One of the things I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he saw past the actions of people and understood what was in their hearts. Their actions might have been sinful, but if they had a tender heart towards God, He forgave them. If their actions appeared godly, but their hearts were full of ugliness, Jesus would rebuke them.
We will never totally know the hearts of anyone other than our own. In Fighting for Your Child’s Heart, I gave you several ways to attempt to assess the heart of your child. Whether or not you feel you know your child’s heart, there are specific characteristics you want to do everything possible to firmly plant in the heart of your child. I am sure if you asked twenty Christians, you would get twenty slightly different lists, but here are the ones we worked very hard to grow in the heart of our daughter:
- Obedience – Strangely, obedience is not just the act of obeying someone in authority. An obedient action can come from the heart of a child who is quietly raging in disobedience internally. It is vital your child learns to embrace obedience, especially to God. God demands our obedience and I think it is very clear from the conversations Jesus had with the Pharisees, outward obedience is worth nothing without an obedient, submissive heart. (Romans 16:19, I Peter 1:22)
- Humility – If your child does not develop a humble heart, he will never be able to truly follow God. It takes a humble person to admit her sins and turn her life over to God. The world puts themselves in the place God should occupy. Only if your child is humble will she be willing to vacate that place and give it to God. (I Peter 3:4, Philippians 2:6-8)
- Love -God is love. To be godly, your child should reflect God’s love in his actions and in his heart. (Matthew 5:43, Matthew 22:37-39)
- Empathy – Empathy is deeper than sympathy. It is the ability to place oneself in the shoes of another. True godly empathy will lead your child to action. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Luke 14:13)
- Patience – Being godly requires patience on several levels – patience with other people, patience waiting for God to act (think Abraham and Sarah!), even the patience to keep working on your own spiritual growth when you continue to make mistakes. (Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 4:2)
- Generosity – From Abraham to Boaz to the early Christians, godly people are often known for their generosity to others. Just giving is not enough. The giving should come from a heart that wants to give. (2 Corinthians 8:2)
- Kindness/Gentleness – Today these words are often synonyms. Your child should have a heart that cares about the feelings of others – not to avoid pointing them towards God, but to avoid hurting someone because of our personal opinions. (Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 4:32)
- Self-control – Your child’s efforts to control should not be directed at others, but to herself. She should have a heart that is trying to control the sinful desires of her body. She will need to learn to want to control her actions, her tongue and her attitudes. (Proverbs 25:28, Titus 2:1-12)
- Faithfulness – Your child’s heart should want to be faithful to his promises – to others and most importantly to God. (Luke 19:17, Acts 11:23)
- Joyful – Your child should have a joyful heart. Her personality may lean towards the negative, but help train her heart towards the joyful. Joyfulness is based in gratitude to God for His blessings. It is knowing how to be content in all circumstances. Life can make joy seem impossible, but a joyful heart will help. (Romans 15:13, Galatians 5:22)
- Hopeful – Life in a fallen world can attempt to rob your child of hope. Help him plant the hope of living in Christ deep within his heart. That hope will get him through many tough times. (Romans 15:13, Romans 5:4)
- God-seeking – Most importantly, your child needs to have a heart that is seeking God. If her heart is constantly seeking God, she will have the tools to stay in a relationship with Him. (Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 11:6)
Seems like a lot to do! It won’t happen overnight or even over several years. My guess is most Christian parents are still trying to reinforce these characteristics in the hearts of their long grown children. The important thing is to keep your “eye on the prize”. Remember your spiritual goals for your children. Do something proactively every day to help your child grow these characteristics in her heart. You may be surprised at the godly “garden” that results.