The Heart of Parenting
This week we are continuing our series through the ancient, yet incredibly relevant, book of Proverbs. After spending just over a month on a variety of issues related to biblical marriage, we now reach the all-important topic of parenting. What is the goal of parenting? What does it take to parent well? What are the potential pitfalls of parenting? What do we need to be aware of? These are the kinds of questions we’re going to tackle over the next two weeks.
This week we are continuing our series through the ancient, yet incredibly relevant, book of Proverbs. After spending just over a month on a variety of issues related to biblical marriage, we now reach the all-important topic of parenting. What is the goal of parenting? What does it take to parent well? What are the potential pitfalls of parenting? What do we need to be aware of? These are the kinds of questions we’re going to tackle over the next two weeks. We’re going to take our
time here because there is so much misinformation and dysfunction when it comes to parenting. Statistically, 40% of children have no involved father. Every year, nearly 1 million kids are left with one parent because of divorce. Only 41% of kids grow up in a two parent household. Sociologists have noted that this is the first generation in our country’s history that think divorce, separation and single parent households are a normal part of family life. We life in a day and age when what is deemed normal and natural is, in fact, in incredibly abnormal and unnatural. It is clear that we are in need of wisdom on this topic and that’s exactly what Proverbs offers us. Whether you’re single, newly married, or empty nester there is something for you here.
#1 Children are a blessing.
Ps 127:3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward…”
Bible speaks of kids as a gift from God, yet kids are often seen as a burden, especially in the city. Ex. Seattle has the 2nd fewest families per capita than any other city in the US, except Washington DC. 1990 65% Americans said kids very important to successful marriage. Today 41%. There are now more dogs in American households than kids. Q: Explanation for this shift? Toru Suzuki, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Society Security Research in Japan explains shift: “Under the social and economic systems of developed countries, the cost of a child outweighs the child’s usefulness.” This is a very consumeristic view of children. Children are now viewed more as commodities (i.e. what will they do for me) rather than the gifts that they are.
#2 Parenting is an incredible gift and an incredible challenge. What greater treasure can we be entrusted with than the formation of a soul that will go on to live forever? Parenting is incredible challenge, but it is worth it. It is more of an art, than a science; more of a marathon, than a sprint. There are no cookie cutter guides to parenting because children are not cookie cutters. Parenting is a sobering responsibility that is both frightening and humbling. Personally, I never feel more weak before God than in role as father. But, I am encouraged by the fact that the scriptures show us that God is eager to bless those parents who humble themselves and provide (imperfect) examples, while attempting to transfer the gospel to hearts of their kids.
#3 The season of formative parenting is time-bound. While you will always be the parents of your children, the formative/shaping years are time-bound. Your few years with your children are a life-shaping opportunity. When your kids are little, it feels like it will never end, but it will – and soon. Working w/ kids like working on with concrete. After 45 minutes, done. It is best to start young, but it is never too late. It is important to note that all parents feel some measure of inadequacy at front and guilt on back. There is a tremendous need for God’s grace on the front, on the back and everywhere in between. In particular, we need grace for (1) for our own sin/shortcomings (2) God to bring any good out of our parenting, no matter how great of parents we believe we are.
GOAL OF PARENTING.
1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
14:26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Q: What is your goal in parenting? Every parent needs to ask and prayerfully consider that question. Why? Because your goal for parenting will effect everything about your parenting. Even if you don’t have a stated goal, whether you realize it or not, you are still leading your kids somewhere to become someone. What is the goal of our parenting, according to Proverbs? Fear of the Lord (1:7). To fear the Lord is a relational posture of life and heart before our good, powerful, personal Creator. It is a posture of life and heart that says, “I trust him. I follow him. I love him. I need him. I am happy in him. I follow him.” To fear the Lord is to say, “I am not King. You are. I am not God. You are. I am not measure of all things. I am being measured.” To fear the Lord is to let God be God to you. To fear the Lord is to make him the defining axis of your life. to fear the Lord is to do a spread eagle belly flop on the goodness, faithfulness, love and mercy of God. The Westminster shorter catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify him and enjoy him forever.” Therefore to say, “I’m not really into God.” is the same as saying, “I’m not really into the reason for which I was created.” You can say that about checkers, but not God.
