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Walter on Parenting Little Children

December 5, 2004 

Dear Paul,

So you would like me to talk to you about parenting, eh? Well, you might as well ask me to throw a firecracker into a beehive! I don't know of many topics that get people as excited and upset as how to raise your kids. I've often wondered why that is, seeing as how we are quick to think about what is wrong with everyone else's! For some reason we sure don't like to be told how to do our parenting... maybe that has something to do with the way we too often find life in our children.

Of course, having a few arrows in your quiver is a good thing - a blessing of the Lord. Some folks have babies just by thinking about it. Others have to work and pray a little more. But both get them from the same Maker and both should be just as thankful. Old Adam was commanded by God to have children (Gen 1:28)... and that was before sin had twisted everything. And what was commanded before the fall was affirmed after it (Gen 9:1) - husbands and wives ought to try and have children. 

Now, the Lord never gives anything that He doesn't include the instructions or resources for - but what I have always found peculiar is just how little he says about parenting. I recall those early days of our first little olive shoot (Ps 128:3), when we wondered when exactly it was we stopped being children and started having them! I mean, we searched our Bibles looking for all kinds of answers to all kinds of questions. What we found was that the Lord packed the toolbox just right - not a lot of extras and "specifics," but just the right amount of what I'd call "principles" to apply in every age and in every place. The trouble with being a mom and dad, however, is that life gets so busy you want the specific answers to specific problems without having to figure your own way there! But most things worth having are worth working for - and that's the truth with parenting.

I think the first thing to get squared away is that the Bible teaches that sweet little innocent is guilty. Every son of Adam and daughter of Eve is born a sinner and quickly confirms it! Like the Apostle said, "We were all by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:4). Now, until a mommy gets that Truth planted square in her head I don't see how she's ever going to think rightly about that needy little baby in her arms. I hear lots of folk talk about "conditioning" and "socializing" as being the source of every little Johnny's troubles - but the best sun and water won't grow a thing in rocky soil. And every little Johnny or Gustaf or Manjeep's heart is made out of stone.

Old Solomon said it this way, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child..." (Pr 22:15). Now, when it comes to knots, no one can untangle them quite as well as Mrs. Walter, but the snarled up mess in every little Mary's heart is one hodgepodge she can't even find the end to! I suppose that's why King Solomon gave so many warnings to sons to heed their fathers and mothers. "Only a fool despises his father's instructions..." (Pr 15:5) he said, and "a wise son listens to his father's rebuke... (Pr 13:1). But boys and girls aren't given to heeding the way you think they might be - just think about yourself as a kid! That sinful heart thinks the worst thing that could happen to it is to have all that foolishness untangled and thrown away. Like a sheep caught in the thicket that tries to bite the hand that cuts him loose! The silly animal would be a whole lot better off if it would just stand still and ask the shepherd what to do!

Once a foolish boy grows into a foolish man, he delivers nothing but "grief and bitterness" (Pr 17:25 ), "condemnation and beating" (Pr 19:29 ). Many a wayward son has brought "ruin to his father" (Pr 19:13), and I can't help but wondering if so much of that might have been avoided had that Papa listened to Solomon.

For as sure as foolishness is tangled up in the heart, Solomon says there is a way to get it undone. That way turns a foolish boy into "a wise son that makes his father glad..." (Pr 10:1). Trouble is , we're so smart now-a-days, we've decided that way is all backwards, and more than that we've even got politicians trying to turn Solomon into a criminal! Now, I've talked with enough parents to know not everyone agrees with me - but their argument is with the Lord and His Word, not me.

If folly is all tied up in the heart, and the way of folly leads to death, that can only mean that the one thing parents had better do is deal with Johnny or Mary's heart! I've read about those Kimono dragons, that after they lay a few eggs they'll walk away and forget about them. So much so, that if one of them little critters happens to hatch when mommy is nearby, he'd better run - 'cause to her he ain't anything but dinner! It seems to me some parents are like that with their kids. They may get all fancy about it and talk about "letting their child explore" and "not setting any limits," but Solomon says, "a child left to himself will bring shame to his mother" (Pr 29:15). Knots don't untie themselves, and sinful hearts don't fix themselves. That's why God gave children moms and dads - to be his instrument to change what's broke.

