Years ago, at age 14, my daughter Emily designed, printed and paid for her own business cards. Some of you may still have one on your refrigerator. It says, “Emily Bushlack, Babysitter.”  She built a pretty good book of business by handing those out to parents as they picked their kids up from Sunday school. She has learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed caring for lots and lots of your kids.

But I’ll never forget the time she came home from one job. It was her first time babysitting for this family. And she said, “Mom, you won’t believe it. The parents told the boys that they had to listen and obey…They actually used the word OBEY!”

What a concept. It stood out to her because it was rare and exceptional and helpful.

Obey.

That’s not a very popular word today. No one likes to be told what to do. And that is a very, very dangerous way to live–for our kids and also for us.

Certainly there have been abuses of authority all throughout the pages of human history and maybe even in some of our own stories. But we should be careful not to use that as an excuse for our own disobedience. There is such a thing as God-ordained authority. Parents have authority. Pastors have authority. And God has absolute authority.

As followers of Christ, I hope we all understand and accept that. And it would be excellent if we were training our children to understand it as well.

There’s an account in the Bible that illustrates God’s righteous response to rebellion. It’s from the book of 1 Samuel and it’s about the two sons of a priest named Eli. Here’s how they are introduced: 

Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord” (1 Sam 2:12)

Scoundrels! Seriously, if you read more you will agree they were really bad dudes. And because God has absolute authority, He has the right to inflict absolute consequences. They disobeyed and died. Their consequences weren’t like our kids’ consequences. They didn’t disobey and get a count to three. They didn’t disobey and get a time out. They didn’t disobey and get sent to their rooms. They had no regard for the Lord. As a result, when they disobeyed Him, they died.

Turns out there is a Holy God in Heaven who gets to be serious about being obeyed. 

Somewhere I fear we’ve forgotten that. I know I have. I often think of God as a good-natured grandfatherly god who has mellowed over the centuries. I can sometimes imagine he excuses, understands or ignores my bad behavior and the bad behavior of those I love. In fact, I also expect Him to bail us all out and remove hard consequences when we mess up. But a good Father doesn’t do that. 

A good Father knows what is best for his children. He has boundaries around their behaviors to keep them safe and healthy. He has rules to teach them to become responsible and kind. He has standards for their character and integrity. Because all these things strengthen the loving bond between them, he is serious about being obeyed.

Just to be clear: I’m not a fan of authoritarian parenting. In terms of Diana Baumrind’s four parenting styles, I’m squarely in the authoritative camp. I’m also not a legalist. I don’t believe obedience earns you salvation. I don’t believe obedience makes you a child of God. That gets the cart in front of the horse. 

Rather, when we are a child of God, the Holy Spirit gives us a heart that wants to obey. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16) and “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). 

We no longer want to be scoundrels. We want to be like our good Father. Enjoying a loving relationship and avoiding the consequence of rebellion.

So even though it’s totally countercultural, let’s get serious about obedience. 

“”Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).

Thankful for your sacred work as parents,