Roadmaps Toward a Pure Heart
a living room conversation, sparked in another city, and later transcribed here...
Question: My son wants to play guitar. He’s been taking lessons and there have been a lot of frustrations. He has encountered a lot of things that are really Kingdom parables, analogies in and of themselves, and I’m trying to highlight those things. What kind of practical advice do you have for the adults or for the children as far as helping the children not to let their affections fall on those things? For example… We play basketball together. How do we really keep that as something that is on target—a pure heart, out of a sincere faith, having no defiled conscience? Is it the same thing as with business? We “work with all our heart,” but do not GIVE our hearts to it?
It is, but I would add another thought along those lines that I think is very practical. It goes back to a teaching of Jesus (quoting Isaiah) that is very dear to our hearts and yet still can threaten to be a major trap for us. The traditions of men nullify the Word of God. A tradition is anything that is so repetitive that there is an expectation built in. A tradition doesn’t have to just be things such as burning incense, sprinkling holy water, genuflecting or having icons on the wall. A tradition is, “I always put on my left shoe before I put on my right shoe, and if I can’t find my shoes in my closet in that order, then I’m upset about it.” Or, “I always get up at this time.” or “I always go here, I always do this...”
There was a season of time in my life where I went for maybe two and a half years without missing a day of running. I can look back and remember it being eleven o’clock at night and it didn’t matter how late it was, I just had to get that run in. Even if I had been on the road traveling all day, I would still get out on the interstate, leave a car full of people parked on the shoulder of the interstate, and run two miles down the road and two miles back before getting back behind the wheel to drive some more. I did all that so that I didn’t miss a day of running. There was something good about the discipline of that, and you can admire that in one respect, but looking back on it, I see it differently. For one thing, I can say there was enough of an obsession in it that I found identity in it. And secondly, I was willing to somehow inconvenience other people in it. And thirdly, if I wasn’t getting it my way, in my time, I was nervous about it. Perhaps I had the self-control to appear to be spiritual, but it was like fingernails on a chalkboard inside my heart—“I gotta do this, I gotta do this.” It had part of my heart. That was a tradition of men.
If you have a tradition of the route you drive to work in the morning, it might be that one day you miss being the first one on the scene of a major car crash because you won’t ever go three blocks out of your way because you won’t listen to God. You would have been the first one on the scene and could have been there to talk to them about Jesus before they died. But “Nooooooo, I always drive this way. It’s eighteen seconds faster, so I do it my way.” You are not listening to God. This tradition nullifies the voice of God. You can’t hear God anymore because you are so patterned and ingrained in a comfortable way or the “best” way to do something. That is a tradition of men that nullifies the Word of God.
God Is GOD, You Are Not
Now getting back to the question concerning our children...Something we have to do with our children, and ourselves, is not let the things of the world possess them. Somehow we have to teach our children that there is nothing sacred in life except God Himself. There are no “givens.” There are absolutely no givens in their schedule, no givens in the things they own or don’t own—there are no givens in anything! “Oh, I’ve got to have my guitar lessons.” “Oh, do you?! Do you have to have your guitar lessons?! I don’t think so.” When I hear that I think of that Quickdraw McGraw cartoon where he dresses up and “kabongs” his friends on the head with the guitar. “Sooo, You have to have your guitar lessons, do you?” KABONG!! : ) We need to be enough like God in that respect, who is very much like that, to stop our children in their tracks when necessary. They must know that there are no absolutes. There is nothing they automatically get to do. There is nothing they can find their identity in except for God and they must have a loose grip on everything—a VERY loose grip. If we don’t teach them that principle by making them sit in the bleachers sometimes instead of getting to be out on the floor in their uniform, then we have totally misled them about the character of God. And they will make all the mistakes we have made, and then some, because we have mis-taught them. We have misrepresented God to them.
