THE SKILL OF EFFECTIVE FAMILY DISCIPLINE BEGINNING WITH SELF-DISCIPLINE AS HEAD OF THE FAMILY
This interactive study is designed to ask and answer questions like: What is discipline? Why are some disciplinary style ineffective while others are? Is there a connection between godly modelling of parents and effective discipline? Why did God use Abraham to illustrate the effectiveness of a godly father on his family? (Gen 18:19; Deu 6:6-7)
1. Gen 18:19 “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham that which He has spoken to him.”
2. Deu 6:6-7 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Definition of Terms: What is self-discipline and family discipline? The control of our emotions, cravings and ability to be self-directed is probably how we view self-discipline. If one for instance decide to lose weight and is able to keep to a regiment of exercise and a food deprivation, he /she will feel that he/she has achieved self-control. The converse is the case when the person fails to stop eating the things that adds weight and fails at the regular exercise. This failure usually brings shame and guilt from a sense of failure to achieve self-discipline. Self-discipline is defined as having the ability to control ones desires and impulses to stay focused on what needs to get done to successfully achieve a goal. A lack or failure to achieve this ability puts people in shame because usually self-discipline or control is linked with will power and many begin to think they lack will power and the issue of self-control becomes a moral issue. The Bible enjoins Christians to exercise restraint when it comes to sinful desires but generally commands the denial of self:
“And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luk 9:23 ESV)
Family discipline on the other hand is a systemic relationship in which members of the family unit manifest the ability to walk according to the leadership of the man who is the head of the family. From the mother and wife who offers support to the man’s leadership, to the children who obey their parents, the whole family synergizes in order to achieve the vision and goal of the family probably generated by the head and shared with the rest of the family to become a pivot for the whole family. How can a family become disciplined starting with the head of the family the man in a normal family situation?
1. Planning for a Family and Home
Young people usually make plans to marry and begin saving money for the marriage ceremony and events. A few who are more matured, wise and responsible seek counsel and also include in their preparations pre-marital counselling where they are introduced to matters concerning the life they are about to get into. The success of the new home and marital relationship is usually related to the spiritual values of both partners as the psalmist says that “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psa 127:1 ESV) One of the area that can bring negative effect on the family is a lack of self-control or self-discipline on the part of one or both of the partners. The intending ‘home makers’ may not make adequate plans to watch out for this area of interpersonal relationship since love usually is ‘in the air.’
Fundamental questions that reveal if a man or woman is disciplined or have the ability to control his/her desires and impulses to stay focused on what needs to get done to successfully achieve the goal of building a strong family need be asked:
- What is the observed manifest interest of this individual in God and His ways and not just his/her expressed interest? (Jam 2:14-18)
- What are social and spiritual values and skill that underline this individual’s life? (Col 3:17)
- What is this individual’s emotional quotient? (Pro 16:32; 25:28; Jas 1:19)
- What is the prayer life of this individual?
Why are some disciplinary approaches weak?
It is generally observed that emotions drive the sustainable self-discipline and not willpower. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. Many times people fail in their attempt to change their behaviour because they rely on their willpower which is very limited. Though Dr. Roy Baumeister, Ph.D opined that “willpower is what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilization”,[i] it is observed also that when it comes to sustainable self-discipline, willpower fails. Paul expressed his inability to sustain change in the direction of holiness because his willpower failed him constantly:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15, 18-19, 24 ESV)
The bottom line of disciplinary methods that work and those that do not may actually depend on a few variables like training or drilling which is a repeated activity until the act becomes second nature (the military drill inculcates discipline though harshly). Paul involves both the mind and the reward that is ahead with self-discipline when he said,
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1Co 9:19-27 ESV)
Please note the following phrases:
- that I might win
- that by all means I might save some
- I do it all for the sake of the gospel
- that you may obtain it
- But I discipline my body
- keep it under control
- lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified
All these show the motivation that made the discipline effective and sustainable. It is obvious that with Jesus at the center of the heart, self-control is no longer self-control but Spirit-control! This is sustainable for God never fails and because what is impossible with man is possible only with God! The key to Paul’s success is found both in Galatians 2:20 and Romans 7:24-25:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 ESV)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Rom 7:24-25 ESV –emphases mine.)
