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About this series
Effective Parenting in a Defective World
How to Raise Kids Who Stand Out from the Crowd
Raising children is a tough challenge in today's world. Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today.More from this series
When I was a young dad, I remember, I have four children, and I remember, at times, coming home late from a meeting or maybe being out of town. And the house is quiet and we had a small, little house with really tiny bedrooms that were all one, two, three, and then ours was over here.
And I could turn off all the lights except the bathroom light and get just enough light and I had been out and so I would gaze and see my little girl there. Little girls, when they sleep, look like angels.
And then my youngest son, he looks like he and the covers have been doing battle. And then the twins were in the last bedroom and sometimes when you’re really keyed up, you’re not really quite ready to go to bed, and I would go out, sit in a chair, and turn on the little light, and I would just think, Oh, God, what are you going to do in these kids? What’s their future?
And then I would have this terrifying thought, And what part are we, as parents, supposed to play? What is my role to help them become all that You want them to be? I know You have a dream for them. In fact, Your Word says, “Eye hasn’t seen or ear heard, or entered into the heart of man all the good that You have stored up for those that love You.”
And then the years went by and all my kids got older and older and I would have the light on, and I would sit in the chair and I would be ready to go to bed and they were all out, right? The teenagers are out doing their thing, and they decide, like, nine thirty or ten, “What do you want to do tonight?”
The twins are away in college and I had that same terrifying thought, it was just a different one, like, Oh, man, I’ve got a sophomore in high school, I’ve got a senior, I’ve got two in college. What am I supposed to do? How do I cooperate with You?
Does anyone here ever share those kinds of fears and feelings? Yeah? Well, we are going to talk about how to cooperate with God to develop your child’s full potential. God does have a dream. He has a plan. He’s got a plan for all the world, but He has a plan for every one of your children and mine.
If you’ll open your notes, we are going to look at five specific keys. And I just want to warn you, we have been inundated with thoughts and culture about what we ought to do as parents, because we care and we want to raise our kids well. But what you’re about to hear is God’s agenda and often it’s counter to what a lot of us have been told.
And for those of us, like myself – I didn’t grow up as a Christian, I never opened the Bible – what God has to say about being a parent was really different than what I experienced or what I heard.
So we are going to do a top-line picture of what that is and then we are going to go on a journey together. And I will just tell you, on the front end, you’ll probably need some other parents and some other support to actually do what we are going to talk about. But if you do, God really does have a great plan for your kids.
Key number one is that you must understand your child’s two primary needs are for significance and security. The little human being, whether it’s a brand-new baby, a two-year-old, a twelve-year-old, a twenty-two-year-old, a thirty-two-year old – I have learned – they are still your kids. And they still have the same two needs: significance and security.
Significance is: Am I a somebody? Do I really matter? Security is: Am I safe and do I belong? And so, intrinsically, your children are always asking two questions. One: Do you love me? Basically, by your body language, by your actions, by your words, by what you do, by what you don’t do – Do I belong? Do I matter? Am I valued? Am I wanted? Am I accepted? Inside, they are always asking that question.
The second question they are asking is: Where are the boundaries? And that’s like, Who is in charge? Is there someplace safe? The little hearts they have and the big hearts they have, you tell any kid, “Here’s the line. Don’t cross that line.” What do you know in three minutes? Right? Because I’ve got it in me and you’ve got it in you.
And what they need to know is there are boundaries. And what that produces, those boundaries, when you are consistent about, “No, you can’t have your own selfish way,” produces security and safety and self-esteem.
The perfect parent, God, when He created us as His children, you’ll notice in chapter 1 of Genesis, He said, “You are significant; you are made in My image. Here is all that I have for you. I have created all this for you. I am going to walk in the garden with you. You matter. You’re loved, accepted.”
And then in chapter 2 He said, “Now, here are the boundaries. All of this is available, but don’t go there.” Significance. Security.
The second key to developing your child’s full potential is you must recognize your child’s primary responsibility is to learn obedience. And just lean back, because there is a huge implication. That means your number one priority as a parent, your number one priority, is to teach your child to obey. Your number one priority is not to make them successful, your number one priority is not to make them happy.
Your number one priority is to teach them to obey you and then later obey God. There is only one verse in the Bible that I can find in all the New Testament that speaks directly to children. I have put it in your notes.
Listen carefully, this is what God says to your son or your daughter. “Children, it is your Christian duty,” and underline this word, “to obey your parents” – well, why? “for this is the right thing to do.”
