As I type this my children are indefinitely grounded from video games. Indefinitely, you ask? Yes, indefinitely. The allure and excitement found in video games had transfixed and consumed my children’s thoughts and affections. They constantly thought about it, talked about it, sung the music from it and were otherwise immersed in the fantasy world these games create. This was an obvious example of idolatry. We are created in the image of God, to be heralds of His goodness displayed through the gospel. We will worship, we will proclaim. The worship and proclamation of anything but the gospel and the redemption offered therein is idolatry. My children were worshipping and proclaiming these games. It was a sweet opportunity for me to teach this concept to them and to demonstrate the love of Christ, Who asks that we lay our idols down and follow Him.
All sin is idolatry
As we shepherd and disciple our children, we must be constantly aware that all sin is idolatry. In disobedience, the proclamation is that someone or something else is more important than God. This holds true for our children as well. “Mine! Mine!” Ever heard this screamed from down the hall in your home? This is your child demonstrating idolatry of self. Making oneself ultimate above God and His commands is so common that we often don’t recognize it in ourselves and see it simply as a behavior issue in our children.
Behavior vs. heart
As we go through our daily lives – filled with work, activities, events, car rides, housework, homework and sleep – we can easily find ourselves falling victim to one of the biggest lies the enemy whispers to us as parents: If you control your children’s behavior, their hearts will follow. Just get them to act nicely. Be polite. “Please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am” are the words of the day. If we can get our kids to behave well, then we have accomplished our goals. We have fulfilled our parental duties if people see our kids as “good,” or mention that they are “so well mannered!” Be cautious that your own pride in being a “good parent” does not blind you to the truth. Your charge is not to make well-mannered children, but to make disciples. Disciples are those who love, trust and follow Jesus Christ. The difference between these is the state of the heart. Just as the Pharisees had learned proper behaviors without a true heart of repentance and acceptance of the gospel, so can our children. And they will, if that’s what we teach them. We must be willing to address these demonstrations of idolatry with the time it takes to truly explain to our children the truth that their behavior comes out of their hearts. They must be made aware they have a wicked and dirty heart that can only be made clean by the cross of Jesus Christ. We must tell them that, just like God, it is their hearts that we are after – not their behavior. It is the state of that heart we must address as parents, trusting the Holy Spirit to move and convict them.
Does this mean we ignore behavior?
As Paul would say, by no means! Behavior must absolutely be discussed, demonstrated and developed. It cannot be the end, but shown to be the symptom of what is happening in their hearts. Discipline is necessary and must be administered with love, mercy and grace. But if we focus on the behavior in our discipline, then we will get the results we seek: changed behavior. If, however, we resolve to invest in discipline where the focus is addressing the heart, then again we will see, by the Grace of God, the results we seek: changed hearts.
We must not only tell our children these things, but we must live them. A child knows a hypocrite when they see one. If we profess these truths, but do not demonstrate them, then it is our own heart we must be addressing. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do my children see me confessing and repenting of my idolatry?
- Am I trying to be “superman/superwoman”? Do I let my kids think I’m faultless?
- Am I identifying myself as a sinner in need of grace right alongside my kids?
- Do I walk in community and accountability?
There is no doubt that parenting with the heart in mind rather than behavior is more difficult. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) But we can trust in the Lord to be gracious and merciful as we endeavor to fight against the lie we mentioned earlier, and rest in the knowledge that the opposite is true. If you minister to your child’s heart, by the grace of God their behavior will follow.