Quotes and Perception of people on self-discipline
- “We don’t have to be smarter than the rest; we have to be more disciplined than the rest.” -Warren Buffett[ii]
- “My will shall shape my future. Whether I fail or succeed shall be no man’s doing but my own. I am the force; I can clear any obstacle before me or I can be lost in the maze. My choice; my responsibility; win or lose, only I hold the key to my destiny.” -Elaine Maxwell[iii]
- “It doesn’t matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline.” -Harvey Mackay[iv]
- “We’re already the people we wish to be. Our emotional mind simply stops us from behaving how we need to achieve our ideal state. Self-discipline gives us the ability to overcome our emotional mind by moving forward with physical action.” -Dr. Steve Peters[v]
- “Remember, self-discipline is a practice. You will not be perfect every day. What’s important is showing up each day ready to try. So, what changes are you going to make today?” -Meg Prater[vi]
Let us remember that all these statements are made by famous people that became successful. People like to listen to successful people but we like to listen to our Lord who was the greatest man that ever lived. His self-discipline was awesome! “He learned obedience”! He said, “But let your will be done rather than mine …Let thy will be done”! (Heb 5:8; Mat 26:39, 42)
In summary, self-discipline is the ability to do what you should be doing. Self-discipline often means putting off your immediate comfort or wishes in favour of long-term success. For example, if you want to become physically fit, you might endure the short-term discomfort of waking up early to exercise or getting up in the evening after work to still exercise to attain the long-term benefits of being healthy and overcoming emotional downs.
Is there a connection between godly modelling of parents and effective discipline, and why did God use Abraham to illustrate the effectiveness of a godly father on his family?
This question deserves a good answer from the Scripture. Abraham was a believer in God and he taught his family the great faith he had in God in many ways. A man must have great faith in God and must teach the same as God required of parents in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The man, as head must exercise control over his tongue, his prayer life, his appetites, selflessly serve his family, his social life and his attitude to money and material possessions. The family will hardly rise above the leadership of the man. Sometimes however, children who make contact with others they admire may live their lives not patterned after their parents but after the model they love like King Josiah in 2 Kings 22 and 23. Most of all, the man needs to be an example to his family concerning his self-discipline in prayers. Jesus demonstrated prayers so much to the disciples that they asked Him to teach them to pray to God like He does (Luk 11:1). At a time in His life when He needed prayers and He invited them to join Him, they failed because they were tired. Jesus then admonished them to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mat 26:41) The issue in self-discipline is one of willingness in the spirit but failure of the flesh in keeping up with the resolutions of the spirit.
Some suggestions on building Self-Discipline
- Self-evaluation: You may begin by writing down what you do and how these impact your life. Evaluate yourself as an “unexamined life is not worth living!” (Socrates) When you discover some things you do that do not help you achieve your dream, then write them down and begin the process of planning an action to overcome.
- Identify and write down clear goals towards achieving control over these failures.
It is said that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. The act of writing down goals forces you to visualize the goal itself, how to achieve it, and what steps you need to take to get there.
- Visualize your outcome
Some medical opinion suggests that our brains do not differentiate between real and imagined memories. Therefore it is advised that we “imagine something vividly as our brain chemistry changes as if we had actually experienced it”. (Meg Prater, Ibid)
Visualizing positive outcomes like, “When I finally slim down enough, I’m going to treat myself to an excellent dinner or wear that gorgeous dress in my wardrobe,” gives an individual the positive feelings associated with attaining the good weight while reducing feelings of insecurity that she cannot make it or she is not beautiful enough. This makes it easier for people to overcome feelings of fear and take actionable steps toward achieving their goals. At the very beginning of their relationship, the great mentor, Jesus Christ made Peter to visualize a great outcome of the training he will be receiving (“you are a rock, and you will be so called” –Mat 16:18) and with this vision guiding Peter, he was able to endure many things to achieve what he later believed was possible. Remember Peter was just an illiterate fisherman. At the end of the day, he wrote books!
- Start small
Changing habits can be very challenging but easier to sustain when we take it slow and steady or small steps at a time. Taking big steps and trying to set a short timeline is usually a step to failure. Each small success inspires you to go on while failure discourages further tries. So keep it small.
- Utilize the services of a mentor
For example, if you find yourself spending too much time on social media or internet, you may find a mentor that will help you overcome. There is no shame in asking for help. A good mentor generally have more experience, know you well, and can give you the unpolished advice and the feedback you need to succeed. We are all enjoined to help one another. (Gal 6:1)
- Practice, fail, and start over again.
We will fail at certain points in our lives at things we do. This is not fatal. We all fail when it concerns sin so we should not beat ourselves in the head. (1Jo 1:7-9) Just get up, learn from where you have fallen and start over again. “Christianity is a religion of ‘begin again.’” The Lord will surely help us succeed if we ask Him (Jas 4:2; Luk 11:9-10).
Let us all just remember that self-discipline is the act of trying, failing, and trying again. So there is no shame in failing. The real failure is when you refuse to get up. Peter failed the Lord and wept. He got up when Jesus encouraged him. He fell again in Antioch when he was now a big name in Christendom and an elder to boot! He also got up after this and continued. Part of his ability to get up involves forgiving himself. We should learn from his story.
Abiodun Adegoroye (Evangelist)
[ii] Warren Buffet, Ibid
[iii] Elaine Maxwell, Ibid
[iv] Harvey Mackay, Ibid
[v] Dr. Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox, Ibid
[vi] Meg Prater, Ibid