When we miss the heart, we miss the subtle idols of the heart. Romans 1 makes it clear that all human beings are worshippers; either we worship God or we make an exchange and worship and serve idols – substitutes for God – created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-25). When parent short-circuits to behavior parents miss the opportunity to help their children understand that straying behavior reflects a heart that has strayed. Our kids always serve something, either God or a substitute for God – some idol of the heart.
When we miss the heart, we miss the gospel. If the goal of parenting is only securing proper behavior we will never help our children understand the internal things – the heart issues – that push and pull behavior. Those internal issues: self-love, rebellion, anger, bitterness, envy and pride of the heart show our children how profoundly they need grace. If the problem with children is deeper than inappropriate behavior, if the problem is the way the heart has enthroned something other than God, then the need for grace is established. Jesus came to earth. Lived a perfect life and died as an infinite sacrifice so that children (and their parents) can be forgiven, transformed, liberated and empowered to love God and others.
When we miss the heart, we miss the glory of God. Children (and adults) who have fallen into various forms of personal idolatry need not only to tear down the high places of alien gods, but to enthrone God. Children are spring-loaded for worship. One of the most important callings parents have is to display the greatness, goodness and glory of the God for they and their children are made. Parents have the opportunity, through word and deed, to show children the one true object of worship – the God of the Bible. We know the greatest delights our children can experience are found in being mesmerized, delighted and intrigued by the God who made them for his glory.
When I teach these things parents often say, “These things are not just for my kids, they are for me”. The parent who sees that is not only about to teach, but also able to incarnate these truths for their children.