12 Tips from Twelve Stones: Foundations for Biblical Parenting- Tip 5

By: Scott O'Malley

May 21st, 2021



What is every child’s greatest need?


I have spent years asking parents this question. On many different occasions parents have said things like: to be loved, healthy self-esteem, to be safe, or to be happy. Other parents have a particular answer they may give but the way they fill their child’s time, they communicate a child’s greatest need is a special skill such as basketball, tennis, or gymnastics.


Foundation #5 – Every child’s greatest need is salvation.

It is understandable that parents desire many good things for our children, but it is vital that we keep our eyes fixed on the weightiest things. There is nothing weightier than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, every child’s greatest need is salvation. Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Since the gospel really should be central in our parenting, what is a framework that will help us continually come back to the gospel again and again with our children? Years ago, Tedd Tripp produced a video series on his popular book Shepherding a Child’s Heart. He described four steps to keeping the gospel central. These four guiding principles are meant to help parents have gospel conversations. I have used these principles hundreds of times with my kids to take a conversation about a sinful choice they made or a difficult circumstance they were facing and take them to the gospel.


The four steps or guiding principles are: - Help Discern Heart Issues - Address the Heart with Scripture - Move to Themes of Redemption - Pray

If you think about it, these guiding principles are appropriate in any discipleship relationship. But, they can be a very helpful to keep parents on track to have gospel conversations with our children. This week, I will just lay out the pathway and next week we will explain what this looks like in action. But for now, let’s look at these principles one at a time.


The four steps or guiding principles are: - Help Discern Heart Issues - Address the Heart with Scripture - Move to Themes of Redemption - Pray

Help Discern Heart Issues

An important part of discerning the heart is knowing and understanding your child, and that takes a lot of listening. We must be curious about our kids and be determined to get to know them deeply. Many parents have very little interest in understanding their children, they just want to be understood. An example of this type of parenting happens when two kids are arguing in the next room and a parent comes into the room and tells them to “Knock it off. I don’t want to hear anymore arguing between the two of you,” and then leaves the room. The book of Proverbs provides a stark warning against that type of parenting. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). If we as parents are going to be wise, we should desire to draw out the hearts of our children (Proverbs 20:5). That means in this situation we don’t just tell the kids to knock it off, we must ask questions and understand what heart issues are at work in this conflict.


In counseling parents, I regularly have to challenge them to make fewer statements and ask more questions. In his book, Age of Opportunity, Paul Tripp gives us a series of helpful questions that can guide parents in drawing out the heart of their kids. These questions should be asked in order. So imagine (if you have to) that two of your children and playing in the next room when an argument breaks out. You hear, “He hit me!” As you get up to go address the ruckus, it is vital that you enter the room ready to minister to the hearts of your kids. Asking good questions is vital in your pursuit of the heart because “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).


Paul Tripp’s five questions are incredibly helpful: - What happened? What was going on? - What were you thinking and feeling as it was going on? - What did you do in response? - What were you wanting; what were you hoping to accomplish? - What was the result? What was the fruit?

These five questions can give us information need to address the heart of the matter in a particular situation. A word of warning: when you ask children what they were thinking and feeling, the most common response you will get is “I don’t know.” To help parents overcome “I don’t know” as an answer, I typically give three suggestions.


First, I encourage parents to regularly ask their children “What are you thinking?” When you ask a child a question like that on a regular basis you are training a child to pay attention to his or her thoughts and their ability to answer the question should grow in time. Second, when they answer “I don’t know,” I encourage them to think about it some more. I encourage them not to be so quick to give up. Third, if they still don’t have an answer I will make up three possibilities of what they might have been thinking and ask them which one is closest. It is important to remember however, even if you don’t get a clear answer, you are teaching your children that behavior flows out of what they were thinking (Luke 6:45), so it is still not a waste of time.

Once we have worked our way through these questions we are ready to move on to our second step or guiding principle.


It is important to remember however, even if you don’t get a clear answer, you are teaching your children that behavior flows out of what they were thinking.

Use Scripture to Address the Heart

At this point it is so easy for parents to share their opinion or vent frustration with what just happened, but for Christian parents it is vital we share the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Notice what the Word of God does: it addresses the thoughts and intentions of the heart. The thoughts are uncovered by the second question listed above; the intentions or motives are uncovered by the fourth question listed above. Therefore, as we draw out the hearts of our kids, we should desire to speak words of life from the Scriptures in response to what we hear. We should do so in a way that fits the occasion: encouraging, convicting, comforting, or challenging.

To actually have conversations with our kids that apply the Bible to their lives, we as parents must be students of the Scriptures. We must invest time and effort as well as have a love for the Word of God. Psalm 1:1-3 encourages us to meditate on the Scriptures day and night. 2 Timothy 2:15 challenges us to do our best to be approved handlers of the Word of God; while Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”


To actually have conversations with our kids that apply the Bible to their lives, we as parents must be students of the Scriptures.

A very practical way to put in the time, effort, and cultivate a love for the Scriptures is to meditate on and memorize Bible verses and passages. If you identify Bible verses that encourage and strengthen your faith, then take just five minutes per day to memorize one phrase at a time. In a week you will have one Bible verse memorized. If you keep it up you will have 50 Bible verses memorized and at your disposal within a year. If you persist for a decade that will be 500 Bible verses you can use to minister to the hearts of your kids. All the while God’s Word will be transforming your own heart (Romans 12:1-2).

Move to Themes of Redemption

After drawing out our kids’ heart and addressing it with Scripture, we now want to transition to themes of redemption. The focus here is recognition of the sin and shortcomings of our children, but also a transition to the grace and mercy of Christ. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” In other words, as we are helping our children see their sin, our desire for them is to feel the weight of their sin but rejoice in the grace of Christ.

This is where we remind our children of the cross of Jesus Christ. We invite them to repent of their sin and believe on Christ so they too can be forgiven. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


In other words, as we are helping our children see their sin, our desire for them is to feel the weight of their sin but rejoice in the grace of Christ.

We further want to remind our children that repentance is not a one-time thing; it is a way of life for every Christian. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Pray

As we are drawing out the hearts of our kids, addressing them with Scripture, and moving to themes of redemption, all of this should be bathed in prayer. Parenting is not just a matter of saying and doing the right things. We must continuously and faithfully pray for our children (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Romans 12:12). God’s Word affirms the power of prayer, so praying for our kids is not a pointless exercise (James 5:16). As we seek to minister to our children, we also desperately need God’s help for our children to see the truth – and Ephesians 1:16-18 says that prayer opens blind eyes.

We do not have the power to save our children or transform their lives. Only God can do that. Prayer is an obvious acknowledgement that we are dependent on God to intervene. May God help us to be parents who diligently pray for and with our children, repeatedly taking them to the throne of grace.


We do not have the power to save our children or transform their lives.

Please join me next week as we seek to apply these four guiding principles, demonstrating the reality that the heart is the target of our parenting. For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.

Questions for Reflection

1. If someone observed my parenting over the last 12 months, what would they conclude was my highest priority as a parent?

2. How am I doing at sharing the gospel in regular conversations with my children? Consider memorizing these four guiding principles and the five questions to help you begin having more gospel centered conversations with your kids.

3. How well am I aware of the spiritual condition of each of my children? Have a conversation in the near future with each of your kids to understand how they are doing spiritually. Commit to praying for their growth in Christ-likeness and for wisdom in ministering to them through the Word of God.