The secret of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

I love how the apostle Paul expresses himself. Here he is (in prison, no less!) telling the people of Philippi, “Be joyful in Jesus ALL the time. Did you get that? I say, be JOYFUL!” I think I get why he puts such emphasis on this point. I crave for my children to feel the joy of the Lord in their spirit. Because I know that once they’ve tasted real joy in Jesus, they will never want to let go.

Have you ever watched Veggie Tales’ DVD ‘Madame Blueberry‘? It’s about a lady (or rather, blueberry) who tries to buy joy. She knows it’s out there, but she doesn’t know how to get it. Until one day she sees a little boy rejoice despite his circumstances. Suddenly, Madame realises that joy is closely tied to thankfulness. She is well quoted in our house: A thankful heart, is a happy heart. Proverbs 17:22 tells us the same thing: ‘A joyful heart is good medicine.’

Paul tells us we should be joyful always. If joy is tied to thankfulness, that means we should be thankful, always. Not just when we live in peace. Not just when we are well. Not just when we get what we want. Always. We can be barren, threatened by terrorists, or plagued by illness, yet we can rejoice.  The secret is keeping that eternal perspective. ‘Joy in Jesus’ is because of Jesus, and not dependent on anything this world can or can’t give us. His sacrifice and victory and freely offered grace are the source of an eternal joy that we can know and live despite our circumstances. However saddened we are by the situations we are in, they cannot and should not rob us of true joy.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

The question is, how do we impart this joy to our children?  I have shared before some practical ways to encourage joy in our children. We also need to be living joyfully ourselves. On top of this, I believe teaching our children to live life God’s way will help them access joy, as it says in Proverbs 19:8 (emphasis mine):

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the
heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Most importantly, we need to infiltrate their lives with the Good News. Grace should be woven into every conversation. We need to talk about it as we sit in our house, as we walk along our way, when we go to lie down and as we wake up to each new day. It should be inextricably bound up in our words and actions. It should be sprinkled throughout our home.

As our children go through life they experience all its frustrations, fears, temporary pleasures and empty promises. We must be there to help them see things from the right perspective. To help them grasp that yes – life will fail them. But this is not the same as God failing them. Because God looks at the big picture, the forever. And with regards to eternity, He has sorted it out on our behalf – eternal joy.

Loving discipline

I recently wrote about the necessity of both grace and discipline in effective parenting. As a follow up on this I thought I’d share ways we have implemented this in our own family, in the hopes that what works for us might be helpful to you too.

Showers of love

I am a great believer in showering children with love. Obviously this takes many different forms, but some of the things you would see everyday in our house are:

  • Lots and lots and LOTS of hugs, kisses, snuggles, high-fives, lap-time, and other positive physical contact.
  • Praying for each other, thanking God for the gift of family and asking God to help each child when they are struggling.
  • Random exclamations of “I love you SO much!”, “I love spending my days with you.”, “You are so precious.” etc.
  • Praise and encouragement, for little and big things.
  • Speaking gently and gracefully.
  • Doing things together – especially if this is a child’s love language.
  • Listening to children.
  • Laughing and joking together.

There are many more ways to express love to our children, but the important thing is that it IS expressed. This constant outpouring of love develops security in the parent-child relationship which is essential for discipline to have the right effect (heart-changing rather than simply behaviour-changing).

Firm boundaries

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

In my experience it is vital to set the expectation of obedience early on. Children need to know that the parent is in charge, and that they must respect that authority. In our house we often talk about the chain of command: children must submit to parents and parents must submit to God. This has two implications: Firstly, children should obey parents because God said so. Secondly, parents are responsible to God for parenting in obedience to His will. Some of the ways we set firm boundaries in our house are:

  • Zero tolerance for disrespect. Lack of respect for others – especially authority – is one of the biggest problems I see in children and youth today. It is also a heart issue, which is why we place such importance on it. In my experience dealing with this effectively makes every other discipline issue easier to resolve.
  • No time for ‘one, two, three’. I know parents who believe the counting technique is a good and helpful way to help a child obey. To my mind, however, this teaches children two problematic ideas: One, that obedience should only be done at the last possible moment, rather than as a response of a heart which delights to obey. Two, that obedience is only required to avoid punishment. This second idea is the most damaging, as it subtly undermines the principle of saving grace. However, I do think there is a difference between “We’re going. Get off that swing now!  One, two, three..” and “We need to leave, darling – I’ll give you five more seconds on the swing and then we’ll go. One, two, three, four, five.” The first teaches that ‘now’ doesn’t mean ‘now’.  The second shows consideration for the child’s feelings and gives time for them to move from one task to the next whilst still requiring obedience at the time it is required.
  • Careful use of ‘no’. Sometimes it’s easy to say ‘no’ without thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to say no when it’s necessary. A carefully considered balance is what is required. If a child hears ‘no’ too frequently they can become frustrated, so we try to say ‘yes’ often. However, it is also vital that children learn to deal with ‘no’ appropriately, so on issues of importance we must be brave to say ‘no’ even if it means tears in the middle of the store. A child’s character development is more important than our own embarrassment.

