As the Twig Is Bent
A young tree (twig) needs to be attached to a stake (rod) in order to grow straight and tall, so too a child needs to be attached to a rod – the Word of God applied — to grow straight and tall spiritually, because his nature is sinful and his direction needs to be reversed. Parents are the agents God has chosen to attach that rod of correction (the Word of God applied).
How Do Parents Attach the Rod?
In His Word, God gives three directives to parents. They are to teach, to model, and to administer discipline.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses, after repeating God's commands to the people of Israel, exhorted them that "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." He then laid out the method by which this was to occur. "Impress them on your children." In today's parlance, the word "impress" is not too impressive. What the original word "impress" really means is to "carve." Parents are not to merely "acquaint" their children with the truths of God. They are actually to carve these truths of God upon their children so that they are literally framed and shaped by them in much the same way that the famous sculptor Michelangelo carved out of an unyielding block of marble, his beautiful Pieta.
For parents, the carving process involves talking about God's truth "when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" – in other words, all the time. All of life is to be lived in God's presence. Parents are also to "carve" by tying God's truths "as symbols on your hands," and by binding them "on their foreheads," thus increasing their children's awareness of their own accountability to God for what their hands touch and do, and for what their minds entertain.
Parents are also exhorted to "write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates," thus advertising for all to see, that this house and all its occupants walk in the ways of the Lord. What a contrast to the timidity and shame which characterizes so much of the Christian community today! In our culture big ideological changes and paradigm shifts have been achieved by small numbers of people – for example, the feminist movement by the NOW organization of women, and the New Age mass-marketing of pagan spirituality called New Age thinking. If all closet Christians would obey the injunctions of Deuteronomy 6 (which are not options), the impact on our culture would be enormous. It's because too many parents who call themselves Christians have not passionately and joyfully pursued the mandates of Deuteronomy 6, that pagan thinking and behaving is succeeding. Too many Christian parents are afraid of saturating their children with God, causing them to rebel. But that will not happen if parents enforce the truths of God consistently, model their own conformity to God's standards and surround their teaching, discipline and modeling with love, prayer and sensitivity to the maturation level of their children.
Important times for parents to utilize for the nurture of their children are Sunday afternoons for catechism preparation (which is suffering seriously today), mealtimes and bedtimes. These can be opportunities for regular instruction in and discussion of the Word of God, perhaps using different sections of the Scripture for each. Choose good Bible storybooks for the younger children, good devotionals and study materials for the older children. Insist on meals together, especially morning and evening as much as possible. That may involve talking to school coaches as it did in our case. Bedtime devotions were always my favorite time as a mom. Different age children went to bed at different times, which gave me the opportunity to share the successes and failures, joys and frustrations of the day, as well as relevant portions of Scripture and prayer. When the children turned twelve, they began having their own private bedtime devotions. As parents, we just checked to make sure there were systematic and regular devotions happening.
It almost goes without saying that Christian parents should model what they teach to their children. But it does need saying. In my experience as a teacher in Christian schools for many years, I have seen notes written by parents to excuse their child's absence for illness, when in fact, the student was using the day for a different purpose. Does that send a message to a child that truth is relative, depending on what is convenient? When a telephone call came at an inopportune time, I've heard "Christian" parents call out, "Tell him I'm gone." What message does that send to the child?
Early in my teaching career, a student sauntered into my class carrying a briefcase. There was general giggling and nervous chit-chat surrounding the briefcase until the bell rang. I said nothing. At break time the student picked up his briefcase and headed toward the door where I was standing. "Tim," I said, "you may go, but the briefcase stays here." I stood my ground against vehement protests from Tim and his friends. When the room emptied out, I closed the door and opened the briefcase. Not completely surprised, I found it filled with pornographic pictures of nude women. I shared the pictures with the principal at the end of the day and we discussed what to do about the situation. It was decided that I should present the pictures and discuss the student's possession of them with the parents at the upcoming parent-teacher conference.
Their conference was the day before my wedding. Only mom showed up. She was devastated and admitted that the pictures came from her husband. She was the president of Mother's Club and all she could say was, "What will people think of me when they find out?" I assured her that no one would find anything out from me, only from her son. It was impossible to get her to focus on the devastating impact these pictures and the example of her husband would have on Tim's future. Even when she called my home, late that night, after our wedding rehearsal, talking for more than an hour, she was completely absorbed, not with her son's future, but with the soil this was on their family reputation.
As it turned out, Tim ended up on Skid Row in Chicago where he lay drunk in the gutters for many years. One day God lifted him up and led him to Pacific Garden Mission where he became miraculously converted — all praise to the Lord! On last report, I learned that Tim finished college and has for some years now, served as a principal of a small Christian school. He never married. How deep were the wounds of a parent's deviant behavior. But how amazing the love of God! This is a dramatic and unusual story, but the tragic scars of parents' behavior abound.
