Lost and Helpless

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Isaiah 53:6, Luke 15:11-31

 

“If only”

 

Sometimes we tell ourselves as parents that “if only our kids were better behaved we wouldn’t get so angry” or “if only they wouldn’t always argue with me, I wouldn’t have to shout and lose it with them” or “if only they would keep their room tidy, I wouldn’t nag them all the time” or “If only they did their homework, I would more reasonable, less demanding, less irritable and better as a parent”.

 

As a parent I know that sort of frustration. At times I’ve lost it with my kids as once again I’ve yelled at them to stop yelling at one another or I’ve snatched the remote control from them to turn off the TV or pulled the power on the X-box or the PlayStation. At times we wonder why things need to be like this and why they seem to be so hard. Why can’t they be better behaved? Why can’t they just get in and do what they need to do? Why won’t they listen? Why do they think they are always right? And why do I so easily end up losing it with them even though I said to myself that I was going to remain calm?

Today I want to spend some time with you looking at the Bible to understand our children and ourselves a little better. I think a lot of us fail to appreciate what is going on inside of our children and ourselves and this can lead to a lot of angst and we can soon become frustrated and disillusioned and exhausted as parents as a result. Without understanding what is going on for us and our children, the danger is that we end up just opting to do whatever we think will keep the peace and allow us to survive until they have left home, or we desperately look for some silver bullet that will be the answer to all our troubles. We try everything from reward (or bribing) them for the smallest thing they might do right, on the one hand, or else threatening and yelling at them on the other for every little thing. Today I want to look at what we need to understand about us and our children to properly do our job as parents.

Our children are lost and need to be rescued

 

The first thing I think the Bible makes clear about our children is their true condition. They are lost and need to be rescued. This is the condition that all people find themselves in as children of Adam and Eve and we need to bare this in mind. We are all lost and need to be rescued.

 

Isaiah 53:6

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[1]

 

We are all like sheep who have gone astray

 

The Bible is clear that we are all like sheep who have gone astray. We all have this condition. All people are lost and need to be rescued[2]. The apostle Paul writes to the Romans and says…

Romans 3:10-12

10 As it is written: “There is no-one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.”

 

There is not even one. We have all turned away. We are all like lost sheep who have gone astray. We can’t forget this as parents. We aren’t to deceive ourselves that our children haven’t got this problem, even if our children are relatively well behaved. We need to understand that parenting is not just about getting our children to behave better. There is more to parenting than just having well behaved children. Even the well-behaved ones are lost.

 

Even the well-behaved ones are lost

 

In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells three stories of what it means to be lost and the joy of being found. The last story is the story of a man who had two sons. The youngest son rejected his father and taking his share of the inheritance he goes away and squanders all his wealth on reckless and wild living. The young man thought he knew better but soon found himself in trouble and ended up working for someone looking after their pigs out in the fields. He was so hungry that he longed to eat the scraps that he was giving to them. This boy is lost and need to be found and, in the story, once he got to this low point he finally came to his senses and decided to go home. The story emphasises the joy of the father who doesn’t treat his son as he might have deserved but had compassion on him and accepted him back with joy. He ran to hm, threw his arms around him and kissed him and threw a party the likes of which he had never thrown before. The father reminds us what God is like and how he treats sinners who come to their senses and repent and turn back to him.

 

But what is interesting about this story is that this isn’t where the story ends. The story is also about the older son, who refused to come in and celebrate with his father over the return of his younger brother. This older brother in contrast, to his younger brother had kept all the rules and had done everything right. He says that he had done everything that his father had told him to do. He had never disobeyed his orders and all his life he had worked hard (like a slave). He had perhaps done this to earn his father’s approval or perhaps he was looking to be rewarded for all his efforts. We aren’t told is motivation. But, in the story, it is this son that was in real danger of missing out and one of the many things that the story highlights is that our children who are more inclined to keep the rules and behave themselves aren’t necessarily any less lost than those who want to ignore us and flout the rules. The older brother’s heart was hard towards his brother and his father. He resented his father and wasn’t like his father at all. Lostness can look unruly and disrespectful and it can also look respectable and be well-behaved on the outside for it is really a condition of our heart.

 

Their lostness affects everything

 

All of us are born with this condition because we are all sons and daughter of Adam and Eve. We come into this world with hearts that are already inclined towards sin. We are all predisposed to value our own opinion and want to do things the way that we want to do them. Even when we are keeping the rules we can be doing it for the wrong reasons. We prefer to live for our own glory and honour rather than for the glory of the creator. We are all lost and need to be rescued and our children are no different.

