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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 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.
Two principles I have found undergird this. One is the Principle of Readiness and the other is the Principle of Responsibility. Because if you’re sitting here going, Now, like, how would you really do this?
The Principle of Readiness is stated here is: Only teach your children what they are mentally and emotionally capable of learning. And what I mean by that is, here you’ve got, I see this happen all the time, you’ve got this five-year-old. And they can only think in concrete terms. And you’re trying to teach them something that is very abstract.
It’s much easier to see in the physical realm. Five-year-olds, with few exceptions, have very limited motor skills. They are still developing. Five-year-olds, some develop faster and are ready and able to read, and others can’t, and shouldn’t.
But you have been inundated in a culture that says, “Earlier, earlier, earlier the better.” And if I don’t start early, they’re going to miss something. And so that’s why we have many of you spending most of your life in minivans and SUVs eating, and your entire world on weekends in youth sports, because someone told you that if your five-year-old isn’t on a soccer team yet, what’s going to happen?
And so then when you go to a soccer game of five or six or even seven-year-olds or a baseball game, you have all these parents screaming on the sidelines and then you have twenty-one of twenty-two people all clustered, kicking a ball, with one kid over sitting like this, picking dandelions.
Or you have this group is up to bat, and it’s father pitch or this and they are all…eye/hand coordination develops later. But someone saw Tiger Woods, years ago, start really early and convinced all of us that the earlier, the earlier, the earlier the better, the better, the better – even educationally.
All the research is this: Start them reading at three, start them reading at four, start them reading at five. I’ve got news. By age nine, they’re all exactly at the same level. But do you realize the pressure?
You know what you do to young athletes when their motor skills aren’t developed? And in all these youth sports – you tell me if this is wrong. There are only two or three kids that are the stars, right? Why? They developed early!
So a lot of kids that could end up being great athletes or actually good academically, their experience is, Man, I’m five years old, I’m no good! At seven years old, I’m no good! Well, that’s because their motor skills don’t kick in until later.
But it is out of our fear instead of our cooperation with how God designed our kids. And you want a great athlete? This is all my sports psychology background. You want a great athlete, because some of you really think that’s important, which is, you know…
I played college basketball, I coached, I’m for sports. Go in the backyard with your five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old, eight-year-old; kick the ball; invite a few friends over; look into their eyes; help them learn their skills; have him not compare everything and think that the whole thing about sports is, Wow, I’ve got a really cool uniform and these thirty-five dollar shoes that Mom and Dad got me. And I didn’t do anything! I get a little trophy, in fact, I’ve got six of them now. And what I realize is whether you’re good or bad or whatever, you always get a trophy because the world is all about me! And I really want to be a narcissist, so thank you for the help!
And so readiness. We blew it, just so you don’t feel so bad, our oldest, he’s five minutes older than his twin brother. And yet, this is the control group, experimental group. Born, same family, five minutes apart. And this one was ready, jumped into school, their birthday is August. So, oh, kindergarten. They just turned five. Oh! We can’t be behind! I’ve got to love my kids.
And so we put them both in school. Well, one was great. The other, my lands, he struggled. First grade, he struggled. By second grade, I’m hiring, I’ve got no money, I’m hiring a tutor to help him read! And my wife – and then he gets into school later and it’s like every night in third grade – why? Because his not-very-wise father pushed him too hard, too early, and then he had zero confidence in school.
Now, he happens to be the one now that has more education than anybody in the family. He’s a great student. It had nothing to do with intelligence. It had everything to do with readiness.
I could tell you the story of when I got my boys. I played baseball in college so, Hey! My boys, hey, baseball! Right? They have no eye/hand coordination. They hate baseball! Why? Because their silly father wanted them to do something that he vicariously thought, I’m not going to go there. You apply whatever, may the Lord speak to you if He shall.
The second is the Principle of Responsibility. Never habitually do for your children what they can do for themselves.
The other mindset that we developed and the busier you are and especially if both of you are working, what we tend to do is we want our kids to be happy, we want them to be successful, and there’s probably some various levels of guilt. And so what we do is we do everything for them. And it feels so right because we are caring for them.
If you want your kids to grow and learn to obey and, by the way, if you want them to have a very positive self-esteem, you need to feed them responsibility like vitamins.
At two years old, they actually can help, or three, they help make the bed. And they do a terrible job and it takes longer. But they will feel like…
And then by five or six, they have a job and they actually take out the trash. And they spill it. By seven or eight they’re on a stool and they get to help a little bit with supper and it takes longer. By eight, nine, or ten, they gather their laundry and they learn how to push this button and that button and they fold them terribly.
