Training Children for Their Good

Training children for their goodWhen I wrote about Discipline vs Punishment a few weeks ago, I was surprised by the animated discussion that followed. In the comments and in a post update I added, we talked more specifically about what discipline and punishment look like in the home and what constitutes biblical discipline.

About the same time, I discovered an article entitled Training Children for Their Good, by Andy Naselli. I found this very relevant to our discussion, and I want to share it with you. The full article is 13 pages long (plus footnotes), but it’s worth your time. It brings Scripture to bear on some important questions, and it will make you think!

The author begins the article by examining Hebrews 12:4-11, which describes how God disciplines us as his children, and he extracts seven propositions about discipline.

He then surveys the primary verses from Proverbs that relate to discipline, noting that godly discipline begins with teaching, followed by warning. Physical discipline is the final step a parent should take, only after a child chooses to disregard instruction and warning. The fourth level of discipline (severe punishment) is not the job of parents, but of the state. Hopefully, children who are disciplined by godly parents will never reach that level.

Next he addresses some good questions raised by writers who are opposed to spanking, including “Is spanking antithetical to the gospel?”

Finally, he draws some of his own conclusions about parenting, based on the Scriptural observations already laid out. These include the necessity of multiple levels of discipline, avoiding extremes, and emphasizing love for our children.

Overall, this article reminded me of some important things:

  • First of all, training children takes dedicated effort on our part!
  • Loving discipline, including instruction, mercy, and sometimes pain, does indeed reflect the character of our Heavenly Father, as He deals with us, and as He’s dealt with His people throughout history.
  • Spanking should not be our first or our only tool for discipline. In fact, it’s something of a “last resort” to be used only if our careful instruction, warning, and confronting has been disregarded.
  • Godly discipline is a big part of pointing our children to the gospel. If we don’t explain God’s law, our sin, and the punishment we all deserve, our children won’t have a framework for understanding God’s grace and mercy or for valuing what Jesus has done for them.
  • Finally, when we’re studying what the Bible says about a topic like this, it’s important to practice real exegesis. We must seek to draw out the intended meaning of relevant Scripture passages and interpret these passages in light of the rest of the Bible.

If you read Training Children for Their Good, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Posted in Bible, Discipline, Positive character building, Proverbs, Raising daughters, Raising sons, Recommended | Tagged , , , , , , | Printer-friendly view | Leave a comment

Lessons from a Honeybee

Honeybee092314No3I always have to keep my eye out for bumblebees when I pick flowers in the garden. Sometimes a hard-working little fella doesn’t make it home before bedtime, and he sets up camp on the colorful cushion of a zinnia for the night. He’s not always real happy about me shaking up his campsite.

The honeybees are a little more easy-going. They’re so busy working, they don’t have much time to worry about me. They love the mint that is flowering next to one of the chairs on our deck, so I’ve had a front row seat to watch their late-summer labors. The basil down in the garden is another of their favorite hangouts. The row usually buzzes with the sounds of their diligent work.

Honeybee092314No2I had to smile (and be careful) one morning out on the deck. I had picked a box full of basil. Some of it had already started to flower, and the bees were objecting to me disturbing their work. I took the box up to the deck and sat down to listen to a sermon online while I stripped the leaves off their stems. Leaves were going into a bowl for pesto, and stems went into a grocery bag.

I caught myself, though, as I started to drop some more stems into the bag. Down in the shadows of the bag, happily doing what God has made him to do, was an industrious little bee, going from flower to flower, deeper and deeper into the bag, sipping that sweet nectar one last time before the remnants got tossed into the compost pile.

Honeybee092314No1That faithful little bee was an inspiration. He wasn’t questioning God. He wasn’t complaining. He wasn’t waiting for someone else to do the job. He didn’t appear to be thinking it was unfair that some of his fellow bees were back at the hive while he had to fly around all day gathering nectar. He wasn’t giving up when the job got hard. He was going above and beyond the call of duty as he followed those basil blossoms into that bag.

He was just doing the job God has given him, and he was glorifying God and blessing others — especially me — while he was doing it.

Lord, help me to be like that little bee.


