Self Discipline in Our Lives and Our Children’s

We regularly receive e-mails from homeschooling moms with difficulties who are asking for advice. A common thread frequently runs through these letters: the moms are lacking self-discipline. These moms face many tasks each day, but they are missing the self-discipline to carry them out. Therefore, they suffer, and perhaps their families as well, the consequences for whatever they choose not to accomplish. In addition, the moms experience the accompanying discouragement that goes with not doing what they want to do and know they should be doing. Sometimes in the e-mails, the moms may actually define lack of self-discipline as a root of their troubles, or it may simply be evident from the description of the struggles.

In Children’s Lives

Perhaps a significant factor with self-discipline problems stems from one’s childhood. Our culture has become ingrained with the philosophy of “let children be children.” This sounds great, but what is the long-term outcome? — adult children with little, if any, self-discipline. We certainly don’t want to rob a child of his childhood, but at the same time a parent’s job is to prepare that child for life. If all a child ever does is to play, he will not have acquired the needed skills and the self-discipline that would equip him to be successful in his adult years. This is quite evident in the lives of many moms who are dealing with self-discipline problems. This character, ability, or skill—whatever you want to call it—was not nurtured, encouraged, and grown in childhood.

About a year ago, when we did a survey to collect information for our Managers of Their Chores book, we were surprised by the results. Seventy percent of the moms who responded said they weren’t prepared for their roles as wives and mothers. They attributed that to not having had to do chores as a child. The thirty percent who indicated they were prepared for being wives and mothers said it was because of their parents’ persistence in giving them chores and making sure they were done. When one evaluates this in light of the problems homeschooling moms have with self-discipline, the connection is quite amazing. What would the outcome have been in these moms’ lives had their parents thought chores were a benefit for their children and been committed to helping them learn to handle that responsibility? I believe it is likely that the self-discipline needed to manage a home and homeschool would have been developed in these girls’ lives.

If we want to help avoid difficulties with self-discipline for our children when they become adults, we need to base parenting decisions on a goal of raising a self-disciplined adult. This means we will be giving our children age-appropriate responsibilities and helping them begin to develop the thought processes necessary for self-discipline. It starts from the very simple: requiring the child to get up in the morning when he is awakened plus communicating to the child why this is important.

The children will have chores assigned to them throughout the day. There will be times when they are expected to stop their play to do their chores. We will ask our children to do a thorough job in their chores. We want to challenge them to tasks that cause them to have to apply self-discipline. We will seek rather than avoid opportunities to develop self-discipline because we desire that our children grow up to be self-disciplined adults. These years, while our children are in our homes, provide us with occasions to help them in this area rather than letting them flounder in their adult years without the self-discipline they will so greatly need and want.

I am encouraged to be committed to applying the time and effort into our children’s chore system when I see benefit in it that goes beyond simply accomplishing what needs to be done in our home. When I realize that working toward the children’s diligence and self-sufficiency in their chores is helping them not only with practical skills for their adult lives, but also with the self-discipline they need in any area the Lord Jesus calls them to, then I can view this as a necessary part of our days.

In Our Lives

Does Scripture give us any direction concerning self-discipline? The word “self-discipline” isn’t even found in the King James Version of the Bible. However, I wonder if another word for self-discipline in a Christian’s life might not be “obedience.” Consider this. If I choose not to get up in the morning when I know I should get up, that is in reality disobedience to the Lord Jesus, Who is the director of my life.

I usually view this type of choice with seemingly minor implications—sleep in or get up—as a decision that, as an adult, I am free to independently make. While I might not be pleased with the outcome when I miss out on my morning time with the Lord Jesus, don’t get my exercise in, and start school late because I didn’t get up, I will simply sigh, blame it on a lack of self-discipline, and plan to do better tomorrow. Telling myself that I struggle with self-discipline sounds much better than to say that I am disobedient to the Lord Jesus.

Perhaps disobedience is born out of years of making excuses as to why we can’t do whatever it might be that the Lord has called us to do—whether it is going to bed at a reasonable time, getting up with the alarm clock, accomplishing school, eating a healthy diet, or keeping the house clean. Because we haven’t thought of not having self-discipline as being disobedient, we can easily justify continuing down the paths we have been walking most comfortably during our lives.