By twelve, thirteen, fourteen, they pack their own lunch. By the time they are in junior high, they have their own alarm, they learn to get up on their own, and there isn’t this parent going, “It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up! You’re going to be late!”
It’s like this part of us, if we could just step back and look at how we parent, we’d think, Who is out of control here?
And then I see two parents exhausted, working hard, either you’re picking up food all the time or you decide, We really want to be a kind of family – he talked about eating together. We’re going to eat together, and so the mother is fixing and the father is trying to help out. And they are just exhausted and there’s all this stuff to do.
And one kid is playing video games and the other is surfing the net and the other is just kind of hanging out and he’s got his feet up on the La-Z-Boy going, “Hey, Mom! Dad! Supper ready?” What’s wrong with this picture?
See, every one of your kids ought to have a number of very clear jobs and you give them responsibility and here’s what happens to them: they feel and grow in confidence.
When you tell someone, “Oh, no, no, don’t help me put them in the dishwasher. I can do it, I can do it,” you know what you say to your kid? “You’re not competent. You’re not worthwhile. You can’t make it.”
And so then, we’re just completely shocked, aren’t we? Aren’t we just dismayed? Like, Wow, I’ve got a seventeen-year-old who thinks the whole world is about them, that they should go to whatever college they want to because it’s about them. And we went to church, I sent them to this school, we even had some family devotions. And…wow…what happened? After all I did for them.
Well, guess what, you sow and you reap. If we sow, even unintentionally with the best of motives, All the world revolves around you. You should have the best of this and the best of this and never suffer. And if there’s a problem with a coach, I’ll stand in. If there’s a problem at school, I’ll go down to the school. If you have a problem with someone else, I’ll step in. I’ll take care of you. I’ll take care of you.
Guess what, you have a seventeen or eighteen-year-old who is thinking the whole world should take care of them. Your child’s two greatest needs are for significance and security. The number one responsibility they have, and your number one priority is to teach them obedience.
And you must, you must understand that learning obedience is a developmental process: mentally, morally, spiritually, and physically. Does that make sense?
Fourth, you must commit to providing the necessary resources for your children to learn obedience.
My dad came out of a generation that you put food on the table and you provide shelter, that’s what you do. And when you do that, you’re done. But what my dad didn’t know was that’s not God’s plan for a father. You realize so many of these verses, it starts out, “Fathers; fathers; fathers, don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
This is an article that I have kept in this folder. It’s a little bit dated, but unfortunately, I don’t think the statistics are. The title of the article, it’s Fortune magazine, it’s, Why Grade A Executives Get an F as Parents. It says, “For all their brains and competence, powerful, successful executives and professionals often have more trouble raising their kids than everyone except for the very poor. Alas, the intensity, single-mindedness that makes for corporate achievement is often the opposite qualities needed to be an effective parent.”
It goes on and does actual research. It says, “When AT&T was in the throes of divesting all their operating managers and top executives,” it discovered that their children were the greatest cause of stress among all top executives. They did research, then, into their insurance and found that top executives in corporate America, thirty percent of their kids had psychiatric or outpatient care for depression, behavioral issues, or drug addiction.
Total normal people, quote, in the company was about fifteen percent. And all I mean is, you know what? It is really, really hard when you’re a type A, driven, focused person, make it happen, to raise kids where both significance and security happen.
But what are the resources that God says develop their heart, their character, their spiritual constitution, their integrity? Because at the end of the day, here’s the challenge, here’s the challenge. The pressures that we feel are, What is my child going to do and accomplish? And what God would say is, “I’ll tell you what. If you would focus on who do you want your child to become, character, you get that one taken care of, that one will really do well.”
But you can get an A in this one and you can get an F on this one. And you’ll have decades of heartache.
So he gives us the classic passage on parenting. Moses, actually, it’s interesting. He’s going to write to the children of Israel and they are going to go into the Promised Land.
In their world, they are going public. And prosperity is around the corner. I promised it! You’re going to cross over this and I’m going to tell your enemies, you’re going to defeat them! There are going to be wells that you didn’t dig, there are going to be vineyards.
Their phrase was not, “going public.” It was, “land filled with milk and honey.” There’s prosperity; there’s wealth. It’s going to be great. So, parents, since your kids are going to have a lot of prosperity, here’s what you need to remember. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” If you have a pen, underline that. I’m going to have you underline just a few things, because I really want you to see this is the resource toolbox that God wants you to put into the lives of your kids.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” Underline, “shall love the Lord your God.” “And these words, which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.” Underline, “shall be on your heart”. “And you shall teach them diligently to your sons”. Underline, “teach them diligently”.
