Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6—NKJV)

When I was a kid, about the age of six, I remember my first days of riding to school on a school bus. Here I was, a first grader (there was no kindergarten in those days), on this big, yellow, Bluebird school bus alongside kids from every grade. I remember sitting in the school bus seat and watching the kids get onto the bus. There was one kid in particular who caught my attention. He must have been in high school because he sure seemed tall and mature. The striking feature about him was his pompadour.

In those days of haircuts on the kitchen stool (my hair was generally styled in a crew cut) anything that came above my father’s thick fingers run across my scalp was cut off. To see a big kid with his hair slicked back and his forelock festooned into a big wave that stayed in place, no matter what the weather, was a thing of fascination for me. What must it be like to be able to train your hair to do what you wanted it to do? It was one of the great mysteries to my young mind.

“Train” has several definitions. It is aiming something or bringing something to bear, like a pair of binoculars or a gun. It is also a way to describe the process of preparing or making fit for an athletic contest. It is to guide the growth of a plant by tying and pruning. It is used is to describe the discipline and conditioning of animals. All of these ancillary definitions help to embellish the definition and use found in Proverbs 22:6. Solomon uses the term in order to describe the guiding of the mental and moral development of a person, to bring up, to rear. Certainly, inherent in his intended meaning is the idea of training a young person “by instruction so as to make proficient.”

Training is discipline and education. Discipline often has negative connotations in our day, but the original idea retains the very positive notions of excellence, character, orderliness, and efficiency. It is illustrated by self-control, clear thinking, and focus. Training is education because it includes the gift of knowledge, developing skillful use of the mind, and the forming of a framework for the large issues of life.

The point of this verse in the book of Proverbs is to state a maxim (a general truth) designed to shape and hone the parental thought processes uniformly bent toward the goal of releasing a mature, godly, offspring into adulthood. “He should go,” and he must go. It is a training “in the way.” It is not a “walk in lockstep” but a roadway which has God for its Master-builder. Since it is a “way” it is not just telling and commanding, it is very much showing and demonstrating how it is done; it relates to the practices and habits of life.

Training, in its early stages, starts with training in doing right—to urge and encourage until a thing is done right. It begins with commands a child can readily obey while engaging his mind to develop a thirst for understanding. Early training is with a view to the next level, training to do right habitually—to learn over and over until it feels unusual not to do so; it is to form the habit of obedience from which other habits are formed. Ultimately, training strives to implant the personal desire to do right from choice?—?this is a habit from principle. From obedience one enjoys real liberty because it is a training of the will without destroying the spirit. The goal is to see a child develop into a person obedient to his Lord with delight and with spirit. The habit of obedience is always more important than blind rule-keeping.

This discipling work of training, both physically and spiritually, requires unflagging consistency—“train.” It is a personal work for the benefit of another—“train up.” It requires that our work starts early—“a child.” It is the teaching of active principles not static minutia (make it and keep it practical)—“in the way.” It is always mindful of the goal to release—“he should go.” It is a training with a long-range view—“and when he is old [able to grow a beard].” It is a training that builds the real man you cannot see, the character, the mind, the person, the man, the great-heart—“he will not depart from it.”

Sometimes the diligent and conscientious training of a child may appear to turn out just like the early efforts to train the hair of a now bald man. You may be asking yourself, “What is the use?” The answer is that the training is for the purpose of building the soul, the inner man. God sees and weighs the heart. The heart is His domain. Remember the words of Galatians 6:9–10. Trust and obey.