My daughter plopped down on the bed as we began a discussion regarding her recent misbehavior. “It’s my heart, Mommy. I’m still struggling with bitterness!” She was exacerbated by her little brother’s mischief and desperately wanted to retaliate. Conversations on matters of the heart are a frequent occurrence in our household… but not in the way you might suspect.
A couple of years into our parenting journey my husband and I realized that we had to aim for more than just raising well-mannered, outwardly obedient children. Iron wills and ADHD have a way of revealing our limitations as parents and our children’s (as well as our) desperate need for a heart transformation. To raise children for God’s glory we cannot be content with pleasant outward behavior. We must dig deeper and aim for their hearts.
What Does It Mean to Aim for Our Children’s Hearts?
We are living in a world that encourages our children to go to great lengths to “follow their heart” to ensure happiness. Now, we all know that emotions can be healthy. God created them after all. However, they can also easily lead us astray and were never meant to be the driving force behind the decisions we make in life.
The Bible makes it clear that we should seek the guidance of His Word when seeking the answers we crave, not our volatile (and often unhealthy) emotions. When we are faithful to seek God’s will through His Word and prayer He is more than faithful to guide us along the way. He will celebrate with us during life’s victories and hold our hand through the darkest valleys.
(It’s important to note that Scripture refers to the heart as the central processing station of life. It encompasses the will, emotions, thoughts, intents, etc. The word “heart” refers to a person’s very being- not just their emotions.)
To aim for our children’s hearts in our parenting efforts we must be faithful to first and foremost teach them about the true condition of their heart. The natural bent of every man, woman, and child’s heart is toward sin. A quick read through of the 10 Commandments reminds us that we are far from the “good” people we like to think we are.
We’ve all lied, dishonored our parents, coveted, created idols, and harbored hatred (which Jesus says is the same as murder) among other things. Every single person that has ever walked the face of this Earth has sinned, fallen short of God’s glory, and is in desperate need of a Savior. This is the very reason that God sent His Son into the world to rescue and redeem us.
Our children need to understand that, yes, God is completely loving, merciful, and gracious, but that He is equally holy and righteous and cannot be in the presence of sin. Our sin separates us from God and it is only through Christ’s finished work on the cross that we can be washed clean and made new.
When we are truly broken over our sin and the hurt we’ve caused our Maker repentance and dependence on Jesus will naturally flow as a result.
Pour God’s Word In
So what exactly does this look like for us as parents seeking to protect our children’s hearts? For starters we must intentionally pour God’s Word into them every chance we get. Not in a way that forces our faith upon them, but in a way that shares of His goodness and grace and naturally draws them toward the One who died to be their Savior.
We can share specific Scripture references that speak on the heart such as Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” and Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
We can also share God’s Word with our children throughout the day as questions and conversations naturally arise. Whether it’s talking about the strengths or character flaws of a certain biblical character or discussing specific character traits of God- we can certainly use His Word to point our children to truth.
What we allow to penetrate our hearts truly will impact every aspect of life.
We also must faithfully pray for our children. In our fast paced society it’s incredibly easy for us to get caught up in the here and now with very little thought about eternity and what truly matters. Many of us tend to forget that we have an enemy who will do everything in his power to deceive and destroy our families.
Teach your children to filter their decisions through the truths of God’s Word and to use logic, discernment, and self-control while living in such an egocentric culture.
Then earnestly pray.
Pray for them to live a life that will honor their Maker and those created in His image. Pray for them to stand up for what’s right even when it means standing alone. Pray for your children to have a humble heart and desire to serve those around them. Pray for them to boldly yet lovingly share the beauty of the gospel with those God places in their sphere of influence.
Connect With Your Child
The average American parent spends 100 minutes a day with their children. This includes time spent caring for, eating meals with, and participating in activities with their children- not solely one-on-one time spent together, but time spent engaging in some way.
The average American also spends 3-4 HOURS per day on their cell phone!
We are being slowly lulled to sleep regarding the parenting responsibilities and privileges God has graciously entrusted into our care. To truly get through to our children in an attempt to guard their hearts we have to intentionally connect with them.
- Cheer your child on
- Support them and ask questions about an area they’re passionate about
- Shoot some hoops with your son
- Make epic Lego creations together
- Try your hand at arts and crafts with your little girl
- Read together
- Go on walks or bike rides together
- Enjoy a fun night out once a month for some one-on-one bonding time
- Pour into your kids. Show them that you care and they will be much more responsive to your parenting efforts
Discipline and Disciple
Discipline isn’t something that any of us enjoy in the moment, but can go a long way in protecting our children’s hearts while saving them a world of pain down the road when done correctly. Although it’s not often talked about the truth is that children crave boundaries, and the decisions we make have consequences attached.
The Bible speaks volumes on the importance of disciplining our children and to neglect this area is equivalent to hating your child (Proverbs 13:24). If we love them we will lovingly, but firmly take the time to correct and discipline our children when necessary all the while pointing their hearts toward Christ.
In my not quite decade of parenting God has graciously taught me the connection between discipline and discipleship. The two go hand-in-hand. Our disciplinary efforts should transition into discipleship opportunities.
One simple way we do this in our home is to sit down together (after we’ve both had a moment to settle down) with a little blue binder that I put together a couple of years ago. The binder has a topical list of character traits, both positive and negative with corresponding Bible verses. For example, if my son or daughter has been struggling with anger we will look up a couple of Bible verses in the binder related to anger and discuss them for a few minutes before ending with prayer and a hug.
This isn’t a fix all and doesn’t magically transform their heart that very instant, but it teaches them view their sin for what it really is and seek forgiveness and strength from the only One who can heal us of our sin problem.
Be An Example
God’s design has always been for parents to have the greatest amount of influence over their children. Whether we realize it or not the example we live out before their eyes has a huge impact on their understanding of the world around them.
When our children see a mom and dad who are humbly following their Savior out of a sincere love for Him tiny seeds of truth will be planted inside their hearts. Friend, we’ve got to bear fruit if we are to be a light within our homes (Galatians 5:22-23).
Let’s be an example worthy of our children to imitate.
As we actively seek to protect the hearts of our children we should also be teaching them what it means to guard their own hearts against the lures of the world, lies of the enemy, and their own sinful flesh.
Although putting on the armor of God may look a bit different at age 5 than it does at 35 we’re all still learning the process of depending on and fully trusting in our Heavenly Father.
May we love our children well and point them straight to Him.