As with everything, the grace-discipline balance is something we are constantly fine-tuning. And in our turn we are shown both grace and discipline from God. I find myself frequently praying for wisdom to teach Prince and Princess how to live in His ways whilst dependent on His grace. But as they are growing we have begun to see the fruit of firm discipline blended with grace-filled love, and I can tell you – it is SO sweet. I am humbled and delighted by the joyful obedience my children show every day, and I thank God for the love which fills our home.

I will leave you with this encouragement from the book of Proverbs, and pray you will all be filled with delight in the children God has blessed you with.

“Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.
Punish them with the rod
and save them from death.

My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad indeed;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path:
Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.
The father of a righteous child has great joy;
a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.
May your father and mother rejoice;
may she who gave you birth be joyful!”

Proverbs 23:12-25

Grace vs discipline? It’s not a dichotomy!

“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1

I have been blessed to observe many wonderful examples of parenting amongst my friends and family. I am always seeking to learn how to become a better parent myself. When I see children who are full of love for God and others I look carefully at how they have been parented, hoping to find some wisdom I can apply in my own family. There is nothing so important as the job of a parent, and we only get one shot at it. I desperately want to get it right!

It is a combination of my own experiences, observations of others and study of the Bible that has lead me to believe that grace-based parenting and parenting with discipline are two pivotal parts of the parenting puzzle. I believe they must work together, and that when they do the result is beautiful to behold. Yet so often grace and discipline are seen as opposing perspectives – an either/or choice. My experience is that to show grace without discipline leads to stress, strife, and sadness. To insist on discipline without grace leads to fear, shallow faith, and distant family relationships. The most successful parents I know apply both of these principles, balanced in just the right way – and their children are a delight and an inspiration. Let’s look at these two aspects in a little more detail.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

It is abundantly clear in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and that NO amount of good behaviour or Godly virtues can get us to heaven. It is essential that we teach this to our children. We need to model grace in our daily interactions with them, and we need to show them that we, too, are in constant need of grace. Our children should know in their innermost being that they are part of a messed up humanity, AND that they are loved beyond imagination by a God who wants to freely offer them salvation. This truth is vital. We need to talk about it and live it out openly at every opportunity. It is foundational.

Secondly, we need to parent with strict discipline. I include the word ‘strict’ here because I think most parents discipline to some degree. The type of discipline I’m talking about here is the kind that requires obedience and respect. This is where I begin to hear some dissent. Within the Christian parenting circle we talk a lot about grace. It is generally agreed that grace, unconditional love and forgiveness are central parts of parenting. But when discipline comes into the conversation many people begin to look wary. It’s not that parents don’t want their children to be obedient – but many seem to be afraid of enforcing it. They appear to feel that being strict is at odds with offering grace. But if we look at the Bible, I think this idea is unfounded.

The Bible  shows us two very clear aspects of who God the Father is, and how he relates to us as his children. Firstly, he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8.) Yet at the same time we are told – no, warned – that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31.) Also, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6) We can see here that despite our free access to God’s grace, he also disciplines his children and is not afraid to punish those who reject him. That seems very much like a balance between grace-based parenting and parenting with strict discipline.

Proverbs 13:24 is pretty straight forward on the topic of parental discipline: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This verse tells us that avoiding discipline equates to hating our children. Yikes. In fact, if you really love your child (and most people say they do), then you will prove this by being careful to discipline “diligently”, or “promptly”, as the NASB and NKJV put it. Why? Because living according to God’s principles will bless your child, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their country, and the world. Hebrews 12:11 sums it up perfectly: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So YES – it is by grace, not works, that we are saved. This is the foundation we absolutely need to teach our children to live upon.  But let’s not allow that wonderful truth to prevent us from disciplining our children – for their own good.

Pressing on

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Paul had his priorities right. He valued Christ above all else.  In chapter 1 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (v21)  Here in chapter 3 he says that if anyone has a right to boast in the flesh, it is him – and yet he considers his worldly advantages to be as “garbage” compared to belonging to Jesus.  This is Paul’s goal: to attain to the resurrection from the dead, which Christ Jesus has offered him.

“There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives.”

I, too, have this goal.  But as a mom, it is not just for me, but for my children also. There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives. Yet daily I mess up. I fail to live up to the opportunities given to me; I make selfish choices; I prioritise worldly values; I model sinful attitudes. I am sure you fail too. And God knows this. He knows we are helpless – so he gave us a gift: infinite grace.

Because of grace, reaching our goal does not depend on us achieving perfection here on earth. We will not be saved on the merit of our motherhood, our ministry, or our self-imposed laws. We cannot save our children, either, no matter how many hours a day we spend teaching them of His love (don’t mistake me here – we should teach them this, it’s just that we cannot save them). We, and our children, can only gain the prize of salvation by accepting it. Christ Jesus came to offer us freedom and eternal salvation because of His perfect life. When we begin to understand this concept, we are blown away.

None of us have reached this goal yet, but there is hope. I want to encourage us all, to forget what is behind, and press on to what is ahead. Start each day – even each hour, each minute – anew.  Accept the grace of God, and look forward. Don’t dwell on the mistakes and failures of the past. Persevere in your faith; pray for your children. There is hope in the future.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

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