“And you 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 up. And you shall bind them as signs on your hand and they shall be frontals on your forehead and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” So underline the phrase, “shall talk of them”.
Now, that first, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” that is doctrinal truth. It’s a polytheistic world and he says, “You’re going to go into this prosperity, they are going to hear all these messages from all these different gods and all these different religions. The first thing you teach them: The Lord our God is one. There is only one God. It’s Yahweh. He’s the Creator.”
So parents, you have a responsibility to resource your children so they know clear doctrinal truth. At various ages, your kids early on should know God is the Creator. God loves me. God is a Triunity, as they get older. One essence in three Persons. God forgives sins on the cross. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He was born of a virgin. Jesus is coming back. They need to know the Bible is God’s Word. Doctrinal truth.
The second phrase there is, “personal devotion.” “You shall love the Lord your God” – how? “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.” More really is caught than taught. You can send them to the best schools, you can come here, you can send them to Sunday school.
All of that will be for naught if they don’t catch from you a passion for Jesus. Not what you say; how you live. They walk in the bedroom and they catch you on your knees, praying. If you’ve got a big decision and you bring the family together and you pray. You’re in God’s Word. Big decisions about life and work and priorities and what matters and, What are we going to do? And, What are we not going to do? Your love for God will be caught by them.
All the research tells us that kids, after the get out of high school, three things cause kids to walk with God in the future. Number one, and most importantly, it’s really modeled by Mom and Dad in a real way in the home. Number two, they develop over time their own personal time with God. It’s not your faith; it’s theirs. And number three, they are missional. They get out and serve and help people on mission projects, both locally and around. And they realize the world is bigger than them and God uses them.
You want your kids, four years after high school, to walk with God? Those three things are the key. And this is a big one.
Third, they need biblical knowledge. Notice the phrase here. He says, “It’ll be on your heart and you shall teach them diligently.”
I remember, I was eighteen and I was brand new and I didn’t know who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were. I was better with Paul, Ringo, and John and George. I knew them! I can’t even get the Beatles’ names right, let alone the gospel names right.
And then it was like, people were saying, “Oh, turn to 1 Thessalonians,” where, I’d look there. And, “Philippians something,” where is that at? I didn’t know. I didn’t have a clue.
But you have to be a parent when there’s an issue about temptation, you can turn to this passage and say, “This is the thesis of the book of Romans. Who God is speaking to in the book of Matthew is to the Jews and this is the gospel. And Mark is written to the Romans. And Luke was written to a Greek world. And John is a gospel that talks about what it means to believe. And Galatians is about freedom.”
And you have to, just like many of you have gotten jobs, right? And the first job they say, “Hey, look, I know you’ve got some good background and you’re kind of smart. You need to learn this software and this operating system and in six months, if you can’t, you can’t work here.” What did you do? What did you do? You learned it!
Or you’re on a job site and someone says, “Hey, you’re a worker like this, but I want to make you a foreman. You’ve got to learn how to read blueprints, or you get to do this the rest of your life.” What did you do? You learned it.
Your number one assignment is your kids! But you have got to know God’s Word so you can pass it on.
And then there’s systematic instruction. You need to meet regularly as they get older. Now, this isn’t like, okay, sit that three-year-old down, “Okay! We’re going to read the Bible for two hours. Shut up, kid.” That is not how you do it.
Short, brief, simple stories. More complex, they read it on their own, you sit around the table at dinner and you talk about it, you give them assignments, they read books on their own.
I actually bribed my kids to read good books. And I didn’t feel guilty about it, because when my sophomore read Mere Christianity and he came home and told me six months later that he is debating with the chemistry teacher about the origins of life, I thought, I think this is exactly what I want. But you have to give them instruction. You have to have a game plan.
And then finally, there’s the informal times. You talk with them. When? Well, when you sit down and when you rise up, when you walk by the way. That doesn’t sound like a compartmentalized life, does it? Doesn’t sound like, Okay, we went to church, you went to Sunday school, we read the Bible a little bit. Now, let’s just live like everyone else.
This is, no, no, no, no, no. This is teachable moments. And you just fought with your brother and your sister. Or we have just broken our arm and now we are in the ICU and there’s someone who is dying on the other side of that. Every moment of every day.
