It is possible to leave a legacy that honors the Lord and benefits society. To do so is not haphazard, but the byproduct of incorporating three essential behaviors in your parenting. These are given to us in the Bible and are a personal example (Deuteronomy 4:9-10), practical teaching (Deuteronomy 6:7), and a proper focus.
I carefully chose the word “proper” concerning our focus because all parenting has a focus, but if it is misplaced it will have devastating consequences. The dictionary defines “focus” as “the central part of an activity”. It has the idea of giving careful attention to something.
Here is the question: what is the proper focus that results in marking our children that they not forget the Lord? This focus is not optional and not left to personal opinion. God has spoken concerning where it ought to be: it is to be on the heart of our children.
“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart“. (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)
The ultimate goal of providing a good example and memorable teaching is to see those that follow us to have a heart that loves God. This is not merely being able to regurgitate details and information. Our focus is to be where God’s focus is – on the heart (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) – evidenced by our loving and knowing God personally, not in just knowing facts about God.
The most important Scripture in the Old Testament to an orthodox Jew is Deuteronomy 6:4. It was (and still is) the first verse taught in the home and memorized by a Jewish child. It contains a foundational truth about the character of God. Here it is – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
This is their confession of faith. It was a contrast to other major religions that worshiped many gods whereas Judaism worshiped one God, the true and living God. As believers in Christ, we believe the same truth, that we worship one God manifest in three Persons, which we call the Trinity (the Father, Son, and the Spirit).
Don’t miss the first word. God tells them to “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The word “hear” means to “pay attention that you might gain understanding”.
The rest of the passage shows that what they were to be giving attention to was not the memorization of facts, but rather that the people would “…love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”. (Deuteronomy 6:5) The focus was on their heart!
Even a casual reading of the Old Testament would show that the nation of Israel easily drifted from knowing God personally and degenerated into a ritualistic religion without any reality. Why did this happen when they knew the truths of God’s Word? It was because it was a truth they had memorized in their mind, but wasn’t a reality in their heart. This can happen to our own children where their mind is filled with truth, but it hasn’t reached their heart.
This begs a question, what does the heart refer to in the Bible? Of course, in this context it isn’t the muscle in your chest that pumps blood. The word “heart” in the Bible is one of the most important words to understand because of the frequency of it’s use. (It is mentioned over 800 times in the Scriptures).
The simplest way to define it is that it is a composition of all that a person is in the most innermost part of their being. This includes thoughts, emotions, desires, feelings, and motives. So, to phrase it another way, God wants us to love Him with our thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, and our motives. As someone said, “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart”.
This is to be the focus of a parent toward her children. It is not a focus on external behavior alone. All behavior originates in the heart. Change the heart and change the behavior (Romans 12:2). If the heart is neglected in our training then there will not be lasting change and our children will at some point reject our training because it was never real to them.
Sometimes believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have a tendency to embrace a doctrinal truth without practical application. And while application is the final result (James 1:22-25), it is possible to obey, but not from the heart (Romans 6:17). Again, this is not a sentimental, mushy type of approach to living a Christian life. Remember the definition of heart – it means our obedience comes from our thinking, feelings, and a right motive. We are to obey the Lord, not from an empty sense of duty, but of privilege and love.
God’s greatest concern is that we love Him deeply and personally (Matthew 22:36-38). This is the ultimate end of our obedience – “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (I Timothy 1:5) If the result of our obedience doesn’t lead us to love God and people more, it hasn’t come from the heart.
When my children were very young a faithful and dear man in our church who had raised his children in church only to see them not follow after the ways of God would occasionally approach me and encourage me. His words were always the same, “Rick, keep doing what you are doing with your children; teach them to love God. I lost my children to the world even though they grew up in church. They knew about God, but they didn’t love Him”. I am grateful for his exhortation and it helped me to align my training with a focus on their hearts rather than just their heads.
Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “What we love, we grow to resemble”. Stop and consider this awesome truth; our legacy is really the summation of what we have loved and have taught our children to love.
The bottom line is that legacy is “heart work”. What is your focus as you train your children?