God does not let us control our environment like that. If we are paying any attention to GOD at all, then you realize that you can’t buy a house just because you want to, you can’t hold a job just because you think you are good enough, and you can’t build a relationship just because you think you are cute and cuddly enough. You can’t do anything on your own, and you know that if you are close to God at all. If you don’t know that, you are a fool, and you will find out sooner, or later. You need to know that God is not your co-pilot. It’s not like that. God is GOD and you are not! You are very small. It just needs to be very ingrained in us that we are prostrate before Him in our spirits—physically at times as well, but always in our spirit. We are prostrate—blessed are the poor in spirit—theirs is the kingdom. That is something we can do with our children. We can make sure they don’t control anything. We can watch for the things that are very important to them. If they find their identity in something that they always do and always have to do, then we need to help them adjust their thinking in that. If they are upset because they cannot have or do what they want, then we need to help them.
What upsets a person? That’s where that “pure in heart” thing comes from, right? Is your child upset because he doesn’t get to play in a basketball game? Does that upset him because he has to sit on the bench or in the bleachers? Because he doesn’t get to go to the coin toss because he was displaced as captain? Does that upset him (or her)? Does that stir their heart? Well, they are in real trouble then when someone else gets a promotion ahead of them at work for political reasons or something happens that they don’t like in the realm of relationship or school or a hundred other things you could think of.
We have mis-trained them because we have let the traditions of men nullify the Word of God. Something they expected and owned has taken a piece of their heart. They are not pure in heart, and it is our fault because we let them invest their heart and own something by our lack of discernment and our false love—which is really for our own ego.
Do you know why I am too soft sometimes? Because of my own ego. I want people to like me. I want my children to like me. So it was for my own sake that I didn’t really want to discipline my son, because I didn’t want to break his heart, which would break my heart. I didn’t want to interfere with what has been an exceptionally wonderful relationship the last couple of years. I didn’t want to impede that, but in the process I was denying God. I was denying the true definition of love, I was breaking the Word of God, and I was breaking covenant with God. I was violating all kinds of things in the Spirit with a false love and a false mercy.
The best thing I can do for my children is to teach them not to be a slave to what we will call the traditions of men. We must not mis-teach them the character and nature of God in the unseen realm. If I am not clear in my own thinking about how I raise my son, then I’m going to let him wander away from love. I’m going to let him wander away from life that is truly life. All the busyness with that stuff (guitar lessons, basketball games, art class) is not the issue. The issue is how much we let our hearts or their hearts be attached to it by allowing the traditions of men to root themselves in. The expectations and demands and all the things that “I’m supposed to be able to do” is deadly to their hearts. “I’m supposed to be able to drive around with my friends.” Whatever the thing is—it’s deadly. It’s poisonous. You cannot read them enough bible verses at bedtime to overcome how much of their hearts they have given away because we have let them do that by mis-teaching them. You can sing songs fourteen hours a day, but if you let them give away their hearts and let them be attached to and shaken by things that are of the earth then you are hurting them.
Our children will come out with little remarks that are very clearly portraying what they are beginning to invest themselves in, and if we let that stuff slide by, then they will destroy themselves and rot away their life with God and never experience Him. All they will have is religion. They will want to have a “ministry,” they will want to “do good things for God,” they will want to “witness,” yet they will never have God and the love of God in them and through them because they have given away that piece of their heart. They have given away that piece of their conscience, and entropy has taken over.
Be A Good Leader
We must make sure by our leadership that we do not allow the traditions of men and expectations to control our children so that they become shaken just because they can’t have a certain thing. We need to watch for every area in their lives and in one another’s lives where we are shaken if we don’t get something we think we have to have. “Gotta have my cup of coffee in the morning.” Nothing against coffee, but if someone’s “gotta have their cup of coffee in the morning,” then it’s an idol. It has displaced God, their heart is impure, and they have wandered away from love and life that is truly love and truly life. If there is something other than God’s Word and God’s promises that we are holding on to—if we don’t get it we are disappointed, or brokenhearted, or frustrated, or nervous, or depressed—then we have displaced God by giving away even the smallest part of our heart.
Question: Are you saying that you pretty much have to test to find out where their heart is?