Therefore, parenting is not merely about providing good input, but creating home/family where kids interacting w/ living God. Parenting isn’t bottom line. God is the bottom line. Therefore, all of our parenting must begin w/ God. This makes parenting an act of worship. You want your kids to learn that they will only find themselves as they find him. Everything (including our parenting) depends on how we see God, therefore we must begin with God. We see this throughout Proverbs, written from the perspective of a parent to child, as it speaks of the “Fear of Lord” roughly 1x per chapter.
In other words, this means that our ultimate goal is not merely to help our kids develop special skills, or ensure they are socially adjusted, or well-behaved, or receive a good education. Those are all good and desirable, but not most important. There is more at stake for your child than getting into best schools, sports teams, jobs, good friends. Do not raise your child for the American Dream – warn them of it. The overriding concern, goal and hope of parenting is that kids come to know, love and enjoy Jesus. That is ultimately, “the way he should go” (22:6). Our culture has reduced parenting to providing care, but the Bible speaks of parents as shepherds of their children in God’s behalf.
Q: “OK, so how do you we that?”
There are many ways, but lets look at six examples:
#1 Let your kids see you following Jesus. Your parental role is to raise your child to be passionate for Christ. For that to happen, they must see that passion in you. Parents, dedicate yourself so enthusiastically to Christ that your child tastes how good it is and wants it for themselves. Children know their parents before they know God, huge responsibility. Creates holy desperation! Kids experience leadership, justice, love, strength, provision, protection, nurture, warmth of God in you. Parents, your goal is to know God for who He is, then live in such a way kids get to see and know Him for who he is as well.
#2 Give them a taste of the scandalous grace and unconditional love of Jesus. The gospel is the good news that God became man in Jesus to seek and save the lost, forgive sin and bring us home. The gospel is not a list of rules, ethics, moral behavior. it is news of rescue from the wrath of God and reconciliation w/ God. All human problems are ultimately symptoms of our separation from God and the gospel is news of God coming to deal with those symptoms of separation, once and for all. Through the cross, God offers us forgiveness of our sin (thus, the scandalous grace) apart from anything we’ve done (thus, the unconditional love). If you have experienced the grace of Jesus, then your home will be marked by that grace. If you have experienced the unconditional love of Jesus, then your home will be marked by that uncondontional love. The state of your heart will be the state of your home. This is not abstract. This is reality.
#3 Point them to Jesus’ goodness and not their goodness. Common goals of parents for the children, include: obedience, polite, not curse, no porn, good jobs, marry well, no addictions This may surprise you, but God wants more for you and your children. He wants them to love Him and be satisfied in his goodness. But, our fundamental problem is that, by nature/choice, we’re intoxicated w/ our goodness. We might say,“I have to make myself good enough for him” That may sound modest, but it is a lie. You will never be good enough; nobody has ever been good enough. Essence of Christian salvation is to say that He is good enough and I claim his goodness as my own! It is really easy to create little pharisees that rejoice in their goodness, not Jesus’ goodness. But, if they rejoice in their goodness, they will never understand the gospel not know God. There is a lot at stake here.
#4 From birth, invite them into Jesus’ story. All too often, the kid arrives and entire center of families universe changes its axis to the kid. Gravitational pull of home shifts to the kids (naps, eating, what they need, when they need it, never say no.) “Can’t be in community b/c bed time.” Or, “Can’t be here on Sunday b/c didn’t sleep night before.” Invite them into your world, as you follow Jesus. So they’re tired the next day? So they miss a nap or have a late nap? The kids don’t know any different. Often, its just an excuse that parents use to do what they want.
Ultimately, in the long run, this will destroy the kids. If our kids grow up thinking they’re the center of universe, they’ll become adults who think same. Kids are already born thinking they are center of the world and often parents cultivate that. As adults, these same kids will always have to have their way (b/c they’ve always had their way), they’ll live as consumers, and will expect all to bow down and rotate around them. They will never live for anything larger than themselves because they’ve always been treated as the largest thing.
Often, this not only destroys the kids, but it also destroys the parents. If the axis of life and family shifts to the kids, when the kids are the gone so is the axis and the marriage often implodes.
