Developing The Will

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 1 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Children)


"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." -Proverbs 16:32

A paraphrase of the above Scripture would be, "Who is the hero? The hero is the man who restrains himself." Supreme in the rearing of a child is the developing of character. It is more important for a child to be what he ought to be than to do what he ought to do or know what he ought to know. If the child is what he ought to be, he will do what he ought to do and learn what he ought to know. In our generation the cultivating of the intellect is thought to be the answer; consequently, the child is taught, school is emphasized, and higher education is considered imperative. To be sure, the intellect is a part of the mind. There is, however, another part of the mind that is far too often overlooked - the will. For the intellect to be trained and the will to be untrained is dangerous. Susanna Wesley said she disciplined each of her children until his will was broken. The wise parent starts when the child is and infant in the training of the will.

The training of the will means the child is taught to do right by constant practice so that the mind rises to action by reflex just like the body. When the will has been brought into subjection to do that which is right the child learns to make his decisions by mental reflex. This is accomplished by applying a certain stimulus to the child and having him practice the proper response. For example, when I was a boy my mother used to have me practice standing when a lady would walk into the room. I would be seated; Mother would go outside and reenter. As she entered I would stand. She would go out again; I would stand again. Over and over this was repeated until it became almost a reflex for me to stand when a lady entered a room. This was continued day by day until I never had to decide to stand when a lady entered the room I stood by mental reflex. Hour after hour Mother would practice with me on giving a lady my seat when there were no others seats available. I would sit down and Mother would walk out of the room. She would reenter. I would stand and say, "Ma'am, would you like my seat?" She would sit down. This was done over and over again until it was a subconscious thing for me to rise and offer a lady my seat.

It is only logical to assume that the more things a person does the more chances he has to do something wrong. Hence, the more decisions one has to make during a day the more likely he is to make the wrong decisions and the more wrong decisions he is likely to make. Consequently, if one lets his principles make his decisions for him, he will make fewer mistakes and yes, commit fewer sins. This means that one decides what he will always do under any given stimulus or circumstance and this is practiced until it becomes part of the subconscious. He will have spared himself the temptation of facing a decision each time a certain stimulus or a certain circumstance confronts him. Hence, one's principles will make his decisions and he decides only once and for all what the principles will be.

Luther Burbank said that you can fix a desired trait in a human being by constant practice like you can fix a desired trait in a plant.

This is done only by constant practice. Recently I was entertaining a famous preacher. I was driving when suddenly we came to a stoplight that was changing. I jammed the brakes and threw my right hand in front of the preacher. He grinned and asked what I was doing. I laughed and said I was trying to keep the baby from hitting the dash as the car stopped abruptly. Now "the baby" is married and has a baby of her own; yet after all these years the subconscious caused me to try to protect the baby. I had done it so often that by reflex I jammed the brakes and threw my hand in front of the famous preacher.

Recently, on a given Sunday I baptized over 100 people. When I baptize a convert I raise my right hand in the air and say the following words: "In obedience to the command of our Lord and Master, and upon a public profession of your faith in Him, I baptize you, my brother (sister), in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen." I said those words over 100 times. After the service I went home. The phone rang. I picked up the receiver with my right hand, but every time I had raised my right hand that morning I had said, "In obedience to the command, etc." When I used my right hand to raise the phone to my ear I said, "In obedience to the command of our Lord and Master, and upon a public profession of your faith in Him, I baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father, and the Son.. ." Then I realized what I was doing. By reflex after practice I said those words when I raised my right hand.

Not long ago I was going to go to the store. It is only four blocks from my house. I got in the car but was thinking about church work, etc., so naturally I found myself driving to my parking place at the First Baptist Church. I had driven three or four miles along the usual route that I take to the church and did not realize where I was going until I was sitting in front of the church. I have taken that route so much that when the subconscious took over I ended up at the church, not at the store.

I take natural vitamins and minerals. I keep several jars of vitamins in a drawer in my office. From the first bottle of vitamins I take four tablets a day. From the second bottle, which contains Vitamin E, I take two tablets a day. One day I opened the drawer and did not realize that the Vitamin E was in the wrong place. It was the first in line. By force of habit, I took four vitamin E tablets (which, by the way, is not a good idea). The subconscious had taken over. I had taken four tablets of the first bottle for so long that I didn't notice which bottle was in the first position.

The above illustrations show how the will can be trained to react by reflex. This is good only if we teach our children the proper good reaction to certain stimuli until the decisions of life are made by mental reflex and good is done subconsciously. This means the child will do right by habit, for basically, character is learning the proper habits. It is learning to do right without voluntary action. It is the subconscious doing of right. This can be done only by practice and more practice and more practice.

The wise parent will make a list of the things he wants his child to do under certain conditions and influences. He will then require the child to practice the proper response to each condition and stimulus. When my children were little I made a list of all the things I wanted them to learn to do by mental reflex. Some of these things were: answering the phone properly, shaking hands properly, walking, sitting, using correct posture, paying bills, having respect for elders, and many others. Each evening we would spend some time practicing each of these things until they became natural. This is the way a child learns to walk, to eat, etc. This is the way an athlete learns to be successful.

When I was a child my mother would often ask me this question, "Son, would you like a cigarette?" I would say, "No!" Over and over again she would ask the same question and I would give the same answer. She was trying to get me to associate the word "No" with cigarettes. She did the same thing about liquor and other temptations. She would hold up cigarette ads in front of me and say, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!" Then she would ask me to do the same thing. I would look at the cigarette ad and say, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!" until the two words "cigarette" and "no" became associated indelibly in my subconscious mind. Every great nation, whether her philosophies were right or wrong, rose to greatness using this method of teaching. Such discipline made America a great nation. She is now crumbling because of the lack of it. All strong nations were made strong by such training of the will. Such programs had been added to their schools. Every nation that has crumbled did so when such discipline was deserted.

The wise parent, the wise pastor, the wise coach, etc. will produce the proper decisions by constant repetition until the child has learned to do right without voluntary action. Hence, the will has been cultivated to make decisions by principle. The making of decisions by the child, or the adult for that matter, will have less chance of being wrong when the doing of right has become habit!

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"I am an old-fashioned preacher of the old-time religion, that has warmed this cold world's heart for two thousand years." óBilly Sunday