we can celebrate grace and celebrate a Savior who is ready to forgive. And this is the type of language we use when our kids disobey. We say, "When you disobeyed Mommy you sinned against God because God said that children are to obey their parents. Do you agree that what you did was wrong? Are you ready to apologize?" I might also say something like "It's important that you obey Mommy right away so that I can keep you safe." This is another way that we teach our children that obedience leads to life. In the church we often say the safest place to be is in the center of God's will. Well, how do we live in the center of God's will? We obey.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
When God speaks to my children I want them to listen and obey all the way, right away, with a happy heart. If God says "Walk away from this business deal or this relationship" I want them to walk away quickly. If God says "Tell this person about my Son" I want them to open their mouth and share the gospel. If God says "Flee immorality!" I want them to turn and run, run, run! Do you see? God has given us the great honor and privilege of laying the ground work for faith in the life of our children. We are the first authority in their life and we must be obedient in this role in order to represent God well to these precious people who have been entrusted to us. God is consistent and so we strive to be consistent. God is just and so we strive to be just. God is merciful and abounding in loving kindness and so we strive to be merciful and to show unconditional, loving kindness.
Disobedience is a big deal because it is sin. Sin leads to death. We must therefore be diligent to teach our children the path of life. Require obedience in your home. Cover the whole process in prayer and grace, always keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is that each one of us will obey God all the way, right away, with a happy heart.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
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