Don’t get mad, get even better at discipline.

If you’re anything like me, your kids seem to find a way to act like fools particularly well in public places or when they know they have an audience and they sense your hands are tied. Like sharks in water, they smell blood from miles away. The grocery store checkout line. The doctor’s office waiting room. With guests at the table. They’re like bees, smelling every ounce of fear and launching into attack mode. They have that ‘Hey, hold my beer, watch this’ attitude, except the target of their stunt isn’t jumping a shopping cart over a row of hedges—it’s getting you to flip out.

And if you are like me, the first reaction is a kind of tit-for-tat theory of retribution. ‘Now I’ll show you’ plays across the banner in my head, like fire under a boiling pot of water. But that’s exactly what godly discipline is NOT. Doug Wilson puts it well:

A wise father teaches—a lot. In the context of church, we know that the Word must also accompany the sacrament. In a similar way, the word must always accompany the discipline. Fathers must teach their sons—the point of discipline is not to retaliate against a boy… the point of discipline is to gain an audience… the way to receptivity is gained through discipline (Future Men, 29).

The point of discipline is to gain an audience with my son; it isn’t to get even. It’s funny how that works. In the very moment I want to express my wrath against the son who has publicly humiliated me, the Lord is giving me an opportunity to exercise authority, firmly standing in the way of his foolish endeavor and gaining an opportunity to teach him. The grocery store incident isn’t a chance to get even; it’s a God-given opportunity to address my son (the rod) and teach him (the word).

“For the LORD reproves (disciplines) him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:12).

The flip side of all this, of course, is that if you refuse to discipline your children you are missing out on any lasting effect your teaching may have on them. You can’t expect the seeds to grow into flourishing plants if you have not first faithfully plowed the soil with elbow grease and a blade. The rod opens the heart like a plow opens the ground, ready to receive the seed of teaching that may, Lord willing, mature into fruitfulness.

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