At graduation services I share four simple goals for success. The first time I shared these concepts with an audience I could not believe the response. After the graduation, parents came up to me, asking, “What was that second point?” and “What was point three?” and “Those principles are so simple and are common sense. Where did you get them?

I have to admit that these points were not original to me. Several years ago while in Canada, I picked up a copy of The Globe and Mail, and read an article about a motivational speakers’ event in Toronto, which featured celebrities such as Donald Trump and George Foreman.The author of the article was drawn to one speaker who was not a prominent figure, but who gave four simple rules for success. (I wish I could tell you who the speaker was, but unfortunately, I did not keep a copy of the article.)

As I share these four simple concepts, I want us to keep in mind that as Christian parents, our goals for our children are that they love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and that they love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus described these goals as the greatest and second greatest commandments. The four rules in this article deal with the second greatest commandment, loving others as ourselves.

Why are we instructed by God to do this? Because the second law of love expresses the very character of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).By loving and serving others, we meet the needs of “neighbors” and direct the lost to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

These are the four habits for success:

Please and Thank You

First, always say please and thank you. These good manners introduce two basic biblical principles, humility and thankfulness. James 4:6 reminds us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
By saying please and thank you, we are demonstrating the very character of Jesus, who humbled Himself to become a man, giving up all the glory of heaven to suffer the shame of a public death-not just any death, but death on the cross—out of love for us and obedience to His Father. When we can say please and thank you even to those under our authority or to our siblings, then we are truly reflecting the mind of Jesus.

Being on Time

The second habit is going to hurt because it is so hard to do, and that’s being on time. We all have times when we are doing everything we can to be on time and the circumstances just won’t allow it. However, some of us are in a habit of not being on time. This is a bad testimony. In Philippians 2:4-5, the Bible says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” When we’re late, others are waiting. What we’re telling them is that our time is more important than theirs. This violates the clear biblical mandate in Romans 12 where the apostle Paul admonishes believers to honor one another by giving preference to one another. Ouch!

Keeping Promises

The third principle is an obvious one on which we can all agree, and that is simply keeping our promises. Failing to keep our promises is a form of lying. Many times we have good intentions when we make promises, but circumstances change and we begin to rationalize our way out. Psalm 15:4 says we should keep our oaths “even when it hurts” (NIV). Even if it becomes difficult to keep our promise, we need to do it anyway.
An exception would be if what we had promised to do conflicts with an emergency or it was wrong to begin with. Then we must make the appropriate appeals to be released from the promise. But keeping our promise demonstrates godly character. In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says to always “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”
Those of us who seem to get ourselves into situations where we break our word over and over again need to recognize that this is an issue we should take to the Lord.

Finish What is Started

Our final goal is to finish what we start. This brings to mind Jesus’ parable about the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32. A father asks his sons to work in his vineyard. The first son said no, but later repented and went. The second son agreed to go, but never went. In this parable, Jesus compares the second son to chief priests and elders who knew the Old Testament and knew about God, but rejected Jesus.

The temptation to quit is common to man. When times get hard, when we run out of energy, resources, support—you name it—our human nature wants to give up. But as believers, we are salt and light in this world and people are looking to see if we finish what we start, especially when times are hard. To quit results in others having a lack of trust in us, and if quitting becomes a habit, we lose the opportunity to advance in any situation in life.

As we encourage our children to follow these rules, we have to recognize that these are only goals and none of us is perfect. Our children will not be able to carry out these rules all the time. However, we need to set high goals for our children and ourselves. After all, God did not hesitate to give us the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule.

As we direct our children toward successful lives after high school and college, we have a responsibility to teach them how to interact with other people, and to be mindful of others by using manners. I’m convinced that as we model these four simple principles in our own lives—saying please and thank you, being on time, keeping our word, and completing what we start—we will see that something as small as manners can make a profound difference in our lives and our children’s lives.

Copyright 2008. J. Michael Smith. Reprinted by CHEA of California with permission of the author.

Attorney J. Michael Smith is president of Home School Legal Defense Association, an organization he helped found in l983 after he realized that homeschoolers could not afford legal help to defend their right to homeschool. He and his wife Elizabeth homeschooled three of their four children. His purpose in life is: faith, family, and freedom.