Turning the Hearts of the Children to Their Parents
Pastor Larry Bond
"My son, give me thine heart" (Proverbs 23:26)
From a sermon preached March 3, 2002
Parents, imagine yourselves as old, gray, and wrinkled, brow furrowed, and moistened eyes reddened from repeated floods of tears. Your heart is heavy with the burden of wayward children and grand children. You have lost them to the world. Your children will not even let you talk about the Lord to your own grand children. You spent 20 years raising them. 20 years that now seem wasted, without purpose! The value of your children for the cause of Christ seems to be zero or minus. You were a good provider - good food, nice house, nice clothes. You even made sure they always were in church - Sunday school, youth group, etc. Over and over again you ask yourself, "where did I go wrong?"
Sadly, many of our fundamental Bible believing churches have their pews filled with such heart-broken elderly couples. They sit alone in the pew faithful as ever, but where are the children? Why don't we see churches filled with 4 or 5 generations of godly Christians? I know, some are serving God elsewhere (praise God), but many, many are lost to the world! We win new converts bringing them in the front door, but Satan has the back door open wide luring out the next generation.
Some churches have found a solution to this problem. "Since the world has the children's hearts we will lower the standard closer to what appeals to them. They like rock music so we will try to keep them by using "contemporary" Christian music in our services. We will bring in a youth pastor or music director who looks and acts more like they do." The result: worldly churches - Satan wins again! Eli the priest kept his sons in the priesthood by compromise, but what a disgrace it was to God.
In our church the young people want to be like mom and dad not like the world. Mom and dad are the heroes in their lives! Their hearts are turned toward their parents not the world. There is no need to lower the standard to keep them. In fact they would be very unhappy if we lowered our standard!
So, how do we keep our children without compromising? We must win their hearts!!! If we discipline in anger, we wound their spirit (Proverbs 18:14), build a wall between our children and us. When they are young our anger will be interpreted as authority and may cause fear and guilt, but when they reach adolescence they say in their hearts, "dad is wrong, I don't have to put up with this, I have my rights", and a strong wall is being built. Proverbs 18:19 warns, "a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle". Let's put the word "child" in there. A child offended is harder to be won than a strong city. Strong cities in Bible days had high, impenetrable walls such as Jericho. Mighty men of war were easily struck down if they approached to closely to the wall. The story of a woman who dropped a piece of millstone upon Abimelech from the tower wall in Thebez (Judges 9:53) was a constant reminder to military strategists to stay clear of the wall (II Samuel 11:21). The strong city walls were unapproachable! Our offended teenage children become unapproachable! Not hard to be won but "harder" to be won than a strong city! Picture a big strong burley father laying defeated with skull crushed by a piece of millstone dropped from the wall by a little teenage girl. But parents, isn't that what is happening with our children? We cannot penetrate that wall! We are defeated, and they are lost! It would certainly take a Jericho miracle to bring down the wall. Picture also, a father tugging desperately, helplessly, hopelessly at the bars of a castle window trying to get through to his wayward son. A pitiful sight!!!
Again, the millstone is used as an illustration in Matthew 18:6:"but whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea". Let us picture a millstone tied to the neck of an angry, offending parent drowning in the depth of the sea! Does God take this lightly? I think not!
Col 3:21 says, "fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged". Repeated anger by parents wounding their spirits and building the wall high will eventually discourage the child. God has put within every child a desire to have a close relationship with his parents hungering for dad's approval, hungering for dad's love, hungering for dad's attention, but to no avail. Time after time he is put down, ignored, or yelled at until finally he gets discouraged and says, "I guess I just can't have a relationship with my dad, my dad doesn't love me so I'll just have to look elsewhere for someone to care", and he is on his way down! We have lost his heart! Someone else shows interest in him, and he is gone. If it is a worldly someone, he is gone to the world!
The wise man in Proverbs 23:26 said to his son, "my son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways". How can we as parents expect our children to respond to this request? It will only happen if parents' hearts are first turned to their children. Responsibility for initiating a relationship always falls on the oldest, most mature, most spiritual, and the highest authority, namely in this case the father.
