Parenting the Heart of a Child


Our children start as a lump of clay, and therefore it is our work as parents to mold them in the image of Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, I came home from work to find my eight-year-old son, the youngest of three boys, sitting on the fence to the pig pen eyeing our 400-pound pig. He was wearing his hat, cowboy boots, and the new spurs we had bought at auction a couple weeks prior. I said, “Son, what are you doing?” He replied, “I’m looking for something to ride!” Now, I did not grow up with pigs, cowboy boots, or spurs but at that defining moment I realized that he was his father’s son.

Back in 2006, Rodney Atkins (no relation) released a song called “Watching You.” The lyrics describe a son who loved his father so much that he said, “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo; I wanna be like you.” The song describes a father that realizes that his son is watching and learning everything he does—both good and bad. The song continues with the father’s repentance,

We got back home, and I went to the barn. I bowed my head, and I prayed real hard and said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self.” Then this side of bedtime later that night, turning on my son’s Scooby Doo night light, he crawled out of bed, and he got down on his knees. He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands and spoke to God like he was talking to a friend. And I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to pray like that?” He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo; I wanna be like you.”

It is said that imitation is the best form of flattery, so I ask myself, “how do my children imitate me? Do I spend time with them, teaching them diligently to love the Lord with all their hearts, when we sit, walk by the way and lay down (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)? Do I teach them that God loves them and He wants them to praise and glorify Him?”

The Proverbs writer says: “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: do not forsake my law” (4:1-2). As fathers, instruction requires patience to help our children to understand. This is not always easy, and it requires wisdom to have understanding (4:5). We must teach our children to ask for wisdom from God, through prayer, to have the understanding to know the peace within the Lord’s love and to bind His Word on their hearts and tie it around their necks (6:21).

Sometimes, as fathers, we can also forget the grace that God has given us through the cross and, therein, forget to share that same grace with our children. We forget that our children do not start as a perfect piece of artwork but as a lump of clay. Our children make mistakes, and it is our responsibility as fathers to teach them not to foster negativity by severity, injustice, partiality, or unreasonable exercise of authority. This harsh, unreasonable conduct towards children will only serve to nurture evil in their heart. Our job as fathers is to teach them that God is love; and only through reverence to God and through His love they will find peace and contentment. Peace and contentment are the result of obeying God, avoiding the ignorance and folly that Satan injected into this world.

As fathers, our job is to provide an understanding of strength, wisdom, and reverence to God. So, what is the role of the mother? My wife of 26 years will take it from here…

Trying to instill good character qualities in our children was of utmost importance to me as a mother. As parents, we tend to think of obedience first and even diligence when we think of building character. But it was not long before I realized that having a servant’s heart and showing compassion toward others should be my focus in raising children who love the Lord: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). If they truly form a servant’s heart, everything else will fall into place.

When our children were young, we started planting the seeds of a servant’s heart and encouraged them to do things for others. We would do things as a family to help others, even strangers, being that example to our children and reinforcing the joy of having a servant’s heart. We would have them do things like making pictures for those who were sick or needed encouragement; later as they got older, they added notes to their pictures or made cards. Some simple things we also had them do were holding doors for others or helping carry things into the church building on potluck days, and going early to the building to help shovel after a snowfall or staying to clean after activities were completed. These were all easy things that young children could do, and the recognition and gratification they received helped their servant’s heart to grow. As the seeds planted began to sprout, we reassured them that God knew the work they did, and they began to ask to help without being directed.

Leading by example is an important part of being a parent. A quote from Benjamin Franklin states, “Well done is better than well said.” This is like what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Having a servant’s heart is making sure we have a godly attitude; but how do we know if we have a godly attitude? Here are four things to consider: (1) See what needs to be done and do it; (2) do the task cheerfully; (3) give of your time freely; and (4) serve quietly (Matthew 6:1-4; Philippians 2:3-5; Colossians 3:23). We should not be ashamed to have our children imitate us. Our children should see our servant’s heart as we show compassion toward others.

There are so many opportunities for service to others. We not only need to teach our children how to see the opportunities, but how to approach the task we see—with the right attitude. We need to teach them how to emulate Christ so the world will see Him through the work of our children.

We pray that God’s love will give you wisdom raising your children to become good teachers and preachers, holding fast a servant’s heart that will give an example of encouragement, and allowing the world to see Christ through them every day. Amen.