Then quoting one of the Ten Commandments, “Respect your father and your mother,” is the first commandment that has a promise added to it. Notice why God wants your children to learn to obey you and ultimately learn to obey Him, “…so that all may go well with you and you may live long in the land.”
Obedience is the channel through which God’s best plans get fulfilled for your son or your daughter.
The definition I have of obedience here in your notes is: Obedience is teaching your child to come under the hearing of your voice. That’s different than: They just need to do what is right because you said so.
The word for obedience in the New Testament is a compound word: hupo, that means, “to be under,” and akouo, that means, “to hear.” You can see some “akouo” guitars, right? Acoustic guitars?
And, see, what God really wants your children, here’s obedience: When you speak – not yell, not scream – when you speak and you tell your child, “Do this or don’t do that,” they come under the hearing of your voice and they obey you, not simply doing right, but submitting to you out of a good attitude, from the heart, out of relationship, the first time you tell them something.
Now, what I want to tell you is most of us parents don’t take that very seriously, at least I didn’t as an early parent. But I had an experience that changed my view of obedience.
To me it was like, Tell your kids to do this, but down deep you don’t really expect them to do it a lot of the time. And then you just learn to live with it.
Theresa and I were taking a walk with our family when they were small. My oldest sons were very small, about five years old, and we are doing the little walking on the sidewalks and there’s a driveway here and a driveway here and my one son was adventuresome so he would run ahead and, “Hi, hi!” and run ahead.
And that was okay. But as we were coming, there were hedges. And the hedges came like this and when you’re five years old, you’re only this tall, and the hedge was this high. And I would say to my son, “Stop! Stop!” And he would look at me and wave and just keep running. Has anyone had any of your kids do that? Ever? Right?
Okay, now, here’s the scary part. Because actually I think it’s kind of cute. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And he’s running pretty fast! And as an old, ex-jock, you say, Oh, way to go, son! But it’s not funny at all because now I see a truck coming out of the driveway going about thirty miles an hour and picking up speed. Guess what? There are hedges, he can’t see my little boy. And so I say, “Eric! Stop!” And you see this coming? This is a direct collision.
And he laughs at me and he runs and he runs across and that car, whoo, goes by. And you know what I learned? I learned that I did not take teaching my son obedience – he was not under the hearing of my voice. And my lack of diligence almost cost him his life.
Parents, listen really carefully. If your son or daughter and, by the way, the earlier the better, if they do not learn to come under the hearing of your voice, and you are a parent that they can see, how do you expect them to hear the voice of their heavenly Father who they cannot see?
Because they are going to be fourteen years old and they are going to hear God’s voice say, Don’t get in that car and go with those kids and do that. You know that’s wrong. And someone is going to say to them, “You know something? You ought to come to this party. And you know what? It doesn’t hurt you. You ought to try this at least once.” And they are going to hear God’s voice and they are either going to learn, because of their practice with you to know the safest, best, most significant and fulfilling place to ever be is under the voice of obeying your mother or father. And if they don’t learn it from you, the likelihood of them learning it from their heavenly Father is very slim.
So their number one job, and it’s hard! This is really hard. And we have all, we all struggle here, okay? I remember when I was trying to learn this and it took such effort.
You know when you go to some friends’ house and you’re all hanging out together and the kids, especially when they are smaller, when they are ripping through the house and every toy in the house is out and things are a complete mess? And this is how most of us do it. You’re with this other, maybe, couple and you say, “Hey, we really need to go.”
And that means we are going to stop in the kitchen, talk for a little bit more, and then after talking we are going to get near the door and talk a little bit more. But you tell the kids, right? I have seen this so many times. Now, this is self-confession. “Okay, guys! Clean up those toys! Got to get to go right now!”
And you watch these two five-year-olds. They don’t even budge. They don’t even budge because our kids are way better students of us than we are of them. And so then you move from the kitchen, you’re getting near the door, and you really do need to go. “Hey! Hey! Hey, guys. Didn’t I just tell you? Come on, now. Let’s go. Pick that stuff up!”
These two five-year-olds, Legos, they’re still putting together. If we could read their minds it’s like, This means absolutely nothing. In a couple minutes, we might have to go.
And then they hear this from one of us, “Hey! Didn’t I tell you? Pick up those toys right now. Get those toys up there.” Now, I’m embarrassed with these people. “Right now!” And the kid calmly looks at his friend and goes, “I think we’ve got to go.”
