WAYS TO ENCOURAGE A LASTING GOOD WORK ETHIC IN OUR CHILDREN
As devoted parents, we love our children and want to see them grow into productive, hard-working adults, fruitful in their service to God and man; to this end we devote our lives to training them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Yet can we do this alone? As a young mother trying to train my own kids to work, I used to love to scour self-help books, attend child discipline lectures; I tried motivators like chore packs, cute magnetic job charts, Mom Money and Dad Dollars, and more. Lots of the suggestions we get from others can certainly seem helpful. But in the end, I have found that tips from other human beings are a little bit cosmetic – they scratch the surface, and might even work for a while, but don’t get to the heart of our child, to work any sort of permanent difference (Proverbs 19:20-21). In the end, if we want lasting results in the hearts of our children, God is the only one we need to go to for advice. The following are some pointers from scripture that show active ways we can encourage our children to be willing servants:
1. PRAY FOR OUR CHILDREN WITHOUT CEASING: God points out quite clearly that unless He is the One doing the work, our efforts are useless (Psalms 127:1). “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it…” (Psalms 127:1). “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Knowing that the power to work in our children’s hearts lies not in ourselves, but in God, we must never grow careless, or forget to pray for our children constantly. Like Samuel, we must understand that we have the God-given responsibility to pray for our children as well as to teach them. “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against God in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and right way” (1 Samuel 12:23).
2. LAY THE FOUNDATION WELL: From a child’s first days, it is essential to establish the basic understanding of God as Creator, along with the implications of our being created and sustained by Him (Psalms 100; Psalms 24:1-2; Romans 1:18-25). The Creator is the Owner. The Owner is The Boss (Daniel 4:17)! Daddy and Mother are in authority in the home because the Owner has put them in charge! (Ephesians 6:1) We must nurture a willing submission to the authority arrangements that GOD Himself has ordained (Romans 13:1-5), and set a good example by our own sincere, working respect for authority of all types. WHY is this concept foundational? Our ultimate goal for our children is that they will be voluntarily fruitful and productive human beings even in childhood. However, without a solid understanding and submission to God’s authority, a child is left believing he can be the boss, thus effectively removing any motivation to please anyone but himself, unless he is forced. We CANNOT DELAY to establish this understanding of authority in our little one. If he is old enough to intentionally disobey authority, then he is old enough to be corrected and punished (Proverbs 19:18). For every moment we fail to train them to submit to authority, we are inadvertently training them in self-will and rebellion.
3. TEACH THE CREATOR’S PURPOSE AND THE JOY OF FITTING INTO HIS PLAN: Based on the understanding of our Creator’s eternal purpose for His creation (Colossians 1:16-17; Romans 8:28-29, Ephesians 2:10, etc.), we must cultivate in each child a high regard for usefulness and excellence (Luke 13:6-9). Encourage a thoughtful attitude toward all that we spend our time doing – Is this fulfilling God’s purpose for me (Proverbs 4: 26-27)? Am I being a faithful steward, or wasting my Master’s goods (Luke 16:1-12)? Will God be pleased? Foster a strong conscience that is uncomfortable with idleness and dissatisfied with emptiness. “What do I have to show for my time” (Ephesians, 5:15-17)? “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5: 15-17). He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster (Proverbs 18:9).
4. TEACH GOD’S VALUE OF FAITHFULNESS AND DILIGENCE, and his rewards for these traits: Starting during infancy, we can read and repeat Bible accounts to our little ones. For example, consider David’s exceptional faithfulness in caring for the sheep, even to the point of risking his life to kill a lion and a bear to protect them. God used that experience to test David to know what he was made of, and as preparation for even greater things, such as David’s encounter with Goliath, and for his time as king. Similarly, we can point out other accounts, such as Daniel’s choices to do right whatever the cost, Esther’s submission to her uncle, Joseph’s diligence and faithfulness as a slave/prisoner. Each of these great people started off as an obedient and good worker, and God saw He could use them for great things (Proverbs 22:29, Luke 16:10)! The scriptures are full of other inspiring accounts that all ages can understand and relate to. We also need to keep in mind that the more a child knows of God and his will through scripture, the more likely he will be to fear God and keep his commandments. (Col 1:9-11) We MUST make daily scheduled Bible study with our children an unfailing mile marker in our days. Without a doubt, Timothy’s mother and grandmother were “on to something” by teaching him to know all the scriptures from the time he was very young! (2 Timothy 3:14-17, 2 Timothy 1:5, Philippians 2:19-22)
5. TEACH THE GOOD OF OUR LABOR: Ecclesiastes 3:13 “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.” We can often gain more willing cooperation by showing our child the need for work, and how much their efforts matter to God (as well as our family, and others.) Appreciate, even on a child’s level, the joys and benefits of labor from God’s perspective – having good things to eat to make us strong to work for God, a clean home as honest in the sight of all men, etc. Reserve highest praise for willing obedience, time well spent, and hard work done cheerfully and heartily as to the Lord (Matthew 25:19-21, Colossians 3:23). Emphasize the eternal, unseen rewards which our faithful God has promised, and the value of delaying gratification in favor of better things (2 Corinthians 4:18; Romans 8:18). Teach God’s judgment of trees that do not bear fruit, and of those who waste their master’s goods by vanity and idleness (Luke 13:7, Matthew 3:10; Luke 16:1-2).