Paul encourages us in the area of self-discipline. He says, “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). The word “temperate” in this verse means “an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, or to self-control” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). The word “subjection” means “to make a slave and to treat as a slave, i.e., with severity, subject to stern and rigid discipline” (Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). In these verses and with these particular words, I see Paul living a life with an eternal purpose that causes him to choose self-control and self-discipline—obedience to the Lord Jesus—and implying we should do the same.

In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells us, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The Greek word for “sound mind” in this verse is the same Greek word translated “temperate” in 1 Corinthians 9:25. We have been given a spirit of self-control—self-discipline, if you will.

Just as Paul was determined to be temperate and bring his body into subjection to serve the eternal purposes set before him, we should be as well. Everything we do in our homes with our families—from our personal time with Jesus to our homeschooling, relationships, and homemaking—is part of the Lord Jesus’ direction for our lives. We decide whether we will be obedient or not. For example, there are morning tasks that must be accomplished before school is started each day. For some the temptation is to go to the computer to check e-mail, blogs, or message boards, or engage in some other unnecessary task—for just a minute. However, that minute easily turns into fifteen minutes or half an hour, ending up robbing us of needed homeschooling time.

The Spirit has a way of prompting, nudging, and not allowing us to be content in a life void of self-discipline and obedience. For the mom who struggles with self-discipline, it becomes a choice in her life. Will she follow the dictates of her flesh, or will she follow the promptings of the Spirit? Will she be obedient or disobedient? We can be sure that it is the Spirit Who puts the need and desire in her heart to read the Bible and pray. This probably requires her to obediently get out of bed in the morning when the alarm clock goes off so that she doesn’t miss her personal time alone with Jesus. I believe if we evaluate most, if not all, of the areas requiring self-discipline in our lives, we would agree that they are the promptings and directings of the Spirit, and they require our obedience.

Often the jobs in our lives for which we must be obedient are the ones that are truly the desires of our hearts and cause us to feel the most peaceful, content, and happy when we are accomplishing them. At the same time, because they also may be more difficult, more time consuming, less natural, and more labor intensive, we find ourselves taking the easy way out by avoiding them. We create, by our own doing or maybe not doing, the environment that can make us feel like failures.

In our book Managers of Their Chores, we discuss the benefits of chores to our children, their biblical basis, and what is needed in Mom’s life (and Dad’s) to facilitate the process. If the Lord Jesus is putting concern in your heart over your lack of self-discipline or you simply want motivation and help with a chore system to encourage your children to learn self-discipline and obedience, Managers of Their Chores is a starting place.

There is so much said in Scripture about obedience. Therein lay our self-discipline problems. We haven’t realized that self-discipline really isn’t the true issue at all, but rather it is about obedience to what the Lord Jesus is calling us to do.

May I encourage each of us to evaluate areas of our lives in which we don’t have the self-discipline and obedience we know we should have. Then may we take it to the Lord Jesus, confessing it as sin, and asking for His grace and strength to change and grow. Our example is the starting place for our children. As the Lord Jesus is working in our lives, we can begin helping our children down the path of self-discipline and obedience in a purposeful manner. We can give them responsibilities and chores and communicate to them why these are important in their lives now and in the future. We reap what we sow. Will we sow seeds that will reap a harvest of self-discipline in our children’s lives and in our own lives?

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is rapidly coming upon us and will likely be celebrated in almost every home that receives these Corners. Without exception, each year my family has endeavored to make Father’s Day a very special day for me. From morning to bedtime, they lavish their gratitude and love on me through their attention, words, cards, gifts, and actions. As I reflect on their kindness, I am humbled by my unworthiness of their love.

Which of us really deserves the love and respect our family shows us? I am grateful my family loves and accepts me. When I look at my failures, weaknesses, and character flaws, I praise God for the respect my family gives me even though I don’t deserve it. What should my attitude be toward the shortcomings in my life? Should I just accept them saying that is the way I am or persevere in changing by God’s grace?

Recently, Teri and I were discussing the children’s school. We talked about some of the issues of this year and their impact on next year’s school. As we discussed things, I could see that I had let Teri down by not fully supporting her in the managing of our homeschool. Finally, when the truth settled in, I confessed to her, “Honey, I can see that my heart has not been turned toward the children’s schoolwork as it should have been, will you forgive me?” I don’t like to let Teri down, but I could see it was true.

