As parents, how are we to help our children navigate this sinful world and its complexities? Sean Nolan shows how we can locate ourselves (and our children) in the right place in redemptive history.
Scott Slayton lays out two reasons you need to give time and attention to you children, along with four tips to help you make the time.
God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, even when we were different. The church, likewise, should love special needs people.
Corrective discipline—which leads to a child’s self-discipline—opens the door to more freedom and accomplishment for our children.
You can’t make your children Christians, but you can make it easy to love Jesus in your home. You can seek to make your home ring with gospel joy. You can endeavor to make your family not only a family of Christians but a Christian family—sold out for Christ and his cause. God has more for us than the hum-drum life of work, rest, and entertainment. He has more for your children than extra-curricular activities, college scholarships, and good jobs. He has the storehouses of grace and glory for your family.
Our problem is, as C.S. Lewis famously said, “we are far too easily pleased.” We settle for mud pies when a holiday at sea is ours for the taking.
As Christians and as parents, we should not settle for the goal of simply raising obedient Church-goers. Rather we should strive to meet a higher standard of parenting – one that invites our children to lives of sacrificial obedience to Christ.
DO NOT PROVOKE
In Ephesians 6:4, God calls parents to disciple their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Though Paul uses the word “fathers” here, this command applies to both fathers and mothers.
In Paul’s day, the children were under the father’s complete control. He could have them killed or sold into slavery. No law stood in his way. It’s easy to see in that kind of culture how a child would be provoked to anger. Who wouldn’t be provoked living in an unjust home?
But Christ came to bring justice. He came to set things right.
That’s why Paul begins with a negative command, “Do not provoke your children to anger.”
Though we may not live as first-century Christians did, this is still a frightening statement because it is saying that there is a possibility for a parent to create in their children a settled anger and resentment that could last for a very long time.
Of course there will be times when a child gets angry. Who doesn’t get angry? But there’s a difference between intermittent anger and deep, abiding anger as a result of your upbringing.
How does that happen?
On the one hand, parents can be too hard. They can give unnecessary commands, be too heavy-handed, or just down-right mean. They can be easily frustrated and lash out at small wrongdoings. They don’t care about discipling and training the child. They just want the child to fall in line.
King Saul was like that. In 1 Samuel 20, Saul noticed David wasn’t at dinner as he should have been. He asked his son Jonathan where David was. Now, Jonathan knew Saul was mad at David, wanting to kill him, so he helped David avoid the dinner. Jonathan was doing the right thing, but Saul didn’t care. He wanted him to fall in line. Saul said to his son, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman.” Saul went on to command David be brought before him so he could be killed. When Jonathan asked what David had done, Saul thrust his spear at him. So Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger. And rightly so.
That’s a parent who is too hard and too mean. But it’s also possible for a parent to be too soft. For example, in Genesis 37, we see the failures of Jacob as a father. What was Jacob’s failure? He was too soft on his son Joseph. He favored him above the others, and it led to the anger of his other sons. Eventually, they sold Joseph into slavery.
The point is, it’s easy to provoke our children to anger. We don’t have to be evil like King Saul. We can be a kind father like Jacob and do just as much damage.
When we fail to treat our children as a stewardship from the Lord and instead view them as servants for our agenda or necessities for our emotional state, we provoke either them or our other children to anger.
A STEWARDSHIP FROM GOD
A Christian parent doesn’t see their children as either an annoyance or an emotional crutch. Rather they understand their children to be a stewardship from the Lord, for his sake, and seek to bring up their kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
That last phrase is so important. Most parents will raise their children with discipline and instruction. But a Christian parent notices those last three words, “of the Lord.”
It’s not our discipline and instruction that matters. It’s Christ’s. It’s our duty to help our children to follow Jesus—not to follow us.
This means parents must be aware of the rhythms of their family life. How is your week structured? How much of a priority is Jesus in your family life? Is church a checklist item on Sunday morning or is it an anticipation on Saturday night? Is youth group dependent on the children’s sports practice or it is the reason you have to call the coach to explain their absence?