You know a different picture? And it takes such time and such diligence. But, see, that child has learned when you scream, when you’re upset, when you act like that, there are probably consequences, so they need to respond.
The other option is you walk over to those kids that are three, four, five, six, seven – depending on their personality and how off the charts they are – and you get their little face and you look into their eyes, “Bobby? No, Bobby?” “Yeah?” “We are going to leave in two minutes. You can play for one more minute and then you pick up your toys. Bobby? Do you understand? Okay. We are going to be right there and I’m going to tell you in one minute to pick up the toys. Got it?” “Yeah.”
You walk over here, “Hey, we really need to go. Okay, Bobby? It’s time. Pick them up right now.” And especially if you’re a father, you use your father voice. The deep voice. The deep voice that says to them, This is not a warning, this is not an option, I mean it right now. You are calm, you’re clothed, you’re in your right mind, and if he doesn’t move, consequences happen rapidly.
And you know what that little boy and that little girl learn? They learn that when you say, going through the grocery store, “No, we can’t have that today,” they don’t act like they’re on drugs, “Ahhhhhh! Mom! What’s going to happen?” Have you seen this in the grocery stores, right?
Or, like, Target, “I’ve got to have these toys!” They’re throwing them in the basket and parents are going, I’m so embarrassed, I guess I’ll just buy it. Teach your kids to obey your voice. Calmly, with consequences, with rewards, with love, and with tenderness. It’s a hard job. It takes a lot of time.
Most five-year-olds are running the world. That’s why McDonalds markets to them. “Where are we going to go to eat?” “I don’t want that!” Why do they call it a “Happy Meal?” Right?
Third, you must remember that obedience is a developmental process. Now, what I mean by this is that children don’t just learn to obey. Just as they physically develop, just as they mentally develop, and just as they morally develop you need to understand that they are involved in a process. Just like there are seasons, there is a way that a two-year-old, a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, eleven-year-old, a thirteen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and a twenty-two-year-old – they think differently. Their bodies are different; the hormones are different.
You need to understand that learning obedience is different at different stages, but this is our number one job, because obedience is the channel through which God’s biggest and best plans for your child are delivered, that it might be well with them.
Notice the passage here. “Although He was a Son,” speaking of Jesus, “He learned obedience from what He suffered.” Perfect deity, but perfect humanity. He went through the normal process. Jesus had to learn to obey. If Jesus had to learn to obey, think about our kids.
And then notice the developmental process in Luke 2:52: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and favor with men.” Wisdom, intellectual development; stature, physical development; favor with God, spiritual development; favor with men, social development.
And so I put a little chart here, you’ll notice, it says, “Spiritual formation and mental development. Literally, it’s mental and moral development.
My background before I went to seminary was in education and psychology and sports psychology and educational psychology. So, how do kids learn? And how do people learn and how do they grow?
And the little chart you see is from a fellow named Lawrence Kohlberg, who made his life’s study to examine: how do little children at various stages grow? How do their minds work so that they learn, both mentally and morally?
Because what I would suggest is when you don’t understand how God has made children, we often do the very opposite of what they need.
And so notice the little chart here. When a child is zero to about four or five years of age, notice underneath, they just think in concrete terms. Explanations about why and, “You shouldn’t do that,” and, “Say you’re sorry because of this,” and, “These three passages,” and, “The sanctification process is about this and these four verses and this lecture.” They are four years old. Right, wrong, just information. They just need to know the rules. What is right? What is wrong?
As they get beyond that into the six, nine, ten, eleven, and by the way, it’s a very sliding scale because kids mature at different times – mentally, morally, spiritually, physically.
And then you want to tie obedience to the “who” – relationship. This is right, this is wrong, but it’s about a love relationship. “I want you to do this out of respect for me. I want you to treat your brother like this because you care for him. When you disobey or when you lie to me,” nine, ten, eleven-year-old, “do you understand what it does to our relationship?”
So obedience goes from simply what is right and what is wrong to “who”. And so write that above that. As they get older, and for some, as early as eleven, for most people it’s going to be in the early teens. And so somewhere between eleven to fourteen, fifteen, their developmental reasoning is happening and they can now think in more abstract ways. And so now you want to begin to not just say, “This is right; this is wrong, and out of relationship.”
The first is about the “what,” the next is about the “who,” this is about the “why.” Why can’t I go with my friends to that movie? Why can’t I do what everyone else is doing? Why do we, as a family, have to do this? A very bad answer is, “Because I said so, that’s why!” That frustrates kids. They can reason now. They now understand: This is the truth, this is the “what”, this is the “who” of the relationship with God, and this is the “why”: Here’s the damage it could do. This is the problem that it would create.
