Shepherding a Child's Heart, Revised and UpdatedShepherding a Child's Heart, Revised and Updated
Tedd Tripp
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Many parenting books are based on hit-or-miss theories steeped in secular thinking. This one draws from Pastor Tripp's seasoned experience as a father-and from God's Holy Word. Grounded in the Bible's divine plan for parenting, this guide defines your goals as a parent and provides the Scriptural methods for accomplishing them.

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Parenting Defined

      Recognizing that God has called you to function as His agent defines your task as a parent. Our culture has reduced parenting to providing care. Parents often see the task in these narrow terms. The child must have food, clothes, a bed and some quality time. In sharp contrast to such a weak view, God has called you to a more profound task than being a care-provider. You shepherd your child in Godís behalf. The task God has given you is not one that can conveniently scheduled. It is a pervasive task. Training and shepherding are going on whenever you are with your children. Whether waking, walking, talking or resting, you must be involved in helping your child to understand life, himself and his needs from a biblical perspective (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
      If you are going to shepherd your children, you must understand what makes your children tick. If you are going to direct them in the ways of the Lord, as Genesis 18 calls you to, you must know them and their inclinations. This task requires more than simply providing adequate food, clothing and shelter.

Clear Objectives
      It is instructive to ask parents what concrete training objectives they have for their children. Most parents cannot quickly generate a list of the strengths and weaknesses of their children. Nor can they articulate what they are doing to strengthen their childís weak areas or to encourage his strengths. Many moms and dads have not sat down and discussed their short-term and long-term goals for their children. They have not developed strategies for parenting. They do not know what God says about children and His requirements for them. Little thought has been given to methods and approaches that would focus correction upon attitudes of heart rather than merely on behavior. Sadly, most correction occurs as a by-product of children being an embarrassment or an irritation.

      Why is this? Our idea of parenting does not include shepherding. Our culture sees a parent as an adult care-provider. Quality time is considered having fun together. Fun together is not a bad idea, but it is light years away from directing your child in the ways of God.
      In contrast to this, Genesis 18 calls fathers to direct their children to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Being a parent means working in Godís behalf to provide direction for your children. Directors are in charge. It involves knowing and helping them to understand Godís standard for childrenís behavior. It means teaching them that they are sinners by nature. It includes pointing them to the mercy and grace of God shown in Christís life and death for sinners.

Humility in Your Task
      Understanding that you function as Godís agents can keep you sharply focused and humble as parents. It is sobering to realize that you correct your child by Godís command. You stand before him as Godís agent to show him his sin. Just as an ambassador is conscious of functioning in behalf of the country that has sent him, so the parent must be aware of the fact that he is Godís representative to the child. I know of no realization that will sober and humble the parent like this one.
      On many occasions, I have had to seek the forgiveness of my children for my anger or sinful response. I have had to say, ďSon, I sinned against you. I spoke in unholy anger. I said things I should have not said. I was wrong. God has given me a sacred task, and I have brought my unholy anger into this sacred mission. Please forgive me.Ē
      Your focus can be sharpened by the realization that discipline is not you working on your agenda, venting your wrath toward your children; it is you coming as Godís representative, bringing the reproof of life to your son or your daughter. You only muddy the waters when the bottom line is in discipline is your displeasure over their behavior, rather than Godís displeasure with rebellion against His ordained authority.

No Place for Anger
      I have spoken to countless parents who genuinely thought their anger had a legitimate place in correction and discipline. They reasoned that they could bring their children to a sober fear of disobeying if they showed anger. So discipline became the time when Mom or Dad manipulated their children through raw displays of anger. What the child learns is the fear of man, not the fear of God.
      James 1 demonstrates the falsehood of the idea that parents should underscore correction with personal rage:

My dear brothers take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for manís anger does not bring out the righteous life that God desires.(James 1:19-20)

      The Apostle James could not be more clear. The righteous life that God desires is never the product of uncontrolled anger. Human anger may teach your children to fear you. They may even behave better, but it will not bring about biblical righteousness.
      Any change in behavior that is produced by such anger is not going to move your children toward God. It moves them away from God. It moves them in the direction of the idolatry of fearing man. No wonder James adds emphasis by saying, ďDear brothers, take note of thisÖĒ
      If you correct and discipline your children because God mandates it, then you need not clutter up the task with our anger. Correction is not your showing of anger for their offenses; it is rather reminding them that their sinful behavior offends God. It is bringing His censure of sin to these subjects of His realm. He is the King. They must obey.

Benefits to the Child
      The parent comes to the child in Godís name and on Godís behalf. As parents, you can teach your child to receive correction from you because it is the means God has appointed. The child learns to receive correction, not because parents are always right, but because God says the rod of correction imparts wisdom, and whoever heeds correction shows prudence (Proverbs 15:5, 29:15).
      The child who accepts these truths will learn to accept correction. I have been humbled and amazed to see my children, in their late teens and early twenties, accept correction, not because I brought it to them in the best possible manner, but because they were persuaded that ďHe who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understandingĒ (Proverbs 15:32). They understand that their dad is Godís anger, used by God in the role of authority to direct in Godís ways. Therefore, even though I am not flawless instrument of Godís work, they know that receiving correction will bring them understanding.