You would think children would naturally comply with the logical, rational requests of their parents. You know…”stop running with those scissors in your hands”, “stop being so loud in this library-level quiet restaurant”, “don’t hit your brother/sister with that sword”…the basics.
But you would be wrong.
Even the best behaved children have a tendency to push limits to see how far they can go.
As Torre and I attempt to navigate these waters of child-rearing (do people even use that term anymore? All of a sudden I feel old), one thought seems to come to my mind more often than any other.
Why won’t you just do what I tell you to do?!?!
Lately the Lord has been using that frustration in parenting to drive home some Truth for me. Namely, the fact that He is not after our behavior modification or compliance.
He as after transformation. Transformation of our hearts and our minds.
The reality is, in the moment of frustration with my kids, what I think I want more than anything is just behavior modification. I just want them to do what I say. No questions asked, no having to ask a second (or third, or fourth, or…) time. I want compliance.
But outside of that moment, if you were to ask me what I want for my children, behavior modification and compliance would be the farthest thing down the list.
I don’t actually want kids who just do what I tell them to do. I mean… selfishly I do, but that’s not my greatest hope for them. What I REALLY want is for their hearts and minds to be transformed and reconditioned to a point where they make good and wise choices as an extension of how they actually think and believe. You know, choosing not to hit their sibling with a sword because they actually care about whether they hurt them instead of because mom said to stop. Because I know that the reality is behavior modification and compliance will only take them so far. There is only so much we can do in our own efforts. So, no. I don’t just want my kids to comply with my directions. I want their hearts and minds transformed.
The question is, do I want the same thing for myself as it relates to my walk with the Lord? Or am I satisfied with behavior modification?
Lately, I’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. There are so many great takeaways from that letter, and what I’m about to describe really isn’t even one of the main ones. But it is something that has struck me as I’ve read Paul’s words.
Paul LOVED these people. As in, felt deep affection for them. He was moved by their acts of kindness and longed for them to know Christ more and more. He was encouraged by their partnership in the gospel and prayed earnestly for them.
Take a look at the first part of his letter…
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)
He sounds like such a nice guy, doesn’t he?
But let’s not forget who Paul was prior to his encounter with Christ. He HATED Christians. He was arrogant and self-promoting. He sought out every opportunity to persecute those who followed Christ. There was nothing nice about Paul before Christ transformed his life.
It’s laughable to think for a moment that Paul just decided one day to make better choices and be a nice guy. There was no amount of behavior modification that would produce in Paul the love and affection for the very people he had hated and persecuted we see in this letter. Paul didn’t just work really hard to clean up his act and treat people nicely.
Instead, Paul encountered Christ and was transformed. His heart and mind were radically reshaped by the truth of Jesus and the gospel. And as a result of this transformation, Paul actually thought and felt differently than he did before. He didn’t have to work hard to choose to love people he had previously hated, because Christ had reconditioned his heart to actually have that love for them.
So often I think we strive so hard for behavior modification, when what God is really after is heart and mind transformation. And, the truth is, we should be so incredibly grateful for this! Behavior modification is about our own efforts and, even at our best, will never be sustainable. We will inevitably burn out.
But when we truly encounter Christ and are transformed by the renewal of our minds, that transformation is pervasive and authentic. It’s sustainable because it is God who sustains us.
I imagine God looking at our best efforts at behavior modification the way I consider them for my children (when I’m thinking clearly and have a big picture perspective). They are futile and not at all what He is actually after.
He wants transformation. And He wants to be the one who accomplishes the transformation.