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About this series
Effective Parenting in a Defective World
How to Raise Kids Who Stand Out from the Crowd
Raising children is a tough challenge in today's world. Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today.More from this series
When I was a young dad, I remember, I have four children, and I remember, at times, coming home late from a meeting or maybe being out of town. And the house is quiet and we had a small, little house with really tiny bedrooms that were all one, two, three, and then ours was over here.
And I could turn off all the lights except the bathroom light and get just enough light and I had been out and so I would gaze and see my little girl there. Little girls, when they sleep, look like angels.
And then my youngest son, he looks like he and the covers have been doing battle. And then the twins were in the last bedroom and sometimes when you’re really keyed up, you’re not really quite ready to go to bed, and I would go out, sit in a chair, and turn on the little light, and I would just think, Oh, God, what are you going to do in these kids? What’s their future?
And then I would have this terrifying thought, And what part are we, as parents, supposed to play? What is my role to help them become all that You want them to be? I know You have a dream for them. In fact, Your Word says, “Eye hasn’t seen or ear heard, or entered into the heart of man all the good that You have stored up for those that love You.”
And then the years went by and all my kids got older and older and I would have the light on, and I would sit in the chair and I would be ready to go to bed and they were all out, right? The teenagers are out doing their thing, and they decide, like, nine thirty or ten, “What do you want to do tonight?”
The twins are away in college and I had that same terrifying thought, it was just a different one, like, Oh, man, I’ve got a sophomore in high school, I’ve got a senior, I’ve got two in college. What am I supposed to do? How do I cooperate with You?
Does anyone here ever share those kinds of fears and feelings? Yeah? Well, we are going to talk about how to cooperate with God to develop your child’s full potential. God does have a dream. He has a plan. He’s got a plan for all the world, but He has a plan for every one of your children and mine.
If you’ll open your notes, we are going to look at five specific keys. And I just want to warn you, we have been inundated with thoughts and culture about what we ought to do as parents, because we care and we want to raise our kids well. But what you’re about to hear is God’s agenda and often it’s counter to what a lot of us have been told.
And for those of us, like myself – I didn’t grow up as a Christian, I never opened the Bible – what God has to say about being a parent was really different than what I experienced or what I heard.
So we are going to do a top-line picture of what that is and then we are going to go on a journey together. And I will just tell you, on the front end, you’ll probably need some other parents and some other support to actually do what we are going to talk about. But if you do, God really does have a great plan for your kids.
Key number one is that you must understand your child’s two primary needs are for significance and security. The little human being, whether it’s a brand-new baby, a two-year-old, a twelve-year-old, a twenty-two-year-old, a thirty-two-year old – I have learned – they are still your kids. And they still have the same two needs: significance and security.
Significance is: Am I a somebody? Do I really matter? Security is: Am I safe and do I belong? And so, intrinsically, your children are always asking two questions. One: Do you love me? Basically, by your body language, by your actions, by your words, by what you do, by what you don’t do – Do I belong? Do I matter? Am I valued? Am I wanted? Am I accepted? Inside, they are always asking that question.
The second question they are asking is: Where are the boundaries? And that’s like, Who is in charge? Is there someplace safe? The little hearts they have and the big hearts they have, you tell any kid, “Here’s the line. Don’t cross that line.” What do you know in three minutes? Right? Because I’ve got it in me and you’ve got it in you.
And what they need to know is there are boundaries. And what that produces, those boundaries, when you are consistent about, “No, you can’t have your own selfish way,” produces security and safety and self-esteem.
The perfect parent, God, when He created us as His children, you’ll notice in chapter 1 of Genesis, He said, “You are significant; you are made in My image. Here is all that I have for you. I have created all this for you. I am going to walk in the garden with you. You matter. You’re loved, accepted.”
And then in chapter 2 He said, “Now, here are the boundaries. All of this is available, but don’t go there.” Significance. Security.
The second key to developing your child’s full potential is you must recognize your child’s primary responsibility is to learn obedience. And just lean back, because there is a huge implication. That means your number one priority as a parent, your number one priority, is to teach your child to obey. Your number one priority is not to make them successful, your number one priority is not to make them happy.
Your number one priority is to teach them to obey you and then later obey God. There is only one verse in the Bible that I can find in all the New Testament that speaks directly to children. I have put it in your notes.
Listen carefully, this is what God says to your son or your daughter. “Children, it is your Christian duty,” and underline this word, “to obey your parents” – well, why? “for this is the right thing to do.”