#5 Portray the relationship of Jesus and the Church as husband/wife. (cf Eph 5:22-33) Kids should get to see the relationship of Jesus and Church play out in real time at home, with the husband as the Christ-figure and wife as the Church-figure. Gospel-centered marriages make for good places for kids to see Christ’s deep, satisfying, fulfilling love.
Prov 6:20-21 “Keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching”.This means that the husband and wife are a unified team. As husband and wife, parents should maintain a unified front. Kids need a united front. Don’t let them manipulate you. Make that hopeless for them.
#6 Teach them how to find refuge in God when everything is on the line.14:26 “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Inevitably life gets harder than we ever thought it would or could be. It will for all of us. If you haven’t experienced that yet – you will. In those moments, when godly parents bow down and trust Christ, they are teaching their kids where to find their refuge. They are tangibly demonstrating to their children how to draw strength, hope and grace from God in suffering. Those kids, in their day, will also find refuge in God when they inevitably suffer.
Living out your faith like this in real time paints a big, compelling, attractive picture of the living God. None of this can happen apart from the work of the Spirit in the hearts of the children. But no one should assume this will happen apart from your grace-motivated, prayer-filled, persevering effort. Luther: Saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that remains alone. We are not saved by works, but by a faith that leads to works. Parents, make it your goald for your kids to taste and see that the Lord is good – now and forever.
HEART OF PARENTING
Pr 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Mk 7:21; Lk 6:45)
Pr 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…
All of our behavior, including that of our kids, is an overflow of the heart. Our life gushes out of our heart. This means that behavior is not the most fundamental parenting issue.The most fundamental issue is the heart, the control center of our life. Parents get side-tracked w/ behavior, but your kids needs are much more fundamental.
Further, the hearts of our children are not neutral. “Folly is bound up in the heart of the child.” (Ps 51:5; 58:3) Often taught man becomes a sinner when he sins. Truth is man sins b/c he is a sinner, from birth. Remedy is not merely changing structure of home, but addressing the heart. Knowing this changes how you parent.
“Folly” will manifest itself in two ways. There are two ways all of our hearts are prone to reject God: as a prodigal or as a pharisee.
- Prodigals directly reject God by rejecting his law and living any way you see fit. (essence of irreligion)
- Pharisees indirectly reject God by embracing and obeying God’s law in order to earn acceptance and love. (essence of religion)
- Prodigals avoid God by doing whatever want or “because I’m saved by faith, I can live however I want”
- Pharisees avoid God by developing a moral system and then presenting it to God so he “owes” you.
Both essentially the same strategy of self-salvation built on human effort. But, neither changes heart.
Jesus’ gospel is something else altogether. There are many people who think they are rejecting Christianity, when they are actually rejecting religion. We don’t present our righteousness to him, he credits Jesus perfect righteousness to us. We don’t earn our salvation, he earn it for us. We don’t work to achieve an identity, we receive an identity from him. Keller: Religion “I obey; therefore I’m accepted” Gospel “I’m accepted; therefore I obey w/ joy, gratitude”
Power of gospel comes in two movements, not one.
(1) “I am more sinful, flawed and broken than I thought.”
(2) “In Christ, I am more loved, accepted, forgiven than I thought.”
Not only #1 (focus of pharisees). Not only #2 (focus of prodigals). Need both at same time!Gospel humbles (by revealing the depths of our sin) and comforts (by revealing the heights of God’s love) at the same time so that we are free to love God for his sake.God’s love and grace restructures motivations, self-understanding, identity, world view. In other words, the gospel changes our hearts.
Q: What does this have to do with parenting? Everything.
Every one of our hearts tend towards being a prodigal or pharisee. Same for kids. Often, “Christian parenting” is in fact pharisaical parenting, emphasizing: control, rules, outward compliance, behavior change. This type of parenting produces (1) kids who think they’re amazing (because they’ve kept all the rules) or (2) kids who think they’re failures (because they haven’t kept all the rules). The first kind become pharisees. The second often become prodigals.
