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  • Writer's picturePaul Hargreaves

Discipline…the art of becoming a disciple.

Updated: Feb 26

Bob Dylan had a series of "Christian" albums which came out when he announced that he converted to Christianity. The first album was "Slow Train Coming" which had a song on it called "Gotta Serve Somebody". This song was met with divisive reviews and John Lennon of the Beatles famously criticized the song and wrote a parody titled "Serve Yourself" in response.

The truth is that we are created to serve somebody. We are created to look for and have within our lives a final authority. As Dylan says in the song..."Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you're gonna have to serve somebody". There certainly is the option to "Serve Yourself" as Lennon puts it but we all need to ask ourselves regularly "Who or what is most important to me? or Who or what do I serve?

I wonder if Dylan as inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthews gospel.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money." ~Matthew 6:24

Or maybe he had just read Galatians 1:10 where the Apostle Paul, inspired by God in His Word, says to us...

"Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."

or maybe he read James 4:4 that speaks harshly to us...

"You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God."

The truth remains that we all are serving or following someone or something which has somehow become our final authority.

God has given parents the task of helping children see that He is the final authority for all people...for all time. From the time of Adam and Eve's creation in the garden to each of our coming into the world, God has always been the final authority. That is what it means when we say He is God or He is our Lord. When it comes to discipline we all are under the final authority of God. He is perfect in His discipline. We might as well learn from Him on what it means to discipline our children.

The word discipline comes from the word disciple which is a great word that Jesus uses to give title to those who have decided to follow Him. tells us that this word’s origin is: “Old English, from Latin discipulus ‘learner’, from discere ‘learn’; reinforced by Old French deciple. Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower,"

If the heart of discipline is seeing our children as learners, pupils, students, and followers of Jesus, maybe how we discipline would be more than just helping our children to simply follow the rules, or, as I said in an earlier blog, to…“Just Say No”.

If we see that the primary role of parents is to help our children learn what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus, we will need to learn as parents what this actually means. It is Biblically accurate to look at our lives and the lives of our children from three dimensions: Heart, Soul and Mind. Jesus tells us that the most important commandment of all is this: “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Being a disciple of Jesus then seems to have three dimensions. How can we shepherd our children’s heart, their soul and their mind?

When we first became parents, my wife and I both read a variety of books on discipline. Most seemed to center on modifying the behavior of your children. Behavior modification, simply put, means that your children’s behavior is modified through a series of rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior. If you want disciplined children, you need to come up with a reward and punishment system. This will control their behavior as long as you are in control. Although we found good ways to use some form of this type of discipline, it always seemed to teach children how to behave from the outside-in rather than their learning what authentic change would look like which would come from the inside-out.

Whenever the parenting goal was just to control our children’s actions by only modifying their behavior, we would often find ourselves worn out and circling back to the same issues without much change. There are times when we have all tried to guide, nudge, nag, remind, even harass… yet, in the end, these kids still seem to decide what action they will take.

If the goal in discipline is a more lasting change in behavior, my wife and I found that it would be better to get to the root of the problem. Sin is really the root. Sin literally means to “miss the mark”. If the mark of a disciple is to be like Jesus, then we can agree that every single one of us will miss that mark every day. There is an obvious need for cleansing and forgiveness when we miss the mark. A disciplined follower of Jesus will need to then learn what it means to turn from anything we do or say that is not Christ like, re-center our lives on the LORD and be spiritually cleansed from this behavior every single day. Good physical hygiene includes washing regularly so it makes sense that spiritual cleansing should be just as regular if not more so.

Shepherding the hearts of our kids towards seeking Jesus first is quite the challenge when our culture has so many other things they can center their lives on. As our children get older we find them becoming more and more like the culture in which they live. What can keep their lives centered on following Jesus as they get older? What if we centered more on the heart, soul, and mind care of our children when they were younger? What if helping children center their lives daily on Jesus changes the behavior? Inside-out discipline comes more from focusing on the condition of the heart of our children.

It has seemed to my wife and I that teaching our children to love the LORD our God and center our lives on Him was foundationally the best course towards disciplined children. We are blessed to have three daughters that are all daily centering their lives on Jesus and teaching their children to do the same. To be completely honest here though, there was a whole lot of guiding each of them to see what it means to re-center their lives on Jesus throughout the 18 or so years they were in our home. A lot of tears, a lot of patience, a lot of trial and error, many times of confession and forgiveness, and a whole lot of our asking God to fill and empower us by the His Holy Spirit.

Look for creative ways to fight for re-centering the hearts of your children on the LORD. Teach them what this looks like by what you say and do. Create an environment where you find behavior is modified by learning together that sin, repentance and forgiveness come from daily centering our lives on Jesus. At times it will seem like a fight- a fight for their hearts. Hearts are being tugged by so many things and people in our world. This is a fight worth fighting for. There is a great blog written by Reggie Joiner called Fight for the Heart. Check it out. It will help you see how you can create a culture of unconditional love in the home which will fuel the emotional and moral health of your children.

Now let’s approach discipline in a way that will take three important ingredients: practice, planning and patience.

1. I need to practice being like Jesus in the way that I act and talk to my kids.

That means that through my everyday interactions I need to habitually seek Jesus and center my life daily on Him. Know that children are watching your behavior and they will learn from you. Your centering your life on being a disciple of Jesus and being more like Him would teach your children many great lessons. Use words that are helpful and not harmful. That is what Jesus does with us. Truth sometimes hurts but it is helpful. Words of encouragement and blessing children with praise is also helpful. Ask yourself about your actions and words. Are they modeling who Jesus is for all of us?

Ephesians 4:29 (GWT) “Don’t say anything that would hurt [another person]. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.”

2. Good discipline is preceded by good planning.

Discipline will always include consequences of our actions. God gave us the 10 commandments to let us know the boundaries we need to live within. It wasn’t to make life miserable. These laws actually come from a heart of Love from our Heavenly Father. God has and allows consequences to teach us, and so should we as parents. If my child makes the wrong decision, what are the consequences? Do my kids know the rules? Do they also know the consequences? Are we consistent in our rules and consequences? There have been times we’ve sent a child to their room letting them know, “We’re going let you take some time to think about the rules, and also the right consequences for your action. In a little while we’ll sit down with you and talk through all of that.” Good planning means that your children first know the rules to live and love by. It also means that they know what the consequences might be when the various rules are broken. To be a disciple means that there will be a whole lot of re-centering on Jesus, cleansing and forgiveness, and repentant hearts turning back toward and following Him.

3. Patience, grace, mercy and love are critical elements when fighting for the heart of a child.

Why? Because kids are going to make mistakes. That has been the way for all of us in this journey of being a disciple…a follower of Jesus. Our ability to be patient with their mistakes communicates an unconditional love towards them. They need a safe place to mess up and know that they are capable of doing better the next time. While your children are in your home and before they leave the “nest”; patience, grace, mercy and love creates great discipleship space for learning what it means to follow Jesus. There will be times you will find yourself empty of any or all of these attributes. The fruit of God’s Spirit is what we need. Be daily filled with the Spirit of Almighty God. The evidence of God and His Spirit in us is seeing the fruit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control. Be filled… Daily!

Jeremiah 7:23 says to all of our hearts..."But this is what I [God] commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’"

Let's teach our children what it means to obey the Lord in all things so that "it may be well" with them. Teach your children daily about this most important relationship. He will be our God and we will be His people. He is the perfect final authority.

Parenting at it's best is daily deciding to allow God to be the final authority in our lives and in the lives of our children. By the time they leave the nest of our home they should be able to live in the perfect discipline of the LORD.

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