Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Pastor Tom Elliff says you can learn a lot about discipline by observing a gardener.

Tom Elliff: You see I can take a pine tree and I can make it look like a willow tree by taking strings and staking those branches down into the ground. And pretty soon I’ve got them all bent down; it looks like a willow tree.

But you know what?

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s not a willow tree.

Tom: That’s not its nature. It’s working against those strings constantly.

So if that were a child the parent would say, “Why are they always resisting everything? Always, always, always resisting?” Because this child has a unique nature. I need to get to know this boy. By the way, when I got to know my son, I realized he’s not me. He’s a thousand times better than I ever thought about me.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 21.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I love putting pictures of my friend’s families on my refrigerator. I have lots of them that have been there over the years. One of the ones I enjoy getting every year is a picture of Tom and Jeannie Elliff’s clan. And that's what it is. It grows it seems every year.

Tom Elliff: It’s like a camp picture.

Nancy: Like a camp picture. You’ve got the families with different color-coded outfits on. And the picture just gets bigger or the figures in it get smaller as your family is growing.

Tom and Jeannie Elliff, welcome to Revive Our Hearts. We want to talk about what’s behind that picture that God has blessed you with. Tom has pastored for many years and is now involved with ministry with Jeannie to the missionaries of the International Mission Board. And both of you love the Lord, love His Word, love serving, love each other. You love people.

But I think one of the most remarkable things about your lives, by God’s grace, is the family He has blessed you with. I’ve had the privilege over the years of knowing your four children, and now all of them are married to godly mates, and you have twenty-two grandchildren.

Jeannie Elliff: Correct.

Nancy: But I look at that picture of your family, those generations, and I think and have often said, “This is a national treasure, a family like this that loves each other, loves the Lord, has stuck together." And it’s not just your family. It’s some other Elliff clans that I’ve been blessed to know over the years.

Tom: And love is being together. I have to tell you our kids don’t just love each other. Their idea of fun is being together; whereas, Jeannie and I actually . . . If we go on a vacation, we want to stay in our own separate room some place. Their idea is to go get one big house because they want to be able to put the kids down and still be together. They love being together.

Nancy: And that did not happen by accident. Of course, it’s the grace of God hugely and above all, and your commitment to Christ as a couple. We’ve talked with you before about the foundation of a godly marriage.

But I know a lot of our listeners would like to just have some practical input as you think back about the growing of your family for cultivating in your children a heart for the Lord, character, and godly traits. I’ll just say it for you because I know you would say it. Your kids aren’t perfect, and they’ve had their issues and their struggles and have to come to know Christ and His presence in their lives the same way you have—through tribulation and struggle.

But I look back at your kids and they have bright eyes and sweet countenances. They can talk to adults and they are, of course, adults now themselves. But I’ve known them for a lot of years and I’ve watched them grow. I think you have a lot to offer in terms of just wisdom and counsel to parents.

Let’s just start with the foundation as you had children and you were starting out in those early child-rearing years. What are some of the practical ingredients that God directed you to put into your home that you now look back and you say, “We’re glad we did that”?

Tom: We’re just talking practical stuff here. Of course, we talked about faith and the importance of knowing Christ and living your faith. We’ve been talking about that. In our home I will just have to tell you—and I learned this from my parents who learned it from their parents—that a bad mistake is always acceptable. A bad attitude is never acceptable.

We didn’t let our children storm through the house or slam the door.

Jeannie: They all did it once.

Tom: They would all do it once.

Nancy: How old are we talking here?

Jeannie: Oh, a two-year-old can have a bad attitude.

Nancy: And not allowed?

Tom: Well, receive discipline for it. But we just let our children know from the very beginning that it was not acceptable to have a bad attitude, because the moment that takes place, education is over. You see, a great portion of education is discipline. In other words, if you’re not disciplined enough to listen to me, I’m not teaching you anything.

So they have to have an open heart and an open mind. But bad attitudes—we considered that the primary offense. To be sullen or pouty, that was just not going to be tolerated.

Jeannie: And then, of course, that meant that neither Tom nor I could have a bad attitude. Mama can’t pout about something and daddy can’t pout about something because that’s a picture to the children. So we always had to have good attitudes too, no matter what.

Tom: And it’s important to be consistent on that too. If it’s not all right to have a bad attitude on Monday, it’s not all right to have a bad attitude on Tuesday either. It just takes hard work to be a parent, hard work.

Nancy: Okay, help us practically. You’ve got a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old with a bad attitude—rolling the eyes, whatever. How do you handle this? And I know it’s probably different at three than thirteen.