Then quoting one of the Ten Commandments, “Respect your father and your mother,” is the first commandment that has a promise added to it. Notice why God wants your children to learn to obey you and ultimately learn to obey Him, “…so that all may go well with you and you may live long in the land.”
Obedience is the channel through which God’s best plans get fulfilled for your son or your daughter.
The definition I have of obedience here in your notes is: Obedience is teaching your child to come under the hearing of your voice. That’s different than: They just need to do what is right because you said so.
The word for obedience in the New Testament is a compound word: hupo, that means, “to be under,” and akouo, that means, “to hear.” You can see some “akouo” guitars, right? Acoustic guitars?
And, see, what God really wants your children, here’s obedience: When you speak – not yell, not scream – when you speak and you tell your child, “Do this or don’t do that,” they come under the hearing of your voice and they obey you, not simply doing right, but submitting to you out of a good attitude, from the heart, out of relationship, the first time you tell them something.
Now, what I want to tell you is most of us parents don’t take that very seriously, at least I didn’t as an early parent. But I had an experience that changed my view of obedience.
To me it was like, Tell your kids to do this, but down deep you don’t really expect them to do it a lot of the time. And then you just learn to live with it.
Theresa and I were taking a walk with our family when they were small. My oldest sons were very small, about five years old, and we are doing the little walking on the sidewalks and there’s a driveway here and a driveway here and my one son was adventuresome so he would run ahead and, “Hi, hi!” and run ahead.
And that was okay. But as we were coming, there were hedges. And the hedges came like this and when you’re five years old, you’re only this tall, and the hedge was this high. And I would say to my son, “Stop! Stop!” And he would look at me and wave and just keep running. Has anyone had any of your kids do that? Ever? Right?
Okay, now, here’s the scary part. Because actually I think it’s kind of cute. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And he’s running pretty fast! And as an old, ex-jock, you say, Oh, way to go, son! But it’s not funny at all because now I see a truck coming out of the driveway going about thirty miles an hour and picking up speed. Guess what? There are hedges, he can’t see my little boy. And so I say, “Eric! Stop!” And you see this coming? This is a direct collision.
And he laughs at me and he runs and he runs across and that car, whoo, goes by. And you know what I learned? I learned that I did not take teaching my son obedience – he was not under the hearing of my voice. And my lack of diligence almost cost him his life.
Parents, listen really carefully. If your son or daughter and, by the way, the earlier the better, if they do not learn to come under the hearing of your voice, and you are a parent that they can see, how do you expect them to hear the voice of their heavenly Father who they cannot see?
Because they are going to be fourteen years old and they are going to hear God’s voice say, Don’t get in that car and go with those kids and do that. You know that’s wrong. And someone is going to say to them, “You know something? You ought to come to this party. And you know what? It doesn’t hurt you. You ought to try this at least once.” And they are going to hear God’s voice and they are either going to learn, because of their practice with you to know the safest, best, most significant and fulfilling place to ever be is under the voice of obeying your mother or father. And if they don’t learn it from you, the likelihood of them learning it from their heavenly Father is very slim.
So their number one job, and it’s hard! This is really hard. And we have all, we all struggle here, okay? I remember when I was trying to learn this and it took such effort.
You know when you go to some friends’ house and you’re all hanging out together and the kids, especially when they are smaller, when they are ripping through the house and every toy in the house is out and things are a complete mess? And this is how most of us do it. You’re with this other, maybe, couple and you say, “Hey, we really need to go.”
And that means we are going to stop in the kitchen, talk for a little bit more, and then after talking we are going to get near the door and talk a little bit more. But you tell the kids, right? I have seen this so many times. Now, this is self-confession. “Okay, guys! Clean up those toys! Got to get to go right now!”
And you watch these two five-year-olds. They don’t even budge. They don’t even budge because our kids are way better students of us than we are of them. And so then you move from the kitchen, you’re getting near the door, and you really do need to go. “Hey! Hey! Hey, guys. Didn’t I just tell you? Come on, now. Let’s go. Pick that stuff up!”
These two five-year-olds, Legos, they’re still putting together. If we could read their minds it’s like, This means absolutely nothing. In a couple minutes, we might have to go.
And then they hear this from one of us, “Hey! Didn’t I tell you? Pick up those toys right now. Get those toys up there.” Now, I’m embarrassed with these people. “Right now!” And the kid calmly looks at his friend and goes, “I think we’ve got to go.”
