Do you understand your children? Do you know how to interpret their behavior? Do you see and understand early warning signs of future problems?
In Hebrews 5:12–14 we read a challenge to believers to be skillful in the Word and discernment, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
The word discern speaks of judicial estimation—wisdom, insight, and accurate perspective. This ability is something we should desire in every area of life, but especially with nurturing our children. Too many parents never get beyond the surface in parenting. They only care if their kids are “staying out of trouble.” But discerning parents go deeper. They see beneath the surface and seek to understand what’s going on in the heart. Why is “deep parenting” so important?
The heart is where biblical values are formed. This is the only way to know if your child’s faith is representative of an authentic relationship with God or merely an outward, temporary show.
The heart is where questions are contemplated. Every child has questions, and when parents are out of touch, Satan is good at exploiting these questions and providing false answers. Parents who get into the heart, unearth those questions so they can provide biblical answers. “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
The heart is where real relationships are cultivated. Like the root system of a tree or healthy plant, the heart is beneath the surface. A strong relationship and authentic closeness is built face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and heart-to-heart.
The heart is where the spiritual battle is fought. The devil is going after our kids’ hearts. He wants their emotions, their beliefs, and their attitudes. If we’re going to win the spiritual battle, we must fight for the heart.
A discerning parent is constantly on a sacred pursuit of their child’s heart. Let’s examine ten keys to developing parental discernment with our children:
1. Understand God’s Word. The primary way that any of us grow in discernment is by studying the Word of God. First Peter 2:2 tells us, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The principles of God’s Word provide a foundation for all parental decision making. If you will become a discerning parent, you must become a student of God’s Word and of good parenting books that expound God’s Word.
2. Ask for God’s Wisdom. One of God’s great promises is given to us in James 1—He will give wisdom to anyone who will ask in faith. Wisdom is the ability to see the real needs and know how to respond. It is the ability to see your children as God sees them and to respond as He would.
3. Pray with and for Your Children. Nothing will help you understand where the heart is like prayer. Make it your priority to pray with them each night before bed. Sense their heart toward you, toward the Lord, and toward the challenges of life. This brief time of prayer will accomplish spiritually what weeks and weeks of human effort could never accomplish.
4. Accept and Obey the Holy Spirit’s Promptings. God gives every Christian parent an internal warning system. We can choose to accept or deny those warnings. The times I have neglected these warnings, I have eventually come to regret it. The times I have heeded them, I have always discovered something that needed parental intervention. Wise parents accept God’s internal promptings, even if they don’t fully understand them or can’t explain them.
5. Be a Team Player with Your Spouse. Think and talk about your children together with your spouse. Pray for them together. When talking together, God will give you collective insight and the wisdom to create a biblical approach to dealing with the situations your children face. When parents are a team, they heed each other’s cautions, listen to each other’s insight, and respond with unified hearts. This is a great gift to any child!
6. Spend Quantity Time with Your Children. Discernment takes study, and study takes time. Time with them will help you be able to sort through what is a normal part of their personality, what is a spiritual struggle, and what is the expression of a heart need. This time should be connected time when you are communicating—not tv or movie time, and not time shared with other friends. Try to spend one-on-one time with each child each week. You may miss some weeks, but if every week is your goal, you stand a good chance of staying on course.
7. Choose to Look Beyond the Surface. Don’t focus merely on behavior. Ask where the behavior is coming from. Consider the reasoning, the logic, and the emotions that produce the decisions and behavior of your child. Behaviors come from the heart. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
8. Respond with Biblical Principles. Target the heart and pursue the transformation of the heart. Teach and transfer biblical principles and constantly be sensitive to whether the heart is open to those principles or whether there is merely outward conformity. Always point them to the highest authority—the Heavenly Father. If you’re not sure what to say or how to say it, then get help and seek advice. At all costs, point your child to God’s truth as the answer for every life problem. Always show them how your discipline connects to God and His ultimate authority in life.
9. Respond with Appropriate Authority. A variety of behaviors requires a variety of responses. As parents, we can’t answer everything with a heavy hammer. Strong discipline should be but one of many tools in your parental toolbox. It doesn’t make sense to kill a mosquito with an atomic bomb, but many parents use the atomic bomb for everything. That’s unwise. Ask the Lord to guide your responses and to make them appropriate to the need. Sometimes our children need reproof, other times rebuke, and other times exhortation. “...reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
10. Respond with Compassion. No matter how firmly you deal with a situation, always rest your parenting on the firm foundation of compassion. This is the compassionate parenting found in Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Begin and end with compassionate nurture, even if firmness is needed in between. If your child will hug you, pray with you, or respond to you, then the heart is open. If not, then the heart is closed. Whatever you do, don’t rest until your child’s heart is open to you.
Other than the Holy Spirit, my best teacher on becoming an insightful parent has been my wife. Dana is the most discerning parent I know. God has given her a tremendous sense for our children’s needs and the direction of their hearts. It has been our constant commitment to stay united as a parenting team.
We’re still in the middle of our parenting journey, and we’re loving every moment of it. One thing is for sure—every child is uniquely special by God’s design. That uniqueness should compel us to constantly rely upon the leading of the Holy Spirit in the moment-by-moment details of parenting.
By God’s grace and power seek to become an insightful parent. Seek to get beneath the surface and reach deep into the heart. Constantly ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. He will answer, and your kids will thank you one day! I love parenting! What life work could we do of any greater value?