 

Now any parent ought to realise this. We don’t have to teach our children to be selfish or wilful or to take delight in having something that others don’t. We don’t have to coax them to be impatient and demanding or to be stubborn and refuse to eat. We don’t have to teach them to say ‘no’ or to think that sharing is really a bad idea. We don’t have to teach them to lash out at the sister or brother.  We don’t have to show a 2-year-old how to throw a temper tantrum when he or she doesn’t get what they want. Our children don’t enter this world with hearts that are in rhythm beating for the Lord, but with hearts inclined towards sin and this affects everything. It affects the way that the treat their little brother or sister. It affects the way that they play with their toys. It affects the way they do, or don’t do, their homework or piano or violin practice. It also affects the way that they respond to us.

 

 

Our children need to understand their hearts

 

As parents we need to understand that our children are more like us and us like them than we care to admit. Even if we are believers we still struggle with this condition of a weak heart for although sin might no longer be our master, it’s presence and influence is still with us[3]. We find ourselves doing the very things that we don’t want to do.

 

Friends, our children don’t need to hear that when we were their age we would have never acted that way towards our parents. Our children don’t need to hear how good we were as though overcoming our problem with our heart was just a matter of a lot of self-discipline or having the right rewards and punishments on hand.  What our children need to understand is that they have a heart condition and that they can’t fix them it themselves.  Every time they don’t do what they should do, or they act selfishly without care or regard for others, or they don’t listen it is an opportunity for us to explain what is going on inside of them and us and how we all need Jesus to rescue us. Parenting is more than managing a child’s behaviour it is matter of helping them understand their hearts and their need of the Lord Jesus.

 

A safeguard for parents

 

Understanding that the real problem is a heart issue is important for it is a safeguard for us as parents. It helps us to be careful not to fall into a few traps[4].

 

It guards against taking things personally that are not personal

 

Firstly, it is a safeguard for it helps us put things into perspective understanding that they are not necessarily just trying to make our lives miserable. Sometimes we are tempted to take things personally that are not personal[5]. We ask ourselves how could they possibly act the way that they do after all the things that we’ve done for them, especially as they get older and more aware of things? We tell ourselves that they should be more grateful, and we become angry and resentful and loud and short.  But if we understand their condition we are far less tempted to take things personally that are not personal. It isn’t that they woke up in the morning thinking to themselves how they might most effectively and completely ruin our day. I admit that it sometimes feels that way butOur children have a heart problem and it is going to expresses itself in so many ways and inevitably we will find ourselves in the fall out zone of what can go wrong. When we take things personally we often react out of anger and hurt rather than out of compassion and mercy. When we understand their condition, it helps us to deal with them gently with greater self-control so that we can provide the insight that they need. Paul Tripp says that “it doesn’t make sense to get mad at somebody who is lost”. He goes on to say “Lost people need understanding and compassion. Lost children don’t need parents who are irritated by their lostness, but rather who mourn it and long for them to be found.”[6]

 

It guards against the idea that we can fix our children

 

Understanding our child’s heart is secondly a safeguard against the idea that we can fix our children. I think sometimes parents think that they can fix their children but that is because we don’t see what the real issue is. We are sometimes tempted to think that the issue just has to do with their external behaviour and getting them to behave. We want our children to behave and think by applying the right pressure and incentives we might be able to change them. I’ve think we have all fallen into this trap.

 

Sometimes parents come up with elaborate schemes to reward good behaviour and punish bad, thinking that this will fix things. I remember when the first two children were young I made this elaborate money box for rewarding good behaviour. It was one where Miriam and Joshua if they did the right thing could see the coin go down into a slot for them and see it building up through some clear Perspex. The way it was done they were even competing with one another. When their slot became full they could pull a release mechanism at the bottom and it would all come out like coins out of a slot machine. I foolishly made the mistake of thinking it was just about getting them to behave and rewarding them with money when they did. We promise them treats for good behaviour and we take things away for bad and as they get older the treats get bigger and the threats more threatening. But if this is all they know then sooner or later you’ll run out of rewards and you’ll have nothing left to threaten them with. Now there is nothing wrong with helping children see the consequences of their actions, but the real problem is much more significant than this. We are not just trying to get them to behave better on the outside but to recognise that they have a heart problem which they need help with. We can’t fix our children. We don’t have the power to fix ourselves. There are no quick fixes for parenting is a long-term project where we are teaching them their need of God and the wisdom of following his ways. We chiefly do that by modelling it to them and living it out in front of them as we teach and admonish them.