It is true that God will provide opportunities for us to see those things in our lives or in our children’s lives. If you begin to smell a rat you can say, “Let’s not do that. What do you think about that? This week let’s not do that,” and then sit back and see what happens. Or talk them through it. The wrong impression that maybe someone could have is that if you do something more than twice a week that all of a sudden it is grabbing your heart. Even in the case of basketball, the question is if you are doing it every day, is it capturing your heart as you are training and working hard at being good at it? Whether it be golf, basketball, business or whatever—If you are really working towards being very good at it, ask yourself if it is capturing your heart? It’s something to be very watchful of. The more a person does something, the more likely it is that it will grab their heart. We have known men who are absolutely terrible at golf and it grabs their heart. Then there are men that are pretty good at golf and it has nothing of their heart. It’s not so much the quality of play or the quantity of play as it is the heart issues. I don’t want to say, “Well, I ought to be able to do this all the time because it doesn’t have my heart.” Well, that can just be an excuse too, when it really does have your heart. It’s something really to watch carefully.
Build Right—Right From The Start
We also need to be careful that we take the time to really BUILD God’s Ways and Principles into their hearts. When my son started playing baseball, I made a couple of things very clear to him. I made sure that he understood that a game must not have his heart and that Jesus and His Kingdom must always be first. I told him that I must have complete obedience and immediate response at all times. Before he ever played his first ball game, we had a very clear conversation about how the whole thing was going to look. “It’s the bottom of the last inning of the game… your team has two outs and is down by just one run… YOU are on third base and YOU are the winning run just waiting to be batted in by your team’s best hitter who is stepping up to bat… NOW, if I make a sign to you that says we need to go, you must walk straight across the pitcher’s mound to the bleachers where I am and we are leaving! If there is a kingdom reason to do something else, your heart must not be so into the game that you cannot just walk away with me. Your heart must never be so entangled with it all that you would ever say, ‘C’mon Dad! Could we wait, can we please wait just one more minute…?’ I expect immediate response. ‘On earth as it is in heaven.’ The same way Gabriel and Michael and the angels respond to God, that’s how quick I want you to respond to me. And if you are not prepared to do that then we are not going to do this game. If you won’t make your vow to me before heaven and earth that that is how you are going to handle this in your heart, then we are not going into it at all. That’s the only term, the only ground we are going to build on. If you don’t think you are strong enough for that, then let’s not do it. I’m not into being irresponsible by having you come off third base for no reason—especially when you are the winning run. : ) BUT, if there is a reason, and there very well could be, then I don’t expect any argument—no whining, no discouragement, no embarrassment. Your eyes have to be on God, and if you can’t build that way, then we are not going to do this thing. Okay?”
That sort of conversation is a good way to start the process, whether it’s guitar or basketball or whatever. We need to make sure we are building with that in view before we even begin. And that’s our agreement right off the bat, not something we try to work in later on. If we have to work it in later on because we were blind when we started and didn’t help them and lead them in that way—well, fine, we will add it later on. But now that we all have enough insight to do that in advance, we should! It will make it easier for them, instead of making it unnecessarily hard later on when the tests come.
God will provide the tests, to be sure. But frequency or skill, none of that automatically means that your heart is “off.” I will never forget Tom and Lynn’s baptisms, because I was on the eleventh fairway at the golf course at something like three under par when I got a call on my cellular telephone. That was a test. Those things are a test of where our hearts are. What does it really mean? If I had been twelve over par—“Hey! Let’s go! Let’s get out of here.” But I think God set me up to test me. God provides many tests to make sure we don’t get off track. It wasn’t like it was automatically easy, but those are the things we have to do to refine our own hearts and help each other do the same.
Question: Is that the only value in things like guitar, basketball, and golf? Is the value in letting the children pursue these things wrapped up in us encouraging them to really do it well, and for God? Is the true value found in the character that develops, the kingdom principles they learn, and the opportunities for their hearts to be refined?
