Discussion with Paul Tripp

Good evening and welcome to Desiring God Live. My name is Scott Anderson, the executive director here at Desiring God Ministries, and we are coming to you live from our studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thank you for watching. It really is a joy to have you with us. On the broadcast tonight we have our friend Paul Tripp. Paul is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is to help connect people with the transforming power of Jesus Christ in everyday life. And to that end, Paul is really traveling the world. Almost every week he’s out ministering the gospel and helping people understand Jesus Christ and understand the Bible and understand the gospel in more helpful and profound ways.

Paul is also a professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, and he’s the executive director for the Center for Pastoral Care and Life in Fort Worth, Texas. Paul has written 11 books largely within the Christian Living genre and he has several DVDs and CD resources including this latest one entitled Getting to the Heart of Parenting. This will be our focus on the broadcast today. We’ll say more about this DVD resource in just a few moments. Paul and his wife Luella live in Center City, Philadelphia, and they have four grown children. Paul, you’ve been on the broadcast once before. Thank you for coming back and being with us again.

It’s great to be with you.

Usually we feature a book that we focus on in our discussion and our interview questions. We’re actually focusing on a seminar that has been recorded that Paul gave on this topic of parenting. And just at the beginning of this broadcast, we want to tell you about this a little bit. This is actually a four DVD seminar. Three of the DVDs are the actual video, and one of the DVDs has a really helpful discussion guide and leader’s guide. What they’ve done is they’ve taken basically four plus hours of Paul’s teaching on the topic of parenting and they’ve broken it up into 10, 25 minute segments that range through three major categories of what the family is, how we deal with the issue of behavior in children, and then the last few sessions are dealing with the stages of a child’s life and how we can apply the gospel and apply the Bible and apply these things we’ve learned in the seminar to the three major stages of life — birth to five years old, six to 12 years old, and then the teen years. We’ll get into all of that in just a little bit, but we wanted to unpack that right at the beginning.

Let me first switch to you, Paul, and just have you recount for us again a little bit of your story. How did you come to know the Lord? And then what drew you into the counseling world and now the writing world?

I was raised in a Christian family, albeit a troubled family in many ways. My parents decided one summer to empty the house. We lived in Toledo, Ohio, and I was sent to Northeastern Pennsylvania to a camp for the summer. And by God’s grace, my camp counselor decided that he would teach through Romans with nine-year-old boys. And it was in his instruction of Romans three that I saw my sin. That night I went to bed on the third high bunk and I couldn’t sleep. It was conviction and I knew I needed to pray and ask God to forgive me. As a nine-year-old boy, it seemed perverse to lay there and do it, so I climbed down and knelt in the middle of the floor. I’m very thankful for that experience.

There’s a lot to my story of how I finally got to the counseling world, but the brief is I was a young pastor in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I always say Scranton is a place where the American dream died in 1950. It’s an old railroad country. We were just dealing with lots of broken lives. I was doing more and more counseling and pastoral care, and I just wanted to get help. Westminster Seminary had a doctoral program and biblical counseling and I thought, well, if it’s available and it’s biblical, I want to do this. I really didn’t care about the degree program, but I thought as long as they offer a degree, I’ll enroll in that program. I had no intention to do anything but just be a more faithful pastor. And as I was completing the program, I was approached about becoming part of the faculty. That was a very difficult decision for us because that just wasn’t in our plan in any way. We went back to Scranton and asked the people there at the church to help us make this decision, and over a period of six months it became very clear that that’s where God was leading us.

How old were you at the time?

I was 37, and we had a family with children. We were just rooted, but that really just led to me being more intimately involved with asking this question: How does the gospel of Jesus Christ connect to the issues of everyday life? This is what I call the nowism of the gospel. We tend to understand salvation past and salvation future, but we tend to be confused about the present benefits of the work of Christ. And that led to beginning to write and as they say, the rest is history.

Let’s talk a little bit about what has given rise to this particular seminar. You’ve written a couple of books on parenting and many of your books have clear application to the home and to parenting. But tell me about the need behind this specific seminar. Why did you develop it and put it together in the way that you did?

I have become more and more concerned that the way that we tend to approach parenting is actually asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish, that we tend to try to set up this neat system of behavioral regulation and control, thinking that if we do that, then that’s all that’s necessary for getting children headed in the right direction. And I say again and again and again that if that were possible, if a system of regulations and control could change the heart of my child, Jesus would’ve never had to come. The gospel really presents a very, very different model. So I wanted to walk through that with parents, not just to give them a concept but to actually say, this is what it means for hands-on parenting. This is what it means for the younger child. This is what it means for that elementary age child. This is what it means for a teenager. Again, this is not just giving parents a vision, but a real practical sense of how the gospel can form the way you think about parenting,

You’ve called it Getting to the Heart of Parenting. That’s a play on words, in terms of what you’re doing in this seminar. Talk about it a little bit. Why did you name it that? This is more than just getting to the point of parenting.

It’s because the Bible is very clear. Passages like Luke 6 and Mark 7 describe that human beings were designed by God to live out of the heart. Now, the language is very important. The Bible essentially divides us into two pieces — the outer man and the inner man. The outer man is your physical self, and the inner man is characterized by many words in Scripture: mind, emotion, spirit, soul, will, etc. And those are all collected by one big basket term, the term heart. That term is used in hundreds of passages of Scripture. It’s one of the most well-developed themes in Scripture.

You are reading the Bible and you come across the word heart, here’s the definition you should have in your brain. The heart is the causal core of your personhood. The heart is the steering wheel, the heart is the directional system. Now, what that means is that my words and behavior are more formed by what’s inside of me than what’s outside of me. For parents, that means that parenting has to be more than just controlling and regulating directing behavior. It has to get at the heart that actually is in control of behavior. In parenting my child, I’m actually parenting the heart. That’s what I’m doing.

Very good. We’re going to come back and talk about that behavior piece and even that whole definition of the heart. Let’s start where you start in the seminar here though. I have found it very helpful by the way, the way that this seminar flows. In terms of the segments that the DVDs are broken into, you have two segments on just defining the family. You have a couple of segments on defining the heart and behaviors and discipline and sin. You’re really getting down to that foundational layer. But I love the last several sections that apply that to the various stages of a child’s life. Let’s start with this subject matter of the family then. You say this in the DVD, “If you don’t understand the family, you will never understand parenting.” Paul, what is God’s design or purpose for the family?

It’s presented in many passages of Scripture. Probably the most clear is Deuteronomy 6:4–9. God’s design for the family, the job description for the family, is that the family would be his primary learning community. His design is that in the family children would be daily downloaded by parents, essential facts of facts of the human existence, truths, and perspectives apart from which you will never be what you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do. And what’s very clear in Scripture is that the role of the family, the role of parents with regard to their children, is distinctively and comprehensively educational and is an essential2, irreplaceable role. The church is not meant to replace the family. The goal of the church is to equip the family to do that job. The state is not there to replace a family. At best, the state would protect the family as it does that job. The school doesn’t replace the family. In its best form, the school would support the family as it does its job. But parents who live with their children have a very important function in the life of that child.