You know a different picture? And it takes such time and such diligence. But, see, that child has learned when you scream, when you’re upset, when you act like that, there are probably consequences, so they need to respond.
The other option is you walk over to those kids that are three, four, five, six, seven – depending on their personality and how off the charts they are – and you get their little face and you look into their eyes, “Bobby? No, Bobby?” “Yeah?” “We are going to leave in two minutes. You can play for one more minute and then you pick up your toys. Bobby? Do you understand? Okay. We are going to be right there and I’m going to tell you in one minute to pick up the toys. Got it?” “Yeah.”
You walk over here, “Hey, we really need to go. Okay, Bobby? It’s time. Pick them up right now.” And especially if you’re a father, you use your father voice. The deep voice. The deep voice that says to them, This is not a warning, this is not an option, I mean it right now. You are calm, you’re clothed, you’re in your right mind, and if he doesn’t move, consequences happen rapidly.
And you know what that little boy and that little girl learn? They learn that when you say, going through the grocery store, “No, we can’t have that today,” they don’t act like they’re on drugs, “Ahhhhhh! Mom! What’s going to happen?” Have you seen this in the grocery stores, right?
Or, like, Target, “I’ve got to have these toys!” They’re throwing them in the basket and parents are going, I’m so embarrassed, I guess I’ll just buy it. Teach your kids to obey your voice. Calmly, with consequences, with rewards, with love, and with tenderness. It’s a hard job. It takes a lot of time.
Most five-year-olds are running the world. That’s why McDonalds markets to them. “Where are we going to go to eat?” “I don’t want that!” Why do they call it a “Happy Meal?” Right?
Third, you must remember that obedience is a developmental process. Now, what I mean by this is that children don’t just learn to obey. Just as they physically develop, just as they mentally develop, and just as they morally develop you need to understand that they are involved in a process. Just like there are seasons, there is a way that a two-year-old, a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, eleven-year-old, a thirteen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and a twenty-two-year-old – they think differently. Their bodies are different; the hormones are different.
You need to understand that learning obedience is different at different stages, but this is our number one job, because obedience is the channel through which God’s biggest and best plans for your child are delivered, that it might be well with them.
Notice the passage here. “Although He was a Son,” speaking of Jesus, “He learned obedience from what He suffered.” Perfect deity, but perfect humanity. He went through the normal process. Jesus had to learn to obey. If Jesus had to learn to obey, think about our kids.
And then notice the developmental process in Luke 2:52: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and favor with men.” Wisdom, intellectual development; stature, physical development; favor with God, spiritual development; favor with men, social development.
And so I put a little chart here, you’ll notice, it says, “Spiritual formation and mental development. Literally, it’s mental and moral development.
My background before I went to seminary was in education and psychology and sports psychology and educational psychology. So, how do kids learn? And how do people learn and how do they grow?
And the little chart you see is from a fellow named Lawrence Kohlberg, who made his life’s study to examine: how do little children at various stages grow? How do their minds work so that they learn, both mentally and morally?
Because what I would suggest is when you don’t understand how God has made children, we often do the very opposite of what they need.
And so notice the little chart here. When a child is zero to about four or five years of age, notice underneath, they just think in concrete terms. Explanations about why and, “You shouldn’t do that,” and, “Say you’re sorry because of this,” and, “These three passages,” and, “The sanctification process is about this and these four verses and this lecture.” They are four years old. Right, wrong, just information. They just need to know the rules. What is right? What is wrong?
As they get beyond that into the six, nine, ten, eleven, and by the way, it’s a very sliding scale because kids mature at different times – mentally, morally, spiritually, physically.
And then you want to tie obedience to the “who” – relationship. This is right, this is wrong, but it’s about a love relationship. “I want you to do this out of respect for me. I want you to treat your brother like this because you care for him. When you disobey or when you lie to me,” nine, ten, eleven-year-old, “do you understand what it does to our relationship?”
So obedience goes from simply what is right and what is wrong to “who”. And so write that above that. As they get older, and for some, as early as eleven, for most people it’s going to be in the early teens. And so somewhere between eleven to fourteen, fifteen, their developmental reasoning is happening and they can now think in more abstract ways. And so now you want to begin to not just say, “This is right; this is wrong, and out of relationship.”
