We continue our series from J. C. Ryle's excellent instruction on this topic.
XI. Train them to a habit of always redeeming the time.
Idleness is the devil’s best friend. It is the surest way to give him an opportunity of doing us harm An idle mind is like an open door, and if Satan does not enter in himself by it, it is certain he will throw in something to raise bad thoughts in our souls.
No created being was ever meant to be idle. Service and work are the appointed portion of every creature of God. The angels in heaven work – they are the Lord’s ministering servants, ever doing His will. Adam, in paradise, had work – he was appointed to dress the garden of Eden, and to keep it. The redeemed saints in glory will have work – “They rest not day and night,” singing praise and glory to him who bought them. Ad man, weak, sinful man, must have something to do, or else his soul will soon get into an unhealthy state. We must have our hands filled, and our minds occupied, with something, or else our imaginations will soon ferment and breed mischief.
And what is true of us is true of our children too. Alas, indeed, for the man that has nothing to do! The Jews thought idleness a positive sin; it was a law of theirs that every man should bring up his son to some useful trade; and they were right. They knew the heart of man far better than some of us appear to do.
Idleness made Sodom what she was: “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her” (Ezek 16:49). Idleness had much to do with David’s awful sin with the wife of Uriah. I see in 2 Samuel 11, that Joab went out to war against Ammon, “but David tarried still at Jerusalem.” Was not that idle? And then it was that he saw Bathsheba – and the next step we read of his fall.
Verily, I believe that idleness has led to more sin than almost any other habit that could be named. I suspect it is the mother of many a work of the flesh; the mother of adultery, fornication, drunkenness, and many other deeds of darkness, that I have not time to name. Let your own conscience say whether I do not speak the truth. You were idle, and at once the devil knocked at the door and came in.
And indeed I do not wonder; everything in the world around us seems to teach the same lesson. It is still water which becomes stagnant and impure; the running, moving streams are always clear…. If you would have good bodily health yourself, you must take exercise. If you always sit still, your body is sure at length to complain. And just so it is with the soul. The active, moving mind is a hard mark for the devil to shoot at. Try to be always full of useful employment, and thus your enemy will find it difficult to get room to sow tares.
Reader, I ask you to set these things before the minds of your children. Teach them the value of time, and try to make them learn the habit of using it well. It pains me to see children idling over what they have in hand, whatever it may be. I love to see them active and industrious, and giving their whole heart to all they do; giving their whole heart to lessons, when they have to learn; giving their whole heart even to their amusements, when they go to play.
But if you love them well, let idleness be counted a sin in your family.
Contrary to popular opinion, the good life is not a life of leisure. We do not work for the purpose of getting to retirement. We work in order to fulfill the blessing God gave to mankind in Genesis 1:28 of subduing the earth. As we do that rightly, we are productively participating with God in his mission to glorify himself. Joy comes through learning to rejoice in the Lord through the productive labor he gives us to do. "In all toil there is profit" (Prov 14:23). The sooner our children learn that, the better!
Here are some practical pointers to that end.
1. Even from their youngest years, give your children work to do around the house (commensurate with their abilities). They need to see that they have something valuable to contribute to the family mission. They will know their labor is productive and satisfying when they know what the family mission is and when they can see that they are helping to accomplish it.
2. Include your children whenever possible in the work that you are doing. For instance, this week my wife is doing spring cleaning. Instead of getting the children out of the way, she is having them help her. Honestly, this does make more work for her at this stage in the child-rearing years. She could do this much faster herself if she hired a babysitter. But to do that would be to deprive our children of being a productive part of the family. It would also implicitly teach them that they can be lazy because they are "just kids." This is exactly the reason many young adults do not like to grow up. They are accustomed to being lazy and they have never learned the joy of productive labor. Men, teach your sons to mow the lawn, fix the faucet, and change the oil in the car. Do things together as a family, and enjoy doing it!
3. Teach your children to enjoy mental labor. Read and discuss the Bible and great literature. Avoid the mind-numbing computer games and television serials.
4. Hold up godly, hard-working examples before them. Point out young adults in the church who are diligent in serving the Lord with their lives. Honor men who are hard-working tradesmen and women who are workers at home. Your children will begin to see the real satisfaction that comes from simple, excellent labor.
5. Study the book of Proverbs together as a family. Proverbs gives great wisdom concerning the life of diligence vs. the life of indolence.
These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. Any suggestions you would like to add?