Tom: Sure it is. Of course it is.

Nancy: Starting with the little ones.

Tom: You have to find what the child is interested in that touches them that they would hate to forfeit. Different disciplines at different moments are the things that reach a child. But it means that number one . . . should I go through our little drill here?

Jeannie: Sure.

Tom: All right, we felt our first responsibility with our children was to communicate our expectations. In other words, it’s foolish for us to discipline a child for something they never heard about, so we would communicate our expectations.

“This is what we’re expecting. We’ve got your attention here. If that doesn’t happen there will be consequences. But if that does happen there will be good positive consequences as well." And so we felt like it was important to communicate those things.

God does that with us, and that’s the model here.

The second thing that we felt was important is when the infraction occurred, which yea and verily it will occur. You can count on that. We felt like it was important to get the child aside and alone—not to discipline a child publically because you could break the spirit of a child that way or you teach them to sass you behind your back because they’ve got to maintain their pride.

So we would say at the table or wherever it was, “We need to excuse ourselves right now. We’re going to go back to their room.” Of course, sometimes by the time they were three or four it was, “Ah! No, no, no!” They knew they were in trouble, and sometimes that was almost enough.

But we felt like it was important to get aside and alone. The reason for that is that an explosive outburst is not discipline. It’s just a show of anger. Discipline says you are important enough to me that I’m going to invest some time and energy in you because I believe in your future.

Punishment just says, “You whack somebody; you get whacked.” And so there’s a difference between discipline and punishment. That’s the reason that God does not punish His children. Christ took our punishment on the cross. But He does discipline us.

The Bible says if we’re without discipline we’ve got to check to see if we’re really God’s child because whom the Lord loves He disciplines and chastens everyone whom He receives, the Scripture says (see Hebrews 12:5-7).

So this is an investment of time. Doing it right consistently means you don’t have to do it as often as you would doing it wrong and foolishly. So we go back to the room. And we felt like it was important when we got back to the room to somehow with our countenance or just by taking a few moments to take a deep breath to reflect to that child that we were deeply grieved over that behavior—just to sit there, be quiet.

And it keeps you from doing something rash or impulsive, kind of stupid stuff that people get in trouble for. And then in discussion with the child we felt like it was important to establish responsibility.

“Ok what did you do? We’re back here. What did you do?”

“Well he did . . .”

“What did you do?”

“Well she stuck her . . .”

“No, what did you do?” And so establish responsibility.

And then the next thing we felt was important to do was we needed to let the child know that we were accountable.

We think the most wonderful day in the world was the day God put you into our family. One of these days I’m going to have to look God in the face and answer for whether I have been a good parent or a bad parent.

And a good parent means that I give you the benefit and every advantage going into life of things that would help you. And it just would not help you to go into life lying. Or it would not help you going into life disrespecting authority. This would not help you. People end up in jail because of this. And so I am accountable to God. [This brings God in on this deal.]

What I’m doing I’m doing because God wants me to be a good parent. So we’re back here. We’re taking this time.

Then you mete out the discipline. As I’ve said, as ages change people respond to different things. There’s never an appropriate moment to be abusive to a child. But there are ways to reach a child. I’m not one of those guys that says that all it takes is a good talking either.

I believe there are times and I think that the Lord equips us with good sense. We didn’t use things that would ever violate any kind of sensible response to discipline. But the point is, you mete out discipline. You’re looking for a yielded heart, a yieldedness, a surrender there.

Jeannie: You know what Tom? What comes to my mind when you were saying discipline changes by age was how our son-in-law dealt with one of his sons when he was disobedient. He took some time off work. Why don’t you tell that story? You know it better than I do.

Tom: Our son-in-law was dealing with our oldest grandson, and he was thirteen at the time, over a big issue. And he follows these principles. We’ve sat down and talked with each of our kids. He follows these principles.

So after sending him to bed one night saying, “Now tomorrow morning when you get up there’s going to be some discipline. We’re going to talk about it.”

He woke his son up the next day very early in the morning, and he said, “I’m taking the day off from work.”

By the way, if you take the day off for a broken leg, what about a broken relationship? I mean it’s worth it, right?

So he took a day off work and they started at the hospital where the boy was born. He went from the hospital to the courthouse where the birth certificate was and all the people’s registry is. They went from the courthouse and they went to the jailhouse.

As he showed him he said, “This is what a jail is and this is where people do the following.”

And then he took him out to different places. And he said, “These are all the results of decisions that people have made.”

