Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Preoccupation with Outward Form

As parents we look for and are drawn to other parents who seem to be doing a great job in their calling as parents. It is a good thing to desire positive examples in our lives that we can glean from and draw strength from as we pursue our own charge to raise godly children. So often we look at the outward fruit and draw our own conclusions of godliness. For instance, we are impressed by the modesty, grooming standards, wholesome music styles, respectful manners, organized schedules, and orderly homes of Christian families. This is outward fruit that may or may not represent the inward fruit. We need to be cautious not to be preoccupied with these things in our own parenting as well as being too fixated upon these outward standards in others. Nothing is wrong with these admirable qualities unless we make them a priority and a standard for molding our children's behavior while we altogether miss their hearts. The question to ask here is, "What is the priority?"

In 1 Timothy 2:9, modesty is addressed. However, Jesus emphasized many more times about a changed heart bearing outward fruit than issues of outward form. If the enemy can tempt us to focus on the outward issues above the inward, then all the hype about modest dress, rules of behavior, hairstyles, music choice, etc., are all vanity and pride. The result of this outward focus is judgement in that it is inevitable we will apply our chosen standards to others as if our way is the only right way.

In the last article we discussed how the Pharisees were confronted numerous times by Jesus for defining their own chosen standards as holiness. Then they belittled others who did not hold to their standards. For example, when I was a young mother of 2 children, I went to visit a friend who had three children who were older than my sons. My oldest, Bradley, was 2 at the time. I had not seen my friend in several years. One of the first questions she asked me was if Bradley was "potty trained" yet. When I replied no, she gave me a frown and critically said, "I cannot believe that. I had ALL of mine potty trained before they were two." Needless to say, I left there that day feeling like a failure as a mother because of some other's standard for potty training.

Here is the test. When we believe or feel like WE have achieved results with our children, we can very easily become proud of our accomplishments. Furthermore, in our pride, we judge others by those areas we feel most successful. Beware. We must not elevate issues more that Jesus did.

Another point here is that we need to guard against our motives for why we make certain choices in our families. In my past experiences I have heard many mothers share about how they make their bread from scratch, raise their own food, and mop their kitchens everyday. These are all great things. Homemade bread is one of my favorites! However, if we do these things to parade them in front of others as an indicator as to how great we are as parents or we think that certain methods of doing things exemplify the best to our children, then we are deceived.

Recently, I read a story about a pastor who visited a mother who was dying with cancer. Her pastor asked, "If you could go back and change one thing as a parent, what would you do?" This dear mother replied, "I would have baked less bread and spent more time playing with my children." This is a sobering story. We should all be exhorted to continually assess our methods and our standards along with the motives behind them. Remember, it is more about touching our children's hearts, not molding them on the outside into our cookie cutter ideas of successful children.

Many times I have failed in this area with my teenagers. I became so focused on their external state, that I did not take time to be still before them and listen to their hearts. We must also guard against this especially with our teenagers. Many times I think we as Christians can get so caught up in expecting "bad fruit" from our teenagers because of the world's attitude about teens. When one of my teenagers becomes very quiet and aloof, I have been guilty of making wrong judgements upon him because I was focusing on what I thought was negative fruit. If we are not careful to "listen to their hearts", we can push our teenagers away in seasons when they need us the most. How needy we are as parents to be still in our hearts during our busyness that we may correctly hear the inward cries of our children.

Lord, help us to continually humble ourselves before You that we may have tender hearts toward our children's hearts. Help us not to be overly focused on outward form that we may have clear vision of what they need in their souls. You say to be still and know you are God. Teach us to do just that so we will know Your best for our children . In Jesus Name, Amen

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