And then, finally, when they get into somewhere between sixteen to their very early twenties, you really want them to have resolve. And what I mean by that is you want them to make their own decisions and you go from, in the early days, you’re the commander, right? “This is the way it is.”
Then you turn from the commander to the instructor. Okay? “I care about you.” And then you go from the instructor to the coach, “This is why.” And then you literally, in the later years, you’re becoming a consultant. And what you really want them to do is learn to make the right decisions for the right reason in relationship to God and you and other people.
And that creates a very, very different approach. This is outlined, some of you are looking at me like, Wow, these have huge implications. These have huge implications. We ended up putting this in a book form called, Effective Parenting in a Defective World, where I develop it a lot more.
Because here’s our tendency; here’s what we do. When you’re a young parent, you so want to do it right and you want your kids to turn out so right. And we do things like this, like, a three-year-old and a four-year-old, they are fighting, or a five-year-old. And we get them together, “Now, you two, you need to say you’re sorry. You need to confess your sins. Have you memorized 1 John 1:9? Say that to him. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ Okay. Then here’s what I…”
And we have these long explanations. They’re four! They are five years old! Or we say, “Now, do you have Jesus in your heart?” And the kid will say, “I don’t think there’s room there! He’s very big!” They can only think in…
So we talk, talk, talk, talk instead of behavior, calmness, reward, consequences. And then they get to be teenagers. Well, we are still fearful, but we are worn out, you know?
And so, they say, “I don’t understand why… all the other kids… and his dad is even… he goes to church too! And they are seeing this movie and they are going to have a stay-over night. And his parents aren’t home, but you should really trust me. And I don’t understand! He’s only been to juvenile detention once and he said he was sorry! Why can’t I go?”
And your answer is, “Because I said so! And I’m the mom,” or, “I’m the dad!” And they slam the door and go to their room and you don’t talk.
When they are small, you are kind, you are calm, you are under control. There are consequences, there is behavior, very short explanations. The older they get, and they have all those questions, you say, “Wow, that is a great question. You know what? Let’s go grab a Coke or a cup of coffee; let’s talk about it.”
And you say, “Okay, let’s…” and this is where, as a parent, you say, “I’ve been reading in the Proverbs and the Proverbs, in 13:20, says that, ‘He who dwells with wise men will be wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.’ And you know what? You just hang around the wrong people, this is always what happens. And I love you and your mom loves you and we are for you. And this a boundary that I really can’t budge on. And I understand it, but this is the ‘why’ behind it.”
Now, they may not go, “Oh, Dad, Mom, thanks so much! I get it now! And you even read a verse from the Bible! I just feel ooey-gooey inside.” No, no, no, no. But what they will be treated like is an adult and they will have a reason and a “why.”
When they get a little bit older, right? And they want to do something and it’s grey. And down deep you know this is not the best thing, okay? This is where you want to develop convictions.
And so often, my kids, they are seventeen or late-sixteen, seventeen, and they are saying, “I really want to do this,” and you are thinking, I do not feel good about this. I don’t think it’s a good idea. But the worst that can happen is a fender-bender. You know what I mean by that? No one is going to die, probably. It’s not going to be good.
And so instead of saying, “no,” I often, when I got to here, because I want them to get resolve, I’d say, “Well, you know what?” And then I remember when they would start looking at me, “So what I want you to do is I want you to just pray about this for twenty-four, forty-eight hours.” “What? You mean whether I can go on this thing with this group and do…?” “Yeah. I just want you to pray. You ask God whether you think this is good and then let’s get together in twenty-four or forty-eight hours and you tell me how God is leading you and why you think it’s a good idea.”
Now, at times they made the decision that I didn’t think was very good. But they processed it, they owned it, they did it. And sometimes when it wasn’t very good, guess what, they got the consequences; it wasn’t very good. And other times, I was actually surprised, when I put the ball in their court it was like, “No. I know. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Nah, I’m not going to go.”
Do you see? When you want to develop obedience, you need to understand the age of your child and the moral development, because the goal, the goal is they learn to obey – from the heart – you, and even more importantly then, God.
When you want to develop obedience, you need to understand the age of your child and the moral development, because the goal, the goal is they learn to obey – from the heart – you, and even more importantly then, God.
Two principles I have found undergird this. One is the Principle of Readiness and the other is the Principle of Responsibility. Because if you’re sitting here going, Now, like, how would you really do this?
