“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4, ESV). You might be wondering how that verse pertains to parenting. Let me explain. The proverb points out that while you might want none of the challenging and dirty responsibilities that come with caring for a manger, the clean manger means you have no oxen. If you have no oxen then you will not have an abundant of crops or any crops at all. Blessed with oxen comes with certain challenges, but they are well worth it. The rewards of having them far outweigh the cost of caring for them.
This is true for parenting. Scripture tells us that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). As parents, we have particular challenges because we have been blessed with children. We face certain challenges as we strive to reach the biblical directive of Ephesians 6:4, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Three of these wonderful challenges are described in the form of general guidelines we ought to keep in mind as we look for practical suggestions to flesh out the biblical mandate found in Ephesians 6:4.
Wonderful Challenge #1: Having the Right Motives
Pleasing God vs. Pleasing Self
Outcome driven is a temptation. We want our children to behave and perform a certain way and that is often driven by a desire to maintain a personally comfortable and enjoyable environment. When faced with uncooperative and disobedient children who do not act the way we want them to we are tempted to go after “whatever works.” We go from one parenting fad to the next. Some will utilize unbiblical means and justify their use of those means by saying, “Well, it works.” In Numbers 20:8-13, Moses gets the water for the people (the end) but is judged by God for his anger against the people shown by his striking of the rock (the means). To God the means are as important as the end.
Therefore, our parenting must be driven by the glory of God not my personal happiness (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:9). This means I cannot see children as a gift from God only for my own pleasure; they belong to Him. Further, this means that when a child disobeys, the problem is not that my own happiness has been interrupted. Our instruction and discipline must be driven by the Glory of God lest there be no God-blessed change.
Furthermore, we see problems as opportunities for training and teaching our children for God’s glory and pleasure. This implies that we not measure our parenting by our children’s responses and behavior. Our obedience to Scripture with the right motive makes us faithful parents, not the outcome of our child’s behavior.
Pleasing God vs. Pleasing Others
We do not allow ourselves to be motivated by comparing our children with others (Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:22; 2 Corinthians 10:12). We definitely learn from each other, but we do not use others as the standard by which we and our children must live. Likewise, we do not view our standards as the most “spiritual” and judge others accordingly.
Trust vs. Fear (Proverbs 3:5-8; 1 John 4:16-18)
Some parents fear that without abundant training, or strict adherence to specific methods, their child will turn out to be a failure, a social embarrassment, or deny the faith. Trusting God means that we study Scripture to learn biblical principles for all areas of our lives. We ask questions that will help us be wise in applying those principles. We learn skillful living from older, wiser saints. We trust God to guide us and we trust Him for the outcome of our choices.
Trusting God provides hope in light of the fact that we fail many times as parents. We do not always make the best decision in every situation. However, we rest in the fact that God’s will is not thwarted by our mistakes (Job 42:2). God only requires from us that we be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).
Wonderful Challenge #2: Having the Right Focus
Parenting Is Not Complicated
How easily we can complicate parenting. Sometimes we want more answers than what the Bible provides and so out of fear we create our own complex system or follow someone else’s multi-step method. This often breeds a false sense of confidence by substituting a particular parenting system for the faithful application of God’s Word.
Variety of Ways to Apply Biblical Truth
When dealing with matters not specifically addressed in Scriptures, we must be governed by love for others and showing deference to others (Galatians 5:13; Romans 14:19). Personal preferences are not inherently wrong, but should not be equated with biblical directives. We can consider the practical suggestions of others but must make decisions as to what is best for our own family. Furthermore, we need to make clear distinctions, as much as possible, between what is a biblical mandate and what is personal opinion.
Parenting Does Not Involve “Quick Fixes”
Parenting requires perseverance (Galatians 6:9). We persevere in teaching, disciplining and praying. It takes time to get to the heart of the matter in order to gain a character that lasts a lifetime. Children learn little by little and day by day and we all need to love, support and forgive one another through successes and failure. James 1 and 2 Peter 1 remind us that steadfastness and perseverance produce godliness and completion in Christ. Let us not short-circuit the sanctifying work parenting provides, both for our children and us.
Limitations of Parental Influence
We cannot control the results of our parenting – God does (Philippians 1:6). We are faithful with what we know is right with the right motives. We cannot change a child’s heart. Ultimately, our children are accountable to God (Ezekiel 18; Romans 14:12).
Wonderful Challenge #3: Having the Right Balance
External and Internal (Matthew 5 & 6; 23:23-24, 27-28)
We can sometimes focus on controlling our child’s behavior without using Scripture and prayer to deal with his or her heart.
Tedd Tripp shares the following illustration in his book, Shepherding Your Child’s Heart.
“A parent can simply focus on the external justice and fairness involved in a fight over a toy and simply decide who had it first, or get a watch to time them each for a turn. That might help a 2-year old whose reasoning is still limited. But children need to be patiently and lovingly led to learn to give up their ‘rights’ and prefer others in love, not just ‘take turns’” (p. 21).
Freedom and Responsibility (Galatians 5:13-14; 1 Peter 2:16)
We are careful not to give our children too much freedom on one hand with no balancing restrictions and responsibilities on the other. We allow a child more freedom as the child learns self-control. However, unnecessary control will not allow a child to learn from failing. Mistakes make great teachers.
Friendship and Authority
We must balance our friendship with our children and our authority over them. On one hand, we must not allow our children to progress to this peer relationship too quickly or we may jeopardize their ability to understand the biblical requirement that children submit to parental authority and teaching. On the other hand, if we are heavy-handed with authority, we may stifle the progress toward a wonderful, lifetime friendship.
Major Issues and Minor Issues (Matthew 23:23-24)
We should not be overbearing on issues that are not clearly biblical. For example, we need to be more concerned with the child who lies about brushing her teeth than the child who brushed his teeth and missed a piece of food. Disobedience and lying is a heart issue; grooming may not be.
Parenting as the Sole Focus of the Christian Life and Parenting as an Important Aspect of the Christian Life
We must keep in mind that we are more than parents. We should have a biblically accurate perspective of our priorities. Raising our children is part of a grander scheme. As important as it is, it cannot be the center of our lives, which everything else revolves. As we keep the eternal perspective in mind, our role as parents will be kept in balance with every other important duty.
Our goal as parents—being faithful in applying biblical principles—is not complicated. But we face challenges in meeting the goal. We must have the right motivation, focus, and balance. These challenges keep us on our knees so that our parenting is part of our walk of faith. Parenting is a wonderful opportunity to trust God.
God gives the grace and wisdom to keep the priorities and goal in mind and face the challenges of parenting for His glory.
Join the Conversation
What have been your greatest challenges as a parent? How has parenting helped you become more like Christ?