At Desiring God, this is part of our mission statement. We care a lot about the supremacy of God in all things, and that would include parenting, obviously. You have a section in this early portion of the seminar where you talk about the absolute necessity of parents to talk about God within their family and to be intentional to speak much to your children about God. Just talk a little bit about why making those explicit connections is so important with reference to parenting.

There’s a couple of directions we could take this conversation. I’m deeply persuaded that the family is intended to be a theological community. Now, I know there are parents hearing that and they’re saying, “I just want my two-year-old daughter to eat her peas. What is this man talking about?” Or they might say, “I want my son to live in a room that doesn’t look like a bomb site. What is this theological community?” Well, what it means is that theology in its essence is the study of God. What the family must recognize is the ultimate fact of facts of human existence, the fact that makes sense out of every other fact, is the being, the character, and the plan of God. You can’t actually understand anything else in its true sense of understanding unless you look at it from the vantage point of the existence, character, and plan of God.

I love what John Calvin says: “There is no knowing that doesn’t begin with knowing God.” God is the ultimate fact that exegetes every other fact. So if I want my child to understand his world, to understand himself, to understand human relationships and history and mathematics and science and sexuality and leisure and entertainment and his own physical functioning, I know he has to look at that from that point of the existence, the character, and the plan of God. Now, God has helped us here because in his care for us, in his amazing grace, he’s actually intentionally formed his world in such a way that his world reveals himself. It’s not creepy and weird and crazily super spiritual to talk about God all the time. It’s actually weird not to. I think of it this way. You can’t get up in the morning without bumping into God because God is everywhere.

God made hot and God made cold. He made water that boils on one end and freezes on the other. He made the dextrous muscles of the human face that can create such expression just by flexing. He created the endless ability of the human eye to focus this close all the way to infinity — well, for some of us. He created the beauty of a sunset, the seemingly inexhaustible muscles of the wings of a hummingbird, the grandeur of a storm, and the hugeness of a mountain. All those things are fingers pointing to the glory of this one that created and sustains this world. And so as a parent, I have all kinds of opportunities to point to the stunning glory of God. Can I give you an example?

I love to cook. I’m in the afternoon making bread, and I’ve added some warm water, a little bit of oil, a little bit of sugar, and a little bit of salt. I’ve added yeast in there. The yeast is blooming and I put in the flour and I start kneading it, and it’s sort of an inedible plasticine substance at this point, but I know what’s going to happen. I know that yeast is creating a gas and it’s going to interlock with the gluten of the flour and it’s going to expand when it cooks and it’s going to create this nice crust. As I’m doing that, I’m thinking this is just one of millions of physical chemical processes that came out of the mind of God. I’m blown away. I’m worshiping there, hands full of dough. About then, my son came into the house having taken a subway home and I said, “Ethan, have you ever thought about yeast?”

He said, “Yeah, dad. I was riding home on the subway and I was thinking yeast is cool.” And I said, “No, I’m serious.” And I went into my little comment that this amazing process is just one of those processes that came out of the mind of God, one of millions. And then jokingly I said, “If God didn’t create yeast, all of life would be a cracker.” He said, “Wow dad, that’s deep.” And he walked off. Well, you see, being in that theological community and pointing to God all the time is not about making self-righteous, preachy sermons at my children. It’s getting from dough to God and back 30 times a day. My kids live with this God awareness, with this awe of God. I don’t think there’s anything more important than passing down to my children the awe of God. A human being that doesn’t live in awe of God is a profoundly disadvantaged human being.

You mentioned in that vein in the seminar that children are worshipers and that parents must adopt that lens as one of the lenses by which they look at their children. They should look at their children as worshipers. How do children reveal themselves as worshipers? How do we know that they are worshipers and wired to do these things?

It’s a tricky word because a lot of people, when they hear the word worship, think a gathering. They think Sunday, they think singing, offering, and a sermon. What Scripture presents is that worship is first my identity before it’s my activity. It’s not that I just do worship; I am a worshiper. You could argue that everything in my life somehow, some way is an expression of worship. Now, what that means is I’m always giving my heart to something. I’m always attaching my identity and meaning and purpose to something. Something always lays claim to the rulership of my heart and there are only two choices. My heart is either ruled by a desire for God the creator and his glory, or my heart is ruled by some aspect of the creation.

What you see in children is that they do attach their meaning and purpose to physical, created things. Maybe that’s little Susie who’s five years old and is already way too attached to the power that she’s able to exercise over her three friends. She’s already a little diva, already demanding their allegiance, and already beginning to pout when she doesn’t get it. That’s profoundly more important than this horizontal thing. That’s vertical. She is seeking to get from her friends things that she’s only meant to get from God. And if she’s trying to find her inner sense of wellbeing there, she’ll never find it. That’s a vat of difficulty. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to begin to have those conversations much, much younger than we typically have them?

So it manifests itself through what they’re wanting, what they’re demanding, how they’re manipulating their world, and that type of thing? Is that what you’re saying?

Oh, sure. That screaming, “I want, I want, I want,” and pouting, or throwing myself on the floor, that’s functional idolatry,

That’s worship.

I want to speak and it will happen. I want to think and it will be done. And here’s what’s important for parents to remember. The most seductive, deceptive, powerful idol of all is the idol of self. The thing that I insert again and again in God’s place is me. I want the world to do my bidding. That’s why children don’t say, “Mom and dad, if you would just give me more regulations and more commands, I’d feel so loved.” That’s why they fight your authority. They’re little self-sovereigns who want to rule their world. That’s worship.

You’ve mentioned that the home needs to be a place of theological education, a theological community. You’ve said God is there and that children will worship something and are worshiping something just like we are. We’re all worshipers. But you also stress in the seminar, the need for the home to be a place where a redemptive community is formed as well. What do you mean by that, forming a redemptive community?

Well, there are three communities that I talk about. The home being a theological community is the Godward dimension. That’s the first great command. The home being a sociological community — that’s just a big name for relationships — is the second great command. I have been designed by God to live in self-sacrificing love of my neighbor. And there’s no better place to teach God’s way of love than in the family, because in the family, as a child, I’m immediately called to live in close proximity with people I didn’t choose to live with. I don’t get to choose my family. And the war of love really takes place in the family. We all know that war very well.

Now, if I’m holding God’s standard of worship high, not compromising it, saying, “You have been born into a world that by its very nature is the celebration of Another, and you will never be in the sin of the world,” I’m saying to my little one, “Read my lips: it will never be about you. And if you try to make it about you, you sign on for endless frustration, unhappiness, and distress.”

If I’m saying you have been called by God to love your neighbor and define what that means, then my child is going to break under the weight of those standards because sin makes it unnatural to put God at the center. The DNA of sin is selfishness, so it’s antisocial horizontally. And the child begins to get frustrated. I love what the puritans call this, they call this holy frustration. That it’s actually a good thing. I was going to bed one evening, and I heard my daughter crying in her bed, and I sat down next to her and I said, “Baby doll, what’s the matter?” And she said, “I can’t talk.” I said, “Sure you can. I’m your dad. I love you. You can say anything to me.” She said, “Well, it’s hard.” I said, “Well, I’m your dad. I love you. You can say anything to me. Nothing would turn me away.” And she said, “I’m frustrated.” And I said, “Well, help me to understand why you’re frustrated.” She said, “Well, it’s hard.” I said, “I’m your dad. I love you. There’s nothing you could say that would turn me away.”

