If the Train Should Jump the Tracks…

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'”

Ephesians 6:1-2

Some years back, I had the opportunity to observe for an extended period of time the behavior of a young boy I would eventually come to identify as the unhappiest child I knew. When you think of the reasons that a child might be perpetually unhappy in life, what comes to mind? Perhaps poverty and hardship, physical or mental disability, family strife, abuse, parental abandonment, sickness, or hunger? While these are all understandable reasons for emotional distress, none of these were factors contributing to this child’s continual state of unhappiness. There was indeed neglect involved in the child’s upbringing, but not neglect of material provision. In fact, he was given more than most children would dare to dream of having. Although his parents spared no expense, they did spare (to put it in proverbial terms) both rod and reproof, and thus, the child went the way of an old gallon of milk–he became spoiled rotten. 

Without ever being taught how to experience happiness or contentment in life, the boy continually resorted to whining, complaining, pouting, demanding, manipulating, and shouting in an ongoing attempt to satisfy the relentless and growing dissatisfaction within. To put it plainly, spending time in the presence of this poorly disciplined child was quite the unpleasant experience, and one which many people soon learned to avoid. I often wondered if his parents understood the great disservice they were doing to their son. Although they probably believed that indulging the child’s every desire would enable his happiness, their permissive parenting actually produced the opposite result.  

During one of his conferences on biblical parenting, Tedd Tripp devoted an entire message to the topic of helping children learn to understand authority. As he explains, a proper authority structure is not mainly for the comfort of parents; it is vital to a child’s well-being:

Imagine with me a locomotive with huge, iron wheels that weighs 60 tons and is designed to ride on a hardened steel track. When that 60 tons of mass gets rolling up and down the track, the train runs with relatively little friction and great freedom. But imagine with me that some well-meaning person came along and said, “What a shame. How narrow-minded and bigoted people are to restrict the train to the tracks. With all that mass and power, let’s liberate trains! Let’s set them all off the tracks and let them go through the meadows and woods and wherever they would like to go.”

How free is that train once you take it off the tracks? It’s going to become mired instantly, because the train has its greatest freedom on the tracks. You don’t liberate the train by taking it off the tracks; you make it totally ineffective. It becomes a 60 ton paperweight when you take it off the tracks. What God has done for human beings is that He has laid tracks upon which we are designed to run, and we will have the greatest freedom, the greatest joy, and the greatest fulfillment when we’re living in God’s world in the ways that He has designed us to live.

There are these marvelous promises for children [in Ephesians 6:2]. When they honor and obey their father and mother, it will go well with them, and they will enjoy long life…There are wonderful spiritual blessings that come to a child that is under authority. The child is learning to accept God’s authority over him. He’s learning that fulfillment for human beings is not found in doing whatever I want to do, but is found in understanding what the will of God is for me and living in light of it. He’s learning to find joy and freedom in running on the tracks as God has designed.

There also are very practical blessings. Imagine with me that you want to take an outing with your children, and you want to invite a friend of theirs along that is going to enhance their enjoyment of this time. Who are you going to invite to come along with you? You’re going to invite the child who respects adult authority. Think about the thousands of times in a child’s life when opportunities come to children who are responsive to authority that are denied children who are wild and unruly. People won’t bow and curtsy before your wild and unruly children. They will regard them as a pain in the neck. If you want your children to be regarded as a pain in the neck, let them grow up without understanding authority. People will not enjoy your kids.

There are wonderful blessings for a child who learns to honor and obey. It goes well with a child when he lives under authority.

(Condensed from Session 3: “Helping Kids Understand Authority”)

Watch or download and listen to this message or many others by Tedd Tripp on biblical parenting HERE.

Photo: femi_adi

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