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A Prayer for Our Children — and Ourselves

I wish I had noticed more fully a prayer of Paul’s while we were raising our six children. I would have memorized it. I would have prayed it — every day. 

I can still pray it — for my adult children, for myself and my husband, for my grandchildren, and for my fellow believers in Christ.

Paul is writing to the believers in Philippi, his beloved, his joy and crown. He prays for them as a father might pray for his children:

PrayerForOurChildrenAnd it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV).

Let’s take this prayer and claim it for our children.

Lord, we pray that our children’s love for God and for each other would grow and increase.

We pray that this ever-growing love would be rooted in a vigorous knowledge of God and His truth as it is revealed in their study of His Word.

We pray that they will understand God’s love for them and that His love will inspire, motivate, and drive them to share that love with others. Give them insight into loving others in a godly Christ-like way.

We pray that they will test and approve the things that are excellent, that they will know what is best and what is true. Please give them wisdom to choose rightly between morality and grace, between the teachings of men and the teachings of God, between the earthly and the heavenly, between the temporal and the eternal.

We pray that their faith will be sincere and without hypocrisy or pretense. May their repentance be accompanied by the fruits of true repentance, and may they live with consciences that are free from offenses against you and others as they confess and forsake their sins.

We pray that their lives will be filled with good works — the fruits of Christ’s righteousness in them. Help them to live lives of fruitfulness and obedience, not to earn your favor or to gain the approval of men, but to glorify You as they live and serve in Your strength.

In Your precious Son’s name,




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Discipline vs Punishment – What’s the Difference?

Dad talking to son

I remember, not too long ago, looking a child right in the eye as he begins to slowly, deliberately tilt the full cup of water in his hand. “Stop – don’t you pour that on the floor!” I say, as I watch him do exactly that.

As the water hits the floor, my first thought is “You’re really going to get it now!”

I want to swoop in with the swift punishment that such clear disobedience surely deserves.

But I have to stop, and reconsider my motivation. It’s not just punishment that he needs, it’s discipline.

There is a big difference between punishment and discipline, and it’s important that we understand it.

What is punishment?

What is discipline?

So the goal of discipline is to bring about change, to alter the course, while punishment merely metes out justice, or even revenge.

Our job as parents is to administer firm, loving discipline that leads our children to repent of their sin and walk in righteousness. This discipline is both driven and tempered by the grace God has shown us in saving us from the punishment we deserve.

Update: Thanks to the moms who pointed out the need for some practical application here. I’m going to list some reactions that could be considered straight-out punishment, and then let me describe what discipline looks like in our home, on a good day, with an almost-three-year-old.

First let me caution you that this is merely our method for applying these principles. It’s not a formula everyone needs to follow. But hopefully it will help you see how punishment and discipline might look different in real life.

What would punishment look like in the above situation?

  • Yelling at my son (what I usually feel like doing).
  • Immediately hitting or spanking him without talking to him.
  • Pouring water on his head.
  • Giving him a “time out” but never talking to him.
  • Making him clean up the mess but not addressing the disobedience.
  • Doing nothing, but being angry at him for the next hour.
  • Ignoring instances like this all week and then finally blowing up at him or spanking him when it happens for the fifth time and I’m fed up with it.

What would discipline look like?

“Uh-oh. You made a mess.”
“You also disobeyed Daddy. We need to have a spanking. Please go to Daddy’s room.”

(In the room. We sit on the edge of the bed. My son is in my lap and I’m looking him in the eye.)

(seriously) “Did you obey Daddy?”

(solemnly) “No.”

“God says you should obey mama and daddy.” (This is a good time to look at the If-Then Chart together, if you want help explaining what he did wrong and what God says about it.) “When you disobey, I have to give you a spanking. We’re going to have two spankings now.”

(bend over knee and give two spankings on the bottom)

(hug until done crying)

“I love you.”
“Can you say, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry for disobeying’?”

“I’m sorry for disobeying.”

“I forgive you.” (hug again) “Will you obey Daddy next time?”


“Good. Let’s pray for you. Dear Jesus, I thank you for ____ and for making me his daddy. Help him to obey Daddy next time. Thank you Jesus that you forgive us when we sin. Thank you that you love us. Help us to obey you. In your name we pray, amen.”

