Soon after my first child was born, I had the privilege to join a “New Mother’s Bible Study” our church sponsored. I gathered with friends, old and new, who were pregnant or holding nursing babes as we listened to older, wiser, moms share their hearts and encourage us from God’s Word. One of the pearls of wisdom I took from that study became a pivotal principle for Mark and me as we raised our children.
One particular lesson, a kind lady, encouraged us that our children were blessings from the Lord. She used various Scriptures to point us to the truth that children are gracious gifts from the Lord, blessings to be cherished, and indeed an inheritance to Godly parents. However, a paraphrase of the crux of her advice as I remember it was, “If you want your children to be a blessing to others, you must take the time to train them.”
Now her statement was not negating the fact that children are a blessing from the Lord, plain and simple, but instead was practically suggesting the idea that in order for us and others to really “enjoy” our children, intentional training was necessary. That simple concept was backed up with example after example of Scriptures admonishing parents to teach, to discipline, to set a godly example for, and to train their children in wise and appropriate ways of behaving.
To the contrary, she described familiar scenarios of children we had all observed: the screaming child kicking and flailing and then falling limp in protest to her mother’s attempt to pick her up, the insolent boy stomping his foot, shouting, “NO!”, and flashing a glare of anger in defiance to his father’s request, or the siblings in the shopping cart pushing and punching at each other as they whine and grab for wanted items off the shelf. We’d seen it before and it wasn’t difficult to visualize the outlandish behavior of children who cause onlookers to shake their heads in dismay. We were in agreement that we didn’t want to raise the kind of children she was describing.
Her advice? If you want your children to be blessings, and for the world to see them and appreciate them as you do, you have to teach them and train them to be blessings. She then systematically pointed out several main areas we needed to attend to, early on, in order to raise our children for the Lord. Among the things she mentioned were obedience, honor, respect for property, gratefulness, consideration of others, and manners.
There are simple things parents can teach their children: to look at someone in the eye when speaking, to respond politely when spoken to, to treat other's property with respect and consideration, to not make extra work for someone else, to use polite words, "Please, Thank you, Yes sir," to put away what they take out, to look for ways to serve others, to wait and not interrupt, to give up a seat to an older person or expectant mom, to only take on your plate what you will eat, to express gratitude for what you are served, to speak with respectful tones, to think of other's needs before their own, etc.
Today, many parents shy away from standards, rules, and expectations in favor of a looser, more relaxed approach. They overlook or tolerate most sinful behaviors, either hoping that their children will grow out of their selfishness, or accepting their ill behavior as normal for children. They turn a blind eye in the name of grace, but do not stop to correct or instruct in right behavior, and this is the problem. Unfortunately, the current parental advice gurus are touting grace over discipline, nurture over structure, and acceptance over expectations for behavior that is pleasing to the Lord
Biblical parenting should include both instruction (words) and modeling (actions) for our children to learn the kinds of words, attitudes, and behaviors appropriate according to Scripture. At first, the goal of our instruction would be simply to help them learn to be a blessing to others for the sake of the Gospel, but ultimately, after the work of the Spirit, we desire that our training would encourage, and lead them to live lives that bless the Lord and bring Him ultimate glory.
Meanwhile, as we teach and gently correct them, we want to be consistently pointing them to their need for a Savior to transform their hearts, to do that inner work that only He can do. We can teach/train them for outward behaviors which make their presence pleasing in our homes (good citizenship, good stewardship), but we should never cease to pray for that continuing inward work of the Lord to transform their hearts to be like His.