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Outgrowing the Boy

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Little boys, according to the nursery rhyme, are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Compared to little girls, who are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, boys are infinitely inferior. They are just, well . . . boys.

Public opinion treats males no better in adulthood. Popular entertainment portrays men as incompetent, irresponsible, beer-drinking oafs who hog the TV remote and growl at their kids.

The church does well to push back against such male-bashing and to challenge men to become the leaders God intended them to be.

It is a daunting task to raise godly kids of either gender in a godless society, and even more difficult to guide our sons in becoming God-fearing men who will lead courageously.

Centuries ago, King Lemuel’s mother grappled for words to shape and guide her boy-king. Not once, but three times in Proverbs 31:2, she demanded the listening ear of the son destined for the throne. She ached for him to develop strength of character and adopt principles that would enable him to rule with a firm hand, yet to be compassionate. To possess a quick mind, yet to be circumspect.

The mother of Proverbs 31 lives in the heart of every Christian parent whose deepest desire is for their son to grow into godliness. Achieving that goal requires intentionality. Our natural tendency is to minimize our child’s character flaws and excuse with a sigh, “Boys will be boys.” It takes courage to confront areas in their lives that need correction.

While few of our sons will reach the pinnacle of national leadership roles that King Lemuel did, they will function in varied areas of influence — from the playground to parenthood and beyond. How can we shape our sons to operate within the sphere of leadership God will call them to?

We can start by heeding the warnings laid out by King Lemuel’s mother. She identified three potential inhibitors to her son’s ability to lead in a God-honoring way.


This mother zeroed in on sexual integrity. “Do not give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings,” she cautioned in verse 3. Today’s sex-saturated culture bombards our sons incessantly with ungodly messages regarding morality. It asserts there is no right or wrong and that we each have freedom to live according to our own code of conduct. Psalm 119:9 asks, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” and immediately answers the question succinctly: “By taking heed according to Your word.”

God’s Word lays a solid foundation for teaching our sons about sexual purity. Deuteronomy 6:7 emphasizes the need to teach scriptural principles to our children at every turn: “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Even before our sons enter kindergarten, we need to teach them to respect girls, to run from temptation, and to set biblical standards for themselves that will win out over raging hormones. Self-discipline and delayed gratification are crucial elements of godly leadership. 


While the Bible soundly condemns immorality of any kind, many Christians do not believe it speaks as clearly on alcohol use. According to a 2017 Barna Research poll, a significant percent of practicing Christians admitted to drinking as much as the average adult. Little wonder that alcohol consumption and its peripheral issues create problems even among faithful churchgoers.

King Lemuel’s mother identified wine as one of the top three detriments to her son’s ability to lead effectively. Knowing that alcohol obstructs and perverts good judgment, the future king’s mother warned, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink” (Proverbs 31:4). In today’s culture, we can broaden this to include substance abuse of any kind. Clear thinking and sound judgment are essential for godly leaders.


British politician Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power absolutely corrupts.” We should teach our sons that a position of influence is a stewardship from God and that answering to Him will help them dodge the corruption that shadows self-deification. King Lemuel’s mother thrilled at how her son’s power, if used righteously, could bless his people. And she despaired at how, if employed flippantly or selfishly, it would surely destroy his nation.

A person’s character is often revealed in how they treat the underprivileged. “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die,” King Lemuel’s mother urged. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (vv. 8, 9). Her words are applicable for leaders-in-training today as well.


If our sons are to govern others, they must first learn to govern themselves. It is a pathetic reality that our children often adopt our sins and weaknesses. How are we measuring up against the standards King Lemuel’s mother set for him? Are we heeding her pleas regarding sexual integrity? Do we set an example of sobriety? Do we demonstrate compassion, especially for the downtrodden?

We would do well to echo the prayer in Psalm 139:23, 24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

We tend to withdraw from such painful searching of our own hearts. We don’t want our sins on parade. We don’t want condemnation and guilt. Neither does God. He intends introspection to be redemptive — to lead us to Him and to gain blessing through His forgiveness for our own sins.

Then we are equipped to guide our sons in leaving the arena of boyhood to become the men God designed them to be.

Esther Zeiset has published in a variety of magazines, including Power for Living, Purpose, War Cry, The Secret Place, Upper Room, and several local publications. She also published a book, Behind Fences: A Prison Chaplain’s Story, the story of her husband’s call to prison ministry and of his chaplaincy work for 33+ years. Esther lives in Newmanstown, PA.

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