Malachi 4:5-6 says, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." This is a prophecy of John the Baptist, and is quoted with some variation in Luke 1:17: "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord". John in the spirit and power of Elijah was to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Lord. But, notice how he was to accomplish this - by turning the hearts of the parents and children ("disobedient") towards each other. Elijah and John were the spiritual leaders of their day. Today, the spiritual leaders, pastors, teachers, etc. who want hearts to be opened to the Lord, prepared for the Lord need to be turning "the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers". I wonder if the program of most churches today is really geared to do the opposite. Think about it! A son or daughter who is rebellious to parents will not yield easily to the Spirit of God. What a beautiful picture it is when the hearts of the parents and children are turned toward each other. The children are so soft, so teachable, ready for whatever God has for them. But, how devastating, how displeasing to the Lord, how "cursed" is a family when it is not that way! It will be a "curse" if Christian parents at the Judgment seat of Christ have to watch their children lose their rewards or worse at the Great White Throne Judgment to watch their unsaved children or grandchildren thrown into the eternal lake of fire! Remorse upon remorse!!!
Parents, if you are not interested in turning your hearts toward your children, there is no point in reading further. However, if you are interested, here are eight things you can do that will help turn your child's heart to you. These things are not original with me, but I pass them on praying they will be a help and a blessing to you. I stand convicted with you dear parents as I share these thoughts with you. May we with humble hearts lay ourselves open to the Spirit of God?
Time. Many parents are so busy with making money, an advancing career, some worthy cause, or the ministry that they are simply not taking enough time for their children. When I was in Bible school, I was told, "you will be very busy in the ministry, and so you will have to give your children quality time but not quantity time". For a number of years I tried that, but found that my family relationships suffered. That's a cute little saying, but it's simply not true - it doesn't work. I know we get busy with important things, so apparently our children aren’t important! We see value in these important things, so apparently our children aren't valuable! We see treasure in these important things, so apparently our children are not a treasure! Luke 12:34 says, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". My treasure is not in the bank, or IRAs, or the stock market, or retirement funds, or a career, or the ministry, my treasure is in my children, and there is my heart also. The context here is that our treasure will be in heaven. My goal is that my children, grandchildren, all my descendants will be in heaven, and that they will labor with an eternal perspective for Jesus Christ. Parents, we will take time for what we value the most!
Sacrifice. Do your children see you making sacrifices for them? Selfishness is the opposite of sacrifice, and all to often parents fail to lay down selfishness for their children. My wife will not eat unless she sees that there is plenty for everybody at the table. I have encouraged her to eat (because physically she really needed to) when there were not leftovers though everyone had plenty, but she would not fearing someone was not full enough. Her sacrifice has drawn the hearts of the children to her. My children come to me with a burden when I am really tired late in the evening. After 9pm is the worst time of the day for me, and I think to myself, "kids can't this wait until morning"? They appreciate dad being willing to give them that time when they know it's difficult for me. Don't misunderstand. We should not shower them with things, but we should give them ourselves, mostly the sacrifice of our time. Are not our hearts drawn to our Lord Jesus when we think of His great sacrifice for us? Likewise meaningful sacrifice by parents will draw the hearts of their children to them! The best current example I have seen is that of Pastor Bill Yant who was forced to choose between his ministry of 25 years as pastor and homeschooling his son. He chose his son, and as a result I have no doubt that his son's heart will be cemented to his! What a powerful impact this sacrifice will be in his son's life and fruit of that sacrifice will no doubt yield for generations to come! Pray for Pastor Yant. He is a godly man jealous for the souls of men!
Communication. Our teenagers are bombarded with temptations. Remember? They need to feel free to come to mom or dad for help with those temptations. They have fears that they need to share with us. We have experienced God's faithfulness over the years, but they are beginners in faith, and need our strength and encouragement. We must keep the communication lines open! When Tiffanie was about 11, she was struggling with bitterness. We talked with her over and over again, praying with her, teaching her, encouraging her until now at 16 the scouring looks of bitterness have transformed into a sweet smile manifesting the hidden, gentle spirit of her heart "which is in the sight of God of great price". Mellisa at about 14 was having some attitude and obedience problems. Her favorite aunt passed away when she was young, and I perceived that this was bothering her greatly. As a little girl she would hunt me down to sit on my lap much more so than any of the others. So, I said, "Mellisa come and sit on daddy's lap like you use to do". I held her close, and talked to her about her Aunt Terri. We prayed together, and mingled our tears, and what a big change followed. Parents say, "I just can't get through to my teenager". That's because somewhere along the way the communication lines were closed! Actually, though I'm tired in the evening when my children want to talk to dad, I cherish it. Praise God they come!
