My husband has one answer for a child’s rebellious heart: “Work ‘em!” Bad attitude, whining, arguing, negotiating, grumbling, complaining? “Work ‘em!” When I’m at my wit’s end and call for backup assistance? “Work ‘em!” Bickering between siblings? “Work ‘em!”
Think a chore is unfair and want to keep talking about it? You’ll probably end up with all the chores. A little too vocal about what you think about doing dishes when you have all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t? You may end up with all kitchen responsibilities for a week or longer.
Giving off an overall haughty attitude? That’s right.
Remarkably, it works!
It is James’ answer for our children, and it is his answer for other kids he sees taking advantage of and disrespecting their parents out of an ungrateful heart. “They just need a little work!”
Perhaps it’s effective because it’s what God does to His children.
Monday morning, we enjoyed the rare treat of an empty, quiet house. It was a holiday, and the girls spent the night with their brother. Reclined in the living room, Bible in lap, coffee in hand, and no deadlines lurking, I enjoyed an extended time with the Lord. Reading through Psalm 107, my Bible study instructions were to note the reasons why Israel found itself distressed.
I alighted upon verse twelve and chuckled. “Well, I’ll be…” James’ approach is scriptural!
Psalm 107:12-15 says:
Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons – because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of their darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men (emphasis mine)!
The Israelites, like our children inevitably will do (and let’s not kid ourselves, like we do, too), rebelled against the words of God and despised His counsel. They were contentious and disobedient and looked down on His instruction to them. Does this describe the attitude you sometimes encounter in your own children?
And look what He did: He worked ‘em! He humbled and subdued their hearts – the seat of their rebellion – with trouble and toil. They eventually cried out to Him, and He saved them out of their distress. It is a pattern repeated throughout the scriptures: God speaks, the Israelites rebel, they suffer, and then they return, humbled and ready to submit and obey. We’ve done it. Our children do it. And like the Lord, who continued to speak His word to His children even when they refused to obey, we must do as He says in Ezekiel 2:3-7:
And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse – for they are a rebellious house – yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious (emphasis mine).
When we speak the word of God to our children, especially when we’re confronting wrong behavior, we may not be met with the friendliest response. Regardless, we cannot be afraid of our children’s unhappiness with our decisions. We cannot fear their words, dirty looks, silent treatment, backhanded remarks, or other forms of punishment.
As they grow and assert their independence, we are going to have to address rebellion. For some, it’s strong and in your face. For others, it’s under the radar and a bit harder to detect. One thing is certain, though, and that is they are all born with a sinful heart, just like we are. They are all going to struggle with their flesh. Just like we do.
The first time I was on the receiving end of a cold shoulder and cutting attitude from a rebellious heart, it broke mine. For what I was feeling, but more so for the realization of what I put my own mother through. It grieved me that I couldn’t pick up the phone and call her to beg forgiveness, again, for the countless times I screamed my hatred and punished her for decisions I didn’t like.
Whether our children are compliant or make our lives miserable when we discipline, we must do as Ezekiel says: speak God’s words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse.
And work ‘em!
For the Lord says in Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.”
For that, let us “give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.”
And let’s keep a list of extra work that needs to be done. When the need arises, we won’t be caught off guard with no chores to assign. Let’s speak God’s word to our children. Explain His desire for them and His instruction for them with regards to their relationship with us and Him. If there’s a scripture that applies specifically to the circumstances that led to their discipline, speak those words to them too. And then, like the Lord does for us and them, let’s turn our anger away from them. Love them freely. Heal their backsliding. Lead them to a place of thanksgiving for God’s goodness and wonderful works.
Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness to speak Your word and heal our backsliding. Thank you for loving us freely and turning Your anger from us as we learn to be more wholly Yours today.