She said, “I’m frustrated at you and mom.” I said, “Why?” She said, “It’s not enough that you make me to share with my brothers (one girl and three boys), but you tell me I’m supposed to find joy in it. I don’t find joy in it. I’m mad at them, and I’m mad at you.” And then, in a burst of frustration, she says, “I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.” I was never happier as a parent, because that’s exactly where she needs to be. She can’t, and she needs help. Our culture says the last thing you ever want is for your child to feel bad about themselves. Baloney. There is something significantly wrong inside of our children. The Bible names it sin, and that causes them to quest for God’s position, and it causes them to live in dysfunctional relationships with their neighbor. My job isn’t to manage that, my job is to expose that difficulty.

So she says, “I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.” And I’m teary-eyed now, and I’m saying, “Dear, I can’t, either. God tells me to love your mom like Jesus loved the church, to be willing to lay my life down for her. Darling, you live with me, and you know sometimes I’m mad at mommy because she asked me to take out the trash. But there’s hope for us, and there’s help for us, because God sent his Son not only to forgive us, but to empower us to do what he’s called for us to do.” And that night in the dark, this little girl cried out for God’s help. That’s the family as a redemptive community.

Now, think of the difference from setting up a system of self-righteous little Pharisees who learn to jump through the hoops, who don’t actually become more godly but just become smarter sinners, and have no sense of need for God’s help at all. That scares me. I don’t want to do that. I want to be used by God to expose the deepest issues in the heart of my child, so at some point, they cry out for help.

So maybe capping off this section on the family, what would it look like for a parent who’s being successful at building both a theological and a redemptive community? What does it look like for this explicit God-centeredness into their family, as well as this safe, redemptive place, where it’s okay for a child to be honest, instead of self-righteous? Where there is forgiveness that abounds? Are there some signs or evidences that grace is on the move in that way? What should a parent be looking for?

Well, it’s a wonderful question. I think, though, we want to be careful that, as parents, we embrace our utter powerlessness. I think that’s so key to parents. I had a mom say something to me once. She lifted her finger in my face, and she said, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get my children to believe.” And I thought, “I would not want to be a child in that family.” Because the reality is, you have to embrace that no matter how well you act towards your children, they have to transact with God or they won’t be okay. And I can’t do that for them. I am only ever a representative. I am only ever an instrument.

Now, having said that, the family should be a culture of grace, where we are engaging our kids in an exposure of a conversation, maybe an unending conversation, of how hard it is to actually submit to God being in the center, how the inertia of sin is away from that. I want it to be about me, I want to be in the center of my world, and I want things to happen according to my will. I want, I want, I want, I want. And instead of standing above a child and saying, “I can’t believe you’d do such a thing,” I stand with them and say, “I get your struggle because I’m there, too. I am much more like you than unlike you. I get every moment of it. I’m still there.”

So the child is with somebody who is not compromising God’s standard, but understands the struggle. I get the struggle of love. When I wake up in the morning, what hits my mind first? It’s not, “Who are all the people that I should be loving today?” My mind is filled with me, filled with all the things I want, all the things I want to accomplish. I get that struggle, and I get my profound need for rescue. That’s what I give to my kids, that we are in this together, that I haven’t arrived, that I need that Redeemer as much today as I ever did. So they actually look and say, “I can talk to this guy. He’s not just a law announcer, a law enforcer, and a prison guard. He’s my dad, and he weeps with me, and he struggles with me. He grabs my hand and says, ‘No, no, no, that’s not it, that wasn’t it, but God is here to help us. It’s grace.’”

Let’s shift gears, then, into this issue of the heart. You alluded to it earlier. This is that second section of the seminar here, where you talk about behavior, and really, matters of the heart, pretty specifically. You have this really intriguing phrase that you referenced earlier, describing the heart as “the causal core of our personhood.” Just elaborate on that again. What are you getting at there when you call it “the causal core of our personhood”?

I think that all of us would like to think that our behavior is more formed by what’s outside of us than what’s inside of us.

Circumstances, environment, that type of thing?

Yes, and relationships. If you ask a child why they did what they did, they’ll never talk about themselves. I have never heard a child say, “Well, I’m an idolater, what do you expect? I have massive heart issues. That’s why you’re my parent, I need help.” I’ve never heard that. Rather, its, “He did . . .” or, “She did . . .” or, “It was . . .” It’s that delusion that my behavior is determined by what’s outside of me. Now, what’s important about that delusion is, if I actually buy into that, I quit seeking after help because I don’t think I need it. I need situational change, I need location change, I need relationship change, but I don’t need internal change.

The Bible says something radical, that my behavior is more caused by what’s inside of me than what’s outside of me. And that’s where the Bible uses heart language. It is the heart that is the seat of my emotions, the seat of my thinking, and the seat of my desires. My behavior is really the result of how my heart interacts with what’s going on outside of me. So that would mean that lasting change in behavior will always have to travel through the pathway of the heart, because my words and behavior are rooted in the thoughts and desires of my heart.

That’s super helpful as an answer here, but it’s a helpful section in the DVD, as well. What is “apple nailing”? What’s behind the idea of “apple nailing”? How do we “apple nail” in our families?

Christ uses this wonderful example to get at this issue of the heart in Luke 6. It’s the example of a fruit tree. What’s the easiest way to recognize an apple tree? Well, by it’s apples. But when you’re looking at those apples, you instinctively know that that tree is apple-istic down to its roots. If it didn’t have apple-ism in its roots, it wouldn’t grow apples as fruit. And so, what I’m recognizing there is in that tree there’s an organic connection between what is that root — an unbreakable, organic connection — and the kind of fruit it produces. You’ll never plant peach pits and get apples. It just won’t happen. In the same way, there’s a spiritually organic connection between the roots of thoughts, desires, motives, and purposes in my heart — the worship of the heart — and the fruit of my behavior.

Well, here’s where to go with that example. Pretend that in my backyard in Philadelphia — which I have none, but we will pretend — is an apple tree. And every year, it grows hard, pulpy, dry, brown, inedible apples. They’re organic hockey pucks. And after several years of that frustrating experience, well, my dear wife comes to me and she says, “Paul, it doesn’t make any sense for us to have an apple tree and we never eat the apples. Can’t you fix our apple tree? Can’t you do something about our apple tree?” I love this woman. I think and ponder, and I come up with what I think is a great idea. I say, “Saturday, I’m going to fix our tree.” She’s a bit confused, but she’s kind of excited. Saturday, she looks out the window, and she sees me carrying these items. I’m carrying a big tall ladder, I’m carrying some branch cutters, I’m carrying a pneumatic nail gun, and I have three bushels of Red Delicious apples.

I get up on the ladder, I lovingly cut all those organic hockey pucks off the tree, and I nail three bushels of Red Delicious apples on the tree. From 75 yards, if you hadn’t seen me do this, you would say, “This man must be the horticulturist of the century.” If you’re my wife, what are you thinking? You’re thinking, “This is the big one, the doctor said he’d be this way if he lived.” Now, think with me, what’s going to happen to those apples? Well, they’re going to rot, because they’re not connected to the life-giving resource of that tree. But even more significantly, what kind of apples is that tree going to grow the next season? Hard, dry, pulpy, inedible apples. Because if that’s happening, there’s something systemically wrong with that tree down to the roots, and if you don’t get at that, you won’t get a harvest of good fruit.