He took him to a cemetery, and he showed him a tombstone and talked about death and so forth.

This took the better part of the day, and he brought him home. So Jeannie saw the boy later on that day and she said, “Hey Carter. How’s the day been?”

He said, “Pretty good. Dad and I spent the day together.”

And she said, “Oh you did? You didn’t go to school today?”

He said, “No, dad took the day and he and I spent the day together.” He said, “You know, grandmother, choices are a really important thing for a person’s life.”

Jeannie: It was precious for him to say that. He caught it.

Tom: Yes, he caught it. He caught it. So different ways of reaching your kids at different ages.

I know one time he laid down and he said, “If for some reason you passed away, what would you like for me to say about you at your funeral?” He asked his son to tell him what he wanted to say about the father. And boy it was a really tender moment, I’ll tell you.

But having said all that, the disciplines meted out. We believe that the person who metes out the discipline ought to be the one who hears the expression of repentance and remorse. In other words the daddy doesn’t do this and the kid run to mom, that kind of a deal.

And then it’s over. It’s over. When the prodigal son came home, the dad didn’t stand there with his arms folded and say, “I don’t know. You’ve come home but you have no idea what a mess you’ve made.” He didn’t regurgitate. He didn’t, as a friend of mine says, “go historical” on him.

So we really tried to faithfully follow those principles. I know that sounds like a lot to learn, but it really comes sort of naturally. The big deal is just taking time to sit down and gather your wits and say, “I’m not just going to haul off and whack you because it’s simple and the guests are here. We’re going to go and sit down and talk about this.”

Nancy: It seems like you take time on the front end to invest that way, or down the road when the kid’s heart is gone and the behavior is incorrigible, you take time then to grieve when they’re not as moldable and teachable.

Jeannie: That’s right.

Nancy: So it seems like parents sooner or later are going to take time with their kids.

Jeannie: They’re going to, yes.

Nancy: Now you spent a lot of time in your home teaching your children the ways of God and just practical wisdom and trying to build into their lives. How did you create hunger and thirst in them to care about spiritual things, to care about wisdom?

Jeannie: We never, Nancy, set down a bunch of rules like, “Everybody go to their room and have their quiet time.” We never once said, “Do that.”

Tom: We never said, “Have a quiet time.”

Jeannie: We never even told our children. They knew it was important because what they saw was Tom getting up in his study and me at the kitchen table with my Bible open.

Tom: And they all have a quiet time.

Jeannie: They all have a quiet time. They all just started doing it. I don’t know if the model was there, but they saw the joy we received.

Nancy: Well, you’ve heard me share about my dad and parents and their practice of a quiet time. I’m sitting here thinking, “I don’t know that my dad ever told us that we had to do that.” But it’s something that is just indelibly imprinted.

Tom: You don’t want "Stepford" children here—little robots who go around doing everything.

And Nancy—Jeannie says this better than I and I’m going to let her refine this—child rearing is an art; it’s not a science. So often parents will go to some seminar or some course or read some book or hear some program and say, “That’s it. Okay, do these seven things and this is what’s going to happen. Do these ten things; this is what’s going to happen.”

It’s not a list of things that you do. It’s a life of investment. The child can see beyond the event to your ultimate intention, which is to be the very best parent, the most godly example that you can be for them. It’s important to realize that because many times people start off really wild, have kids. They’ll hear something like, “Well, if you do these ten things, your child will turn out right.”

They say, “I’m going to guard my child from all the mess I went through.” And so the pendulum will swing way over and they’ll become fanatics about something when they need balance. Lighten up. The idea is not a list of rules. It’s life, and it’s fun. Bottom line it’s fun.

Jeannie: And each child is so different.

Tom: Tell them about the ski trip this week.

Jeannie: Well, this past week our oldest daughter and her husband decided that their son could go on a ski trip with his public school. But the dad said, “You’re going to ride with me,” and got permission and decided that the dad was going to go along.

And so they thought, “It might be nice to take the next three boys along on this trip, make it a family affair, let them get out of school and so forth.”

So they went to each of the next three boys and they asked them if they wanted to go. They started with the twelve-year-old, and they said, “Now Talbot, would you like to go on this trip?”

And he said, “Skiing?”

Tom: He’s the athlete. He said, “I’ve been watching the Olympics. I think I can ski. I’ve been practicing. I can get on the computer, and I can look it up. I can study how you’re supposed to hold your feet. I think I can do it. Yes, I want to go.” So that was his personality.

They asked the next child, “Britain, would you like to go skiing?” He’s the aesthetic child.