Would it surprise you if I suggested a child's bottom was attached to his heart? Well, it surprised me for sure when I read it, but hear wise old Solomon again:

Pr. 22:15  Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. 

I recall my daddy singing a song about the "neck-bone connected to the head-bone" and such. Well, it seems the Lord made another connection - and not one any x-ray or autopsy can reveal! He says, "The heart-bone's connected to the tail-bone!" At least, that is part of the parenting equation, but it's a part that not too many people care to believe anymore and I think our country is the worse for it!

Some well-meaning folk say that you'll only strike your child if you hate him. Solomon said the very opposite!

13:24   Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Few things irk me more than people taking half a truth and mixing it up with their own supposed logic. Let me just point out that the Bible does not say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child" but "spare the rod... hate the child." Now that there is a world of difference! Sparing the rod is not giving too much love - its giving no love at all! Notice the second part of that verse again: "he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." Occasional physical chastisement of a little child is an act of love!

Now right away we need to be clear what we are talking about! Some people use the word "spanking" to describe little more than angry parents beating up little kids. That, my friends, at least in my opinion, is nothing short of child abuse - not godly chastisement. O, I am sure I don't need to take the time to remind you of all the places in the Bible that talk about anger and how it must be put to death (Col. 3:8) and never be combined with sin (Eph 4:26-27). An angry or embarrassed or frustrated or vengeful parent has no business laying a finger on the child he loves. Far from it! Not even your worst cow deserves to be dealt with in your anger - let alone your flesh and blood. 

I've talked to a few parents who said, "I can't chastise my son, since I can't control my anger." Well, you don't see those little scrub cedars poking their head out of the ground and saying, "The other trees are too big and there is no room for me to grow so I will just sit here." No, they do something about it and wiggle and stretch and make a way to get to the light. If a man has a problem with anger, that's no reason to not do other things God commands him to do! Far from it. He needs to deal with his anger - then love his kids! 

The Scriptures are clear - sometimes we need to sting the bottom of little Johnny if we are going to unravel the tangled mess of foolishness in his heart.

Pr 19:18   Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.

There is a certain faith a parent must have to follow the Lord's commands here. But it is a vital one... not an optional one. The Lord says that choosing to not lovingly strike your sweet child is as good as signing his death certificate. That may sound harsh, but I can't see what else Solomon meant there. No discipline means setting your heart on his death! He affirms this later on:

Pr 23:13   Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14  If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol .

"Better a tanned hide than an eternal hell," said the old farmer. It may have been crude, but it makes the point - a little suffering here to get you on the path of life and obedience is well worth it. 

Now it ought not surprise us that worldly wisdom would come to the exact opposite conclusion on this matter. I read all kinds of things in the lobby of our local hospital that says striking my boys will make them violent and aggressive. Well, pardon me. But whoever wrote that bit of hoogly either didn't have boys or has their head in the sand! I'm all for polite and respectful boys... but they ain't ever going to get there unless they learn what a boundary is. And they sure won't learn what a boundary is unless something with a sting happens when they cross it. When I was a boy, we used to try and cut through Jake Lennips place to get to school... only Old Lennips land was posted: No Trespassing. We thought nothing of it, until the day he came at us with a shot gun full of rock salt. 40 minutes of picking that out of your backside and you think twice about the short cut next time! I'm sure you couldn't get away with that now' a-days, but the principle holds true - children need to learn boundaries. No touch, come here, stop - these are words that need to be obeyed the first time mom or dad says them. When they're not, its time for chastisement - but keep the salt on your driveway!