 

It guards against unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

 

Understanding the heart issue, thirdly is a safeguard against having unrealistic expectation of our work as parents. Paul Tripp talks about parenting being a process. It happens in the little moment of life and it never really ends for the Lord is still parenting us. Our heavenly Father disciplines and corrects us because he loves us. It doesn’t end for any of us until the day we see Jesus face to face and we will be made like him. Tripp says that parenting is many moments and there are lots of unfinished conversations with many steps along the way and that our children will leave home “unfinished”[7]. We need to have realistic expectations. We need to have a “process” mentality not thinking that there will be these a few defining conversations that will fix things, or one significant event that will make the difference, but it is the Lord working through the many conversations that take place throughout our lives with them. He does his work in our hearts and the hearts of our children. We must have a long-term perspective and a “process mentality”.

 

It guards against having unrealistic expectations of our children

 

It also fourthly is a safeguard against having unrealistic expectations of our children. Our children are in a struggle with sin and the problem with sin is sin always tends to blind us so that we don’t see the truth and so we are not inclined to listen to others. We shouldn’t be surprised when our children don’t see themselves as they really are, and they want to argue with us. It doesn’t make it right and I am not saying that you should put up with it, but it ought not surprise us, and we ought not take it personally. It ought not surprise us that they think they in the right when they are hopelessly in the wrong. It shouldn’t surprise us that they think they are being wise when they are being foolish. The book of Proverbs tells us that “folly is bound up in a child’s heart” (Prov. 22:15 and it is there because sin means that was think we know better.  It shouldn’t surprise us that they blindly want to follow other sheep who are just as blind and foolish justifying their actions by telling us that it is what all the other sheep are doing. It shouldn’t surprise us that they are inclined to go astray. It shouldn’t surprise us that they don’t want to listen to us and then they get themselves into trouble. It ought not surprise us that our children need us even when they don’t think they do. It comes with being lost.

 

What our children need from us isn’t to be looked down on or our angry condemnation but the sort of understanding and compassion that the Lord has shown to us as lost sheep. Yes we need to put in boundaries and there needs to be consequence and discipline for crossing them, but we need to show them the love and acceptance that the Father has shown us and not stand off from them like the brother in that story who expected his brother to pay back for all that he had done wrong to earn our compassion and love. We need show our children the grace that God has shown us, the grace that we have found in the Lord Jesus. We need to be like that generous father who was always ready to welcome back the prodigal and who also then left the party to bring back the older brother who seemed to hate everything his father stood for.

 

It guards against prayerlessness

 

Lastly, it is also safeguard against prayerlessness. We are prayerless when we think that we can do what only God can do. When we understand that our children are lost and that they have a heart condition we are driven to prayer for we understand that only the Lord can change hearts.

 

We need to realise that what is needed is not just some technique for getting them to follow the rules, but a work of grace where God softens their hearts. We therefore pray.   What is needed isn’t more yelling and shouting to try and get them to come to their senses, but we need God to work on their hearts so that they beat with a new rhythm. We therefore get on our knees and ask the Lord to work in their hearts.  When we know that we depend on God we give up on making bigger threats or promising greater rewards knowing that these things are powerless to truly change hearts. We pray because what we realise is that our children like us need the Lord’s help for only he can change hearts. We pray because we know that we need the Lord to keep working in our own heart so that we don’t respond like fools turning what are really opportunities to minister to our kids into shouting matches. We pray so that we might become the shepherds of our children that God wants us to be teaching them to cry out to the good shepherd, the one who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

 

 

[1] Except with otherwise indication all quotes from the Bible are from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] See also Psalm 119:176.

[3] I like the way Ross Allen describes the difference once you become a Christian. She writes, “Instead of having inclination to do evil with a capacity to do good, they have, in increasing measure, a God-given inclination to do good with a lingering capacity to evil. (“The very useful doctrine of original sin”. The Briefing, May 2007, page 21.

[4] Paul Tripp makes many of the following points in the book Parenting, 14 Gospel Principles that can radically change your family.

[5] Paul Tripp, page 82

[6] Paul Tripp, Parenting, 14 Gospel Principles that can radically change your family, p108.

[7] Tripp, page 91.