The first is about the “what,” the next is about the “who,” this is about the “why.” Why can’t I go with my friends to that movie? Why can’t I do what everyone else is doing? Why do we, as a family, have to do this? A very bad answer is, “Because I said so, that’s why!” That frustrates kids. They can reason now. They now understand: This is the truth, this is the “what”, this is the “who” of the relationship with God, and this is the “why”: Here’s the damage it could do. This is the problem that it would create.
And then, finally, when they get into somewhere between sixteen to their very early twenties, you really want them to have resolve. And what I mean by that is you want them to make their own decisions and you go from, in the early days, you’re the commander, right? “This is the way it is.”
Then you turn from the commander to the instructor. Okay? “I care about you.” And then you go from the instructor to the coach, “This is why.” And then you literally, in the later years, you’re becoming a consultant. And what you really want them to do is learn to make the right decisions for the right reason in relationship to God and you and other people.
And that creates a very, very different approach. This is outlined, some of you are looking at me like, Wow, these have huge implications. These have huge implications. We ended up putting this in a book form called, Effective Parenting in a Defective World, where I develop it a lot more.
Because here’s our tendency; here’s what we do. When you’re a young parent, you so want to do it right and you want your kids to turn out so right. And we do things like this, like, a three-year-old and a four-year-old, they are fighting, or a five-year-old. And we get them together, “Now, you two, you need to say you’re sorry. You need to confess your sins. Have you memorized 1 John 1:9? Say that to him. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ Okay. Then here’s what I…”
And we have these long explanations. They’re four! They are five years old! Or we say, “Now, do you have Jesus in your heart?” And the kid will say, “I don’t think there’s room there! He’s very big!” They can only think in…
So we talk, talk, talk, talk instead of behavior, calmness, reward, consequences. And then they get to be teenagers. Well, we are still fearful, but we are worn out, you know?
And so, they say, “I don’t understand why… all the other kids… and his dad is even… he goes to church too! And they are seeing this movie and they are going to have a stay-over night. And his parents aren’t home, but you should really trust me. And I don’t understand! He’s only been to juvenile detention once and he said he was sorry! Why can’t I go?”
And your answer is, “Because I said so! And I’m the mom,” or, “I’m the dad!” And they slam the door and go to their room and you don’t talk.
When they are small, you are kind, you are calm, you are under control. There are consequences, there is behavior, very short explanations. The older they get, and they have all those questions, you say, “Wow, that is a great question. You know what? Let’s go grab a Coke or a cup of coffee; let’s talk about it.”
And you say, “Okay, let’s…” and this is where, as a parent, you say, “I’ve been reading in the Proverbs and the Proverbs, in 13:20, says that, ‘He who dwells with wise men will be wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.’ And you know what? You just hang around the wrong people, this is always what happens. And I love you and your mom loves you and we are for you. And this a boundary that I really can’t budge on. And I understand it, but this is the ‘why’ behind it.”
Now, they may not go, “Oh, Dad, Mom, thanks so much! I get it now! And you even read a verse from the Bible! I just feel ooey-gooey inside.” No, no, no, no. But what they will be treated like is an adult and they will have a reason and a “why.”
When they get a little bit older, right? And they want to do something and it’s grey. And down deep you know this is not the best thing, okay? This is where you want to develop convictions.
And so often, my kids, they are seventeen or late-sixteen, seventeen, and they are saying, “I really want to do this,” and you are thinking, I do not feel good about this. I don’t think it’s a good idea. But the worst that can happen is a fender-bender. You know what I mean by that? No one is going to die, probably. It’s not going to be good.
And so instead of saying, “no,” I often, when I got to here, because I want them to get resolve, I’d say, “Well, you know what?” And then I remember when they would start looking at me, “So what I want you to do is I want you to just pray about this for twenty-four, forty-eight hours.” “What? You mean whether I can go on this thing with this group and do…?” “Yeah. I just want you to pray. You ask God whether you think this is good and then let’s get together in twenty-four or forty-eight hours and you tell me how God is leading you and why you think it’s a good idea.”
Now, at times they made the decision that I didn’t think was very good. But they processed it, they owned it, they did it. And sometimes when it wasn’t very good, guess what, they got the consequences; it wasn’t very good. And other times, I was actually surprised, when I put the ball in their court it was like, “No. I know. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Nah, I’m not going to go.”
Do you see? When you want to develop obedience, you need to understand the age of your child and the moral development, because the goal, the goal is they learn to obey – from the heart – you, and even more importantly then, God.