The Heart: The Place Discipline Truly Begins

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Well-meaning parents all over the world have tried throughout the centuries to figure out the right formula or wisdom to use in raising up a godly, responsible, emotionally and spiritually healthy child. It is right to desire to find a way to love, educate, train and discipline a child to help him become mature.

However, in our culture, so many young couples do not live around their parents and do not have good models of what a healthy family looks like, so they look to "authorities" to find their answers--usually people who speak or write books. (Scary thought, since that is what Clay and I do!)

Yet, here's an important truth: Formulas do not work!

Most parents seem to be looking for a formula--a one-easy-step guide to instantly raising up an obedient child; a one size fits all answer to every discipline question.

Over the years, I have heard so many extreme talks about child training. I have also seen many young parents follow rigid, formulaic parenting philosophies. Consequently, I have lived to see many of the children of those parents rebel, leave all the training of their parents, and even turn their hearts away from God.

The parents wring their hands, saying, "I don't understand. I followed all the books and did it just like they said!"

Thinking Biblically

We must learn to live by faith and in wisdom in the raising of our children. If God had wanted us to follow a formula, He would have given one and made it clear so we could use the ten easy rules to pop out perfect children. But He made each person with a different personality, different maturity level, and different ability!

Scripture is much more about long-term maturity than we usually want to understand and accept. God's word says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not fall away."

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until the full day." This indicates a path of life in parenting that allows for more and more light to show forth with each passing year.

In Hebrews, we read about the mature and immature--about babes who are still drinking milk and not yet ready for solid food. There, the context is of a young Christian and a mature one, with Paul allowing for growth in both instances. This is the pattern we should expect!

I tend to look at my children's growth through this lens: "It is the kindness and mercy of the Lord that leads to repentance." Romans 2:4

So where do we begin when we consider how to train a child? First, we must understand that all discipline should be focused on the heart--not behavior. Over 800 times in scripture, God talks about the heart--Love the Lord with all of your heart. God searches to and fro for a heart that is completely his. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. and so on. And yet ...  I see many extroverted children being disciplined for being louder and more talkative, even though this is not rebellion but a personality issue--or boys for being boys--sometimes with moms who want them to behave like a little lady.

God is concerned with our desire to love and obey Him. He already knows we are immature and that we take time to understand His ways. Jesus was patient with Peter and said, "Satan has desired to sift you like wheat." He predicted that Peter would fall, yet Jesus was completely supportive of His disobedient, immature disciple, assuring him "I have prayed for you, and after you have returned, strengthen the brethren." In other words, "I know you will blow it, but I will be with you, I will pray for you, and I will still use you."

And so, when we discipline our children, we must learn to look at their hearts. Is their heart rebellious? Are they being willful? Am I expecting too much from them, consideriing their age, their level of over-stimulation, the circumstances, their maturity level, or their abilities? A child should not be punished for being exhausted, immature, a boy, or for making a mistake. I make mistakes all the time, again and again. And yet scripture teaches in both the new testament and the old that maturity is as a result of training, time, growth, heart and will.

The Lifegiving Parent is our newest book, and goes further into the idea of living a life of discipleship with our children. It is available for preorder, here!

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