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Decisive Influence

Ephesians 6:4 states, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” There are two words used in this passage that describe the influence of a parent:
Training is a word that means “child training.” It is built around the idea of giving discipline until they develop self-discipline. The goal is to raise up self-directed adults who possess self-control. Early on, they lack this ability so we, as parents, make decisions for them and then gradually release the responsibility to them as they are ready.
Instruction literally means, “training by word.” It has the force of coaching and includes the use of whatever means are necessary to get results. It can, therefore, include teaching, reproof, challenges, reminders, growth strategies, etc. The goal is to help the people we love discover their God-given dream and develop the skills necessary to live it out.
What strikes me about both of these approaches is they are other-centered and they are built around decisions. We are trying to get kids to decide to be self-disciplined and to live out their potential. If I want to maximize my impact on my kids and grandkids then, I need to give them as much decision-making authority as they can handle.
This was especially clear to me as my middle son, Zach, was getting ready to enter high school. We have told all our kids, “When you become a teenager, you need to be busy. So, in addition to school, you need to be involved in two extracurricular activities.” As is common when you have an older brother, he wanted his own identity but he went too far with it. I would ask him, “What do you want to do when you get to high school?”
“I don’t know but I don’t want to be like Brock.”
His motto in life became, “If Brock likes it, I hate it.”
“Do you want to play football?”
“Why not?”
“Because Brock plays football.”
“Do you want to be in student leadership?”
“Why not?”
“Because Brock does that?”
This went on forever and, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get him to decide what he wanted to do. He would only decide that he didn’t want to do anything his brother was doing. I started looking for any means at my disposal to get him to make a healthy decision. I knew that if he entered the turbulent high school years with this attitude, it would not go well. In desperation, I had a sit down meeting with him.
“Zachery, the way you are thinking about your life right now is not good. You keep telling me what you don’t want to be but you aren’t deciding what you do want to be. I can’t really trust you right now to make the right decisions so I need to take action. You have a choice. You can either change the way you are approaching this or I can go to high school with you.”
I knew the message got across because his eyes got as big as basketballs. You could hear the thoughts racing across his mind, “You wouldn’t do that, would you? That would be so embarrassing. I would be the biggest loser in my school.”
I was desperately praying he changed because the last thing I wanted to do was go back to high school! It didn’t take long for him to figure it out. He did play football in high school and then did something his oldest brother would never consider—he became a competitive cheerleader, which eventually led to a college scholarship. It turned out to be a great choice for him.
Lord, give us all wisdom to make decisions that develop self-control and help us reach our potential.

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