As a parent, what is the most valuable thing you can think of? There may be several answers to that question. My oldest child is now ten years old and already I can see and feel the subtle effects of a world vying for her attention. The world exerts a strong pull. How can I as a concerned father who loves his children counter this phenomenon? The Apostle John teaches us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15)," but possessing such a natural bent to love that which God abhors, how can I as a fallible man with the same natural tendency, keep his children from falling away from the faith later on in their lives?
I am steadily becoming convinced that the answer lies in who possesses the child's heart. Scripture teaches us much about the human heart; its proclivity to sin, its various expressions, its need to be guarded, and also its need to be held. The heart represents who you are; often you have heard someone described as having a "good heart" or a "bad heart". It is a description of who that person is at a fundamental level.
I am reading a book by Steve and Teri Maxwell, Keeping Our Children's Hearts. (I hope to list a full review of the book on the blog soon.) The authors state a fundamental premise to parenting and one that I have, to a degree, failed: to keep our children from abandoning the faith altogether when they are older, we must posses their hearts when they are younger.
As I have read the first several chapters, I have found that much of my parenting and discipline has not been borne of my relationship with my kids but rather more like behavior modification techniques; "you do this or x, y, and z will happen." The premise is so true; though God does discipline His children (Hebrews 12:5-11) and God expects (and even demands) obedience, He desires that we obey Him out of a heart of love for him.
Now don't get me wrong, my kids love me and I love them. Don't read that I have been an utter failure as a daddy in that sentence! However, I do not naturally have their hearts, as God does not naturally have mine. It may be possible to raise good, godly children yet not have their hearts. In my short tenure of ministry I have heard lament after lament of how a child had slipped away and was consumed by the world, having fallen away from faith in Christ. They make statements such as, "They're good kids, they just don't go to church like they should"; or, "Christ was such a vital part of their lives when they were younger, now, not so much."
My goal is to raise good, godly kids, not just now, but to give them a faith that will remain. It is not enough to have kids that behave well, do not cause any problems, or simply "mind". What is best are kids that love Christ and all that emanates from that love. And that is why the most valuable things in my life, as a parent, are my children's hearts.