Teach Your Children (and Yourself) Not to Trust Their Heart


By Jon Anderson


My Son, Do Not Follow your Heart

            I could see it in his eyes. A battle was raging between his little mind and heart. He knew he should obey. He knew there would be discipline if he did not obey. But he sincerely believed with all of his heart that I was just plain wrong, and he was right. I actually felt bad for him; that’s a horrible situation to be in. But it is a very valuable situation for me as a parent.  Our kids are told relentlessly by our culture and even by many well-meaning Christians,  "follow your heart, believe in yourself, be true to yourself, trust your feelings Luke (Sorry… Star Wars is a big deal in our house right now)". But we need to be intentionally and explicitly teaching our kids NOT to trust their heart.

            I know you know this. We’ve all heard it before. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Our hearts are sick, they are twisted by sin and they deceive us and betray us. Our hearts love the things that will destroy us and balk at the one thing that will bring our greatest joy, obedience to God’s heart. Even as regenerate believers, we know this struggle well. And our children, by and large, are not saved; they experience this even more fully. But what could possibly be more counter-intuitive (by definition!) than to counter one's own heart? To go against what you really believe to be best, true, right?  But one of the greatest gifts you could give your child through parenting is teaching them to see that struggle clearly, identify when their desires and their heart run contrary to God’s will, and be accustomed to saying “no” to their heart, and yes to God.


Obey your Parents IN THE LORD

            Ephesians 6:1-3 is one of the first passages of Scripture that our kids memorize. And for good reason. It’s not just self-serving as a parent to have your children repeating the words “children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” There are certainly benefits as a parent, priming your child for quick obedience. But the greater benefit is in the heart of your child.  As I watched my son battle between following his heart and obeying my instructions I found a particularly poignant opportunity to teach my son what it means to “obey your parents IN THE LORD”. As fathers and mothers, we act as God’s representatives in our children’s lives; our authority over them is one expression of God’s authority. God is still the ultimate authority; our authority ends where it crosses God’s will. But a child submitting to his father is a child submitting to God.

         Teach your children this explicitly. They need to get used to saying no to their heart and trusting you in obedience because that will prepare them for a life of saying no to their heart and trusting God. When they grow up and step out from under your direct authority, it’s not as though they then become their own authority. They merely step out from being under the umbrella of your mediated authority and into their own responsibility under the direct authority of God. We need to prepare them for that.  Christianity is a lifelong battle against the sinful heart.


Be Imitators of Me, as I am of Christ,

            We joke about it often. But the last thing we want to communicate to our children is “do as I say, not as I do”. Especially in this we want to be able to say to our children “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Even the sinless Jesus Himself said “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38). Can you say that? How often do you feel the temptation to sin or to neglect obedience (which is also sin) in your heart, and decide to follow your Lord instead of your heart? Do you read God’s Word and trust it implicitly, even joyfully, adjusting your heart to match God’s Word, rather than vice versa? Watch for that battle. If you are looking for it you will see it clearly. Learn to say no to your own heart quickly, frequently and even joyfully, and teach your children to do the same.