The Principle of Readiness is stated here is: Only teach your children what they are mentally and emotionally capable of learning. And what I mean by that is, here you’ve got, I see this happen all the time, you’ve got this five-year-old. And they can only think in concrete terms. And you’re trying to teach them something that is very abstract.
It’s much easier to see in the physical realm. Five-year-olds, with few exceptions, have very limited motor skills. They are still developing. Five-year-olds, some develop faster and are ready and able to read, and others can’t, and shouldn’t.
But you have been inundated in a culture that says, “Earlier, earlier, earlier the better.” And if I don’t start early, they’re going to miss something. And so that’s why we have many of you spending most of your life in minivans and SUVs eating, and your entire world on weekends in youth sports, because someone told you that if your five-year-old isn’t on a soccer team yet, what’s going to happen?
And so then when you go to a soccer game of five or six or even seven-year-olds or a baseball game, you have all these parents screaming on the sidelines and then you have twenty-one of twenty-two people all clustered, kicking a ball, with one kid over sitting like this, picking dandelions.
Or you have this group is up to bat, and it’s father pitch or this and they are all…eye/hand coordination develops later. But someone saw Tiger Woods, years ago, start really early and convinced all of us that the earlier, the earlier, the earlier the better, the better, the better – even educationally.
All the research is this: Start them reading at three, start them reading at four, start them reading at five. I’ve got news. By age nine, they’re all exactly at the same level. But do you realize the pressure?
You know what you do to young athletes when their motor skills aren’t developed? And in all these youth sports – you tell me if this is wrong. There are only two or three kids that are the stars, right? Why? They developed early!
So a lot of kids that could end up being great athletes or actually good academically, their experience is, Man, I’m five years old, I’m no good! At seven years old, I’m no good! Well, that’s because their motor skills don’t kick in until later.
But it is out of our fear instead of our cooperation with how God designed our kids. And you want a great athlete? This is all my sports psychology background. You want a great athlete, because some of you really think that’s important, which is, you know…
I played college basketball, I coached, I’m for sports. Go in the backyard with your five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old, eight-year-old; kick the ball; invite a few friends over; look into their eyes; help them learn their skills; have him not compare everything and think that the whole thing about sports is, Wow, I’ve got a really cool uniform and these thirty-five dollar shoes that Mom and Dad got me. And I didn’t do anything! I get a little trophy, in fact, I’ve got six of them now. And what I realize is whether you’re good or bad or whatever, you always get a trophy because the world is all about me! And I really want to be a narcissist, so thank you for the help!
And so readiness. We blew it, just so you don’t feel so bad, our oldest, he’s five minutes older than his twin brother. And yet, this is the control group, experimental group. Born, same family, five minutes apart. And this one was ready, jumped into school, their birthday is August. So, oh, kindergarten. They just turned five. Oh! We can’t be behind! I’ve got to love my kids.
And so we put them both in school. Well, one was great. The other, my lands, he struggled. First grade, he struggled. By second grade, I’m hiring, I’ve got no money, I’m hiring a tutor to help him read! And my wife – and then he gets into school later and it’s like every night in third grade – why? Because his not-very-wise father pushed him too hard, too early, and then he had zero confidence in school.
Now, he happens to be the one now that has more education than anybody in the family. He’s a great student. It had nothing to do with intelligence. It had everything to do with readiness.
I could tell you the story of when I got my boys. I played baseball in college so, Hey! My boys, hey, baseball! Right? They have no eye/hand coordination. They hate baseball! Why? Because their silly father wanted them to do something that he vicariously thought, I’m not going to go there. You apply whatever, may the Lord speak to you if He shall.
The second is the Principle of Responsibility. Never habitually do for your children what they can do for themselves.
The other mindset that we developed and the busier you are and especially if both of you are working, what we tend to do is we want our kids to be happy, we want them to be successful, and there’s probably some various levels of guilt. And so what we do is we do everything for them. And it feels so right because we are caring for them.
If you want your kids to grow and learn to obey and, by the way, if you want them to have a very positive self-esteem, you need to feed them responsibility like vitamins.
At two years old, they actually can help, or three, they help make the bed. And they do a terrible job and it takes longer. But they will feel like…
And then by five or six, they have a job and they actually take out the trash. And they spill it. By seven or eight they’re on a stool and they get to help a little bit with supper and it takes longer. By eight, nine, or ten, they gather their laundry and they learn how to push this button and that button and they fold them terribly.
