Self-Indulgent Or Self-Discipled?
What kind of vision do you have for your children? I am sure you want them to grow up to be honest, hard-working and self-disciplined. Will this just happen with wishful thinking? Rarely. I have some trees in my yard that are growing on an angle. I have to confess that I haven’t had time to work on them to straighten them up. My, if I had neglected my children like I am neglecting these trees, I don’t know where they would be today.
If we want our children to have good character when they are adults, we need to train them when they are young. It all hinges on the training. Let’s think about it for a moment. We want our children to grow up to be self-sacrificing, yet we fail to restrain them in habits of self-indulgence. We expect them to grow up to be strong men and women who know how to resist the allurements of this evil world, yet too often we give in to their every wish.
Satan is out to steal the minds and hearts of our children. Our job is to train and prepare our children to stand against the wiles of the devil and every fleshly temptation. How can we do this? We instill within them a heart to hate evil and love what is good. We teach them to walk in the fear of the Lord. We teach them that they have victory over temptation through the power of the living Christ who lives in them. We teach them to overcome by the authority of the name of Jesus and through His precious blood.
We must also train them from childhood in a lifestyle that will make it easier for them to say “No” to temptation. We must establish them in habits that will stay with them for life. We should watch that we do not allow them to get into habits of self-indulgence.
This is a challenge in our western culture where we have so much affluence. Many children expect to get something every time they go to the store. They see something and nag until they get it. However, if we get into the habit of giving into them every time they want what they see, what are we doing? We are ingraining in them a mindset that believes they can always have what they want.
Have we forgotten God’s Word to us in Titus 2:11-13, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world…” Did you notice the word, “deny”? To walk worthy of the Lord in this world we must deny worldly lusts. The word “deny” belongs to the Christian life. We often forget this word as we live in the midst of affluence. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
The Message Bible tells us to kill off the tendency of “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” (Colossians 3:5-6)
I think that children, who get what they want as soon as they want it, also miss out on something special. They miss out on the waiting. They miss the anticipation and ultimate joy of eventually receiving their desired longing. I can remember as a child waiting all year, from one Christmas to the next, to receive a gift. The waiting seemed like eternity. But the joy at the end was worth the wait. Some children have Christmas every day and therefore never appreciate the wonder and awe of receiving a gift on a special occasion.
Why are so many families in debt and up to their necks with credit card bills? Because they have not learned the lesson of waiting. We must teach our children patience, and even the joy of waiting.
I believe that children should be fed wholesome, nutritious and appetizing meals. However, I do not believe that we should let them eat cookies, candies, chippies and other junk foods whenever they want them throughout the day. This also establishes habit patterns of self-indulgence. They grow up thinking they can gratify their bodies whenever they want to.
This habit affects other areas of their lives. When they grow older and are faced with lustful temptations, their body is in a habit of thinking it can have whatever it wants, whenever it wants. They can more easily succumb to lust because it is their way of living. They do not have the habit of saying “No” to the flesh.
I like the NIV translation of Titus 2:12, “The grace of God that brings salvation teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
If children have been used to denying the urges for unhealthy sugary and salty foods that satisfy the flesh throughout their life, I believe they will find it easier to deny the temptations of the flesh. Does this mean children can never have sweets? Of course not. God has created natural sweet foods. Have you ever tasted one of God’s succulent dates? Unhealthy foods that satisfy the flesh, but have no nutrition, are habit forming.
Look at the example of Daniel. He purposed that he would not eat the dainties of the king and instead lived on natural food. What was the result? His face was fairer and his mind was clearer. Read about it in Daniel 1:8-20.
A few months back, my grandson, Arden went to a party where there was nothing to eat but junk food. He was sick all the way home. Wouldn’t it be great if our children grow up to be sickened, rather than tempted, by the evils of this world?
It’s much the same principle with TV and videos. Children who are allowed to watch what they want, when they want, because that’s what they feel like, are more likely to establish habit patterns of gratifying their fleshly feelings. It’s not that we can’t enjoy ourselves. It can be a delightful evening, on special occasions, to curl up on the sofa as a family and watch a wholesome video.
I’m not talking about legalism. God gives us richly all things to enjoy. He fills our hearts with food and gladness. He commanded His people to keep yearly feasts. He wants our lives to be filled with joy, but only in the guidelines of His principles. God created His natural foods to sustain us but at the same time to taste wonderful. However, when we eat to satisfy fleshly cravings instead of eating to sustain the body, it becomes self-indulgence.
