During His earthly ministry, Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for the Pharisees—people who paraded their outward religious piety while neglecting the condition of their hearts.
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9. No one dreams of someday becoming a Pharisee. Yet how many of us have made the mistake of focusing on a child's outward behavior instead of shepherding his heart? It's the same mistake the Pharisees imposed on the next generation. But Jesus said, "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (Matthew 23:26).
We must become less concerned about what our children are doing and more concerned about why they are doing it.
If we parent with the goal of mere behavior modification, that's just what we'll get—children who have learned to modify their behavior though their hearts are far from God. We must parent in a way that shepherds our children's hearts toward Jesus. We must become less concerned about what our children are doing and more concerned about why they are doing it. A heart that loves Jesus will naturally produce good fruit—the fruit of the Spirit.
So how do we shepherd our children's hearts? When beliefs are right and the heart is right with God, then the outward appearance will take care of itself. This is exactly what God prescribed for His people when He led them into the Promised Land. He said through His servant Moses:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
Just like a garden, we must cultivate and guide our children each day. With God's help, each challenge can be a new opportunity to demonstrate His grace. It takes time and energy, but that's what it means to keep God at the center of family life.
Prayer: Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. Help me to shepherd the hearts of the children You have placed in my life, guiding them with Your Word. I will trust You to grow their faith as I give them every opportunity to meet You. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
"All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace" (Isaiah 54:13).