Your rhythms of family life will either prove or disprove the reality of God.
If you never pray or read the Bible in front of or with your kids, if you never talk about Jesus in any regular, open way, if you never invite others into your home for the sake of the gospel, if you never serve Jesus together as a family, if you never ask your kids about who they think Jesus is, if you’re just thankful you’re a Christian and going to heaven but your Christianity hasn’t made an impact on the way you raise your kids, then you haven’t yet realized the glory your family is missing with Christ.
It’s all too easy to just let life come at us, but a Christian parent loves God by helping their children follow Jesus. A Christian parent is active, treating their children as a stewardship from the Lord. Like Jesus, a Christian parent pursues.
You can’t save your children, but you can point them to the Savior. You can make the Savior real in your home.
JESUS REDEEMS OUR PARENTING
Some parents need to consider the command of Ephesians 6:4 with a new openness. Some haven’t parented according to their calling. So what’s the path forward?
Here’s a question that redefines everything in the Christian life, including parenting. It’s a question I’ve brought to bear in my own life in several areas recently.
Do I believe that Jesus is a Redeemer?
I respect him as King—one who watches over me. I listen to him as Prophet—one who speaks with power. But do I trust him as Redeemer—one who makes all things new?
When we trust him that way, we stop quenching the Spirit, and he starts working in our lives. Jesus can change the story of your family and my family, starting today. And he’s asking us, “Will you let me?”
That Jesus is a Redeemer means no parent, no matter their failures, is too far from his grace when it comes to discipling their children. You may think, “But our family is a mess.”
But aren’t we all?
By God’s grace, our path forward is as simple as turning to God. All you must do is say to Christ, “I’m your mess.” And he’ll come in and clean it up. That’s what a redeemer does: turns messes into miracles. And as your children see you turn to the Redeemer, they’ll learn what it means to follow Jesus. They’ll see that he’s a real Savior, and they’ll taste the grace he gives as your family begins to draw life from his mercy.
No one is the perfect parent, but if we’re waiting for perfection or nothing, we’ll get nothing every time.
Let’s trust Christ and say yes to the next right thing.
The triune God is at work in our lives to bring redemption. And in the Trinity, we have the Son who loves and honors the Father perfectly, the Father who never provokes to anger and knows how to discipline and instruct, and the Spirit who sustains it all.
The whole God is invested in the whole you. Our part is simply to trust him and not limit what he can do in us and in our families.
David McLemore is the Director of Teaching Ministries at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.
My three-year-old sat in her kid-sized chair, feverishly swiping and tapping on the phone while her siblings ran laps around the house and shouted their favorite tunes. Only it wasn’t a phone she was playing with—it was a Hot Wheels car. We had long since decided against handing phones over to toddlers. In the absence of the real thing, our daughter did what all kids do and used her imagination. She flipped the car over and was pretending the flat bottom was a screen.
After realizing what was going on, I asked her why she would rather sit on the chair pretending to scroll through a phone than run and play with her siblings. Without looking up, she answered, “It’s what all the big girls do.”
My heart broke in that moment. It broke because she was right.
WHAT THE BIG GIRLS DO
My little girl had noticed a pattern, the same one you see when you look around the mall. What are all the big girls doing? When you go to the park, what are all the parents doing?
The average U.S. adult spends five hours per day on their mobile devices. As parents, our hands and schedules are probably full enough that we’re not spending five hours on our phones, but how much time do we spend double-tapping and scrolling? Not long ago, the answer for me was far too much.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were convicted of our use of technology. We took a hard look at how we used our devices and read about what happens when we’re always connected. We started making changes. It wasn’t easy. We struggled to put our convictions into words and explain to family members why we didn’t want them showing our kids how to play games on their phones.