Now, here’s my critique. I’m afraid that much of what we do in the name of Christian parenting is nothing more than apple nailing. It’s basically saying, “Sin is bad, don’t do it.” That’s the philosophy of parenting. And I can give you the three most often used apple nailing strategies. The first one is threatening. The parents says, “You don’t want to know what’s going to happen if I have to come up those steps one more time. It’ll be on the news: Father Disciplines Children, pictures and details at 10:00 p.m.” Now, a threat is an attempt to get a change in behavior without dealing with the heart, and the reason we do it is because it’s temporarily efficient. When you’re way, way bigger than your child, you are a threatening presence, but every parent reaches the moment where your children are no longer threatened by you.

I have four children. My daughter is the shortest in our family, and she’s 6’1, and the boys go up from there. I ended my parenting days looking up. I’m no longer a threatening presence. The second reason is manipulation. Little Billy isn’t getting along with his sister very well, and so, dad says, “You know, Billy, that mountain bike you’ve been looking at on that website? That mountain bike can be yours. All you have to do is get along with your sister for a month, and you’ll be riding that baby.” Billy then has the most loving, altruistic, solicitous month toward his sister that he’s ever had, but Billy isn’t being kind to his sister because he loves his sister, Billy’s doing it because he loves Billy. The father feels victorious, orders the bike, it’s delivered. He and Billy go in the garage, they put it together, Billy hops up on it, and 10 minutes later is running his sister over with it.

See, there’s been no change in Billy. Billy doesn’t actually love his sister. In fact, we’ve taught him the perverse skill of moral economics. He’ll do a cost-benefit analysis. He’ll begin to negotiate with you, because he has no moral desire in him at all. It’s all a negotiation, and it’s fueled by Billy’s love for Billy. Is that really where we want to go with our kids?

The third strategy is guilt. Mom says to her children, “I remember when your daddy was a happy man. It was before we had children. Now the poor man is so distressed at work, he can barely concentrate. Well, yesterday, he called home 18 times just to hear the horrible things that you do to one another. Look at him, now he’s slogging up the driveway, the poor man, dreading what he’s going to face.”

You see, all of those responses are apple nailing. They’re an attempt to constrain behavior without dealing with the causal core of behavior, the heart, and they never end in lasting change. One of the sad realities of our Christian community is that every September, supposedly Christian young people go off to residential universities, and thousands of them forsake the faith. Do you know what that tells you? They’re not forsaking their faith in God. They didn’t have it in the first place. It was the faith of their parents. They lived in a neat system of behavior control. They knew what hoops to jump through. They knew how to escape criticism and punishment, but God didn’t own their hearts. What shows at university is the true condition of their heart. We cannot be satisfied with that.

How, then, do we move our children toward an authentic confession of sin? If we don’t want to guilt or manipulate or threaten, what does that look like, then, for us to see something authentic happen? What has to take place there?

The Bible would present that change only takes place this way: confession, repentance, and faith. Now, I can’t confess to that which I do not see. You can’t grieve what you haven’t seen. You can’t confess what you haven’t grieved. You can’t repent from what you haven’t confessed. So that means, as a parent, high up on my agenda is functioning in the life of my children, as an instrument of seeing, I’m always asking the question, “What is it that God wants this child to see that he’s not now seeing, and how can I help him see it?” That sightedness gives the Spirit of God an opportunity to work conviction, grief, and uncomfortability in the heart of that child. It’s not enough for me to be concerned; that child has to become concerned about himself and begin to confess his need of help, and in faith reach out for Christ, and then, repent and give himself to living in another way.

So I talk all the time about these five questions that I think are very, very helpful. I can do this very quickly, and the order of the questions is important. You can ask these of very young children, and you could ask these of adults. Here’s the first question, “What was going on?” Just get some kind of sense of the situation. Now, watch the next question: “What were you thinking and feeling as it was happening?” That question looks at the heart. So we’re getting that the child doesn’t usually do this, his sight is usually out there, blaming his behavior this way. He’s now looking at his heart and what was going on in his heart as this was happening.

The third question is, “What did you do in response?” The reason that’s the third question and not the second question is that we’re teaching the child that your response was formed by your heart. So even if we don’t get good answers from the children, we’re teaching them a way of thinking about their functioning. The fourth question is, “Why did you do it? What were you seeking to accomplish?” That goes after motives. Now, what we’ve done now is, we’ve bracketed behavior with the thoughts and the motives of the heart. The heart does many things. The two most important functions of the heart is that the heart is always thinking and the heart is always desiring. Bad thought, bad desire, bad behavior, that’s how it works. And then, the fifth question is, “What was the result (harvest)? What was the fruit of that?”

Now, I think we have to get away with an event mentality of parenting, that I can go in and have one transformational conversation, the child gets down on their knees, says you’re right, and says, “I’m an idolater, I serve all the wrong things, help me.”

Change is most often a process. So I start at three or four. I’m getting single word answers, but I’m forming a way of thinking in the heart of that child. And we have a hundred of those conversations at three, and 200 more at four, and 500 at five, and by the time the child is 10, we have thousands of those kinds of conversations, helping them to see themselves with accuracy, helping them to own the thoughts of their heart. And the Spirit of God is working in the midst of that as he loves to do. There is uncomfortability that is now leading the child to begin to reach out for help. That’s parenting.

Maybe this would be a great way to cap off this section before our break. You talk about parents that grow frustrated when they have to discipline their children, as there’s a lot more going on in that mom and dad’s heart maybe than even in the child’s heart. So there’s that struggle, and I think it’s common to probably all parents at different seasons in their life, where we struggle with being frustrated about having to discipline. And you really make the case for adjusting our own mindset so that we see the faults and failures and sins of our children as real opportunities of positive experience, because they’re opportunities for ministry. Talk about that a little bit, both what’s going on in the heart of the mom and dad that’s constantly frustrated that they have to deal with this little sinner, as it were, and how we adopt a new mindset in viewing our children through more of a sympathetic lens?

I’m persuaded that the key to getting at heart issues with your child as a parent is to start with your own heart. You have to own your frustration. You have to own your anger. At 10:30 p.m., when I march down the hallway to yell at children angrily that I’ve put to bed at 9:00 p.m., saying and doing things I shouldn’t do, it’s very important to recognize, “I’m not angry because they’ve broken the laws of God’s kingdom, I’m angry because they’ve broken the laws of my kingdom, and in my kingdom, there shall be no parenting after 10:00 p.m.” Because the nature of that anger shows me that. I don’t go in with careful wisdom and instruction and grace. It’s getting into the child’s face. And when you’re in those moments, even as an adult, when somebody gets in your face, so close that you can feel their breath, and they’re saying inflammatory things to you, you’re never standing there thinking, “This is really helpful. I’m seeing myself clearly. I’m so glad that’s happening.”

