On Children and Obedience

12 Oct

We sometimes tell our children that they have one job and that is to obey.

This seems like a simple enough idea but if you have spent any time with children, you know that job is actually not very simple at all and there are times when it seems like the hardest thing in the entire world for children to do is what their parents ask them to do and to do it with a respectful attitude.

One reason it’s difficult for children to obey and honor their parents of course is because they need Jesus and you need to lovingly tell them that. As they struggle to obey, don’t lighten the seriousness of that, that is not where real hope comes from, but instead point them to the Savior who loved them enough to take the punishment for their sin of disobedience.

We had an incident recently where one of our children was saying she was sorry to another child, and that child wouldn’t accept her apology, she just turned her back to the one who was saying sorry and was ignoring her; and I thought as I came out to deal with that, what is in our hearts, even from being so young, that little sweet girls would treat each other this way, and so I talked to her about what doing that revealed about her heart and she began to weep and as she wept, I then moved on to try to encourage her, that she should feel sorrow but also hope, because she isn’t loved by God because she is a perfect little girl who always does everything right but instead God showed his love to her by sending His perfect Son to take the punishment for her sins and if she trusts in him to forgive her and change her from the inside out.

In spite of all the evidence in our lives, it is very difficult for most of us to believe that we are so bad we need a Savior like that, and so parents as your children struggle to honor and obey you, you always want to try to take advantage of those moments to show them their need of Jesus.

The hard time they have obeying shows their need of Jesus.

Another reason though that it is difficult for children to obey is because we as parents need Jesus too. Our children may not be as good as we wish, but neither are we. We often make it difficult for our children to obey, we are actually putting obstacles in their way and I think we make it difficult in at least four different ways.

We make it difficult for our children to obey when we don’t have a biblical definition of obedience ourselves.

It’s hard to do something right when the person telling you to do it doesn’t understand what he’s actually asking you to do and I have found there are many parents who don’t understand obedience the same way God does.

What do I mean?

Well listen to this. Tedd Tripp defines obedience like this, and I am personally challenged by this, he says, “Obedience is the willing submission of one person to the authority of another. It means more than a child doing what he is told. It means doing what he is told, without challenge, without excuse, without delay. Often obedience means doing what he doesn’t want to do, at least what he doesn’t want to do at that moment…Submission to authority means that your child will have to do things that he does not wish to do.”

Now here’s the thing, Tripp goes on, “You inevitably train your children in obedience. Some of you, you train them to obey only after you’ve yelled, pleaded or threatened. You may train them to obey only when they wish to. You may not train them to obey at all. Even that is a type of training in obedience. When you tell your children something to do, and they argue with you, that is not biblical obedience. When they make excuses, that is not obedience. When they refuse to respond at once, they are not obeying. Submission to authority means that they obey without delay, excuse or challenge.”

Wow. He adds to that. He writes, “It is easy to think unclearly about obedience. When you say to your child, ‘Dear I want you to go to bed now,’ there is only one appropriate response. It is not, ‘I’ll go after I finish coloring this page.’ It is not, ‘Why do I always have to go to bed so early?’ It is not to ignore you entirely. There is only one obedient response. It is to go to bed without delay and if you accept any other response, you are training your children to disobey.”

We make it difficult for our children to obey when we don’t have a biblical definition of obedience. We make it difficult for them to obey when we are not consistently calling them to obedience.

One of the things you often see in families is that parents don’t tell their children the rules, they don’t clearly instruct them in what they expect, they just make up what they want as they go and the children are supposed to guess what they want or get in trouble and it’s hard to do that, it’s hard to obey when you don’t really know what to obey; so you need to clearly identify for your children what you expect of them, and then when you have done that, you need to expect it, on a regular basis, day in, day out. If sometimes you discipline a child for something and other times you don’t, that’s confusing.

Now I think one of the reasons we do that is because sometimes their disobedience bothers us or embarrasses us so we get upset enough to do something about it and other times, we are busy with something else or we just are in a more relaxed mood and so we overlook it. But what you need to understand is that your children’s obedience to you is not really about you. Paul says children obey your parents in the Lord and so it’s about their relationship to God, that is important and we need to note it, your children obey you as a way of obeying God, it’s not just obey your parents, it’s obey your parents in the Lord, and so when they disobey you it’s not about you only, it’s about them disobeying God and the thing about that is whether you are in a relaxed mood or not, whether you are busy or not, that’s serious, to disobey God, you don’t get to just pick and choose when you want to obey God and what commands you would like to obey and your children need to know that. When you allow your children to disobey you, you actually are teaching them not to fear God.

You make it much easier for your children to obey if you are consistent, because you see, children are really smart and they can figure out very quickly whether you are a person who means what you say or not.

If your children know that when you say to do something, you mean to do something, they will be much more likely to do it; but if your children know that when you say to do something, sometimes you mean do it and sometimes you don’t mean to do it, they will be much less likely to do what you ask.

We make it difficult for our children to obey, when we are harsh and unfair in our expectations and this is something that Paul is going to deal with in Ephesians 6 verse 4, when he says Fathers do not provoke your children to anger.

We as parents, we think very hard about the rules that we set in our family, and in fact, we try not to set too many rules, because the rules we have, we expect our children to obey. Obedience isn’t easy and if you are the kind of person who has a rule about everything, you are going to tire your children out, because they are not machines, they are little people.

And when you set rules and when you ask for obedience, think too about the way in which you do it. Think about who you are talking to, what age is this child, what is he or she capable of doing; think about whether or not you have actually taught the child what they need to do in order to obey, if you say clean your room and yet you haven’t told them what that means or shown them the steps involved in cleaning their room, you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t do it exactly the way you do it; think about what the child is doing when you ask them to obey, if you are over at a friend’s house and they are playing, yeah sure you can go in there and say it’s time to go, we are leaving now, but at the same time, they are a person and leaving your friends, you like some notice, don’t you, and so you might make it easier for them to obey by giving them some warning; think too about ways in which you can speak to them, if you come into the room and it’s late at night and they are reading; you could just turn off the switch and say, that’s it buddy, you are done, or you could come in and say something like, how many pages until you are done, or honey it’s getting late, let’s try to wrap up your reading by the end of this page; another simple way to make obedience for your children is to be reasonable and to help them learn how and when to respectfully ask questions about the rules you are giving them. It’s not right for a child ever to look at you and say you are dumb I am going to do what I want because it is better; but I am going to tell you a little secret, sometimes I don’t always give the best instructions and so I try to be proactive and caring and not just to give rules and not give a rip but to notice, and what does that mean, it means I expect them to obey to have a heart that wants to obey, but I will keep my eyes open and notice when my daughters are struggling to obey and I will let them know that I notice and this is especially better as they grow older, I will ask questions sometimes and say hey girls, I will ask, what is hard about what I am asking you to do and I am not asking that in a proud way, like hey why is this hard for you, but really help me understand and sometimes they will say things that I hadn’t thought about and I don’t just pretend then that I know everything but I am willing at times to change because I have now more information.

Finally, we make it difficult for our children to obey when we are not serious about obedience to God ourselves.

There is a lot of hypocrisy that goes on in parenting, I think where parents are calling and expecting their children to act in ways that they themselves are not serious about. You want your children to respect your rules and your wisdom, but you don’t respect God’s rule and wisdom. It’s not surprising then that your children aren’t listening to what you say to them, they are instead imitating what you show them.

One of the ways we as parents can help our children do what God commands them to do is by doing what God commands us to do, without delay, excuse or challenge.

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