Parents, your example is a crucial factor in the development of your child. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 Paul says,
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you brothers to keep away from every brother ... who does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example ... a model for you to follow.
A dictionary defines discipline as "training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency." For the Christian parent this means the use of whatever intervention is appropriate to correct their child's nature and reverse his sinful direction. But discipline has fallen on hard days in our culture. Humanism has convinced too many Christian parents that discipline hinders true freedom and self-fulfillment. It has created a misunderstanding of love which causes some parents to say, "I love my children too much to spank them." For some parents, discipline is just too much work. But the important thing for Christian parents to understand is that discipline is not man's idea; it is God's and it is not optional. The real issues are:
- Do we love God enough to obey Him? And
- Do we love our children enough to administer the correction needed to place them on the path which leads to eternal life?
Hebrews 12:7-11 say: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Do All Three with Love
Parents have been called by God to teach and discipline their children, as they model what mature Christian behavior looks like. But all three processes must be permeated with love, and that love must be obvious to the children. Hebrews 12:5 and 6 say, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." In Revelation 3:19 Christ says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." Should we as Christian parents do any less?
Do All Three
Our focus now is on the whole picture: teaching, disciplining and modeling. "You can't have one without the others."
If all a parent does is teach, it is not enough. If a parent's life (modeling) is a contradiction of that teaching, even in ways that are considered to be small transgressions, the teaching is diminished. If a parent teaches well, but does not enforce that teaching (discipline), the teaching will be blunted.
Similarly, if a parent disciplines, but without Biblical teaching, the discipline is at best, incomplete. If the parent disciplines, but creates a different set of rules for himself (no modeling), the impact of the discipline evaporates and generates hostilities.
And finally, if a parent only models the Christian life, it will always make a positive impact; but without Biblical teaching and enforcement of that teaching (discipline) to go along with the modeling, the impact will be short-lived, a weak memory in the heart of the child.
The point I want to emphasize is that a parent must do all three concurrently and consistently through out the unfolding years of his child's life in order to make a lasting impact.
How Does the Rod Function?
The rod functions with firmness — no "love pats," no "grandma's paddle" covered with cotton batting. If the discipline doesn't hurt, it is not hard enough. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
The rod functions with speed. Don't wait for dad to come home. Don't wait until it's convenient. It never will be. Don't wait until your child is older. You will lose the war. Don't wait at all!
The rod functions with proportionate application. Don't overcorrect; don't under-correct. For smaller infractions, use lesser punishments. One father I know thrashed his son and grounded him for a week for failing to bring out the trash. But a "little lie" his son told went unpunished, even unnoticed. Are there "little lies" with God? "Deceit and falsehood I abhor," says the Lord. Is it worse to steal a thousand dollars than to steal a penny? Stealing is stealing. All sin is an affront to the holiness of God. Therefore, parents and children alike, "Pursue holiness," for "without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
The rod functions with reasonable expectations, physically and mentally. It is, for example, wrong for a parent of a retarded child to expect him to memorize ten verses, and punish him when he doesn't. It is wrong for a parent to demand hard labor from a child with physical handicaps. On the other hand, for normal children, tiredness and illness are usually not good reasons to refuse obedience. If children are too ill or too tired to go to school for example, they need to go to bed and stay there. Parents discipline for two things:
- Willful disobedience to reasonable expectations, and
- Sinful attitudes.
The rod functions with consistency. One author has said, "It is not only the severity of correction that brings obedience, but the certainty of correction as well." What Johnny gets punished for one time, he gets punished for every time. Very quickly he will stop the wrong behavior. No repeated parental request for obedience: "Johnny, pick up the toys ... I said, 'Pick up the toys'... PICK UP THE TOYS!" No increase in parental decibel level; no idle threats; no 1, 2, 3!!! In fact, no warning systems at all! No partial obedience — "Johnny pick up all the toys." So Johnny picks up most of the toys and the parent accepts that. The lack of total compliance will transfer to more serious concessions later on, and will cause the developing child to take God less seriously as well.
Your child is a precious gift to you from God. He loans the child to you and you, in complete dependence on God, train the child for God.
Your child is an image-bearer of God who needs to be surrounded with covenant nurture based on the Word of God applied. That nurture is primarily home-based, but must be reinforced (not contradicted or circumvented) by the church and school. Parents must provide this nurture by teaching, modeling and discipline, all permeated by love. Their goal is to equip their child to function as a believing prophet, priest and king spiritually, in relationships (socially), and within and sometimes over against the culture.
Obviously, parents are themselves sinful and cannot fulfill this stupendous task perfectly. But that fact may never serve as an excuse for not stretching every nerve and exhausting every resource in "pressing on" to this high goal of parenting in Christ Jesus. If we desire God's blessings, we must do things His way. His expectations are high — and they are not optional.