6. LIMIT ENTERTAINMENT AND FREE TIME: A steady diet of candy does not develop a taste for nutritious food. We weaken ourselves by indulgence. (Luke 7:25–delicately: G517, to enfeeble…by indulgence). Think “runner,” or “soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Remember what pleasure and riches (with their ease) do for us: “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). Teach the child the reason for this limitation of entertainment, and encourage his willing participation. (Ezekiel 16:49; Job 21:7-15; (1 Peter 4:1-2). By making up our minds to do God’s will instead of seeking our own pleasure, we prepare ourselves to be vessels unto honor, fit for the Master’s use like Timothy (2 Timothy 2:19-22; Phil. 2:19-22). In contrast, if we seek to fulfill our every desire, we make ourselves weak (Proverbs 25:28) and become vessels fitted for destruction, like Pharaoh (Exodus 5:2; Romans 9:22, 17). If a child learns to seek his own pleasure and ease, can he be an effective servant to God (2 Timothy 3:1-5)?
7. REALIZE THAT DISCOMFORT IS NOT BAD: We need to accept some discomfort as essential to being strong and productive (Proverbs 24:30-34). A mindset that is willing to suffer is actually arming ourselves against Satan (1 Peter 4:1-2, 2:19; Hebrews 12:1-13)! Consider the training necessary for greatness (examples, soldiers or Olympic contenders) and teach persistence and endurance. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ…” (2 Timothy 2:3-6). We can choose to endure discomfort now in order to be rewarded later, or we can refuse to endure discomfort now, and be EXTREMELY miserable later! “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
8. WATCH OUR OWN ATTITUDE! “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23). We need to be careful not to set a bad example by complaining about your own work, exhaustion, lack of free time, etc. (Philippians 2:14-15). Instead, learn to exemplify joyful service yourself, even when things are hard. And remember that our WILLING service is what offers a reward. “For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward. But if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” (1 Corinthians 9:17).
9. GET IN THE TRENCHES WITH OUR TROOPS: We should work with our children often and pleasantly. This is especially critical as they are learning new jobs, but beneficial at any time. We can make working together something a child can look forward to, both by our genuine cheerfulness and welcome encouragement. Certainly, we must never be like the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4, “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” If we never get our hands dirty, but only dictate, we will inevitably discourage our kids.
10. PRACTICE WORK DAILY: “Practice makes perfect.” We have a choice. We can either practice idleness or industry. It would be a rare child that started out liking work for its own sake. For most, the willingness to work must come through the suffering of being MADE to practice work obediently, until it is familiar enough not to be dreadful. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). This may be the most difficult part of training for a mother to implement consistently – when a child whines, we often feel tender-hearted and want to alleviate their suffering (and ours!) However, we actually exercise our hearts spiritually with certain practices, (2 Peter 2:14; Ecclesiastes 1:13, “travail” – H6045 ado, employment). So rather than practicing idleness or slothfulness, we need to make sure our children practice diligence and faithfulness to labor, even if they are not willing in the beginning. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27).
11. TAKE TIME TO CONSIDER WAYS TO PROVOKE TO LOVE AND GOOD WORKS (Hebrews 10:24). It is essential to use the Lord’s wisdom in teaching our children to value the things God values, which are highly motivating to both young and old. For example, a mother could read the scriptures Luke 22:25-27 and John 13, in which Christ taught his disciples that the greatest among us is the one that serves; he later embodied that wisdom in humility by washing their feet. With those scriptures in mind, a mother may occasionally do the more menial tasks herself, allowing time for her child to do a more prestigious job. The child may be encouraged by the opportunity to tackle something that makes a noticeable difference. Can he plan a meal and help cook it? Could she plant flowers by the mail box after she pulls weeds? It helps to listen to each child, discovering what makes him tick, finding things that might discourage him or encourage him. If we talk with our child, it can help to cultivate a sense of camaraderie in accomplishing the work the Lord has given us all to do. Remember, we mothers will have to give an answer to God for our stewardship (Hebrews 13:17; Colossians 3:21; Job 31:13-15). We must carefully consider what our children are currently able to bear (1 Corinthians 3:2) while still challenging them to grow.
12. PLOW IN HOPE: We need to be willing to teach and re-teach, (and re-re-teach!) without feeling despair, or despising and criticizing our child’s character if he is resistant or slow to learn (Proverbs 11:12, Job 31:15, Proverbs 14:21). Remember, with what judgment we judge, we will be judged (Matthew 7:2, Ephesians 6:9). Do we want God to be easily discouraged with us? (Isaiah 42:3-4). When we get discouraged, we must keep in mind that our work with our child is with their heart, not simply the outer actions, and a heart takes time to be genuinely changed. How often has God had to re-teach me the same life lessons? If I find my own self having to learn the same lessons over and over again, should I expect any more from my child? (Romans 2:1-4). The fact that a child doesn’t change instantly doesn’t mean he’s hopeless. We need to love our children enough to believe in them, and remember, “And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season, we shall reap if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).