Well, that’s a load right there, isn’t it?! There are a ton of valuable things to be gained within these areas, but as an end in themselves, there is absolutely nothing of eternal value. The process of being engaged in something provides a very valuable window into their hearts and souls. “Will I have the self-discipline to approach this properly rather than be sloppy or lazy about it? Will I respond well when things don’t go the way I want them to?” These things provide a window into the soul. They allow a process of character building and discipline. There are relationships and opportunities that it opens up with other people. There is a window into God’s soul and, therefore, an opportunity to see something about who God is in this process of learning what “music” or “competition” even is. There are a ton of possible valuable things in it, but as an end in itself, there is obviously nothing.
We shouldn’t let any of us or our children view it as an end in itself. Why do other people involve themselves in these things? Who cares! Here’s why we are going to do it or why we are not going to do it. There are at least four or five major, major reasons that a variety of those kinds of things are very healthy to do. They are not to be pushed aside as meaningless, unspiritual rubbish, but for the right reasons those are incredibly meaningful things. It’s just that we can’t lose our way and mis-focus in the process. We can’t fall in love with the world and the things of the world and lose God in the process.
Question: What about in the case of children that aren’t very active? There are some children who really don’t want to get involved in anything, be it guitar or any kind of activities. Do you really push for that? Do you encourage that and try to get them involved?
If it is a weak spot for them, if it is a character thing—they do need help and a push out of themselves and into activities. Something that some brothers are doing with some of our young men in the 6-8 year-old range is basically a boot camp of different forms of competition. Sometimes it is sitting at a table with words and numbers and sometimes it is out in a field with a rope playing tug of war. We are especially watchful of the ones that don’t have the heart for the battle yet. We say, “Push, push, push,” just trying to help them see what it means to develop an attitude of fighting the good fight, running the race to WIN—not just to survive. If it is not already natural to them, they need to learn some basic principles of entering the Kingdom by force. If it is natural, there are some things to repent of about it, and if it is not natural, there are some things to be built into them. We look for weak spots, areas of blindness, areas of lack of engagement or involvement. We look for passivity in this area or that. If they are lacking something that is in God’s character, then we want them to have that.
When children are about six it is a great time to start. Maybe it’s violin or a sport that they don’t even necessarily like, but so what? There is a place for it. Whether they like it or not, there is a place for that discipline and learning. There is a place for being under authority and for the time management...there is a place for all that. Not just in the business sense of “time management” and “self-discipline,” but just to say, “I will buffet my body. I will make myself do something because someone who is important to me, that I love, that has authority over me has asked me to do it. That is my motivation.” That is sufficient motivation. This should be done without any whining or undesirable attitudes.
I was in South Carolina on a trip with some brothers, when I had something like a dream or a vision. I can remember pictures in my mind, but I don’t remember what form they came in. I talked to maybe 10 brothers at dinner about it that night. In this sleepy, sleepy dream or vision of some sort, there was a garden and a variety of plants. I remember having very little interest in it.
BUT, something very serious happened inside of me. At some point I shifted to where I had a great deal of intense interest in this garden, and these plants. I then poured myself into cultivating and caring for the plants, and learning everything I could about it all. Then, at some point someone asked me, ‘Why do you care so much?’ And the answer that I had for them was, ‘Because the One who died cares so much. It is my obligation to have the same heart for it that He does.’
I wept when it happened. I couldn’t stop. I feel the tears behind my eyes as I am retelling it now. I remember tearing up at the table at dinner in South Carolina. Some of the brothers will remember this. I felt very strong emotions and reconfirmed convictions for my life at the time of this dream—and I’ve tried to live my life that way ever since. “Hey, I couldn’t care less about this plant. This gardening thing is a pain. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know that I care anything about it—maybe it’s not really my problem. After all, what can I do? They’re not my plants, and I don’t like plants all that much (it’s not my ‘thing’). I don’t know what to do anyway.” Somehow, though, I had to turn my mind and efforts around. It was essential that I get my emotions involved in taking responsibility for making that garden lush and fruitful and safe. Why? Because the one who died and left this small plant and this garden to me as an inheritance—HE CARES. HE CARES. HE CARES. This is His stuff—and He has entrusted something to me—so it is not a matter of just ‘tolerating’ it. I must emotionally care as much as He cares, and pay whatever price He has paid or would pay! And His Plant, His Garden is surely not to be neglected or forgotten, while my affections or busyness are elsewhere.