Now, one mistake some Christians I've known have made is getting all over that chastising part but forgetting the other part, that I'll call "admonishment." Even Solomon was quite clear:

29:15  The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Some fathers rule with an iron fist and by the time their kids get big enough and iron enough to fight back - they do! Parents need to remember that children need to be taught more than they need to be chastised . In fact, I'm of the opinion that the reason we chastise is so that we can gain the attention of the heart. That's what I meant earlier about the backside and the heart being connected. I don't know how many times I'd be talking to my little ones and they'd be looking at me like I was speaking Chinese underwater. They could care less. I see mom's like this every time I drive into town and go to Wal -mart. "Johnny come here please. Johnny you come here right now. Johnny, you need to come with mommy now. Okay Johnny, we are leaving. Johnny come here." Lots of repeating and lots of threatening and lots of Johnny paying as much attention to mommy as a teenager to Russian politics.

Now, calmly take Johnny aside, in private and explain what he did wrong then let the rod do its talking and you know what... suddenly Johnny is listening! Oh, I know it isn't always as perfect as that and the trip to the "place of punishment" may have to happen more than thrice... but eventually Johnny is going to learn.

Like Solomon said:

Pr 29:19  By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond.

Your kids aren't your slaves, but the principle holds true. The parent is the authority and he is called by God to exercise that authority. Mere words to a 2 year old will get you a terrible two year old - and that is nothing to be proud of!

So, put it all together and it looks something like this. Our kids are born sinners with folly bound up in knots in their heart. Parents are to use physical chastisement and verbal instruction to show their children the foolishness of their attitudes and actions. The hope is that eventually that little one will grow up to be a fine young woman or man.

Pr 29:17  Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

I have too many friends with rotten grown-up kids in their lives. And not a few of them are in that situation because they did not love their child the way God says to when they were young. 

Now, I've talked with enough folk up here to know at least a few of the objections and excuses people use to not follow this model. Lots of people think that there is something unique about their kid that makes them an exception to the rule. Funny, but I don't see any exceptions in the writings of the wisest man on earth. You'd think he'd of thought of that if it were so!

Others say they just can't do it - it just seems to be unloving to them. One friend of mine said this because he'd grown up in a home where there was plenty of abuse - physical and emotional. He vowed his son's life would be different - and I thank the Lord for that. But there's not much point swinging an open gate all the way through to the other side if you're trying to keep your pigs in the pen. Some folks swing the pendulum so far they make mistakes just as bad on the other side as the one's they were trying to avoid on the first side. Stick with God, is what I say. If he tells us this is the way to do it, then we'd best follow his advice. Being the one who made us I reckon he knows a thing or two about how we work!

Others don't use the rod and reproof because they are just lazy. Oh, they may have other names for it, but in their hearts they know it's because they love their comfort more than their child. I can't say I have a lot of respect for parents like that. You don't grow vegetables without weeding your garden and you can't grow kids without untangling their hearts. That takes work - thinking, praying, being interrupted, teaching the same lesson over and over again, coming up with new ways to say old things, being sinned against, dealing with your own sin, and on and on! Okay, so it takes work. I say, if you can't do the work then don't have the kids. If God blesses you with the kids, then get your act together.

Others say they won't rod and reproof because all that stuff comes from the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament is all lovey dovey . Well, hello! Have you not read Ephesians? 

6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

If God commands children to obey parents, then parents had better love that child enough to help them obey. And what is "discipline and instruction" if it is not "the rod and reproof?" No, the Old Testament and New Testament live quite happily with each other in this matter. 

Of course, part of the reason for all this is that our children need to be evangelized - and who better to preach the gospel to them than their parents? When a child disobeys, he needs to be told that is sin and that sin deserves death. One friend of mind once took his son into the back room and chastised him for an obvious offence. He then opened up Isaiah 53 and read this to his boy:

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

This father looked to his son and said something like this: "Son, your sin deserves to be punished by death. This one sin is enough to condemn you to hell! But Jesus died for sinners like you and He took the punishment for all of the sins of all his people. Your only hope to go to heaven son is to trust in Jesus! You can never pay for your sin... this chastisement I gave you is nothing compared to the wrath of God reserved for sinners. The very wrath that Jesus took on Himself for all who have faith in Him."