It excites your inner lawyer, it shuts you down. It’s just a failed strategy. And that’s an exposure of heart issues in the parent. There are times when I’m actually mad that I have to parent my kids, because it’s not part of my plan, and I have to own that. You see, if you’re not dealing with your heart issues, there’s four things that will happen. First, you will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger. Here’s what’s actually happening, if my eyes ever see and my ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of my children, it’s never an accident and it should never be viewed as a hassle. It’s grace. God loves that child, he’s put them in a family of faith, and he will expose their need to me so I can be an instrument of grace and rescue. That’s what’s going on.

But I turn moments of ministry into moments of anger, here’s why, point two, because I personalize what is not personal. I make it about me. I think, “How dare you do this to me?” Now, do you really think that my kids at 7:00 p.m. got together and said, “Let’s drive mom crazy tonight. Here’s what we’ll do, we’ll act like we’re sleeping.” No, that’s not what went on. It’s not personal, it’s vertical. These are little self-sovereigns who want to set their own rules, they don’t give a rip about what is right. And that’s what’s being revealed. So when I personalize it, it’s hard to get at what the real issues are.

So, third thing, I’m adversarial in my response. When I get to the room, it’s not me for you, it’s me against you. Because as I look at you, I don’t see objects of my affection, I see an obstacle in the way of what I want, and I want to move you. So I settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter. I scream, I bark a punishment, and I walk out. That child has gotten no more insight and no more commitment to what is right. He’s utterly unchanged. A moment of ministry is turned into a moment of anger because I personalized what is not personal, and so, I’m adversarial in my response, and I’ll settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter. That’s what happens when you aren’t dealing first with your heart issues.

We’ve covered a couple of major issues. This issue of what the home is, what the family is, and what God’s purposes for it are. You’ve said it’s a theological community, a sociological community, a and a redemptive community. We’ve also covered one of the major foundational thesis of your seminar, which is getting to the heart and the importance of that, because the heart is “the causal core of our personhood.” Both aspects lay the groundwork for what you do in the end of this seminar, which I think is super helpful. You take that truth and you then apply it pretty strategically and specifically toward the three stages of childhood: birth to five years, then six to 12, and then 13 and on up.

So in the remainder of this broadcast, we’re just going to talk about that a little bit. Talk about what you do in that seminar. Let’s start with these practical steps for achieving what is important at a particular stage of the child’s growth and spiritual development. Let’s focus on birth to five years old. You say the key focus that parents should have on their radar during that time as simply a Godward focus, teaching that child what it means to live under authority. And so, my question is why do you start there? What’s the positive of teaching children’s submission to authority, specifically God as the boss?

Well, there are two reasons why that authority focus is important. Let’s talk first about who the children are. As sinners, children will insert themselves in the center of their world. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15, that Jesus came so that those who live would no longer live for themselves. The DNA of sin is selfishness. It’s the thought that I want it to be all about me. I want to rule my world. You could argue that every child who has ever been born buys into these two fundamental lies. They are actually the lies of the Garden. The first lie is the lie of autonomy. It says, “I’m an independent human being. I have the right to live my life the way I want to live it.” That’s why a child who has never really had a chance to contemplate the taste of a pea, we’ll see a spoon of peas coming and will purse his lips so hard that you couldn’t open them with the jaws of life. Now he’s saying, “Oh, no, you don’t. I and I alone will determine what enters my mouth, thank you. That’s my right.” That’s the lie of autonomy.

The lie of self-sufficiency says, “I have everything inside of myself that I need to be what I’m supposed to be and to do what I’m supposed to be. I don’t need your instruction. I don’t need your counsel. I don’t need your help.” You see this functioning in these funny little moments, like a child who’s at the age where they now want to learn to tie their shoe and you’ve given them some instruction, but they haven’t really understood it yet. So you go into the room the next day and they’re trying to tie their shoes, and you say, “Dear, let me help.” And what do they instinctively do? They push your hand away. Now that child could work with those laces for eternity and a bow would never happen. But they want to buy into this self-sufficiency thing. So that’s the first thing. In this child is this delusion that we’re hardwired to do this by ourselves.

The more Godward thing is the fact of the matter is we don’t live in an open universe. We don’t live in a universe where everything is possible and everything is okay. This universe happens to be under rule, God’s wise rule. All the ways of the Lord are right and true. The one who rules this world is the ultimate definition of wisdom, truth, faithfulness, and goodness. That’s who he is. And so, it’s never going to work for me to think that authority isn’t necessary in my life. Now, the role of a parent is to be the representative of God’s authority in the life of a child, to teach the child that this is actually a closed world, that even if you’re the most powerful person ever you will still be a person under authority. That’s the inescapable reality of your life.

And that means that authority doesn’t take life from you. Authority isn’t a bad thing. Authority doesn’t suck your humanity away. Authority is a necessary ingredient to proper human functioning. It’s a blessing. It’s life-giving, because I am hardwired to live under authority. You may say it would be nice to drive a train across a meadow, but it’ll never happen, because it’s meant to run on tracks. And in the same way, you may fantasize what it’s like to be your own authority, but you weren’t actually hardwired to live that way. The reason that’s so important in this stage is because everything you’re going to need to do in later stages won’t happen if the child hasn’t learned to submit to the authority of the representatives of God in his life as parents.

Sure, so related to this then is the issue of discipline and correction, specifically that of spanking. And I don’t want to spend a ton of time on that tonight. It is in the seminar, and you’ve shared with us before on this topic. But I love how you talk about this issue of discipline and spanking in these early years. You have this phrase that the purpose of discipline that needs to be communicated to young children is that “we’re on a rescue mission from danger and restoration to safety.” So discipline is being brought in the context of a rescue mission for the child and restoring them to safety. Elaborate what you mean on that.

What it means is that the role of discipline is not for me to mete out my anger against my child because they’re complicated my life. When you’re obeying, you are actually living in a circle of safety. You’re living under the umbrella of your parents’ authority and God’s authority. There’s no safer place to be. You’re living inside of his boundaries. Disobedience means you’ve stepped into danger. So correction is meant to be restorative, to bring you back into that circle of safety. Now, that’s very, very important, because I am not free as a parent to discipline you in any way I want because I don’t have independent authority. I have representative authority.

In fact, here’s how profound that is. Every moment when I exercise authority in the life of my child, it must be a beautiful picture of God’s authority. How convicting is that? Because if I don’t do that, if it’s ugly and abusive, then I’m distorting that child’s perspective on authority. That child won’t see authority as a good thing. They won’t see it as sweet, kind, and restorative. They’ll see it as hurtful and dehumanizing, and they will rage against authority. So I have to be very careful of the way that I exercise that authority in this life of the child because I’m meant to picture the beauty, the wholesomeness, and the safety that’s found in living under God’s authority.

And likewise, you talk about wanting the child to associate following after Satan and following after sin with pain and with correction.

The thing that spanking is about is that it’s recognizing that there’s this dangerous thing inside of a child, foolishness. And yet this young child doesn’t have the ability yet, because of a lack of life experience, to understand the implications of their foolishness, where their foolishness goes. So God has designed this very careful thing that, in the face of an act of foolishness, this child gets this painful consequence that’s meant to connect in their mind, “When I do foolish things, bad things happen.”