(Usually by this point he is back to his cheerful self, and we may chat about something else or play around for a minute before leaving the room.)

“Now, let’s get a towel and clean up the mess.”

(Work on it together until done.)

With a younger child, you’d probably have less discussion, just explaining what he did wrong and why you have to spank him. With an older child, you might have more discussion, give him a chance to tell you what he thinks he did wrong, and maybe more creative discipline based on what you know will motivate him.

It takes time. Especially when you’re the only parent at home, it’s hard to take the time to discipline like this. But in our experience, the time investment will eventually pay off.


Posted in Bible Study, Discipline, Positive character building, Raising daughters, Raising sons, Weekly character projects | Tagged , , , , | Printer-friendly view | 38 Comments

Leading by Example


I was recently trying to decide what to talk about for a devotional at the bridal shower. The bride works for one of my favorite grocery stores. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to live near one of the 418 Trader Joe’s in the world. I decided to do a little research about this chain of stores.

For several years Trader Joe’s has ranked first or second as consumers’ favorite grocery store. (Who wouldn’t like shopping at a store where all workers all wear Hawaiian shirts?)

The cheerful, helpful workers that make Trader Joe’s so pleasant to shop at, are happy, in part, because they like working there.

One employee review states, “Everyone always asks why the employees are so happy at TJ’s; it’s because they treat their employees extremely well. Great pay, great benefits, and a great atmosphere to work in.”

Another describes the management at Trader Joe’s, “All the managers actually work with the crew members!!! They get on their hands and knees and restock the bottom shelves, they clean the toilets, scrub the floors… They work just as hard, sometimes harder than the crew members!!! Trader Joe’s has a ‘Lead by example’ policy that their managers listen to.”

Here’s something we can take and apply to our parenting! Here’s a few questions to think about:

  • Do our children like being in our homes?
  • Are they cheerful about working?
  • Are we leading by example? Do our children see us down on our knees, willingly doing the same work that we ask them to do?
  • Are we humble enough to work alongside them, or do we just tell them what to do?

Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do. He gave us an example. He humbled himself and left heaven to become a man. He lived with us, in the midst of all our sin. He healed people’s diseases, fed them when they were hungry, and then allowed them to kill Him — all to secure our salvation. He stepped down from heaven, reached into our lives, and showed us what real love looks like.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .” Let’s show our children what it means to lay down our lives for others. We can lay down our lives as we get on our knees and work alongside them. Let’s lead by example.


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Too Fast.

TooFastNo3082614Do you have little children — you know, those charming, unpredictable, exhausting little ones that always lead people to say, “Oh, they grow up so fast. Enjoy these days while you can”?

I remember sweet white-haired ladies and elderly gentlemen saying those sorts of things to me while our six young children and I all marched through grocery stores or poured one-by-one out of the van.

Those comments were so much better than the just-wait-until-they-turn-into-teenagers comments. But I can still remember wondering sometimes if those dear people were remembering how much work it was when their children were little. How could “tomorrow they’ll all be grown up” possibly be true, when there were days I didn’t think the next eight hours would ever end so that I could go to bed?

But it is true, and I’m sitting here with my gray hair and my almost-empty nest, looking at a living reminder of that truth. It’s a tree our son planted. Many years ago he dug up a little seedling under a sprawling black walnut tree on the side of a lane our family often walked. He brought it home, put it in a pot with some soil, and let it grow.

One day, as we ceremoniously buried a family pet, he pushed that tiny little sapling into the soil and encircled it with a piece of fencing  to protect it from stray volleyballs and overzealous lawnmowers.

That must have been a dozen or more years ago.

I could write several posts about the lessons that tree has taught me over the years. But today, as I hauled tomatoes and zucchinis out of the garden and turned on the sprinklers, it reminded me again of how quickly time passes. Wasn’t it just yesterday when that tree was pushed into the soil? Now it’s probably twenty feet tall. It will give us walnuts this year.


And the boy who planted that tree — he’s grown up, too. He’s running our business. He’s loving his wife and training his children. By God’s grace, he has grown into a God-fearing, hard-working, family-loving man.

