I remember when I first became a mom. Despite poring over dozens of parenting books and listening to countless hours of advice from friends, I found out really fast how WRONG I was about pretty much everything I thought I knew.
I quickly learned that if I had any hope of attempting to go potty alone and get a hot shower without the toddler writing on the wall with a Sharpie or feeding the cat our pet goldfish, I was going to have to vastly adjust my “perfect parent” playbook.
And while I did make some major edits to what I thought it would look like, there was one thing that never changed. I wanted my kids to have a heart like King David’s. Of course, there are many people in the Bible who were excellent examples of how we should live as Christians, but King David was always one of my favorites.
He wasn’t perfect (and I knew my kids wouldn’t be either). The thing that I’ve always loved about him was how the Bible says David was a man after God’s own heart.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what we want to be as Christians? No matter what God says, no matter how wrong things seem to be going, and no matter how much we mess up… what matters most is that our heart truly seeks to please the Lord.
Have you ever thought about what that really means or what a heart that seeks to please the Lord really looks like?
I think the secret is largely wrapped up in Proverbs 4:23.
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 KJV
The issues of life. Yep. Exactly the problem. We often think of the heart as the gushy emotional part of us, but it’s so much more! When you get to the root meaning of the word heart in Proverbs 4:23, you find it’s truly referring to the mind, will, and emotions of a person. It’s really talking about all of who we are as a person.
I think science paints a powerful picture of this, too. Arguably, the heart is the most important organ in your body. Without it, life ceases to exist. Machines can keep many parts of your body alive when they fail, but your heart isn’t one of them.
The trouble is, for many, the heart often stops beating way too soon… literally and figuratively. Which brings me to what I think is one of the most important things we need to teach our kids: to guard their heart.
Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart with all diligence. Of course the verse isn’t referring to the physical heart, but one can’t help but see the parallel of importance.
Without a healthy physical heart, a person’s life is in danger of death.
Without a healthy spiritual heart, a person’s life is in danger of spiritual and/or eternal death.
Our kids are in serious danger in today’s culture.
The battle for their hearts continues to rage and it seems as if the attacks just get more and more crafty. We can barely help our kids ward off one thing when the next new thing sneaks around the opposite corner. That’s why it’s crucial not just to keep our kids safe, but to TEACH THEM how to guard their own heart against the ugliness of the world.
We won’t always be there sitting next to them when fearful circumstances threaten to cripple or when a dirty image comes across the screen. We can’t guarantee we’ll always be there when a friend says something against God’s Word or when someone breaks their heart.
And most importantly, it’s nearly impossible as parents to know what kinds of new ideas or traps might be presented to our kids. We have to be much more proactive about this. And no, I don’t mean we have to lock them down and never let them out of our sight. That’s not only impractical, it’s very unwise.
What I’m suggesting is we MUST be about the business of TEACHING our kids to guard their heart.
As mom, I’ll be there as much and as often as possible, but for all the times I cannot, my goal is to prepare my kids to handle the attacks and the enemy’s agenda without being blindsided.
That’s really what it means in Proverbs 4:23 when God tells us to guard our heart with all diligence. It starts with staying away from as much of the filth as we can, but it must also be undergirded with strong teaching for what to do when we come face to face with the giants- even the unexpected ones.
Don’t want to read? Watch instead. (Click play)
Enemies of the heart
As a parent my first goal in teaching my kids to guard their heart is helping them to understand the enemies. If you don’t know what you are up against, it’s almost impossible to fight it.
We know that our enemy, Satan, is a thief and a liar. We also know that our own flesh and the world are both enemies. These three are certainly foes we must be ready to take on. But when I’m talking about enemies of the heart, I’m not talking about any of those three things. I’m talking about specific things we struggle with that wreak havoc on our heart.
Think of them like a bad diet. If you eat the wrong foods and never exercise, heart disease is very likely to come knocking at your door. Likewise, if you invite these enemies in to play, spiritual heart disease will consume you.
- Complaining/grumbling (I call this the heart murmur)
When we talk about guarding our heart, these are the main things we want to teach our kids to KEEP OUT. The Bible is full of examples and admonitions for each one of these things.
Pondering the path
Of course, learning what to keep OUT of our heart is only half the battle. Next we have to help our kids understand how to get the strength they need to guard their heart against these things because THEY WILL FACE THEM. There is no level of protection we can offer that will keep our kids safe from these things. We need to teach them to prepare themselves daily for the battle through Scripture memory.
Next up, we need to help them understand what it means to maintain a pure heart. I’m not just talking about romance here. This means learning to filter the things they see and hear daily like movies, music, images, websites, and whatever is on their friend’s phone. (And don’t think for a second that isn’t happening- your kids have access to all kinds of things you don’t know about. Don’t ignore it- fight it head on!)
Once kids understand how to prepare themselves for battle and how to filter out the filth, the next step is learning to have the right focus, the right priorities and, finally, to live by principles.
If there is one thing I would want to stress the most, it’s the idea of principles, not rules. A rule is something you follow when the authorities over that rule are present. It’s something you do to avoid a consequence. A principle is something that governs your life no matter who is present. It’s a choice you make because of WHO you are, not what you might be avoiding.
That’s what David had right with God. He found himself in traps and snares. He found himself doubting God, disobeying Him, and much more. And yet even when he did those things, David came running back to God willing and repentant. He continued to seek to do right even when he messed up.
This is what we want for our kids. They will mess up. They will stumble upon things we can’t fathom or expect. We won’t always be around to guide, prompt, or protect. We must teach them what to do to guard their own heart.
Which leaves me with the question at hand. Will your kids be ready for the battle? Are you willing to do the hard work of teaching them to guard their heart in a way they can use regardless of whether or not you are looking over their shoulder?
Oh, friend. Don’t think for a second I’m naive enough to think this is easy, but I do know we can trust God with it. Our responsibility is only to do our part faithfully. God will meet each of us right where we are. He fills in the gaps when we faithfully obey. Isn’t that a beautiful promise?
Resources to help
I pray this post has given you a framework for what to teach and how to teach it, but I’d also like to offer you something a little deeper. If you’d love to walk your kids through an in-depth Bible study helping them learn to guard their heart against these enemies, we’d love to have you join us.
There are two versions of the study. The junior version is perfect for elementary kids and the youth version is perfect for middle/high school. Both studies are on the same topic each day. In my family, each child works in the book on their own and then we come together for discussion. I find this method helps the kids invest personally in their own work and also gives them a chance to think about what they learned as they discuss it with the family.
Click here to learn more about Keep Thy Heart: Pondering the Path to a Pure Heart. And if you’d like access to the videos that accompany the study, click below for details about the Guard Your Heart Video Course.