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Spanking must never be done in anger. It must never be punitive. If you are pushing, slapping, poking, yanking, or pinching your child, you’re abusing your child. That’s neither Christian nor parenting, and you must stop it. What the Bible talks about in terms of the physical discipline of the child is a careful, loving, restrained, corrective, restorative process that has nothing to do with that spontaneous slap across the face, or yanking a child across the room, or pinching the child until he’s black and blue. Again, I would say that is neither Christian nor parenting. And it’s harmful to the heart of that child.

Talk a little bit about that. How do a mom and dad model to their children what it means to live under authority? Are there practical ways that mom and dad live with each other and live before the kids, that they can demonstrate that they are in fact under authority to God? What does that look like?

Again, I think that the nature of a Christian home should be that it’s very clear that we are submitting to a standard, the will of someone that’s not us. There are things that we do that we connect for our children to God and to God’s will. Maybe we have family worship because God has called us to do it. Mom and dad speak to one another in the way they do because this is what God has called us to do. So we’re demonstrating that we live under authority. Now, what that means is that structure provides consistency, predictability, faithfulness, and safety in the family. It’s not an ever-changing set of rules based on the emotional state of the parent at the moment. How insecure is that?

What the child learns to do in that moment is to become an emotional weatherman. He thinks, “How’s mom doing? How’s dad doing? Because the rules are changing all the time. I don’t know what they’re going to be the next day.” Rather than that, there should be a worldview, a set of moral standards that we have submitted ourselves to that are constant. They don’t change with our whim. They don’t change with our emotions. So this authority structure actually provides regularity and consistency. They can expect what’s going to happen the next day in my family because we’re living under God’s authority.

That segues very well into the middle years then. The key area of focus that you bring out in the ages from six to 12 years old is this issue of character building. And I thought it was interesting the way you dealt with this. You talk about establishing for your middler, that there’s differences between rebellion and wrong. Talk about that a little bit. What are you getting at there?

The way I would say it is this. Not every wrong is a direct result of rebellion to authority. There are some wrongs that reveal a lack of character. I’ll give you an easy example. It’s a Tuesday night. Mama is in the kitchen. She’s in full-blown, frenetic mode because in an hour, a family’s going to come over for dinner. It’s an open floor plan house. The children are seven, nine, and 11 and are playing Wii bowling. Mom’s never going to get done what she needs to get done. What’s wrong with the scene? Well, most parents would say, “If I’m in the kitchen working and my children are playing together, Jesus has visited our house.” But what’s wrong there is their lack of character. Those children can well see that mom needs help. They’re old enough to help her, but not one of them offers to help.

Because what do they care about at the moment? Their own comfort and their own pleasure. They don’t actually give a rip whether mom will get the work done, or the stress she has to go through, or the embarrassment she will face when people show up and she’s not ready. Because all they care about is their own comfort and pleasure and enjoyment at that moment. That’s a lack of character. And what happens is, the more the world of my child widens, the more he collects relationships, the more he has activities outside of the house, now beginning to go to school, guess what gets revealed? The true character of his heart. And that opens up all kinds of opportunities to talk about what it is that’s really controlling that child’s heart.

Because I want to connect this truth: lack of character in those concrete moments is actually rooted in idolatry. What’s wrong with those children at that moment? It’s not first wrong that they haven’t responded with the right character. The first thing is wrong is that the wrong thing is ruling their hearts. That’s why they haven’t responded with the right character. Do you get that? Because at this point, their heart is ruled by personal pleasure. That’s why they don’t take the walk into the kitchen. If their heart was ruled as it should be by the love of their neighbor at that moment, they’d all be in the kitchen.

So what are some of the questions in those moments, or when you’re dealing with that child, at this stage of life that parents can be asking their children to help reveal and help them see what’s ruling their hearts?

I think the questions are simple. For example, sit with the seven, nine, and 11 year old and say, “What were you thinking at this moment? Help me to understand what you were thinking. You heard the pans rattling. Just help me think. I’m not here as a judge. This is not setting you up for punishment. I just want to help you think through this.”

And you have to be careful how you have that conversation because you’re trying to elicit responses because you understand your children are spiritually blind. They don’t see themselves with accuracy. And even more so they’re blind to their blindness. They don’t have a sense of need at that moment. It’s your job to function in a way that you become an instrument of need. The next question I would ask is, “What were you wanting at this moment? If you’d say, ‘This is what I wanted the most at this moment,’ what would that have been then?” Then I want to make the transition to, “What should you have been thinking at this moment?” They might say, “Mom needs help.” And you can say, “What should you have been desiring at that moment?” Here it is: “I want my response to my mom in this moment to honor God.” That’s what’s important to me.

People say, “Well, children can never respond like that.” Of course they can. There aren’t 12 gospels, one for retired people and one for singles. It’s one gospel. And God can work in powerful ways in the heart of a child. And our job is to set that up and to be in that moment instruments of seeing. But now we’re not talking about high-handed rebellion, because there was no command at that moment. There wasn’t rebellion to authority at the moment. You see if that’s the only model you have, you turn everything into a rebellion issue and the heart of your child rages and says, “No, no, no. I wasn’t rebelling against you at that moment.” It doesn’t always fit. This was a lack of character. And we know that that’s a lifelong project. God is still working in me the character of Christ. And so, I want to bring that issue to the fore in this time when there are so many opportunities to do that.

The child comes home as a nine year old. She spent a weekend with one of her girlfriends and she says, “I hate Susie. I’m never going back to her home again.” That’s a character moment. That hatred is not a direct rebellion to authority. But there’s something happening there. Thank God for that moment. Don’t say, “Oh, I can’t believe we have to deal with this. You can’t go away for a weekend without it being a mess at the end.” No, no, no. That’s God’s grace. God is giving you that moment so you can take another step in God’s working character into the heart of that child.

What would you say to the person who hears you talk of character and maybe hasn’t seen the seminar, but they immediately have a warning flag that goes off and says, “Now wait, Paul, you start talking about character development and you’re just going to raise those kids to be moralistic. You’re going to just raise them to be good little Johnys and Susies.” How would you answer that person? Because clearly not what you’re saying here.

What I would answer is that the revealing of those character deficiencies is actually confronting me with my inability. The child begins to realize that what they need to be rescued from is not you. They don’t need to be rescued from the situations of life. They need to be rescued from themselves. Because they realize that they have so many wrong instincts in them. They think that if they were mom in that situation, they would want help. And they would be hurt that someone didn’t help me. But wow, when they are the other guy in the situation, their heart is immediately captured by their pleasure. Now, I can’t save the child and do these three things and that will get better, because there aren’t three things to do. There’s not three things that will move me from being a pleasure-oriented person to a loving and serving person.

If there were seven steps to do that, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. The gospel blows that away. There aren’t seven steps. And at some point, your child falls down and says, “I’m not that kind of person. I need help.” That’s a beautiful thing. Because that’s that child reaching out for the grace of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hear what I’m saying. I’m not just talking about conversion. I’m talking about the transformation of that child’s heart. There aren’t seven steps. And so, I’m leading that child to address his poverty, so he reaches out for the riches that can only be found in Christ.