Believe those people when they remind you that your children are going to grow up way too fast. Take hold of these days God has given you with them. It’s the only chance you get. Other things can wait until your children are grown and gone, but you won’t get another chance to love and train your children in your home.

Are you making the years count? Are you guiding your children down the path toward mature, godly, all-for-Jesus adulthood? Are you showing them what that looks like in your own life?

Pray along with David, “ So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Then sit down, write up some real plans, and train those precious children before they’re all grown up and gone. 


P. S. I didn’t write this post to promote these books, but I should at least offer the reminder that Doorposts has two books designed specifically for helping you purposefully take hold of the years you have with your children. If you’re looking for help, Plants Grown Up for boys and Polished Cornerstones for girls will give you hundreds of practical ideas for training your children in godly living.

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Less Is More.

LessIsMore081914I’ve had a garden every summer for the past thirty-five years. It’s generous to call some years’ efforts a garden. Different years meant different babies newly arrived or still in the works during garden seasons. Babies were born in April, May, June, August, September, October (of different years, obviously :-) ). Those years were a bit more challenging. I called the gardens of those years my treasure hunt gardens. Go out and see what you can find in the weeds.

In thirty-five years, I’ve managed to learn a few things  – what we will eat and what we never get around to using (kohlrabi is amusing to look at but not very exciting to eat), how much lettuce to plant at one time so a whole row doesn’t go to seed all at once, which seeds never seem to germinate for me (no parsnips for us this year :-( ), which seeds I should plant thickly in order to get enough to sprout.

But one thing I’ve never seemed to learn is how to thin seedlings without feeling bad.

Actually, I have learned that it’s important to thin seedlings. I usually just can’t bring myself to kill all those hopeful little baby plants! Right now I have lettuce that I need to go out and thin. I always tell myself that I’ll wait until the plants have grown some, and then we can use the thinnings in a salad. It’s a nice theory, but I don’t always get around to it.

And so I end up with lots of small, crowded lettuce plants in the same space that seven or eight heads of lettuce would thrive in if they had enough space. The same thing happens with the beets — lots of small ones instead a fewer big ones. Swiss chard and carrots often suffer the same neglect.

Sometimes less actually means more. Less plants in the ground often means more actual food to eat. If fifty lettuce plants aren’t all fighting for the same 10 feet feet of soil, we actually get seven or eight nice big heads of healthy lettuce.

Sometimes less means more when it comes to raising our kids, too. It’s so hard to say “no” to so many good activities, but how many things can we actually cram into a 24-hour period and do them all well? How many lessons, how many sports activities, how many church commitments, how many social gatherings?

If we try to squeeze too much into our lives (and into the lives of our children), none of our busy-ness ends up bearing much fruit. We end up with a lot of activity, but not much deep learning or real joy in what we’re doing.

When we’re too busy, the best things often get crowded out, like the Yugoslavian Red lettuce I really like that is getting crowded out by the overpopulation of ho-hum green lettuce. It needs space to grow. I need to give it that space.

When our lives get too full, we often sacrifice the best parts of life and the parts God holds us most responsible for — things like relaxed, un-pressured time spent with our children and with our spouse, time learning together from God’s Word, time thinking and imagining and planning, time building relationships, time when Mama isn’t cranky and stressed as she tries to keep up with everyone’s overbooked schedules. (I can remember some too-busy seasons of our family life when I’m sure I was not very fun to live with.)

We’re supposed to teach our children God’s law when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up. That means we need to spend time with them — time when we can really give them our undivided attention.

As we are about to launch into a new school year, stop and reevaluate. Do you need to do some “thinning”? Should you reconsider how many extra classes and activities you want to encourage your children to participate in? Pray about this. What does God want you and your family to do? What is really going to matter twenty or thirty years from now — or more importantly — in eternity? Are you making those things a priority?

Discuss this with your husband, pray together, fortify yourselves, and start plucking out the good things that are going to keep you from doing the best things and doing them well.

I’m heading out now to face that row of lettuce. :-)




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A Giveaway Winner!


Thank you all for your responses to our giveaway! It is so encouraging to hear what God has been teaching you through His Word. And thank you for all your words of thanks and encouragement. I count it a privilege to have studied together with you all!

My prayer is that the lessons we learned in our study will stay with us and change the way we view and live our lives. Our lives are all about God — who He is, what He has done, and what He will continue to do in our lives and in the lives of those around us as we love and obey Him. Stay in the Word! :-)

Comment #73 by Trish was randomly drawn as the winner of our $50 gift certificate! Congratulations, Trish! We’ll be emailing you soon!

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Feeling Stuck

Frustrated childI hear a child’s frustrated crying in the kitchen. I go to investigate, and I find my 2-year-old son pushing with all his might against a chair, angry that it’s not moving.

He has plans, but something has gone wrong. Soon I realize why he’s upset.

The back of the chair has run into an open cupboard door and stopped his movement. But his head is down, his brow is furrowed, and he’s still crying and vigorously pushing the chair with both hands. This focused little guy hasn’t noticed what’s happening, and he’s getting more frustrated by the minute.

I step in to help, moving the chair, closing the cupboard, and letting the relieved little fellow resume scooting his chair across the floor.

It makes me chuckle to myself. How silly of him.

But then I realize that I do the same thing sometimes as a parent. I get angry at problems instead of looking for a way to fix them:

  • I get frustrated when we’re late to church AGAIN.
  • I get angry at the child who tests my limits instead of obeying me.
  • I’m resentful that I missed my Bible reading time because I was up with children during the night or too early in the morning.

Although it’s easy to feel like the victim in situations like these, I’m actually the one responsible to do something about the problem. For example:

  • Make a plan for Sunday morning that includes preparing ahead and allowing time for the inevitable lost shoe and other emergencies.
  • Be more consistent in expecting obedience, so the child won’t need to test me every time.
  • Make back-up plans for Bible study at other times during the day, because mornings are just not predictable in this season of life.

Proverbs 14:15 says “the prudent gives thought to his steps.” When challenges or frustrations arise, sometimes we need to step back and take a better look at what we’re doing. We need to take responsibility, consider the situation, and look around us for a solution.

Here are some steps that may help:

  • Pray for God’s wisdom and help
  • Talk with your spouse and look for a solution together as a team.
  • Get advice from older, wiser parents you respect
  • Ask yourself questions like “What does God’s Word say about this problem?” “What can we do to prevent this problem?” and “How does God want us to deal with this problem?”
  • Make a change to your own behavior, priorities, routines, expectations, etc.

Parenting is a demanding job. One of the ways we can avoid burning out is to be prudent about how we respond to problems and frustrations. God sees it all, and He is ready and willing to help us!

Posted in Encouragement, Family, Fatherhood, Household Organization, Motherhood, Object lessons, Proverbs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Printer-friendly view | 6 Comments

Prayer Makes Things Happen

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16, NASB).

PrayAugust72014Do I really believe this verse? If I do, why don’t I pray more?

Our sermon on Sunday was on prayer. I came away challenged to make prayer the first thing I do:

- When I get up in the morning

- When I’m tempted to say things I shouldn’t

- When I don’t know what I should do about something

- When misunderstandings occurs

- When I’m too tired to keep going.

I want prayer to be my first response, as I acknowledge my utter dependence on Him. He’s the one who changes things. He’s the one who gives wisdom. He’s the one who has promised to listen.


Just to let you know, for the next month or two, we are going to be posting here just once a week. We’re cutting back for two reasons:

I’m in the middle of working on a chart and book set based on 1 Corinthians 13, and I haven’t been making much progress while traveling to conferences and writing Bible studies! We would like to get this project finished up and available this fall, and fall is coming fast!

I would also like the extra time so that I can respond to many of you ladies who asked questions, left comments, or expressed needs as we studied Proverbs 31 together. I just couldn’t keep up with that while I was writing the Bible study lessons.

So we’ll be posting on Tuesdays only for now. I would appreciate your prayers as I try to finish up the 1 Corinthians 13 chart. Pray that this can be a tool that will help parents teach their children about godly love, and pray for clear thinking, fewer-than-normal distractions, and some sleep! :-) And I’ll pray for you, that God will give you grace and strength as you live each day with its challenges and blessings!

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