I believe it is also important to have order in the home. We should train our children to help keep the home tidy and orderly. I recently heard of a psychologist who stated that children who are taught the habits of order, such as making their bed each morning, keeping their room tidy, eating meals at set times etc. will have more ability to overcome the temptation of pornography.
One of the greatest evils that is ravaging our society today is internet porn. This evil is not only targeted at adults but even at our precious children. There are 4.2 million web sites selling pornography in the form of 2.5 million emails every day and 40 million adults are regularly visiting these sites. This is in USA alone. The average age of the first exposure is 11 years old. And more devastating than all --the largest consumers of this terrible evil are ages 12 -17.
Yes, we use protectors on the internet and we make sure all computers are used in the open (not behind closed doors), but we must prepare our children to stand against temptation themselves. We do this by training them now. I believe we must teach our children, while they are young, to be ruthless in resisting temptation. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away… And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30 NIV)
Wow! That’s strong language, isn’t it? But this is the way God wants us to deal with temptation. We don’t play with it. We gouge it out or cut it off!
I am sure that we want our children to grow up to be hard-working men and women. Then why do we allow them to be lazy? We must teach our children from a young age the principle and habit of work. Work is not a negative. God gave work to bring us joy and satisfaction. Work is the law of man’s being. It is divinely inspired. If we do not work, we will suffer atrophy in body, mind and spirit. Work enhances us physically, emotionally and mentally.
I hear of children who are too lazy to get up in the morning! We should train our children to go to bed at a certain time each evening so they will be refreshed and ready to start the new day. God made the day for productivity and the night for rest. My mother always told me that the hours before midnight are best for health. I have since heard this proved scientifically. I have to admit that I don’t keep to it myself (to my detriment), but at least I do believe it is very important for children, who need more sleep.
What about obedience? Children are given two specific commandments in the Word of God - to honor and to obey their parents. The blessing of the home depends on their obedience. The blessing on their own lives depends on their obedience. As we train them to be obedient when they are young (and as you know from experience, it doesn’t happen naturally), it will become a habit of their lives. When they learn to obey their parents, they will learn to obey God. If they don’t get into the habit of obeying their parents and obeying God, they are sitting ducks for the devil to pop them off and tempt them away from their walk with God. All blessings hinge upon obedience. Cursing is a result of disobedience. (Read Deuteronomy chapter 28).
There are many more aspects to training in self-discipline, but I will fit one more in before I close this article. It is the habit of the church attendance. Jesus set the example himself. Luke 4:16 tells us, “As his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day…” It was His habit. I believe that we should also train our children in this wonderful custom of worshipping the Lord and meeting with the saints on Sunday or Saturday (whichever day you worship). Whether you go to a regular church, or have church in your home, you should keep this commitment.
There have been times when I have noticed a family missing from church and have asked where they were. “Oh, it is their baseball (or football etc.) game today,” comes the reply. What are we teaching our children? That a baseball game is more important than our commitment to God and His people? Are we so ingrained into our sports culture that it is now more important than God? Are we teaching our children that we go to church if there is nothing more important going on? Where does the word “deny” come in? Jesus said that we cannot be His disciples if we are not prepared to deny ourselves.
We faced this issue as our children were growing up too. When our children were younger, we gave them no option, but as they grew older (and were still living at home) we gave them permission to pursue their out-door interests as long as it did not interfere with their attendance at the morning and evening church services. Hebrews 10:25 enjoins us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” Does this mean “not forsake” or does it mean we use situational ethics?
What kind of children are we training? Children who are ruled by their desires and appetites, or hardy soldiers who know how to endure hardness and who do not entangle themselves with the affairs of this world? (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Do we want them to grow up to be kind and good citizens? Yes. But our vision should be greater than this. We should have a vision to raise children who know how to say “No” to temptation, children who have a vision to destroy the works of the devil and take the world for Christ.
I love the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, who wrote back in 1884, “Think of the possibility of raising a multitude of men and women whose bodies have never been poisoned by vicious indulgences, whose minds have been enlightened and filled with the principles of Divine truth from their infancy, and whose hearts, from their earliest days, have been inspired with the love of Christ and possessed with the one supreme ambition to glorify the Father, dethrone the devil, destroy sin and save the world!”
“We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless indulgent life,
and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life”
(Titus 2:12, The Message)
“Say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions…”
Train your children, while they are young
to be self-disciplined rather than self-indulgent.
Sow and act, and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit, and you reap a character.
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day,
and at last we cannot break it.
Habit is overcome by habit.
-Thomas A Kempis
Habits are at first cobwebs, at last cables.