By twelve, thirteen, fourteen, they pack their own lunch. By the time they are in junior high, they have their own alarm, they learn to get up on their own, and there isn’t this parent going, “It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up! You’re going to be late!”
It’s like this part of us, if we could just step back and look at how we parent, we’d think, Who is out of control here?
And then I see two parents exhausted, working hard, either you’re picking up food all the time or you decide, We really want to be a kind of family – he talked about eating together. We’re going to eat together, and so the mother is fixing and the father is trying to help out. And they are just exhausted and there’s all this stuff to do.
And one kid is playing video games and the other is surfing the net and the other is just kind of hanging out and he’s got his feet up on the La-Z-Boy going, “Hey, Mom! Dad! Supper ready?” What’s wrong with this picture?
See, every one of your kids ought to have a number of very clear jobs and you give them responsibility and here’s what happens to them: they feel and grow in confidence.
When you tell someone, “Oh, no, no, don’t help me put them in the dishwasher. I can do it, I can do it,” you know what you say to your kid? “You’re not competent. You’re not worthwhile. You can’t make it.”
And so then, we’re just completely shocked, aren’t we? Aren’t we just dismayed? Like, Wow, I’ve got a seventeen-year-old who thinks the whole world is about them, that they should go to whatever college they want to because it’s about them. And we went to church, I sent them to this school, we even had some family devotions. And…wow…what happened? After all I did for them.
Well, guess what, you sow and you reap. If we sow, even unintentionally with the best of motives, All the world revolves around you. You should have the best of this and the best of this and never suffer. And if there’s a problem with a coach, I’ll stand in. If there’s a problem at school, I’ll go down to the school. If you have a problem with someone else, I’ll step in. I’ll take care of you. I’ll take care of you.
Guess what, you have a seventeen or eighteen-year-old who is thinking the whole world should take care of them. Your child’s two greatest needs are for significance and security. The number one responsibility they have, and your number one priority is to teach them obedience.
And you must, you must understand that learning obedience is a developmental process: mentally, morally, spiritually, and physically. Does that make sense?
Fourth, you must commit to providing the necessary resources for your children to learn obedience.
My dad came out of a generation that you put food on the table and you provide shelter, that’s what you do. And when you do that, you’re done. But what my dad didn’t know was that’s not God’s plan for a father. You realize so many of these verses, it starts out, “Fathers; fathers; fathers, don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
This is an article that I have kept in this folder. It’s a little bit dated, but unfortunately, I don’t think the statistics are. The title of the article, it’s Fortune magazine, it’s, Why Grade A Executives Get an F as Parents. It says, “For all their brains and competence, powerful, successful executives and professionals often have more trouble raising their kids than everyone except for the very poor. Alas, the intensity, single-mindedness that makes for corporate achievement is often the opposite qualities needed to be an effective parent.”
It goes on and does actual research. It says, “When AT&T was in the throes of divesting all their operating managers and top executives,” it discovered that their children were the greatest cause of stress among all top executives. They did research, then, into their insurance and found that top executives in corporate America, thirty percent of their kids had psychiatric or outpatient care for depression, behavioral issues, or drug addiction.
Total normal people, quote, in the company was about fifteen percent. And all I mean is, you know what? It is really, really hard when you’re a type A, driven, focused person, make it happen, to raise kids where both significance and security happen.
But what are the resources that God says develop their heart, their character, their spiritual constitution, their integrity? Because at the end of the day, here’s the challenge, here’s the challenge. The pressures that we feel are, What is my child going to do and accomplish? And what God would say is, “I’ll tell you what. If you would focus on who do you want your child to become, character, you get that one taken care of, that one will really do well.”
But you can get an A in this one and you can get an F on this one. And you’ll have decades of heartache.
So he gives us the classic passage on parenting. Moses, actually, it’s interesting. He’s going to write to the children of Israel and they are going to go into the Promised Land.
In their world, they are going public. And prosperity is around the corner. I promised it! You’re going to cross over this and I’m going to tell your enemies, you’re going to defeat them! There are going to be wells that you didn’t dig, there are going to be vineyards.
Their phrase was not, “going public.” It was, “land filled with milk and honey.” There’s prosperity; there’s wealth. It’s going to be great. So, parents, since your kids are going to have a lot of prosperity, here’s what you need to remember. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” If you have a pen, underline that. I’m going to have you underline just a few things, because I really want you to see this is the resource toolbox that God wants you to put into the lives of your kids.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” Underline, “shall love the Lord your God.” “And these words, which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.” Underline, “shall be on your heart”. “And you shall teach them diligently to your sons”. Underline, “teach them diligently”.