You have a helpful section where you talk about the tools for character development. And you name instruction, correction, entreaty, and rebuke. Are you able to comment on each of those briefly as the tools for character development?

If you take instruction, correction, entreaty, and rebuke, they immediately say, “I can’t allow myself to try to squeeze $100 conversations into dime moments.” I think we’re trying to do this in short and it doesn’t work. You’re uptight and the child is uptight. You both have a sense that there is not enough time to have this conversation. So they say something flippant to you, your emotion elevates, and the whole thing goes south.

I think we have to confront the fact that maybe we’re trying to combine the world’s model of a successful child with this kind of calling. And we’re just too busy. I want my child to be an expert at four sports and play three musical instruments and start SAT testing at 11. And Christian parents, you just have to say no to some things. We have to slow this thing down so we can have those moments, so I can sit down with my child. The parent is seated. Did you hear what I said? Do your parenting sitting down. It will help you. Determine that you’re going to sit down. Slow down the moment and say, “As I’ve thought about this moment, I think there’s some things that you just need to learn, that we need to talk about.” That’s instruction. What is the knowledge, the biblical knowledge that needs to be imparted in this moment?

Correction is actually talking about if this was the wrong way, what does the right way look like? I mean, how many parents say, “Don’t ever do that again,” and walk away. But that doesn’t leave them with anything. What’s the better agenda? What’s the turn of repentance look like? You could say, “Let’s talk about that. Wouldn’t it have been better to do this? Think with me.” And the child protests, “But what if she would’ve . . .” And you walk through what the better way looks like.

Entreaty is pleading. It’s Jesus saying, “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” It’s not wrong for your child to see your tears, to see your emotion. You can say, “Please, oh, please don’t go in this direction. Where is this going to end?”cNow, there is an emotional manipulation. There’s anger that’s emotional. This is a very, very different thing.

And then there is rebuke. We all think rebuke is sort of nasty. Rebuke just means comparison. When I look into a mirror, the mirror actually rebukes me. I’m forced to face the comparison between what I think I look like and what I look like. So rebuke just means I hold the mirror of the word of God in front of the child so they can see themselves as they actually are. It’s not my opinion, it’s not denigrating things that I’m saying to the child. It’s helping the child to see himself with accuracy.

Very helpful. So just to recap again, in that section of life one of the primary areas of focus is on this issue of character development. And what you’re saying tonight and what you’re saying in this seminar is that is really coming alongside the child and instructing them and what it means to kind of do heart self-diagnosis and help them make the connections between what was going on inside, which they were unaware of, and the behavior that clearly came out on the outside.

It’s also really exciting when you’ve lived with a child and you hear a 13 or 14 year old say, “Dad, you know what was happening? I just wanted to win too much, and I trampled all over him. I mocked him in front of my friends and I feel really bad about that.” There’s a child who’s learned to do that, who’s learned to ask those questions, who’s learned to recognize deficiencies in character because he’s been through a thousand conversations that have taught him to think in that way.

Sure. Let’s move into those teen years then and talk about the central focus of years 13–19. What I came away with from the seminar was that the focus of these years is to help teens make values their own by allowing them to make decisions on their own and also accepting the consequences of those decisions. Talk about this tool of character development for teens.

If this stage is about anything, it’s about internalization of God’s will and God’s way. And the reason that’s so important is that we know at some point this child is going to be emancipated from this home, and we are not going to be on site in the way that we have been. And if he doesn’t progressively, intentionally, knowingly internalize God’s standard, he won’t be okay. He just won’t. Because he’ll now be outside of the protective restraint of his parents, so that’s the mission of the moment. That’s the opportunity of the moment.

Now, a lot of parents, because they’re afraid of trouble, want to roll back the clock, treat these teenagers as if they’re five years old, and give them no room to make any decisions whatsoever lest it lead in a bad direction. And in that way, I would propose you’re in the way of what God’s doing rather than being part of it. Wouldn’t it be better to have those first test cases happen — that first exercise of decision, the unpacking of decision, the experience of natural consequences — while the child is still in the protective structure of the home so you can be part of that conversation? So I’m not going to totally withdraw parental authority because teenagers need parents, but I’m going to move back some and give this child an opportunity to exercise a decision. Now we’re doing that in a limited, protective way so we can look at where that goes, look at what’s revealed, and talk about issues of the heart.

Here’s what I think is important to say. If you as a parent just want a comfortable, predictable life, that’s your heart issue in the way of what’s going to happen. Because there’s a way in which the opportunities are in the messiness, the opportunities are in the trouble. Now think about this, if my child is in his heart saying, “Nuts to this Jesus stuff, I’m going to rule my life,” wouldn’t it be better for that to be revealed now. The child is still in my home, so I can engage that. I can plead and say, “Where is this going to go? Don’t go there. You’ve lived in the light. Don’t go toward darkness.” Rather than then the child jumping through the hoops and we close in and make sure he can’t make any decision. Now he’s out of the home and all of a sudden different child emerges, and I don’t have the ability to reach him.

You mentioned there’s actually three types of relationships that parents can have with their teenager: preventative, corrective, and protective. Can you elaborate on those and how they work?

The preventative relationship is not a child that’s perfect, but he’s compliant. He’s come to a position of being responsible to authority and concerned about character. So you’re actually able to have preventative conversation with him, and you can look forward with him and he’ll listen and respond.

The corrective relationship is a child who’s kicking against the boundary some. You’re noticing an attraction to the world, a looking over the fences, but he’s still reachable. You can still engage him in conversation. So you can have corrective conversations. You can say, “Look what happened. Look where that’s going. Look at what the legacy would be.” And the child says, “Yeah, you’re right, but it’s hard.” And you sense that draw of the world, but the child is still conversing with you.

The protective relationship is a child that is just a rebel against authority. He doesn’t care about the development of character, and he wants to rule his life and is seeking to do anything he can do to get out from under your authority. In that situation, you have to do what’s necessary to protect the child from himself. What do we have to do to keep this child from making decisions that are going to change the entire direction of his life?

Now you have to assess where you are with your teenager. Do you have that preventative relationship where there’s still some compliance and willingness and you can prevent things from happening? Are you seeing a corrective relationship where you see a mix going on and the draw of the world? Or have they gotten to this point where this is pretty bad and you need to take it seriously and you need to protect this child from himself?

In your years of pastoral counseling and sitting with many families and many teens, does it tend to be a progression starting in the early teen years that leads that way? Or can it spike? In other words, do you have times where you’re more preventative, times where you’re more corrective, times where you’re more protective, or do you see it take more of an even trajectory?

I think there are ways in which you’re always doing all three with all kids. But there are themes. I’ve been with families where it seems like a teenager is intent on doing everything to destroy his own life. Now, I don’t think that’s the thought of the child, but that’s what’s going on, and you just have to put up walls of protection. Sometimes, you even get to the point where you need help outside of your home.

I was part of a situation where a teenager with a single parent had beaten up his mom a couple times. And I was convinced at some point it would be so brutal that he may kill her. She could not do this anymore, and so we researched for her a Christian setting for boys that were out of control. They actually did a very, very good job and they took every choice away from this child and began to tell him why, and then began to work with heart issues and began to work him back in the place where he had more and more choices in his life. I will never forget the conversation I had with him and his mom when he was released. He was a different kid. There was a confession he made to his mom, and there was this change in his life.

