Who will your child be when he or she leaves your home?

In his message this past Sunday evening, Pastor Allen dealt with that question. I was so challenged by this message that I’ve adapted it as a blog post here for your encouragement as well. If you didn’t get to hear the message you can listen to it here.

When God gives us children, he also gives us the responsibility to nurture and train those children (Eph. 6:4). Training a child involves more than merely managing his or her behavior. Training a child means we have a goal for that child. So what should our goal for our children be? More specifically, when your son or daughter begins that transition out of your home (usually between ages 18 and 21), what qualities will you have nurtured in them?

The most important quality: a heart for God

There may be many qualities that you want your child to have when he or she leaves the home: strong work ethic, responsibility, creativity, ambition, and social skills. The list could go on. But as a Christian parent–one who believes that a right relationship with God is foundational to any skill or personal quality–you must yearn for something more basic. Whatever qualities you want for your child, here is the supreme quality: a heart for God.

Of course no one can have a heart for God who has not first trusted in Jesus. Faith in Christ is the starting point because prior to this, a human is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). We do not by nature seek after God (Romans 3:1). The message of the Gospel must inform Christian parenting in every respect. We teach our children that they cannot please God by their own efforts. While we encourage actions that are moral and kind, we remind them that these are not merits in their relationship with God. Thus, parents who seek to cultivate a heart for God in their children must begin with the Gospel. Having a heart for God describes the sort of change that only God can initiate through an individual’s response to the Gospel.

What does it mean to have “a heart for God?” You might have different names for it. You might say it is a “love for God” (Matt. 22:36-40). You might call it a “desire for God” (Psalm 63:1-4). However you express it, this quality means that your child willingly shapes his or her basic orientation by God’s existence and character (Prov. 1:7). Of course this does not mean that your child is perfect. He or she may have many rough edges and bad habits. But it does mean that your child’s heart has been drawn to God, and he or she wants to please Him.

What does “a heart for God” look like?

Here are three ways you can tell whether your child has this basic quality of having a heart for God.

1.     Owns his/her relationship with God. Your child has a desire to read the Bible and pray on his or her own. Your child begins to make personal devotions a regular habit. This discipline usually matures during the teen years.

2.     Loves to worship God. Your child begins to see corporate worship as a delight rather than mere duty. Your son loves being around spiritually-minded friends who will challenge him to love God more. Your daughter loves to hear the Word of God preached.

3.     Open to discussing spiritual things. When you bring up spiritual matters with your child, does he or she act evasive and uncomfortable, or do you sense uneasiness and discomfort? One sign that a child has a heart for God is that he or she is open to talking about God.

How can parents cultivate a heart for God in their children?

Of course parents cannot control their child’s heart. Ultimately, your child’s relationship with God is a matter of his or her choice. But there are certain things you can do to encourage your child to have a heart for God.

1.     Have family devotions (Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:9-16). Ideally, you will gather the family daily for a brief time of prayer, singing, and reading of Scripture. If you cannot do this daily, you should seek to set aside some time during the week when your family can focus on God together. Family devotions should be brief, age-appropriate, and engaging.

2.     See God in every day life (Deut. 6:4-9). Family devotions represents your structured time of family worship and instruction. But worship and instruction can and should happen spontaneously as you respond to ordinary events of life. Financial struggles provide an opportunity to pray and trust the Lord. Hurt feelings can lead to a lesson on kindness and the need to forgive. A breath-taking sunset gives you a chance to brag on God’s creativity. Your children should know that the most important thing about life is God.

3.     Be an example (1 Cor. 11:1). Of course your actions will speak more loudly than your words. You must model having a heart for God. Admit when you are wrong. Ask your child’s forgiveness if you have wronged him or her. Don’t wish for your child to see perfection in you. Wish for them to see a sinner who is becoming more like Christ. Even your failures can provide teaching moments for your children. The important thing is not whether they see you sin. They certainly will see that. The important thing is how they see you respond when you do sin. Do you excuse your failures? Are you blind to your faults? Or are you sensitive to your sin? Are you humble and repentant?

4.     Ask questions to draw out the heart (Prov. 20:5). You cannot effectively shepherd your child’s heart unless you know your child’s heart. Ask questions that are loving, non-accusatory, and respectful. Ask questions they can’t answer without looking into their heart.

5.     Listen to your children (James 1:19).You want your children to know that they always have your ear. When eating a meal together, put your phone away. When your daughter tells you about her tough math class, look at her, not the TV. Let your children know that their concerns are more important to you than the stock market or ESPN. The dad who ignores his son when he is young may very well find the favor returned when he becomes a teenager and young adult. Schedule a special date with your son or daughter just to listen to his or her struggles, disappointments, hopes and ambitions. Write down what they say. Pray over what you wrote. Ask them about it later. You cannot know your children unless you listen to them. And you cannot listen to them unless you take the time and put away other things that call for your attention.

6.     Remove hypocrisy (Matthew 7:5). Hypocrisy causes an allergic reaction in children, especially as they approach their teen years. If you smile in church and sneer at home, your children will resent you and your faith. Be certain that what you say is actually backed up by what you do. It’s possible to know the “right” things to say so well, that your talk and walk have parted ways long ago. If you want to cultivate a heart for God in your child, make sure you yourself are cultivating a heart for God. Otherwise, your efforts will be counterproductive.

Christian parents have a great responsibility to direct their children’s hearts toward God. This responsibility should overwhelm us with a sense of personal inadequacy. Ultimately, we are completely dependent on the Lord to work in our children’s hearts. With all our might, we do what we should to nurture and train our children in the Lord. And we pray desperately.

This blog post was originally posted at the blog of Bible Baptist Church.

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