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Targeting our Heart in Parenting

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One of the joys of my job as an associate pastor is to preach, teach and counsel, particularly on the biblical principles and precepts related to parenting.  As a father of four daughters, this is especially appropriate given that those of us with children are constantly reading, studying and striving to apply these timeless truths as we point our kids to Christ and the truth of Scripture.  Last year, our Equipping Class watched Paul David Tripp’s video series entitled, “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”  I initially chose this series, thinking about how many parents in our church would benefit from Tripp’s clear yet powerful, biblical teaching.  Halfway through the series I realized that in fact, God chose this series for me. 

The series began as I expected it to, with foundational, biblical principles of parenting.  Tripp challenged us through the words of Christ in Luke 6:43-45 that “no good tree” produces “bad fruit”, nor will a “bad tree” produce “good fruit”, “for each tree is known by its own fruit.”  “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” This was a great exhortation that we as parents must not only address external, sinful patterns of speech and behavior in our children’s lives, but we must shepherd their hearts.  Tripp reminded us that our actions and re-actions are more often caused by what’s inside us, than what’s outside of us.  Simply stated, whatever controls the heart will in turn shape our behavior. 

For example, if one of my daughters becomes sinfully angry over a seemingly “unfair” grade for her science project, she can’t blame her sin on the teacher or her fellow classmates.  Even if the teacher was unfair or her fellow classmates didn’t “pull their weight”, she still has no excuse to sin.  The angry, critical words that might pour forth from her mouth are simply a reflection of an angry, critical, or self-focused heart.  Until repentance of pride and selfish anger takes place in the heart, at best we are simply modifying behavior by focusing on punishing or preventing the external “symptoms” reflected in her speech.

All of this I wholeheartedly agreed with, taught, counseled and even worked diligently to apply in my own parenting. But week by week God, through His Word, used this series to graciously expose a pattern in my life.  Specifically, the tendency to respond to my children’s sinful behavior and speech patterns with anger, impatience and even at times, harshness.  Often, this would take place right in the middle of my attempt to shepherd their heart.  When sin would erupt from one of my daughters’ mouths, or I had to remind them three times to clean their room (after all, shouldn’t once be enough???), I turned what should have been a moment of ministry, into a moment of anger.  And as I continued to interact with other parents, I came to realize I was not the only one.  Many of us were struggling to see the sin and conflicts of our children as a positive experience.

During the fourth session of the video, God began to bring into focus a simple truth that I had somehow forgotten along the way.  I was so focused on targeting my child’s heart, that I forgot to FIRST target my own.  I was so focused on applying biblical truth to their lives, that I neglected to first apply it to mine.  Tripp warned us that if we are not consistently targeting our own hearts first, by applying biblical truth to our own hearts, then we are at risk of the following four dangers:

1.We will turn moments of ministry into moments of anger

Rather than choosing to look at the sin and conflicts of our children negatively, we must choose to view them positively, recognizing that God is at work, bringing opportunities for our child to change.  If our 10-year-old has an angry heart that begins to manifest itself externally, we must praise God that He is revealing it now, giving us opportunity to shepherd his heart, before he turns into an angry 18-year-old.  We are simply God’s instrument for change in our child’s life as we minister the Word of God, trusting in the transforming power of the Spirit of God.

2. We will personalize what is not personal. 

It’s ultimately not about us.  It’s about God, His glory, His plan, His Gospel and His grace.  When we interrupt, become quick to judge or allow sarcasm or harsh words to flow from our lips, these might indicate that our own pride has personalized what is not personal (Eph. 4:29-32).

3. We will become adversarial in our response

When we respond as an adversary, in anger, it is often because we are seeking our own comfort (i.e. inconvenience or peace), we didn’t get what we wanted, or we want control.  James 1:19 reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

4. We will settle for quick, temporal solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter

Targeting the heart takes time, effort and Christ-centered patience.  It’s a lot easier to send a child to his room or take away a privilege than it is to patiently walk them through not only what happened, but WHY it happened, getting to their hearts sinful desires and motives.  We must constantly remind ourselves of the glorious gospel message of grace, mercy and transforming power, so that we will extend the same grace, love, patience and mercy to our children that He has so richly given to us. 

Parent, are you choosing to see your child’s sin struggle and conflict as an inconvenience or a shepherding opportunity?  May we never forget to first target our own heart with biblical, Christ-centered truth before we turn our focus onto our children.  Let us never forget the words of Hebrews 4:14-16 that remind us of how Jesus, or own “high priest”, treats us when we come to Him in our own sin and weakness, drawing “near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.  May our attitude and response be mercy-infused, Gospel-focused, and Christ-centered.For further information on Tripp’s parenting video series and book: