When I first started this parenting gig, it was all about me. *cough*
I did label my discipline efforts like most parents as “good parenting” or “christian discipleship.” But the truth is, I wanted to be a successful mom. I wanted obedient children so that MY life would be comfortable. AND I wanted their obedience to be a reflection to others.
I succeeded at my goal. It’s true. You can make a kid obey. As a classroom teacher, I learned many tricks and ways of manipulating behavior so that kids would obey. And it worked- at least for a short time anyway.
As I’ve walked through the years, I have come to realize something huge. There are many kids who obey their parents and then once they get out into the world, they walk away from God, their families, and sometimes even worse.
That was the one thing I didn’t want for my kids. I want them to learn that obedience is a good thing. It’s not something to do simply to avoid a spanking or consequence. I want them to understand that obedience is a relationship of willing and loving submission to God. And to be honest, it’s out of that obedience that my children will chose to obey me and any other authority in their lives. Without that, I really have little chance at true obedience.
As I continue to watch more and more kids rebelling against rules and parental authority, I notice one big missing link: the why behind obedience. I see it in adults, as well. Let’s take speeding for example. Do we stay under the speed limit out of willful submission? Or do we slam on the breaks when we see the cop car over the horizon? Do we obey the law because it’s right? Or just to stay out of trouble?
I think we have a very warped view of obedience on our hands. I suspect that you might be just as guilty as I know I am. The truth is—>as a Christian, we obey the law because God said so. It’s a willful submission to the authority that God has placed over us. And unless the law requires us to go against God’s law, we are to obey.
This is the kind of obedience that I want for my kids. Teaching children to WANT to obey is far more important than teaching them to look like they are obeying. And don’t worry, I get that the first few years of a child’s life don’t really apply to this principle. This is indeed the season when mom/dad need to work toward obedience without giving much explanation. But as your child enters the preschool years, it’s time to start helping them understand that there is much more to obedience than making mom smile.
Teaching children to want to obey
The first step is helping children understand the why behind obedience.
1. Obedience shows that you believe.
1 Samuel 15:22 reminds us that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” What God is trying to teach the Israelites here is that he wants them to obey FAR more than he wants them to pay for their sins through sacrifice.
The same is true for us. Obedience is one way that we show God that we believe that He will do what He said He will do. It’s one way that we can outwardly show our inward disposition toward God. He does forgive us when we mess up, but He desires that we strive first to not mess up. That is how we demonstrate true belief.
Conversely, disobedience reveals the exact opposite. It uncovers our depravity, our futile and selfish desires to have things our own way rather than God’s. When we disobey God it’s like telling Him that He isn’t enough or that we aren’t sure if He will come through for us.
2. Obedience shows love.
Our choice to obey God demonstrates our love for Him. Jesus told His disciples that if they loved Him, they would obey His commands. (John 14:15) It doesn’t get much clearer than that! A person who really loves Jesus will be constantly striving toward obedience. Not constantly trying to figure out how close he/she can get to the line without going over. (Or calculating how he will be forgiven when he decides to stop sinning.)
It’s in our choice to obey that we demonstrate love for God and what a privilege we have! God has given so much for us that if we truly love Him, we won’t be able to squelch our desire to do anything we can do to show love toward Him.
3. Obedience is a witness to others.
Of course it would be like a perfect and holy God to build this part into the equation. When we obey God, our life shines a light that is so attractive to others that they can’t help but see God. Conversely, disobedience to God, parents, and/or authority is a huge blow on our testimony to other people.
I remind my kids of this often. Usually with the question, “what kind of witness are you being right now?” It’s important to me that they understand that every single choice they make is influential in the life of those around them.
When we disobey God, parents, and/or authority, we are either influencing a Christian in a negative way or showing a non-Christian that we don’t take God very seriously. Either one isn’t what we are aiming for as God’s children.
Pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor said, ““Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.” I believe others see our lives that way, too. They don’t weigh out the good things with the bad things and try and decide if we qualify as a Christian. It’s either all or nothing.
In the words of the children’s song, “you can’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.”
The second step is helping children understand the how behind obedience.
Little children do not even have the power to obey. They will always fail. It’s through salvation in Christ that we get the power to obey. (1 peter 1:3)
No, we will never get it right 100% of the time. Yes, the standard that we set in the outline above is a high one. It’s worthy for the striving, but we are going to fail.
Instead of getting frustrated with their failures (and mine), I’ve learned to teach my children to ask God for help. They pray prayers such as “God help me to obey when I get mad” or “God help me to listen to your voice when I’m heading down the wrong path.”
As adults we ask God to help us, so why not teach our kids to do the same? I also pray for my children (in front of them) that God would give them a desire to obey Him and the strength to chose the right thing. Oh and I pray that for myself in front of my children, too.
I truly believe that it’s in the humble submission that they see in me that they will find the desire to strive to obey themselves. Otherwise, the temptation to give up the “try hard” game will be high. They will find themselves in a heap of disappointing behaviors with no hope that they can ever do any better. They need to know that even as adults we struggle with obedience to God and that the only solution is to ask God to help us…DAILY!
Of course, the most important thing I do is to teach my children what God’s word says about obedience. They need to understand how God feels about this important topic and they need to read it straight from His word, not from my lips.
And that’s why I’ve developed a brand new Bible study that covers the topic of obedience, both what I discussed above and digging even deeper. I’d love to tell you more about it! Click here and let’s get started!