If I asked a group of parents to write a list of desires they had for their children, what would we expect to read? What would I learn if I also asked the parents how they planned to motivate their children toward the desires?
How should motivation be employed in parenting?
Parents typically use reward and punishment as motivations for younger children. But are there other considerations worth reflecting on regarding motivations? The book of Proverbs offers helpful insights on this question.
In Proverbs 3, we find a father’s desires for his son and most parents would identify with them. The chapter opens with the words “My son.”
This father desires for his son long life and prosperity (v.2); favor and a good name in the sight of God and man (v.4); straight or correct paths for his son’s feet (v.6); physical health and well-being (v.8) and overflowing provision of the physical necessities of life (v.9).
These are not unreasonable desires for our sons and daughters. However, as the logical structure of the verses demonstrates, such benefits do not come by accident; nor can parents be the sole provider of them. There are certain conditions that our sons and daughters must meet.
Structure of Proverbs 3
The structure of much of Proverbs 3 is presented as, “Do ‘A’ because ‘B’.” This is a command/motive type of proverb. In Proverbs 3:1-12, there are six sets of command/motive. The first five sets emphasize the results of obeying the command, while the sixth (vv. 11-12) focuses on a reason more than a result.
There are a number of structures in Proverbs, but with each one, the relationship is between parts A and B (i.e. the relationship between the various lines in the proverb) offer necessary insight on the intended meaning and application of the proverb.
In Proverbs 3, we are working with a command/motive type of logic. Whether the motivation emphasizes the result of obeying the command or the reason for it, the intention is the same. The Father wants the son to understand why it is so important for him to obey the command. These proverbs provide insights into the use of motivation in parenting our children toward certain goals.
Moral and spiritual dimensions
Although the list of the father’s desires for his son seems to accent physical and material well-being, it’s important to reflect on his integration of the moral and spiritual dimensions into the physical and material.
Verses 5 and 6 introduce a very important item on the list of desires. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” These verses call for deep spiritual commitment as central to everything else in the son’s life.
External and Internal concerns
In the first nine chapters of Proverbs, much of the concern for the son’s life has to do with external dangers, such as the allurements of wicked men and immoral women. Here, however, Solomon recognizes internal factors which will have a profound effect on his son. But even when Solomon warns about temptations of an immoral woman, he mentions the heart. “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes” (6:25); and “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths” (7:25).
One could argue that the internal considerations are of first and greatest concern. When you make room in your heart, you will soon make room in your life. We must be pro-active in our stand against temptation.
Solomon desires for his son what every godly parent should desire — “trust in the Lord with all your heart: and “in all your ways acknowledge him.” In all your dealings and circumstances, take your relationship with the Lord into consideration.
The wisdom in Proverbs is God-centered. It is concerned about,“The sound handling of one’s affairs in God’s world, in submission to His will” (D. Kidner). This is in contrast to man-centered wisdom which is focused on materialism and ignores the spiritual.
In I Chronicles 28:9, we read of David’s desire for Solomon: “And you, my son, Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if your forsake him, he will reject you forever.”
This is what Solomon now wants for his son and what every parent should desire for his or her child.
More on the role of motivation to come!