Now there is some good gospel preaching - the kind every child ought to hear! 

The fact is, what our kids do reveals what are kids are (Pr 20:11 ). Jealousy, envy, greed and anger are not cute - they are sins. And they need to be dealt with as sins as soon as possible in our kids. Jesus said all these rotten things come out of our child's heart and therefore we need to get at that heart with the Truth so real change can take place.

Now, there is a lot of hope for parents who follow God's plan.

Pr 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

I've heard lots of nonsense about this verse, but let me just say this is a basic promise that if we do what we are told to do as parents then more than likely our children are going to live decent lives. Nowhere in the Bible is there a salvation equation, such as " if you do this, then this person will be saved." But the Lord does promise that it won't be a waste of time to follow his instructions.

Now let me be very practical for a few minutes.

First off, notice that all the commands for the rod are addressed to the parent of the child. I don't see any need or place for uncles, siblings, friends or authorities to be administering chastisement of this kind. That's mom and dad's job and nobody else's.

Second, in the margin of my Bible I read this:

Pr 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. [1] Or who loves him disciplines him early

It seems to me that the time for the rod is early on in life and should probably be over with sometime between 6-7 years old. If mom and dad set the standard early with Johnny he will get the hang of things. Some parents get this loopy idea that they need to wait until Johnny gets older to start with the rod. I wonder sometimes how people think! Get it going early and you'll be done sooner - that's great for everybody!

Third, what makes Christian parenting so different from the world is that our goal is not to make our kids into something (like little Pharisee's) but to point our kids to Christ. Sure there are lots of parents who spank their kids - but most often it's because they are angry or they want their kids to be a certain way. Christian parents lovingly chastise to warn their children of the way of death and to woo them to the path of life. If we aren't seeing that in our chastising, maybe we had best lay off until we can get our heads screwed on straight. 

Fourth, you can't reason with a terrorist - he is committed to his cause and willing to die for it. Reason with a toddler and all you'll end up getting is a headache and one day, a selfish, rude, self-centered teenager. The Biblical pattern is chronological. First establish obedience, and then slowly begin to teach discussion and reasoning. Reason with a little child and you will have to use little child logic... in other words, you'll have to bind your heart up with foolishness too! Reasoning parents are doing more to train their children how to manipulate and bribe than they are teaching them how to obey their Maker.

Fifth, I say remember wise Moses who instructed the Israelites to be God-gossipers all day long. You read Deuteronomy 6 and one thing is clear - parents were to talk about God and what God had done for them every chance they could get with their kids. That's a little like the lady down our road who manages to turn every conversation to Avon ! I'm not suggesting you become forced and annoying, but that you look for ways to bring the Lord into your daily life and conversation. 

Sixth, make it your goal to help your child live the way a Christian should - even if he is not a Christian yet. Why? Because that is the way God wants all people to live, and like I said before... when little Mary does not live that way, you can now point her to the only one who can save her from being eternally punished for her sins. Jesus! 

Finally, when it comes to physical chastisement, remember that God designed only one part of the body to be struck. A slap to the side of the head is just being a bully and I'll have to confess I've had more than one evil thought towards a man that uses his strength to beat up on his kids. It always helped me to keep my goal gaining the attention of the heart through the bottom. That'll guide you as to how hard to strike and how many times. All we want as parents is the attention of the heart. If mom or dad ever thinks they are going to pay back a child for what they did - they've got it all wrong. Best to walk away and forget the chastisement unless our goals are pure and right.

Well, I might need to write more on this topic later, but this will have to do for now. I am sure I've given you enough things to talk about for a while now!

Perhaps I'll close by noting one more thing:

Pr 3:11  My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12  for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

If God loves us enough to discipline us, then I am quite sure we can learn to love our little kids the same.

The Lord bless you all!