“My son, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26)
If I had to pick just one verse on parenting from the book of Proverbs— the main source of our biblical wisdom on this subject— it would be Proverbs 23:26. Here we have the very pulse of the Bible’s teaching on a father’s relationship with his children, including God the Father’s relationship with us, His sons in Christ.
This verse provides the perspective behind all the wisdom passed from father to son in the Proverbs. In it, the father simply pleads, “My son, give me your heart.” This is the prime aspiration of a true father toward his children. All the advice and commands found in Proverbs flow from this great passion: the desire of a loving father for the heart of his child, and for that child’s heart to be given to the Lord.
The heart, of course, is the key to everything. “Keep your heart with all vigilance,” we read, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4: 23). Biblically, the heart is the entire inner person, including the thoughts, desires, affections, and will. The heart is who we are inside— the real, essential person; the person God wants to own completely. A wise father wants to reach his child’s heart, aiming for the willing offering of that heart both to himself as earthly father and to God as heavenly Father.
Note carefully that the proverb does not say, “My son, give me your behavior.” It is not difficult for us to use our authority so that our children obey us outwardly without giving us their hearts. In fact, this lowest-common-denominator form of fatherly leadership is exactly what we will fall into if we don’t actively seek a different and better result.
Neither does the proverb say, “My son, give me your physical presence,” as if all that matters is placing a child in the right places at the right times. Worship, for instance, is far more than being physically present at church on Sunday morning, although many parents content themselves with little more from their children.
This, then, is the purpose of parental discipling: ministering to our children’s hearts so as to gain a relationship of love with them and a shared heart-bond of faith in Jesus Christ. A father can spend years giving his child a Christian structure of church, Sunday school, Christian schooling, etc. If he then finds himself helpless as his young-adult child embraces rebellion, what has gone wrong? Too often the answer is that he never aimed for the child’s heart and, not aiming for it, never gained it.
So the great issue of parental discipleship is directing the hearts of our children to the Lord. Instead of a mere focus on behavior or bodily presence, wise and loving parents seek to touch and win the hearts of their boys and girls.
The question is, how? First, understand that the heart—even the heart of a child—can only be given freely; it can never really be taken. In part, therefore, this is a matter of a father leading by example. We must begin by giving to our children what we seek to receive from them. Before we can convincingly plead, “My child, give me your heart,” it must be evident to the child we have sincerely given our own.
How does a father do this? Richard Phillips answers in his book The Masculine Mandate as he seeks to help Christian men examine their hearts, embrace their God-given mandate, and by God’s grace, serve faithfully in whatever context God has placed them. Buy this best-selling book today and save 50%. Offer ends Father’s Day.