Discipling the Hearts of the Next Generation

God wants our hearts. Pastor Eugene recapitulates last Sunday's message and explains the importance of shepherding the hearts of our children.

“…Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:4b)

As we saw from Deuteronomy 6 this past Sunday, God’s people have the high calling to pass on God’s truth to future generations. God, through His servant Moses, speaks these words to Israel: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” (vv. 6-7a).  

The families of God’s people have a crucial part to play in God’s plan to make disciples of the nations. Discipleship is not merely a church programme; it is to be interwoven into the fabric of our Christian lives, including how we live in our families. Discipleship starts at home. Our families are meant to be redemptive communities, where the truths of the gospel are lovingly spoken and lived out. As parents and grandparents, we have the wonderful privilege of telling our children and grandchildren about the glorious deeds of the Lord. We have the joy of speaking of Jesus, telling them how Christ graciously rescues and transforms us through his life, death and resurrection.  

Instructing our children in God’s ways involves teaching them the Bible, helping them to learn how to pray, and bringing them to church. But discipling our children entails much more than simply ensuring that they do certain things or behave in a certain way. We must go deeper.  

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In the Bible, the 'heart' refers to our inner person—who we really are on the inside: our desires, affections, thoughts, motivations, beliefs, attitudes, etc. What is in our hearts will determine who (or what) we worship. Or, to put it another way, who (or what) we truly worship reveals what is really in our hearts. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

Our heart shapes our words and actions; it shapes how we relate to other people and how we relate to God. In explaining why different people bear different behavioural fruit, Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) 

What does this mean for how we instruct our children? An important application is that we should not lose sight of the attitudes of a child’s heart that underlie his or her behaviour. We need to get to the heart of the matter, because behaviour has a 'why'. When we disciple children in this way, we help them to understand what is going on in their hearts. Uncovering the desires, motives, attitudes and affections of the heart enables us to know and love a child in a deeper, more substantive way. We are not merely trying to 'fix' their behaviour, we are shepherding their hearts. 

By focusing on the hearts of our children, we help them to see their need for the gospel and for true conversion, not just behavioural change. We are unable to change the hearts of our children. But the good news is that God can, through the gospel of His Son. In Christ, we receive God’s Spirit, who transforms us from the inside out. He takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. He realigns our attitude, affections, motivations and desires, so that we worship God alone. Therefore, our goal is to shepherd the hearts of our children by pointing them to the only One who is able to save. As God’s word says in Titus 3:3-6, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”