What causes children to reject the faith of their parents? In previous posts I have given three primary reasons – a poor example from the parents, a lack of teaching about God from their life message, and a focus on behavior rather than the heart.
When we focus on behavior at the expense of the heart we are emphasizing to our children that the priority is to be on how they behave rather than dealing with what is going on in their heart. The Bible clearly teaches that all behavior originates in the heart (Matthew 12:34; 15:19-20) and that one of our primary duties is to care for the condition of our heart (Proverbs 4:23).
When the focus is on externals rules automatically begin to pop up to deal with wrong behavior. Boundaries are established and consequences attached. (I am not saying this is not needed, especially in the early years of a child. However, if at some point the focus is not transitioned to caring for the heart the rule alone will not work. Why? No rule can restrain wickedness long-term that is churning within the heart.)
Even if the consequences of violating a rule are severe, that is not enough to curb behavior if the heart is set upon it. This is obvious just by reading the newspaper or watching the news. We read and hear of people that lose precious things – their reputation and name, their family, their jobs, trust from others – because of something they did that was incredibly stupid.
How can someone take the risk of losing so much? The answer isn’t that a rule did not exist for the situation or that the consequences were not painful enough. It was because they had set their heart upon it and became blinded to the consequences . The quotable Bob Jones Sr. said, “Back of every tragedy in human character, there is a process of wicked thinking”. It is all traced back to one’s heart.
A godly legacy will not result from focusing on your child merely conforming to rules. Behavior modification will work for a while, but unless the heart is changed, the behavior will not be altered for the long haul. As goes the heart, so goes one’s actions. The Bible says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7).
Friend, train for the heart. Here is a truth that guides my parenting, but is also my greatest challenge in training my children – “My son, give me thine heart…” (Proverbs 23:26) May this be our daily prayer and focus.