I realized keenly yesterday, that my ultimate goal in parenting is utterly impossible for me to achieve. Perhaps I knew it before in theory, but I now I feel it to be true, because I have seen it in reality and have been freshly confronted with it from Scripture. Training, discipline, consequences and all the structures I build into my children's daily routine are good and necessary for molding their behavior, but none of it can give them what I desire for them - a regenerate heart.
This struck me while I was listening to a recording of J. C. Ryle's thoughts on Matthew 22:34-46, in which Jesus answers the question, "What is the greatest commandment?" by giving the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Ryle applied this to teaching children:
None work so well as those who work out of love. The fear of punishment, or the desire of reward, are principles of far less power. They do the will of God best, who do it from the heart. Would we train children right? Let us teach them to love God.Love is the grand secret of right behavior towards our FELLOW MEN. He who loves his neighbor will scorn to do him any willful injury, either in person, property, or character. But he will not rest there. He will desire in every way to do him good....Would we teach children to behave aright towards others? Let us teach them to love everybody as themselves, and do to others as they would have others do to them.But how shall we obtain this love towards GOD? It is no natural feeling. We are born in sin, and, as sinners, are afraid of God. How then can we love Him? We can never really love Him until we are at peace with Him through Christ....Faith in Christ is the true spring of love to God. They love most who feel most forgiven. "We love him because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19.)And how shall we obtain this love towards our NEIGHBOR? This is also no natural feeling. We are born selfish, hateful, and hating one another. (Titus 3:3.) We shall never love our fellow man aright until our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit. We must be born again....Let these things sink down into our hearts...We cannot have love to God and man without faith in Christ, and without regeneration. The way to spread true love in the world, is to teach the atonement of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
- Expository Thoughts on the Gospel According to St. Matthew by J. C. Ryle, accessed on Monergism.com
Awhile ago, I posted on that one essential tool for parenting - the Word of God. Now the other necessary tool is becoming an even stronger reality to me - prayer. Teach my child to love God? Wonderful aim, but would that I could! I can teach my child about God and the gospel - I must! - and seek to direct his behavior according to Scripture, but I cannot ultimately change the heart. Nearly all the usual training of a child's behavior is built upon one thing - self-interest. I use my child's self-interest as a lever to push him toward right behavior when I discipline for wrongdoing and reward well-doing, because that is the heart material I have to work with, and I am told that with perseverance I will see results. I do want these results! But they are not enough. My child will not be right in any way until he loves God, and I cannot make him do that. Only God can do that. This is why prayer is the parent's other most essential tool, because through prayer, I can see the impossible thing done. "God give my child a new heart, because you are merciful and able to do it! God, give my child a new heart, or my labor is in vain!" Then, believing, let me be his faithful instrument, and labor until I see the thing accomplished.