Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Spirit and the Will


In this lesson I want to address the importance of understanding the difference between the spirit and the will of a child in the parenting process. “Our objective... is not simply to shape the will, but to do so without breaking the spirit. The will is malleable. It can and should be molded and polished – not to make a robot of a child for our selfish purposes, but to give him the ability to control his own impulses and exercise self-discipline later in life. On the other hand the spirit of a child is a million times more vulnerable than his will. It is a delicate flower that can be crushed and broken all too easily. The spirit, as I have defined it, relates to the self-esteem or the personal worth that a child feels. It is the most fragile characteristic in human nature, being particularly vulnerable to rejection and ridicule and failure” (Dr. James Dobson, The New Strong-Willed Child).

Shaping The Tough Will

God has certainly given parents the obligation to shape or direct the will of their children, even when as child’s will is as unyielding as steel.

  • “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death” (Proverbs 19:18).
  • “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). 
  • “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
  • “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13-14).

All these verses emphasize similar thoughts: (1) In no way under prioritize instruction or discipline. (2) No matter how inconsistent life itself becomes, be yourselves consistent, never fearing that enforcing the rules will somehow ruin the child. (3) The “will” is the part of the child that needs to be shaped, and we should approach the task at hand with confidence. (4) Be afraid of the right things. Instead of being afraid of making your children angry, not being their buddy for a day, or being unpopular with the kids for a while, we need to be much afraid of what is certain to happen to them if they do not receive correction.

Handling The Fragile Spirit

While discipline, correction, enforcing the rules and being consistent are absolutely necessary, what should always be “off limits” is any accusation that assaults the worth of the child, for example:

  • “You have been a pain in the neck ever since you were born”
  • “I never wanted you in the first place”
  • “You are an embarrassment”
  • “You are a burden”
  • “I hate you”

As parents, we never want to send the message to our children that they are unwanted, unloved, unnecessary, ugly, dumb a burden, an embarrassment, or a mistake. They might do “dumb things”, and we need to make sure they are not becoming the fool of Proverbs. Yet we can say something like, “That was dumb and you are capable of far better”.

Passages about The Spirit

The following are passages that I believe address the concept of protecting the spirit, not only of your children, but of people in general:

  • “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18)
  • “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). “The tongue undisciplined can break hearts” (Knox). Thus, we have the power to bring words that are living-giving or death-bringing.
  • “A joyful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Consider the context of this verse. The previous passage speaks of the sorrow of a parent with a child who is acting foolishly, thus one writer notes “the implication is that the greatest source of a crushed spirit is trouble in the family” (Proverbs, Garrett, p. 162)
  • “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). Good family morale is priceless. Circumstances are not the overriding factor as to whether a family has great morale, rather the inward attitude is key. If I feel good about myself, then I can face just about anything, yet if my spirit is crushed, I will be depressed, even if the circumstances are ideal.

Satan’s Strategy

Satan wants us to ignore the will, and yet crush the spirit. He basically wants us to do the opposite of what God teaches. Let’s avoid the following traps:

  • Being afraid that enforcing the rules will destroy the relationship we have with our children.
  • Wanting to be our children’s buddy instead of their parent.
  • Wanting to be “popular” with our children, instead of doing what is best for them.
  • Deciding not to enforce the rules or exercise discipline because we are too tired, or it will create too much stress in the family.
  • Avoiding confrontation and discipline because we want some temporary peace and quiet.
  • Pretending that the rebellion will just naturally go away and that our children will mature on their own.

A Modern Problem

Exercising discipline is not a popular idea in our culture, consequently, a trap some parents fall into is to ignore the job of discipline, and allow the child to go his or her own way; in doing so the child exasperates the parents, and instead of shaping the will, the parents become so angry they attack the spirit of the child. It is far easier to simply yell at your children, and insult and hurt them verbally because they are hurting you, than to patiently train them. This is the devil’s idea that the will be ignored, while the spirit is attacked. Children in this situation have the worst of both worlds. No one is training them, no one is helping them with their self-control, and yet at the same time, they are being insulted. Thus, they are undisciplined, selfish and angry: a dangerous combination.

Being Upset Verses Exasperation

There is a big difference between exasperation and simply being upset. When we shape the will, children will often be upset with the rules, applied discipline or the consequences of disobedience, yet because we have been shaping the will they will have the self-discipline that will allow them to be upset for the moment, yet rationally think about the rules at the same time. Typically this results in a child who comes back to the parents and says something like, “I’m sorry”, “Okay, I now understand why”, or, “I now see your point of view”. And this is a very important step in one’s maturity and it will mean success in relationships for the rest of their lives. Is not life often about being able to adjust to people and circumstances telling you “no”, or “you can’t have your own way right now”.


“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Colossians 3:19).

“Losing heart” is a symptom of having a spirit that has been crushed. Knowing what would crush the spirit of a child is vital, and it isn’t that complicated to see. A parent can simply ask themselves, “What would discourage me?” Or, “How would I want to be parented in this situation?” “What would I want my parents to say to me right now?” Words that would crush the spirit include cruel and insulting words, rules that are not enforced or are constantly changing, parents who are hypocritical, and parents who are take little or no time for their children.

Encouraging the Spirit

Remember to let you children know the truth:

  • “I believe in you”
  • “You are precious to us”
  • “I am so glad that God answered my prayers and that He gave you to us”
  • “You are a gift from God and an answer to our prayers”
  • “You have given us so much joy”
  • “You are so talented and gifted”