Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teaching Children Joyful Obedience

We had thejoyfilledwife and her family over during the holidays so our families could meet each other. When they left, several of my children commented on how well-behaved her children were. When her husband asked anything of them, they would cheerfully respond, "Yes, Dad!" and do whatever was asked of them immediately. I asked her to write a post about how they accomplished this joyful obedience in their children ~

As I am out running errands, playing at the park with our children, or just enjoying a nice meal out with the family, I am always struck by the interaction {or lack thereof} between  parents and children surrounding us. It’s not uncommon to hear disrespectful exchanges, sassy responses, and downright rebellion whenever a parent gives a directive to their child. Regardless of how frequently we see this behavior, it still catches us off guard and upsets our spirit. This is not the way things should be! Delayed obedience is still disobedience and a lackluster, half hearted apology is no apology at all. It seems that parents are more concerned with their child’s behavior than the state of their heart, and that they are so relieved to just hear the word “sorry” that they fail to acknowledge the lack of true repentance behind it.

My husband and I believe that the Lord is less concerned with our behavior than He is our heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We believe this verse reveals that looks can be deceiving. Things may SEEM right outwardly, but a closer look will often tell a different story. Jeremiah 17:10 says that the Lord searches the heart and examines the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve. This brings up a very important point to note: Our heart and our thoughts almost always lead to actions {deeds}. Therefore, if we can deal with the sin in our children’s hearts first, instead of just responding to their actions, you will find that a pure heart will change behavior.

In our home, we teach our children to obey joyfully, whether we are giving them a directive or just letting them know that we are all done playing and the toys need to be put away. We don’t accept half hearted apologies or the right words spoken in the wrong spirit because that shows us that there is sin and rebellion in their heart. True, we call our children to obey out of obedience to Christ even when they don’t feel like it, but we work diligently on addressing their heart while we call them to that obedience. 90% of the time, our children end up coming to a place of true repentance and joyful obedience when we address things this way. Our children are so used to us dealing with the heart right away that all we usually have to do when we see poor behavior now is ask, “Do you have sin in your heart?” and they immediately admit, “Yes, I do.” Then we help them work through it on the spot. Sometimes they don’t even need our help and correct their own spirit. That is always precious to see because that humble discipline will serve them well as they get older and eventually are no longer under our care and direction.

We’ve taught our children from toddlerhood to respond to us with “Yes, Mom” or “Yes, Dad” in a joyful tone. If there is mumbling, rolling of the eyes, poor posture {representing an unwilling and lazy spirit}, or another visible heart issue in their response, we address it right then and there. Some people may be concerned that doing so would just teach our children how to “fake” the right response, but we have not seen this to be the case. We know our children well and the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom to see the true state of their hearts in these instances. We have also found that using Scripture to address a sinful heart makes a HUGE difference! We don’t just sit there lecturing them, but ask them what Scripture says about their heart and behavior. Here is a real-life example ~

SCENE: Our child is not obeying the first time we ask them to do something and is now beginning to argue with us. We want to teach them to identify their sin and how to handle it in a Biblical way by the following type of conversation/discipline ~

Parent: “Honey, do you think you are acting with a right heart?”
Child: “No.”
Parent: “And what are you doing that’s wrong?”
Child: “I’m arguing with you.”
Parent: “What does the Word of God say about arguing?”
Child: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” {Philippians 2:14}
Parent: “Why?”
Child: “So that I may become a blameless and pure child of God.” {Philippians 2:15a}
Parent: “That’s right, honey. After you receive your discipline, what do you think you should do to deal with the sin in your heart and make things right?”
Child: “I should apologize to you and to the Lord. Then I should do what you asked me to right away with a happy heart!” {We usually see a heart that has become sincerely joyful and obedient at this point, provided we haven’t dealt with them harshly or in a non Christ-like manner.}

END SCENE: The child is disciplined further, if needed, or this verbal correction may be adequate {depending on the state of their heart and how great the offense}. After they ask for forgiveness to whomever they have sinned against, they ask the Lord’s forgiveness and for His help to develop a heart of obedience. This is one of our most cherished times as parents because we get to catch a glimpse of our child’s heart being reconciled.

***The picture is Cassi and Steven when they were young. Thejoyfilledwife wishes to remain anonymous. My children were very cheerful and obeyed us quickly.