Shepherding a Child’s Heart

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, counselor Tedd Tripp clearly and biblically outlines the goals and methods of one of the most challenging roles I’ll ever fill: that of a Christian parent. Oh my, what a book. I think I’ll be rereading it for the rest of my life.

David Powlison writes in the introduction, “Most books on parenting give you advice either on how to shape and constrain your children’s behavior or on how to make then feel good about themselves… [this] book teaches you what your goals as a parent should be, and how to pursue those ends practically.

It teaches you how to engage children about what really matters, how to address your child’s heart by your words and actions” (xv). That pretty much sums it up.

My husband and I don’t want to just control our children by clever behavioral manipulation (how will they act when they are out from under our authority?). Nor do we want to puff our children up about how great they are (really, self-esteem, high or low, is just another term for sinful pride because it is so self centered). So how are we to parent instead?

It’s all about the heart. Our starting place has to be our children’s need for a Savior. We need to shepherd them to see their own depravity (yes, original sin), their inability to reform themselves, and their only hope — Jesus Christ.

We need to show them that they are beings under authority (God’s, and by His delegation for a time, ours as parents). We need to teach them how to think biblically and apply God’s Word to the everyday situations of life (bullies, family life, difficult teachers, work ethic, giving, everything).

It is a monumental task, so much more than changing diapers and taking them to baseball practice and making sure they get good grades. Our goal as Christian parents is no less than to evangelize and nurture our children to know God.

I really liked how Tripp talks about the goals of parenting and takes the time to examine common goals we have that fall short of the real goal. Even seemingly good goals can fall short (like the trap of trying to get your children saved — sounds good, but it really just boils down to manipulation and placing the child in situations where a “crisis moment” of decision is pushed upon them).

My husband listens to a pastor in Arizona, Tom Schrader, who bottom-lines the real goal like this: to make our children independent of us and dependent on God. That’s it. I think Schrader and Tripp are on the same page here. Interwoven into all our instruction should be the gospel, which promises not just forgiveness of sin but also the power for internal transformation.

Communication is key. Proverbs is a wonderful Scriptural example of a father exhorting, instructing, and even pleading with his son. It was very helpful how Tripp approaches the problem of helping your children understand their own hearts. Asking “why” questions rarely works; children do not usually possess the self awareness and perception to diagnose their own problem.

It is better to ask open-ended questions (“what did you want when you hit your sister? how did you feel when such-and-such happened? what did we talk about last week when this happened?”). The goal is to lead the child to understand the selfish impulses that are ruling his heart when he sins, and to call him to obedience both to the parent and to God.

Yes, this book promotes the use of the rod. Spanking is not a popular method of discipline in our secular culture, but it is absolutely essential to faithful Christian parenting. I appreciated how Tripp talks a lot about how and how not to spank — never in anger, and always in the context of rich communication, before, during, and after the punishment.

No, this isn’t a legalistic list of prescriptions for physical discipline (use an implement or your hand? spank pants on or off? how many spanks for what level of wrongdoing?). All those things fall within our Christian liberty; Scripture does not proscribe a specific method. What it does teach is that parents who love their children discipline them according to God’s direction in His Word.

I loved the examples of good and bad parenting that Tripp scatters throughout, like the relative who was upset that a father and son emerged from a spanking holding hands and on the best of terms. The relative thought the spanking was ineffective because the child wasn’t angry and estranged from the father.

She really missed the point; physical discipline is not about revenge, but reconciliation and restoration. When the child transgresses a parental directive, he/she is stepping outside the “circle of blessing” that God promises to those who are obedient (of any age, not just children).

Spanking the child helps him/her see the seriousness of the sin and, when couched in godly instruction, helps to restore that child back into the blessing of obedience. The child we lay across our knee to spank must be picked up and held close the very next minute.

We discipline our children with the rod precisely because we love them (Proverbs 19:18). This is pretty radical stuff from the world’s perspective, but it should be second nature to those seeking to parent according to God’s will as revealed in the Bible.

Oh, there is so much else I could say. As I sit here in bed, laptop balanced precariously against the firm beach ball that is my belly, with hard little legs and arms that occasionally protrude to contort its smooth roundness, I think of how much love and joy and sadness our son represents to me.

How much time and investment and cost and reward. I think of all the things I’m so sure of, and all the things I am planning to figure out when the time comes. I think of what he’ll be like and what struggles he will face, and how I already feel so insufficient to shepherd this little boy when he and I have the same sin problem.

God’s Word would be enough in all this, but I am thankful that Scripture itself testifies to the importance of the Bible being taught and explained and made practical by faithful teachers and preachers like Tedd Tripp. I’m so thankful my husband and I have been exposed to this rich distillation of Scriptural principles — and for grace as we seek to put them into practice. (  )

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