“And you shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as signs on your hand and they shall be frontals on your forehead and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” So underline the phrase, “shall talk of them”.
Now, that first, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” that is doctrinal truth. It’s a polytheistic world and he says, “You’re going to go into this prosperity, they are going to hear all these messages from all these different gods and all these different religions. The first thing you teach them: The Lord our God is one. There is only one God. It’s Yahweh. He’s the Creator.”
So parents, you have a responsibility to resource your children so they know clear doctrinal truth. At various ages, your kids early on should know God is the Creator. God loves me. God is a Triunity, as they get older. One essence in three Persons. God forgives sins on the cross. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He was born of a virgin. Jesus is coming back. They need to know the Bible is God’s Word. Doctrinal truth.
The second phrase there is, “personal devotion.” “You shall love the Lord your God” – how? “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.” More really is caught than taught. You can send them to the best schools, you can come here, you can send them to Sunday school.
All of that will be for naught if they don’t catch from you a passion for Jesus. Not what you say; how you live. They walk in the bedroom and they catch you on your knees, praying. If you’ve got a big decision and you bring the family together and you pray. You’re in God’s Word. Big decisions about life and work and priorities and what matters and, What are we going to do? And, What are we not going to do? Your love for God will be caught by them.
All the research tells us that kids, after the get out of high school, three things cause kids to walk with God in the future. Number one, and most importantly, it’s really modeled by Mom and Dad in a real way in the home. Number two, they develop over time their own personal time with God. It’s not your faith; it’s theirs. And number three, they are missional. They get out and serve and help people on mission projects, both locally and around. And they realize the world is bigger than them and God uses them.
You want your kids, four years after high school, to walk with God? Those three things are the key. And this is a big one.
Third, they need biblical knowledge. Notice the phrase here. He says, “It’ll be on your heart and you shall teach them diligently.”
I remember, I was eighteen and I was brand new and I didn’t know who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were. I was better with Paul, Ringo, and John and George. I knew them! I can’t even get the Beatles’ names right, let alone the gospel names right.
And then it was like, people were saying, “Oh, turn to 1 Thessalonians,” where, I’d look there. And, “Philippians something,” where is that at? I didn’t know. I didn’t have a clue.
But you have to be a parent when there’s an issue about temptation, you can turn to this passage and say, “This is the thesis of the book of Romans. Who God is speaking to in the book of Matthew is to the Jews and this is the gospel. And Mark is written to the Romans. And Luke was written to a Greek world. And John is a gospel that talks about what it means to believe. And Galatians is about freedom.”
And you have to, just like many of you have gotten jobs, right? And the first job they say, “Hey, look, I know you’ve got some good background and you’re kind of smart. You need to learn this software and this operating system and in six months, if you can’t, you can’t work here.” What did you do? What did you do? You learned it!
Or you’re on a job site and someone says, “Hey, you’re a worker like this, but I want to make you a foreman. You’ve got to learn how to read blueprints, or you get to do this the rest of your life.” What did you do? You learned it.
Your number one assignment is your kids! But you have got to know God’s Word so you can pass it on.
And then there’s systematic instruction. You need to meet regularly as they get older. Now, this isn’t like, okay, sit that three-year-old down, “Okay! We’re going to read the Bible for two hours. Shut up, kid.” That is not how you do it.
Short, brief, simple stories. More complex, they read it on their own, you sit around the table at dinner and you talk about it, you give them assignments, they read books on their own.
I actually bribed my kids to read good books. And I didn’t feel guilty about it, because when my sophomore read Mere Christianity and he came home and told me six months later that he is debating with the chemistry teacher about the origins of life, I thought, I think this is exactly what I want. But you have to give them instruction. You have to have a game plan.
And then finally, there’s the informal times. You talk with them. When? Well, when you sit down and when you rise up, when you walk by the way. That doesn’t sound like a compartmentalized life, does it? Doesn’t sound like, Okay, we went to church, you went to Sunday school, we read the Bible a little bit. Now, let’s just live like everyone else.
This is, no, no, no, no, no. This is teachable moments. And you just fought with your brother and your sister. Or we have just broken our arm and now we are in the ICU and there’s someone who is dying on the other side of that. Every moment of every day.
