Winning the Heart

10 Principles for Spirit-filled Discipline

The stories are too numerous to recount—Christian parents totally losing it—dads in fist fights with sons, parents in shouting matches with spouses, mothers hurling curse words and personal slurs at their children. Broken glass, holes in sheet rock, and doors slammed off the hinges are just the tip of the iceberg of the real damage. The wounded hearts, the broken relationships, and the closed spirits are the highest prices paid for such uncivilized family life.

Excuses abound as well. “I never had a Christian home.” “Well, my dad hit me a few times too.” “I’m under a lot of stress at work.” “Nobody understands my needs.” “There’s a lot in my past that I’m angry about, and sometimes I take it out on my family.” The fact is, every parent could come up with an excuse for fleshly outbursts because we’re all bound by the flesh!

It’s time for carnal parenting to be banished from Christian homes. If you’re tired of parenting in your flesh—if you’re tired of seeing your own parents in the mirror—then read on. God has a different roadmap for biblical parenting. It’s not rocket science, but it will require a teachable spirit, a humble heart, and submission to basic biblical guidelines. It will require personal growth, teamwork with your spouse, and the development of new habits—Spirit-filled responses.

Regardless of the home life you have experienced, if you know Christ, you are a perfect candidate for becoming a Spirit-filled parent of wisdom, grace, self-control, and loving authority. A carnal parent and a Spirit-filled parent are night and day different! And the products of Spirit-filled discipline are stronger relationships, closer hearts, changed lives, and the list goes on. In an effort to build godly practices into our discipline, let’s quickly discover ten principles that govern Spirit-filled discipline. Discipline that develops the heart is:

1. Controlled and Premeditated

Spirit-filled discipline doesn’t fly off the handle or out of control. It isn’t easily provoked into rage. Personal anger, frustration, and temper are set aside or allowed to cool off privately with the Lord. Proverbs 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Colossians 3:21, “Fathers provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

2. Biblically Principled and Corrective

Spirit-filled discipline rests upon the authority of God and His Word, and it isn’t easily manipulated. It always brings a biblical truth into play and helps the heart understand God’s position. In other words, this isn’t about my agenda as a parent. It’s about helping my child understand God and His agenda. Therefore, I won’t be easily manipulated by excuses or emotions. I will be more focused on teaching my child God’s precepts. Proverbs 19:18, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.

3. Instructive and Nurturing

Spirit-filled discipline moves beyond reaction and actually instructs and teaches. Too often our discipline is merely a reaction to a moment rather than a premeditation of development. Real discipline will think through the values, the heart, and the character of the child. Real discipline isn’t only punitive; it is restorative and instructive. It’s not merely about handing down punishment. It’s about training the character. Proverbs 4:1-4, “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.

4. Focused on Beliefs Rather Than Behavior

Spirit-filled discipline seeks to understand the beliefs that drive behavior, not merely to change behavior. Carnal discipline is very self-centered. It seeks to get the child to behave the way I want right now—thus avoiding embarassment or resolving my temporary frustration. It basically says, “I don’t care about your long-term character, I just want you to stop annoying me right now.” Spirit-filled discipline always sets self aside and focuses on the development of the child’s heart. It’s not about modifying behavior, but modifying the heart! Proverbs 23:26, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.

5. Focused on Restoring Relationships

Spirit-filled discipline always seeks a stronger relationship, not a broken one. Carnal discipline delivers punishment in an effort to change behavior—often at the cost of leaving a relationship wounded and bleeding. But biblical discipline involves chastening—nurturing the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12) in the young life. The goal of a Spirit-filled parent is to discipline for growth, restoration, and reconciliation. It seeks for the broken relationship to be healed and distant hearts to be reconnected in close fellowship. Colossians 3:21, “Fathers provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

6. Listening and Encouraging

Spirit-filled discipline contemplates, considers, and listens to the feelings and expressions of the heart. Carnal parenting says, “Shut up and do what I say.” A Spirit-filled parent listens and genuinely seeks to understand what is going on in the heart. A child always responds better to discipline if they feel that they have been heard and understood in the matter, even if they are wrong.

For example, if you tell me to “shut up,” you’re simply saying you don’t have time to deal with me and you don’t care. If you listen to me, even when I’ve done wrong, you might actually help me see the wrong from God’s perspective and seek His help for lasting change. Psalm 103:13, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” First Thessalonians 2:11, “As you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.

7. Prayerful and Christ-Centered

Spirit-filled discipline brings Christ to the forefront and maintains a humble spirit. Have you ever delivered firm discipline along with biblical principle and a time of prayer together? Carnal parenting throws a fit, storms in, storms out, and leaves the damage done. Spirit-filled parenting, even when a premeditated storm is necessary, never creates a mess. It calms the storm, expresses love, and gently mirrors God’s grace and tender mercy. In the end, it hugs the child, expresses unconditional love, and prays with the child, seeking God’s help and presence.

At the end of a Spirit-filled discipline session, the presence of God is obvious. Even though there may have been disappointment, punishment, and unpleasant conversation—the end of the matter wraps the whole experience in grace and love. Through prayer, a loving parent holds the child, while a loving Heavenly Father holds them both, and everybody knows “we’re in this struggle together seeking to please God in our home.” James 5:16, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

8. Selfless and Contextual

Spirit-filled discipline is for the profit of the child and helps him see the larger context of blessing. Carnal discipline benefits the parent. Spirit-filled discipline benefits the child, and frankly, costs the parent through time and nurture. It is sacrificial on the part of the parent.

Beyond that, it helps the child put the moment of discipline into a larger context and see it in proper perspective. It doesn’t leave the child feeling like a complete failure in every aspect of life or like an utter disappointment to the family. The proper context says, “You’re doing well in so many areas, but here’s one area that needs the Lord’s help. Don’t be discouraged by it, but let’s deal with it honestly before the Lord. And no matter what, I love you and will help you work through this.” Hebrews 12:10, “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

9. Forward-Looking

Spirit-filled discipline blesses the heart with hope and an “I believe in you” spirit. Carnal discipline decimates hope. It hurts deeply and leaves the heart wounded and despairing. Spirit-filled discipline is the opposite—it creates hope and anticipation of the future. It says, “I struggle too, but together we are going somewhere—growing into the image of Christ. God is doing something very special in you, so don’t get discouraged by this! Let’s get up and go forward together!” Proverbs 4:10, “Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.” First Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.

10. Obedient to a Higher Authority

Spirit-filled discipline flows from a heart that is obviously obedient to the Heavenly Father. Carnal discipline shouts for no better reason than “I’m angry,” punishes for no better reason than “You deserve it,” and loses control for no better reason than “You should know better.” But Spirit-filled discipline is carried out with a much higher purpose—obedience to the Heavenly Father. There’s something very sacred and humbling about the act of disciplining your child because you want to be an obedient child to your own Father. And when the child understands this structure of authority, the whole circumstance becomes a very spiritual exercise of growing in grace. Proverbs 24:21a, “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king.”

If these practices are vacant in your home, I challenge you to stop allowing the flesh to control the discipline moments. With your spouse, get on your knees before God and ask His Holy Spirit to transform your practices in discipline. Sit down with your children, ask their forgiveness and institute a new way of Spirit-filled parenting. Make your home a greenhouse environment for young lives—safe, growth oriented, healthy. Make growing up in your care a delightful and Christ-centered experience. Your children’s children will rise up and bless you for your gracious investment into their lives!

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