It isn’t as if I don’t care about the children’s schoolwork; I do. However, I have undermined Teri’s success at times by letting other things take the priority in my heart that school should have. As this situation unfolded, I had to chuckle in one respect, since just a day or so earlier I had a brother in Christ write and ask how I managed my priorities. My answer was that we are the ones setting our priorities and need to make decisions based on those priorities. Before I knew it, I had a prime example of my failure to do just that in this area of our homeschooling. I have repented and will endeavor by God’s grace to make better decisions in relation to our homeschooling as we go forward.

We can easily deceive ourselves into thinking we are living by our priorities. For example, most reading this article would likely have these as their top five priorities:
1. Relationship with God
2. Relationship with wife
3. Relationship with children
4. Vocation
5. Ministry
What happens, though, when we aren’t aware that our decisions are out of line with our priorities?

In Ezekiel 34, God is speaking to shepherds about bad decisions and actions in their lives. They have put themselves first while neglecting their flocks. “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:1-2) I don’t believe those shepherds felt they were bad shepherds. It is likely that they thought they were doing a pretty good job. Then Ezekiel came and told them they were bad shepherds. Isn’t that the way it is for us too? It often takes someone else to help us come to an awareness that something is wrong in our lives.

Our difficulty with seeing our own sin is one reason that Jesus gave the church an outline in Matthew 18 for how to resolve a problem with another brother. Even when confronted, we often won’t believe a person if he tells us there is an area in our lives that needs to change. This is where a godly, respected brother in Christ can help—someone we trust. If that brother comes alongside, puts an arm on my shoulder and says, “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to be. . .” will I listen to him? Am I open to what he says even if it is hard for me to accept?

Unfortunately, most don’t have a brother who is willing to exhort on a personal level, so what is he to do? In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says for us to, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Examining myself is beneficial for my family’s sake. May we have an attitude that we desire to know our faults and failures so we can keep them on our hearts and before the Lord Jesus for His grace. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I find that to be a good opportunity to ask the Father to examine my heart. Some nights He reveals something, and other times I go right back to sleep.

Next to the Father, my family knows me best. May I have the type of heart that is always open to hearing about my failures and weaknesses from my wife and children. If that is my attitude, then I believe my children will tend toward an attitude of being willing to humbly listen to me when I need to share their faults with them.

If we don’t receive feedback on the decisions that we make and concerning our “walk,” we can expect a similar attitude in our children. In John 8:41a Jesus said, “Ye do the deeds of your father.” Then in 8:44, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Not only do our children do the things we do, but they will also lust or desire after the things we desire. (For more on the power of appetites and how they affect our children refer to Preparing Sons to Provide for a Single-Income Family and Keeping Our Children’s Hearts).

Dads, we must own the fact that we have tremendous influence in the lives of our children. Being a father carries with it eternal responsibilities in our children’s lives. Being a godly father is far, far, far more important than putting food on the table—it involves our example and how we live out Jesus Christ in our homes. Do our lives portray that of a disciple of Jesus Christ? No one is perfect, but do our families see dads who hunger for Jesus and are growing closer in their spiritual walks?

If we say we love Jesus but our lives betray our real priorities, then our children will likely follow our bad example. We receive heartbreaking e-mails from moms whose husbands profess to be Christians, yet, one could not prove it by their decisions. These moms are not whining or grumbling, but they are seeking encouragement concerning how to counteract the dad’s bad influence in the lives of their children. The moms see the wrong directions their children are heading and with all their hearts, they want to try to change that path. With Dad’s authority goes responsibility, and it is an extremely difficult job at best, to counteract a dad’s bad influence in the children’s lives. As we see the undesirable fruit in the lives of our children, it will cause us to repent and change, but if only it wasn’t necessary to get to that point. It often takes the heartbreak of Dad seeing his mistakes to bring about the grief and repentance necessary to change his course. That is why it is such a good thing when we will first ask the Lord to examine us, and then our wives and children.

As Father’s Day approaches, may it be a time of celebration—including celebrating the love, forgiveness, and grace of the Father as He enables us for the job before us. I feel so inadequate to raise my children, but I know the One who is more than able to strengthen and direct me. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Certainly, in my weakness, He is strong. If it takes chastening to change my heart, it is done out of His great love to turn me back toward Him. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19). Dads, it is a difficult job, but the blessings are beyond measure. Happy Fathers Day! May God richly bless each of you as you seek Him with your whole heart!

Posted in: Dad's Corner