“Snow! It’s where the snow is so deep and beautiful and crystals and the trees and it’s just a beautiful place. I’ve always wanted to go to the mountains.”

Jeannie: “I’ve always wanted to see that. Yes, I want to go.” That was his response.

The next child, Joel, they said . . .

Tom: Mr. Personality.

Jeannie: “Joel, would you like to go?”

And he said, “Who’s going?”

So you cannot discipline these four boys the same way. They’re different people. God created each one of them differently. From the same mom and dad but so different!

Tom: And when the Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) parents sometimes say, “I don’t know what happened with this one. I treated him the way I treated all the other kids.”

That was the problem. Every one is different. It really means to train.

Jeannie: Understand.

Tom: Rear that child according to that child’s bent. You see, I can take a pine tree and I can make it look like a willow tree by taking strings and staking those branches down into the ground. And pretty soon I’ve got them all bent down; it looks like a willow tree.

But you know what?

Nancy: It’s not a willow tree.

Tom: That’s not its nature. It’s working against those strings constantly.

And so if that was a child the parent would say, “Why are they always resisting everything? Always, always, always resisting?” Because that child is not being reared according to his bent with the realization, “This child has a unique nature. I need to get to know this boy.”

By the way, when I got to know my son I realized he’s not me. He’s a thousand times better than I ever thought about me. He is a great kid, I’ll tell you.

Jeannie: Except he’s not a kid, honey. He’s 30.

Tom: He’s got three kids of his own.

But it’s an art. It’s not a science.

Nancy: And God gives wisdom that you have to be seeking Him for continually. “Lord, how do I shape and mold and influence this child?” As parents, you have looked to the Lord to direct you with your kids.

Tom: You have to cry out to the Lord, and you have to be sensitive even as they grow older. I can remember sitting on our couch one time and looking at my wife and saying, “We’ve got to go to our youngest daughter’s college right now.”

And she said, “Why?”

Jeannie: It was a Saturday night.

Tom: It was Saturday night. She and this young man had come by and they were on their way back to college.

So we headed out at 10:30, or whatever it was, and drove all the way there. It was about an hour drive out to the college. We were there in the parking lot waiting for them when they arrived.

She tells about the fact that she had gotten consumed with him. We had to say to them at that moment, “This is it.” And that’s tough. Here you’ve got a daughter in college. That’s tough to say, “Trust us on this, but we’re going to have to step in on this relationship and call it off.”

Now later on, after almost a year, God said, “It’s time.” Now they’re married and they have five kids, and they’re on the mission field. But I shudder to think what would have happened if we had thought of ourselves as not being responsible anymore just because they had reached a certain age.

Jeannie: But our kids all knew even all stages and to this day they know that we are vitally interested in everything that’s going on in their lives.

Tom: We don’t invade their space.

Jeannie: We don’t invade their space, but they know we love them and we want the best for them.

Nancy: I guarantee you that they know that you pray.

Jeannie: That’s right.

Tom: They do. They know we pray for them.

Nancy: Hard to fight against that.

Jeannie: Yes.

Tom: And when people pray for you, you have a tendency to listen to what they say because you know they’re not going to be just talking off the top of their head about their own whims and fancies and desires. Your idea is not to make them into the way you want them. You just want God’s best for them, and that is an important thing for children to understand about their folks, I think.

Nancy: We’re going to pick up this conversation again tomorrow and just more insight into parenting, grandparenting and the challenge of leaving a godly legacy and believing God for that in your family.

Leslie Basham: Training the next generation is challenging but Tom and Jeannie Elliff have offered a lot of hope to a lot of parents. We didn’t have time to air that complete conversation between the Elliffs and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, so you’ll hear additional material when you get a copy of our current series on CD. It’s called Marriage and Family for the Glory of God available at

I hope you’ll continue injecting hope into your family by reading a book by John Piper called This Momentary Marriage. Nancy Leigh DeMoss heard Dr. Piper preach a series on marriage and she was so impressed with its biblical perspective and practical application that she hoped he would turn the material into a book. And he did.

We’re excited about this book. We think that the truths here will deeply affect your thinking and lead you to some powerful decisions day by day. We want to put a copy in your mailbox. Just make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and we’ll make sure it gets there.

Ask for This Momentary Marriage when you donate any amount by calling 1-800-569-5959, or donate any amount online at

You know your child is different from you. God intended it that way. Tom and Jeannie Elliff will be back tomorrow to help you guide a child who doesn’t think exactly like you do. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.