And then notice what it says. Your hands. It influences your work. The frontals, it influences your thinking. The doorpost, anything that comes in. Everything and everything that would come into your house through your doorposts, whether it’s virtual or people, who do you let in and why? And the gates. How do you handle living out in the world?
And so, you have doctrinal truth, personal devotion, biblical knowledge, systematic instruction and teachable moments. And I will tell you, here’s a little word picture that has been very helpful for me.
Imagine that, okay, for some of you, they are older. But imagine life is a car and your son or daughter or all of them get in the car with you. And there’s a safety manual, Rules for the Road, and that’s God’s Word.
And you drive and they are just in the car. And they just watch you drive as you follow God’s Word. And then there is a road map that gives direction and guidance. And when they are early, that’s you. Later, they get it from God’s Word and the Holy Spirit living in them. And you’re driving, but remember, remember when they are really small and you put them on your lap, and they get the feel of it with you? Because you want them to learn.
Finally, there are seatbelts and protection and so he drives and you ride. Or she drives and you ride. But, actually, this is a very scary time in all parenting. And you talk and you encourage, you correct, you affirm. And you even let them hit a few guardrails. No head-on collisions. But, see, what you’re doing is it’s like the responsibility, it’s like a kite. You let out more and more string.
And at first, oooh! You know? And then you have to pull back on it. And some have a long tail and some have a short tail and some are box kites and all your kids are different and they do it at different times. There is no formula.
But you keep giving them more responsibility, consequences, you have to jerk a little bit. And the goal is: you give them the keys; they drive the car, and they drive the car with Jesus in the car, not you. And they live the kind of life that is pleasing to God, because they learned obedience, when they were ready, they learned responsibility. They understood loving God isn’t just an emotional experience. But, “He who has My commands and keeps them, he it is that loves Me,” according to Jesus.
And then the huge reward is then, “My Father and I will love them and disclose ourselves to them.” Obedience is that channel, not only of blessing, but it’s the agent or means of where people have heart-relationship with God.
Finally, how do you know when you’ve done your job? How do you know whether it’s really going well or, Wowie, we have blown it and need to do some repair?
I’m going to suggest that, number five, obedience is achieved when your child has transferred his or her primary love, submission, and dependency from you to Jesus Christ.
I hear parents sometimes, and I used to say, I want my kids to be independent. I don’t want my kids to be independent. Some of us that didn’t grow up as Christians, I know what it’s like to be independent, right? I know what it’s like. “Hey, God, I’ll do my own thing, my own way, forget You!” That was not, that was not good for me, and that’s not good for anyone.
What you want is your kids to say, “Yeah, I respect you, Mom and Dad, and I’m living under your authority and I know you have my best, and you love me and you set boundaries and they’re for me and I get it. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’m now focusing on the Lord.”
And, by the way, you know this happens, not because you say, “Well, we brought them to church.” This doesn’t happen because they went to this school, maybe even a Christian school. The test is not, “Oh, they’re doing well, academically.” And the test is not, “They didn’t give us a bit of problem while they were here, before they went away to school.”
Here’s the test; here’s how you know. Three indicators. Number one, three characteristics of righteous children: they make wise decisions. Philippians 1 says that when we understand and can discern between right and wrong, they are making – at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, twenty – wise decisions about what is righteous and what is not. That’s maturity.
Second, they keep their commitments. Proverbs 20 verse 6 says, “Many a person or a man will proclaim his own faithfulness, but a faithful person who can find?”
You raise kids who say, “I will be there at such-and-such a time,” or, “I will do this,” or, “Let’s meet here,” or, “I will turn this in.” They keep their commitments. They are people of integrity.
I’ll tell you what, they’re going to have a great job. If they did nothing else but that, they are going to end up with a great job, right? Those of you who are supervisors and employers and business owners and CEOs and COOs and all the rest, if you can find people who just keep their word, you’re ready to roll!
And third, and maybe most importantly, they genuinely care for others. They are outward focused. When Jesus talked about what a real friend was, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down their life for a friend.”
And I can tell you what it looks like and what it feels like when you make really big mistakes. And I can also tell you that when you, regardless of where you’re at, stop and say, In spite of all our mistakes, this is God’s game plan to develop their full potential, that in the sovereignty and the grace of God, when you see them to begin to live like that, I don’t know what your dreams were for your kids, I don’t know what you hoped they would do or what they would accomplish.
But I can tell you this, both from Scripture and personal experience, grown kids who love God, that choose mates who love God, who still want to be around you, and have relationship with you is worth more doctorates, more money, more jobs, and more success than you could get in a million lifetimes.