Look, the family is not an isolated unit. It’s placed inside of the church, it’s placed inside of the state. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to seek that help. God set that up for that reason. There are times when I need the church. There are times when it’s beyond the job description of the church. It was for this boy that I’m referring to. Eventually, child services had a court order that he had to be taken someplace. I was able to stand and say, “Let me be part of that.” But that’s the purpose of the state. I should not be embarrassed to seek those resources. They’ve been ordained by God.

One of the neat takeaways from this section was that you gave to parents of teenagers, a couple of really helpful handles. You talked about two mentalities that parents during teen years can really kneed and breed into their teens. The one mentality is the harvest mentality and the other mentality is the treasure mentality. If there’s two things that your teens get, help them get those mentalities. Talk a little bit about that here. What’s the harvest mentality? What’s the treasure mentality?

The harvest mentality comes out of Galatians 6:7, which says, “God is not mocked; whatever a person plants, he will harvest.” There’s a way in which every day I’m harvesting seeds that I previously planted and I’m planting seeds that I will someday harvest. Now, the problem with teenagers is they’re very skilled at denying their own harvest. My daughter comes home and she says, “Dad, I need to talk to you about my report card.” You know right away that’s bad news. She got a D in English, which is the language that she speaks, and she says, “But I know why. It was this teacher. He’s new at teaching. He’s learning to teach on us.” Now, she’s fully convinced that this has nothing to do with her, and so it’s my job to connect seed and plant to help her to understand that there are things that she did or didn’t do that have led to this harvest, and to begin to build that mentality to a child.

Because teenagers tend to live in this bubble that’s now. Nothing’s more important than now. They don’t tend to take the long view of things and to think, “What seeds am I planting today and what kind of harvest will they be? What will be that plant that I will now have to live with?” That’s a really nice metaphor and word picture.

The other is a treasure or investment mentality. Every day I’m naming things as valuable and investing in them. Here’s the problem with a teenager. They’re very tempted to make short-term, low-return investments. So for example, I’m willing to compromise my true convictions to get the acceptance of people who in three or four years will be out of my life never to return. What a bad investment. I’m left with the result of those decisions long after they’re gone. That’s sort of like me going to my local banker and saying, “I want to support a local financial institution. I want to give you all of my life savings to invest.” And the banker says to me, “Well, I need to tell you something. We do really well with people’s money for about three years, and then we lose it all. We lose every bit of it. Our vault’s empty. We have no portfolio at all.” Would I for a minute make that investment? Absolutely not. Teenagers make those investments every day.

So rather than saying, “You must not do this,” I’m going to have an investment conversation that says, “If you invest in this, let’s talk about where that’s going to go.” Let’s say you say to yourself (value statement, investment statement), “There’s nothing more important right now than the acceptance of these three people, and I will do anything I need to get it.” Let’s talk about where that’s going to go. That’s an investment conversation. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if the teenagers in our home every day were thinking harvest and investment? What a sweet protection that would be.

Very well said and very helpful. As we sort of turn this for a close now, I’m sure there are many parents watching this tonight. Maybe you’ve stumbled upon this broadcast on our website as an archive sometime down the road. And Paul, there’s folks that are viewing this that may have one of several responses. They may be saying something like, “Well, I’ve never heard any of this before and this is overwhelming.” Or maybe they are watching this and they’re just filled with deep regret. Maybe their kids are even out of their home, or maybe they’ve missed these first two stages and they’re just thinking about how much time they’ve missed, how much time they’ve wasted. They’ve not been this intentional before. Or maybe you have a parent who’s watching this, who’s saying, “I think I might be doing irreparable damage. I mean, I’ve blown it on every count.” Bring this home a little more pastorally now. What do you say for those folks that are overwhelmed, fearful, anxious, feeling tremendous regret, and feeling guilt because they feel like they’ve been a lousy parents. What would you say to that?

Let’s take these in turn. To the overwhelmed parent, I think it’s very, very important to recognize that God is not so unkind as to ever call you to a task without enabling you to do it. If God puts a Red Sea in front of you and he means for you to cross it, he’s going to build a bridge, he’s going to send a boat, he’s going to give you the ability to swim, or he’s going to part the waters. There is grace for you. There’s grace for these moments. Jesus didn’t just die for your past. He didn’t just die for your future. He died for your here and now. He died for that tough conversation with your four-year-old who seems to take you on all the time. He died for that moment where you can watch your teenager begin to melt away toward the world and you’re not sure what to do. All of that is embraced by the work of Christ so that you would have what you need. It’s not you alone in this world of parenting. Jesus is in you. He’s with you. He’s for you. His grace is available.

To the parent who is filled with regret, there’s a couple things I would say. I mean, who wouldn’t listen to this material and say, “I wish I’d known this five years ago or 10 years ago.” It’s very, very important, first of all, to trust God’s timing. God knows exactly when the right moment is for you to hear these things. I mean, even Jesus, the world’s best teacher, as he’s leaving Earth is saying to his disciples, “There’s many more things I’d like to tell you, but you’re not able to bear them.” This is Jesus. He says, “I’ll send another teacher. He’ll teach you more.” This is God’s moment for you. The timing is right. That’s God’s choice.

Now, in the face of that, there are regrets, but you’re not encased in concrete. The gospel is a message of restoration. It’s a message of fresh starts and new beginnings. God says, “I will restore what the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Parents, affirm your failure. All of your guilt and all of your shame has been covered by Christ. You don’t need to wallow in the darkness. You can run to God. Confess your fault, confess your anger, confess your impatience, confess the ugly words, and then go to your children. Sit down with your children and say, “I’ve come to realize much of what I did was done in anger. Much of what I’ve done was done to make my world more comfortable, not to help you be what God wants it to be, and I need your forgiveness. And won’t you be part of building a new relationship between us? Let’s do this together in a different way.” I’ve watched restoration take place in families as they’ve done that because God empowers those moments with his grace. You’re not stuck. Jesus died. The empty tomb is a promise that life is possible. Change is possible. Embrace that.

Paul, thanks for this conversation tonight and thanks for this seminar that you’ve put together. One of the things that we didn’t really touch on in this interview is the fact that you emphasize the need that this does take time, this kind of intentionality, and that it’s not something you just get. This isn’t a quick fix. This is a lifelong journey and process, and I so appreciate that emphasis. But then you also have the emphasis on prayer and just begging God to work by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures on the hearts and the minds of our children. And I really thank you for that emphasis because it just reminds us that we have certain accountability and responsibility in this, but the work must be done from the Lord. So thank you for coming alongside us as a coach, a mentor, a friend, a counselor, and a pastor, but mainly coming alongside us as a parent who’s done this, who’s had his own struggles. Thank you for sharing that in this seminar and thanks for sharing it tonight, Paul.

Thank you.

If you’ve been encouraged by anything that you’ve heard tonight, we encourage you to go and maybe check out this DVD resource. It’s called Getting to the Heart of Parenting. As I said earlier, there’s about four plus hours of really helpful material that Paul presents so winsomely and carefully, and I think it could really be a blessing for you.