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Guarding Your Child’s Heart

By Elfriede Schaeffer

    An acquaintance of ours was thoroughly devoted to the church and to God. His sons, though they had grown up in the church, were just as thoroughly devoted to themselves and to the world. I imagine that they, like most children who grow up in evangelical churches, prayed to receive Christ. After a while, however, you could see them slowly turning away from the Lord.

    Children like this may still be regulars at church or the youth group, but you sense there is spiritual heart trouble. They have grown cold, indifferent and sometimes antagonistic to the church, if not to God. What happened?

    Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (NIV). Three things can deeply affect the heart and the life that springs from it: hardness caused by sin, darkness caused by idolatry, and bitterness that results from inner pain.

The Hardness of Sin

    Sin can cause hardness. "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13). Sin that is not dealt with hardens the heart. What can we do to help our children deal with sin?

    1. Pray that they will be caught when they do wrong. The longer a child continues in sin, the thicker the callouses will grow over the heart.

    2. Never treat sin lightly. Sin grieves a holy God who knows how destructive it is. All of our children’s enemies--the devil, the world and their own selfish nature--tell them that sin is not so bad. We need to teach them otherwise. A recent survey of 8,600 high school students found that 92 percent had lied to their parents in the past year and 78 percent said they had lied to a teacher. Lying destroys relationships and puts us in the devil’s camp, since he is the father of lies (John 8:44).

    3. Teach your child, when he or she is still very young, to have a holy fear or reverence for God. "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’" (Genesis 16:13). It is not to be a dread of God, but a firm knowledge that the child will someday have to answer to God for all that he has done.

    4. When a child has sinned, the chastening must be appropriate. Of course, there must be balance. We often get angry when our child has damaged one of our possessions, trampled our rights or embarrassed us, while overlooking the grievous sins of disobedience and lying. When the child sins, he knows it in his heart and expects chastening. He feels unclean. Proverbs 20:30 tells us, "Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being." When justice is meted out his conscience is once again cleared and his heart is light again. How important it is to help your child keep a clear conscience and a happy heart.

    5. Point the child to Christ and His forgiveness, but not before dealing with his conscience. He needs to know that sin always has consequences. In a recent book, No Fear: A Police Officer’s Perspective, author Robert R. Surgenor relates how many times he was called to deal with domestic violence cases. In every case where a child was violent toward a parent, the parents stated that they had never spanked their child because it would teach him violence.

The Darkness of Idolatry

    The darkness caused by idolatry also produces heart trouble. Romans 1:21 tells us, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." People moved into idolatry either to worship themselves or some created thing.

    What are you teaching your child to love? Barney? Sesame Street? Walt Disney? Santa Claus? None of these things may be wrong in and of themselves, but when a child is immersed in them from his earliest years, he often loses the reality of Christ in his life and idolatry sets in.

    Perhaps one of the most insidious forms of idolatry is worship of self. Our culture is filled with this form of idolatry. All the messages saying, "You are number one, you deserve it," etc., have clouded our minds and darkened our hearts, and we have forgotten who the true God is. Our minds have become confused, and we don’t understand that the reason for our existence is to worship God and to do His will.

    John addressed this condition in First John 2:15-17: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

    A good antidote for idolatry is honoring God and giving Him thanks. Make it the practice of your family’s lifestyle to honor God in all things and always put Him first. Thankfulness to God should become a daily habit.

Bitterness from Inner Pain

    A third source of heart trouble is bitterness caused by inner pain. How delighted we parents would be if we could guard our child’s heart from all hurt and inner pain. But that’s impossible. Life in a fallen world brings many kinds of disappointments and sorrows: being mocked for having big ears, or being too tall or too short or too fat or too thin; disappointment when a friend turns against you; parents who don’t seem to understand; not reaching a goal when you’ve worked hard. Even if we tried to shield them from hurt, there would be pain from loneliness and the frustration of inner failure.

    How can we guard them? We can’t insulate them from all pain, but we can protect them from the bitterness it causes.

    First, listen to your child so he’ll be open about his hurts. Our children were most open at bedtime when, in the quiet, they expressed the feelings of their hearts. Give your child sympathy--not the indulgence that weakens, but the understanding that gives strength.

    Second, from his earliest years point him to Jesus; pray with him about his hurts. Guide him to see how he can turn the hurt into blessing by overcoming evil with good. He can be a victor rather than a victim as he looks to Jesus.

    Third, share how the burdens in your life became blessings and disappointments became His appointments. Many children never realize that their parents had the same struggles. Let them know how Christ delivered you.

    Fourth, introduce your child to Bible characters and Christians throughout the ages who were overcomers. Let them be your child’s heroes.

    We can send our children into a cold world with the warmth of the Heavenly Father’s love, protection, comfort and strength to meet victoriously all the challenges they will face in life.

   – Used with permission of the author. First appeared in Alliance Life, the official publication of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, May, 2001. Elfriede Schaeffer is the mother of nine children, grandmother of 34 grandchildren and wife of Pastor Donald Schaeffer.