Authority. When they are young, our children were expected to obey without explanation. We practiced forced compliance. We trained with unquestioned authority. Not only did we not tell them why, but they didn't even care why. They just wanted to please mom and dad. But now, as early or pre-teens, they have become our prosecuting attorney in their hearts. They now believe that right and wrong not only applies to them but to mom and dad also. They can justify their bad behavior by our bad behavior. Many parents of teens are in shock for several years. Our authority must now include reasons and example. They still need boundaries, but now they need reasons for them, and they need to see no hypocrisy in us. There might still be times like in an emergency when you expect instant obedience without a reason but it should be rare. They are developing their own discernment, so as adults they can make sound decisions. They are not ready to fly from the nest, but they are learning to fly. Our job is to teach them how to fly, to encourage and to guide so that as adults they will be able to soar with power and grace. It's a normal process that must take place, so we must more and more as they mature become their counselors and less and less absolute authoritarians. If we do not adjust to this process we will provoke them to anger, and we will lose their hearts.
Respect. Parents, our children are people, and we must treat them with the same respect we would show to another brother or sister in Christ. Can you imagine a pastor yelling in the face of a member of his congregation? How long would they stick around? Because some parents have said cutting, belittling, harsh remarks to their teens, in their hearts they're not sticking around either. Their heart is gone, and the wall is built!
Humility. My children know I make mistakes, they know I have faults and weaknesses. The dumbest thing you can do is to act innocent when you know you're guilty, and when you know that everyone else knows you're guilty. Our children know when we fail, and we know they know. The walls of Jericho will never be brought down without humility. Humility yields grace (James 4:6), and grace yields power (II Cor. 12:9), power to conquer the strong city of our child's offended heart. A father with a broken and contrite heart, humbly asking forgiveness from a wounded child is very powerful! On the other hand, a prideful father who blames his child for the wall will only add more bricks and more bars.
Touch. Studies have proven that a baby fed and well cared for but not touched and cuddled will either die or at least not develop properly. Touch is a sensitive issue in this day, and we should be careful in public, but at home hugs, or a hand on the shoulder, or a pat on the back ought to be the norm. It says, "I love you"! When I give a little tug on my girls' pig tails, I am saying, "you have my heart, I love you". When I came home after 2 days in Roseburg, Sabrina (10) met me on the bridge to our house with a big hug. Then when I came into the house, the other 6 girls all gave me big hugs too. I love it! They're saying, "my heart belongs to you, dad", and I'm saying, "my heart is turned towards you, girls".
Blessing. The blessing of the father was very important to Jewish children. Esau was robbed of the blessing by his younger brother, and his reaction and Jacob's fear shows just how important the blessing was. Children have a natural desire to make their parents proud of them. Young athletes will perform far beyond their physical abilities when mom and dad are in the grandstands cheering them on. The spirit of a child is crushed when a parent continually puts him down. "You can't do anything right", they say, and the wall grows higher. A young man could never do quite good enough to please his father, never a word of praise, but always criticism. The youth would try so hard, but to no avail. Years later even after his father's death, the wall was so high that he could not even stand to live in the same town where he grew up because of all those bad memories. The late Dr. Jack Hyles who pastored the largest church in the world had a drunken abusive father. When he told his father, God had called him to preach, his father knocked him down and kicked him repeatedly, but then yelled, "Ok, go ahead and be a blankity, blank preacher, but go out and build the biggest church in the world!" And, he did! As disgusting of an ungodly father as he was yet that one angry statement was like a father's blessing. How much more advantage if godly fathers will give their blessing with words of affirmation, approval, and encouragement cheering their children on from the grandstands of life. "My dad wants me to succeed, he is cheering me on to love and obey God, and be all that I can be for God," they feel. The blessing of the father is not only powerful motivation, but it also turns the hearts of the children to their fathers.
Can we say, "my son give me thine heart", and expect a good response? Can we be assured our children's emotions are locked up in their parents until dad says, "this is the one God has chosen for you, and I now release your heart to him or her"? Can we know that someone else will not be able to lure our child's heart away when we are not looking? Is our child's heart in our hands soft and prepared for the Lord?