The Heart of the Challenge

by Jim Whiteman, Headmaster, Westside Christian Academy
Shepherding A Child’s Heart, Part 3

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

“Mine! That’s mine!” Sound familiar? At the earliest age the selfish heart of a child emerges. How many toddlers, when left on their own with other tots or siblings, pick up a toy and declare “Yours” or “Let me share everything I have”? Selfishness is at the core of sinfulness and it is not an attribute that needs to be taught!

“Why do my children do the things they do? How does lasting change take place? How can I be an instrument in this change?” These are three questions that, according to teacher/author Paul David Tripp, we all should be asking. If we were to answer these questions succinctly, it really boils down to:

  • Like us, our children are sinful and operate from selfish motives
  • Change takes place through redemption, a true change in heart by the grace of God through the power of his son. Transformation is the goal of the Christian life and it is a life-long process.
  • As parents and teachers we are instruments of this change through a personal relationship with God and our children, and within a God-ordained authority and leadership structure.

In promoting a biblical perspective in our young children’s spiritual development, our school considers four simple overlapping categories which I believe work quite well in our homes. I call this the 4-H Hub:

1) Head – the development of our minds, intellect, and understanding of truth;
2) Hands – our actions, what we do;
3) Heart – (see below)
4) Habitat – household and cultural communities.

The heart is the core of our being, the center of our loyalty. Naturally sinful, our heart can serve host to total self-centeredness, competition, hatred, lust, pride, vile language and a “mine” life-style. Yet through the Lord’s work in us, from the heart can come love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, and other-centeredness.

“As a parent, how do I shape my child’s heart?” The passage in Deuteronomy quoted above gives the answer to this profound question. Moses knows he will be dying soon and the Lord told him that Joshua will be to one to lead the Israelites over the Jordan and into the long-awaited Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last instruction to his people, his final sermon. I believe the words in v. 5-7 sum it up and are for today’s Christians as much as for the ancient Jews.

1.   It starts with us, the adults. We have been set aside to be fully devoted followers and we are to love God with our entire being – heart, soul and might!

2.   These words which I teach you today refer to the entire law, commands and way of the Lord. God, through Moses, says these shall be on our heart and not just part of our intellect or routine. The heart is the core of our being, the center of our loyalty. If we are not fully devoted followers of Christ, how and why would we expect our children to become such?

3.   We are to teach the ways of the Lord to our children. On Sunday? At youth group? During a weekly family devotion? Notice that Moses commands, not suggests, that we teach them diligently – with intentionality. We should teach them continually each and every day – while we sit at home, take them to school, when we have breakfast and when we go to bed. How can that be? Because we ourselves are to be walking with the Lord and focused on his will. Out of our continual spiritual growth will be a natural education of our children.

4.   A few practical suggestions in getting started include:

  • Help your child notice God’s work and goodness every single day in creation and the people around you.
  • Teach your child gratitude and thanksgiving. Practice it every day and it will make you both joyful. Consider every evening reviewing the day, even tough ones, and find three things or people for which to thank God. Then do that. Keep a gratitude journal as a family.
  • Lead your children in prayer – petitioning God for one another and keeping track of God’s answers. Model it as a family. Should be a natural part of what you do, along with reading, discussing and applying God’s word and seeking to serve others.
  • Memorize scripture together as a family. Sing it, chant it, recite it, discuss it and look for the Lord to use it
  • When correcting behavior, strive to get to the heart issues (selfishness, deceit, disobedience, etc.) and not just the “correct behavior.” See these as teachable moments. We call them shepherding moments at school. I recommend reading Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart for more on this subject or using Kara Durbin’s Parenting with Scripture: A Topical Guide for Teachable Moments
  • Understand that we cannot really shape the hearts of our children at all. It is the Lord’s doing (John 6:44). However, he uses us as his primary agents to deliver and model the gospel moment after moment, day after day, year after year.

Let the Lord guide you in your journey and you just might find the whole family developing a deeper heart of devotion.

In the next edition of Excelsior I will discuss another of these four categories as we consider what God wants us to be and do as parents.

jimJim Whiteman earned his B.S. from Bowling Green State University; Masters Education from Kent State University. He came to WCA as headmaster in 2011 with 18 years of experience as elementary/middle school principal in two area private schools and ten additional years of teaching. Mr. Whiteman also has experience as the chief development officer of a Christian rescue mission. He is very involved in a local ministry for international college students and orphanages in Kenya and India. Life verses include 2 Peter 1:3-9.

This article was originally published in our Excelsior! monthly newsletter.


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