The One Change That Changed Everything
by Kristina Matz
I was twenty-four years old when we had our first baby and still very much a baby myself. A spiritual baby, that is. I had only been a Christian for a little over a year and God was graciously beginning a great work in me. One that, like He is doing in your life, I trust He will bring to completion.
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6
During the last eleven years of walking with the Lord, my parenting is one of the things that has changed tremendously. And there is nothing magical or grandiose that I have done to accomplish this change. It is, in fact, the work of Christ in me. It is the beautiful gift of sanctification as a result of salvation and is spurred on by the regular disciplines of reading my bible, spending time in prayer with the Lord, hearing incredible teaching, and serving the people that God has placed in my life.
"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” - Hebrews 13:20-21
Behavior Modification: Us or Them?
If we are honest, we are all longing to affect the behavior of our children. At the core, we must be after their hearts. But we know that the fruit borne out of a changed heart will always manifest itself in their behavior. And so, as we pray for and direct their hearts, we watch their behavior and long for change.
God has used the sweet life and temperament of our four-year-old daughter to truly show me just how much my personal sanctification affects the behavior of my children. If you have read our previous blog posts, you will know that we have a strong-willed child. Well, truth be told, we have multiple strong-willed children. Each one of our children has been gifted with a tenacious spirit. One that we pray God will use for His glory through the repentance and faith of each of our children! But as tiny ones, this tenacious will is difficult, to say the least. And when our sweet four-year-old was three, I began to walk through some of the exact same struggles that I had walked through with our now eleven-year-old.
At face value, these struggles were the same. My tiny girl was acting out and asserting herself in the same ways that my son had. But this time I was different. God had been doing His very good work in me as a parent for 10 years at that point. Many rough edges have been sanded off and I was a kinder, gentler, and more biblically grounded mother than I had been in years past. And do you know what? My behavior had a very clear and noticeable effect on her behavior. Just like it had years past with our oldest, but for the worse I am afraid.
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” - Ephesians 6:4
Many of us are quick to quote Ephesians 6:1 to our children. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…” Maybe you have even had your children memorize it as we have. But I wonder how many of us have memorized Ephesians 6:4. That is God’s charge to us. We must not provoke our children to anger. Yelling. Threats. Harsh Words. These are provoking words and gestures, my friends, and they absolutely have an impact on how our children will respond to us.
Sweet as Honeycomb
The Bible tells us again and again that our words hold great power. They hold the power to destroy.
"And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” - James 3:6
And the power to give life.
"Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." - Proverbs 16:24
While sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ that affects our hearts, we know from Scripture that our words spring forth from our hearts.
"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” - Matthew 12:34b
If we took care to set a guard over our mouths (Psalm 141:3) and to aim for God’s acceptance with our speech (Psalm 19:14), we would begin to see a dramatic change in the responses of our children. If we began to speak to them in the same ways that we require they speak to us and each other, we would truly see the fruit borne from a gracious speech that pleases the Lord.
What if you took a one-week challenge. Whenever your children talk back. When they speak unkindly to you. When they pretend not to hear you. All of the things that can make you want to burst out of your skin. I challenge you to speak gracious words of authority to your children in those moments. Say “no” to the lie that authority equals volume. Say “no” to the lie that respect requires severity. What if we all began to say “yes” to the truth of God’s Word? Speak in love as you correct your children. Speak with gentleness as you walk through a session of discipline. What if how we engaged our children in their hardest moments was the very thing that pointed them to the gospel again and again throughout their childhood?
“So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” - Titus 2:10b
Continually Pursue Righteousness
Our job as a parent is clearly laid out in Scripture. We are to train our children in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:7) and lovingly correct them when they stray from that training (Proverbs 13:24). But our job as a follower of Christ comes first.
"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” - 2 Timothy 2:22
We need to keep on praying for our children. We need to regularly intercede for them, asking God to work in their hearts and ultimately bring them to salvation. But I pray that we never neglect to pray for our own sanctification, specifically as a parent. And we must marry our prayers with diligence. The word “pursue” is not a passive word, but an action word. We have something to do! If we want to be a better parent, we need to start with growing in our own personal walk with the Lord.
Read your bible. Every day. Pray. Every day. Have an accountability partner. Regularly intake sound biblical teaching. Serve in your local church body.
My early years as a Christian and as a parent were filled with God’s gracious growth, but it was a slow growth. Not being daily in the Word, not carving out time to daily pray, not regularly hearing sound and challenging teaching, and not having a community that would hold me accountable all led to a much slower growth. Looking back, I can see how this slow personal growth directly affected some of the most difficult struggles in my parenting. Maybe this is where you’re at. I can relate. But please don’t stay there! Don’t read this and think, “Well, I’ll change in 10 years!” The truth is, you are accountable to how you handle the stewardship God has given you, just as I am.
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace —in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” - 1 Peter 4:10 & 11b
May we aim for excellence, rather than stand for mediocrity. We are representing the Lord, Jesus Christ, parents. He deserves the utmost glory, even when we don’t think anyone else is watching.