The first think, “Of course God loves me.” There is no real, tangible need for grace. They don’t learn the depths of sin in their heart and their radical need for grace and, ultimately become, self-righteous. The are not scandalized by God’s grace because well “I’m pretty awesome and don’t need it.” There is no scandal there. In a paradoxical twist, it can be the pharisees that are further from God than the prodigals. Often the case.
Moralistic behavior change leverages selfishness, fear and pride to promote behavior change. Think about all the ways we can encourage our kids to obey…
“Obey, because otherwise you’ll look bad…”
“Obey, because otherwise you’ll disappoint me as your father…”
“Obey, because otherwise you might lose friends…”
“Obey, because otherwise God may not bless you…”
“Obey, because otherwise, God may send you to hell…”
These are all self-centered motivations used to coerce the heart to obey, but they don’t change the heart. Rather, they play to the natural fears of the heart. This is why so many kids blow it when they leave home. Often, they will say, “I wasn’t raised that way!” Yes you were. They weren’t restrained and changed by radical love and grace of God, but other self-centered motivations. When that restraint was removed, their heart reverted to its natural bentness.
On the other hand, Irreligious, prodigal parenting’s main goal is love and affirmation.This is ultimately the origins of self-esteem movement. Let kids do whatever they want in name of love and grace, only feeds and encourages self-centeredness. Disregards the fact the we are all born bent in on ourselves and need to be parented out of that in and through the gospel.
Gospel tells the Pharisee you are worse than you ever imagined. Your hope is not in your obedience and being put together.
Gospel tells the Prodigal you are far more loved than you could ever imagine. Your hope is not in your personal freedom.
Ultimately, children perform better when they understand that their relationship with God does not depend on their performance, but Jesus’ performance in their place.Long-term, gospel-motivated obedience comes from faith in what Jesus has done, not in fear of what we must do. Believing in Jesus does not mean that our past forgiven so we can start a new life and then try harder. Christianity is not about trying harder. We have all tried and are found lacking – every time. Christianity is about trusting in the one who was tried, in our place, and found lacking nothing. Christianity is about transferring our trust away from ourselves and resting in his work. “Father accept me not because of what I have done or will do, but because of what Jesus has done in my place.”
Personal gospel renewal means sin and grace are actually experienced, not just known intellectually. There is an awareness and conviction of one’s own sin and alienation from God. You come to see layers of self-justification, unbelief, self-righteousness that we never saw before. At same time, there is a new grasp of wonder of forgiveness and grace as we trust in Jesus. It is not enough to agree with Christian truth intellectually, there must be personal trust, heart conviction.
Saving faith never less than intellectual assent, but always more.
Parents: Your heart first, then heart of kids. If you don’t understand your heart, you won’t understand theirs.
The more you understand how your heart operates, the more you will understand how their heart operates. There is a form of Christian determinism that goes like this: if I can protect, shelter enough, always be positive, send to Christian schools, provide best possible childhood experience, they will turn out ok. No way. Those are all externals. Yes, you should provide stable influences, but not enough. Need living, relationship with the living God.
To parent our children, we must be parented by God, through the gospel. That is the true power behind parenting. For your children to internalize the gospel message, you must be internalizing the gospel message. Your goal is not to show how great of a parent you are, but how great of a parent he is. The Son of God was treated as enemy of God, so that we who are enemies of God might become sons/daughters. As you increasingly see the beauty and love in that, it will change how you parent. Relate to your kids in way God relates to you: forgiveness, compassion, love, patience, discipline
Some of you have horrible fathers (abused, abandoned, angry). That is an awful reflection of God the Father. How do you get past? Have to be fathered by your perfect Father, so you can forgive your imperfect father. You have a perfect Father in Heaven. He will never leave, abandon or disappoint.
By trusting in Him, you can put away bitterness and put on forgiveness. You can start a new legacy as you trust and treasure your Father in Heaven. As you let him parent you like that you become a parent like that. The true power behind parenting is this grace. He offers it completely, freely and unceasingly in Christ.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
Instructing Your Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, Fitzpatrick and Thompson
Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley
How Children Raise Parents, Dan Allendaer
“Don’t Make Me Count to Three!” A Mom’s look at Heart-Oriented Discipline, Ginger Plowman