And then notice what it says. Your hands. It influences your work. The frontals, it influences your thinking. The doorpost, anything that comes in. Everything and everything that would come into your house through your doorposts, whether it’s virtual or people, who do you let in and why? And the gates. How do you handle living out in the world?
And so, you have doctrinal truth, personal devotion, biblical knowledge, systematic instruction and teachable moments. And I will tell you, here’s a little word picture that has been very helpful for me.
Imagine that, okay, for some of you, they are older. But imagine life is a car and your son or daughter or all of them get in the car with you. And there’s a safety manual, Rules for the Road, and that’s God’s Word.
And you drive and they are just in the car. And they just watch you drive as you follow God’s Word. And then there is a road map that gives direction and guidance. And when they are early, that’s you. Later, they get it from God’s Word and the Holy Spirit living in them. And you’re driving, but remember, remember when they are really small and you put them on your lap, and they get the feel of it with you? Because you want them to learn.
Finally, there are seatbelts and protection and so he drives and you ride. Or she drives and you ride. But, actually, this is a very scary time in all parenting. And you talk and you encourage, you correct, you affirm. And you even let them hit a few guardrails. No head-on collisions. But, see, what you’re doing is it’s like the responsibility, it’s like a kite. You let out more and more string.
And at first, oooh! You know? And then you have to pull back on it. And some have a long tail and some have a short tail and some are box kites and all your kids are different and they do it at different times. There is no formula.
But you keep giving them more responsibility, consequences, you have to jerk a little bit. And the goal is: you give them the keys; they drive the car, and they drive the car with Jesus in the car, not you. And they live the kind of life that is pleasing to God, because they learned obedience, when they were ready, they learned responsibility. They understood loving God isn’t just an emotional experience. But, “He who has My commands and keeps them, he it is that loves Me,” according to Jesus.
And then the huge reward is then, “My Father and I will love them and disclose ourselves to them.” Obedience is that channel, not only of blessing, but it’s the agent or means of where people have heart-relationship with God.
Finally, how do you know when you’ve done your job? How do you know whether it’s really going well or, Wowie, we have blown it and need to do some repair?
I’m going to suggest that, number five, obedience is achieved when your child has transferred his or her primary love, submission, and dependency from you to Jesus Christ.
I hear parents sometimes, and I used to say, I want my kids to be independent. I don’t want my kids to be independent. Some of us that didn’t grow up as Christians, I know what it’s like to be independent, right? I know what it’s like. “Hey, God, I’ll do my own thing, my own way, forget You!” That was not, that was not good for me, and that’s not good for anyone.
What you want is your kids to say, “Yeah, I respect you, Mom and Dad, and I’m living under your authority and I know you have my best, and you love me and you set boundaries and they’re for me and I get it. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’m now focusing on the Lord.”
And, by the way, you know this happens, not because you say, “Well, we brought them to church.” This doesn’t happen because they went to this school, maybe even a Christian school. The test is not, “Oh, they’re doing well, academically.” And the test is not, “They didn’t give us a bit of problem while they were here, before they went away to school.”
Here’s the test; here’s how you know. Three indicators. Number one, three characteristics of righteous children: they make wise decisions. Philippians 1 says that when we understand and can discern between right and wrong, they are making – at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, twenty – wise decisions about what is righteous and what is not. That’s maturity.
Second, they keep their commitments. Proverbs 20 verse 6 says, “Many a person or a man will proclaim his own faithfulness, but a faithful person who can find?”
You raise kids who say, “I will be there at such-and-such a time,” or, “I will do this,” or, “Let’s meet here,” or, “I will turn this in.” They keep their commitments. They are people of integrity.
I’ll tell you what, they’re going to have a great job. If they did nothing else but that, they are going to end up with a great job, right? Those of you who are supervisors and employers and business owners and CEOs and COOs and all the rest, if you can find people who just keep their word, you’re ready to roll!
And third, and maybe most importantly, they genuinely care for others. They are outward focused. When Jesus talked about what a real friend was, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down their life for a friend.”
And I can tell you what it looks like and what it feels like when you make really big mistakes. And I can also tell you that when you, regardless of where you’re at, stop and say, In spite of all our mistakes, this is God’s game plan to develop their full potential, that in the sovereignty and the grace of God, when you see them to begin to live like that, I don’t know what your dreams were for your kids, I don’t know what you hoped they would do or what they would accomplish.
But I can tell you this, both from Scripture and personal experience, grown kids who love God, that choose mates who love God, who still want to be around you, and have relationship with you is worth more doctorates, more money, more jobs, and more success than you could get in a million lifetimes.