Then Andy Crouch wrote The Tech-Wise Family, which helped us articulate our thoughts and hearts. Crouch’s book features ten tech-wise commitments, many of which we’ve adopted and made our own. In our home today (with four children six and under), we’re committed to:
- Leaving our phones out of sight and out of reach so we can focus on who God has in front of us
- Minimizing the number of toys with buttons available throughout the house so our children develop the capacity of imaginative play
- Reading aloud and talking during car rides (even hours-long road trips), so we can learn how to be around each other and engage more of our senses
- Allowing kids to watch TV only rarely (about once a month), and only with the whole family so the screen becomes a novel, shared experience
I still use Instagram to stay in touch with my friends (and see pics of their kiddos!). I’m grateful for podcasts to listen to while I’m cleaning or exercising. But I can say that, by the grace of God, I’m not dependent on my devices. That’s less because of behavioral modifications, though, and more because of what the Lord has shown us through our tech woes.
OUR REFUGE IN THIS DIGITAL WORLD
My daughter’s comment—"It’s what all the big girls do”—revealed that while we can seek to create a tech-wise home, we can’t fully shield our children from a tech-saturated world; a world with screens on our wrists, in our pockets, and in our living rooms and bedrooms.
Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to stay faithful regardless of what the world worships. Jesus did just that when he came to Earth. He was in the world, but not of it. He dined with sinners, yet remained free of sin. And he calls us to do the same.
But it’s so easy to get lost in questions like What boundaries do we set? How much screen time should my kids have? How old should kids be before they play video games?
When I get lost in these questions, I forget that sin and distraction entered the world thousands of years ago in a garden—not with the invention of the iPhone. Sin separated us from our Creator and sin will condemn us when we stand before him on the day of judgment.
But God loves us too much to let that be the end of the story. God longs to see our relationship with him redeemed. Psalm 34:22 tells us, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants, none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (emphasis mine).
When we take refuge in God, he promises redemption, not condemnation. But taking refuge in the Lord requires trust. And from day one, that’s just what God has been after.
Christian parents can do many really good things without ever trusting God. In the early years, we can make kids eat their carrots before their chocolate. We can put boundaries around technology (as my family has).
But if we fail to daily submit our children, and our role as parents, to the Lord, then we miss the point. Our parental efforts at behavior modification are good, but they aren’t primarily what God’s after.
He’s after our heart. And our hearts reveal what our motives truly are, and those determine our actions. If we want to address technology in our homes, we have to start with our hearts.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The next time you’re evaluating tech use in your home, ask why you’re really checking your phone or turning the TV on. Get to the heart of the matter. Are you justifying handing your phone to your child because you simply long for a break? Or the next time you go to check Instagram, ask what you’re hoping to find—affirmation, satisfaction, relief?
Then consider getting your kids involved in the heart check too! Or at least begin the conversation. You may find what we did, that our child was mimicking what she saw around her because she longs to be “big.” Or you may ask a thirteen-year-old and realize his or her worth and identity is wrongly wrapped up in their online presence.
Together your family can reflect on if the heart of your tech use is in line with the world or the Lord.
And if you’re like me and my family, you’ll probably be overwhelmed with the need to repent—of placing hope in getting something accomplished and using technology to “babysit” because it's easy (and free.) Or repent of placing trust in what others think of me and Instagram likes give me instant “love”. When God reveals the true desires of my heart, and how out of line they are with his heart, my sin feels overwhelming.
But that’s why the gospel is such good news! Because in Christ, I am redeemed by his work, not my family's tech habits. He doesn’t love me more when I stand strong in our tech-wise commitments, and he doesn’t love me less when I hand a screaming child a phone because I don’t know what else to do.
Regardless of what “all the big girls are doing,” I will continue to pray for my heart and my children’s hearts. I will continue to beg God for the grace to trust him more. That might mean our family is more up-to-date with board book stories than Instagram stories, but we’re learning to be okay with that.
Maggie Pope is the CEO of a small nonprofit that invests heavily in the lives of a handful of young children. Since the staff is small, she also serves part-time as the janitor, teacher, bread-baker, and driver. Okay, she’s a mom. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four children.