Beyond all of that, the goal of this commandment is love, springing forth from a pure heart. A pure heart is to have the same affection for the object of His Love that He does, untainted and undiluted by ‘self’ interests and agendas.
So, I poured myself into it. I just sobbed over these plants and loved on these plants. In myself, I thought these plants were stupid and worthless and had no particular value. And even if they would have had value and had been delicious green vegetables, I would have never eaten them. You know me. : ) It had absolutely nothing to do with me—no personal desirability at all. Yet, I made my heart to feel the same tears, the same joy, and the same love over this garden that the one who entrusted it to me had.
Beyond question, this picture, which was and is so dramatic for me, describes what has and must define my life for Him. I must lay down my life and my emotions for individuals that He chooses for me in this way—and for His Bride, His visible Church: as HE defines her in Acts 2:42-47, Mat.5:14, 16:18, Heb.3:12-14, Eph.3:10 and 5:27...accepting nothing less, ever. I have made myself cultivate a love and affection in areas that perhaps didn’t start that way necessarily, or might have been squashed by pain, had I allowed it. But as I saw how He views His Plant and His Garden, I have sought to bring my heart totally into being submersed in all the same feelings that He has.
There is no greater satisfaction in the world, no greater joy in the world, than that. It seems costly on the front end, very costly. But there is tremendous value in paying the cost of loving and caring for and protecting His Plant, His Garden.
Do you know how this dream or vision relates back to the children? For instance, the violin—“I hate this thing! I can’t do it! But because it has value to YOU, the one I love and the one that has authority in my life, I will pour my whole heart into it. It will mean everything to me! Not because it has value in itself, but because it has value to you, it will mean everything to me!” That’s a pure heart. That’s what we entrust to our children. That is the heart that we call them to with a tug of war or a spelling bee or whatever it would happen to be. We call them to that intensity of a pure heart! We help them separate between what they feel like they are good at or what they feel like they like to do, and what they can do for the one who loves them and has authority in their life. We help them to the place where their passion is connected to the passion of the one that gives them life rather than to their circumstances and what they would have wanted otherwise. That’s a pure heart! A good conscience is to not violate that. A sincere faith is to see it the way God sees it and to live that way unwaveringly.
Question: What about the things that the children really WANT to do? Do you just go with that? They are six or seven years old and they think they really want to do something. As long as you can’t see a reason why they shouldn’t, do you just get in there with them and help them learn in that experience? Do you just let them do it because they want to and you know that you can use that somehow as a tool?
I wouldn’t press it so far as to say “just because they want to,” but you can fish your way around. There are going to be limitations. They are going to have four things they want to do, and realistically when you look at the load that those four things will place on you from a time, energy and expense standpoint, you can see that it is going to rob you of some vitality. It will rob you of some opportunities to sense and smell the roses of God because you are busy doing something all the time.
You are going to have to curtail some of their desires. Some of their desires you are going to be able to go along with; although even then there needs to be such a loose hold on it in their hearts. They need to be trained right from the outset to have a very loose hold on whatever the thing is. If perhaps they gain their desire, they don’t “own” it even then. It’s a blessing—it’s not their property.
You can let their desires help you navigate a little bit, but there is an overload point—which is unacceptable! Also, even when you let that navigate you a little bit, the children absolutely have to be taught clearly from a Kingdom vantage point the value of what they are doing. Why are they doing it? What should they be looking for? How should they view themselves? How should they view the authorities in their life? Their work ethic… their ability to walk across a pitching mound and right off the field in the middle of a game… they must learn to see everything the way God sees it right from the outset.
That is the way we have to build. We must make sure that they see everything all the way through from God’s perspective and that we don’t leave any leeway for other stuff. It is tempting to either ignore it because we are blind ourselves (we don’t even see it) or to think that it is “merciful” and “kind” and “loving” to just overlook it and give them a little pat on the shoulder. “Well, now, now, now...It’s Okay, baby.”
Don’t Misrepresent God
We have a lot of opportunities to mislead them and misrepresent God. These are the only windows we have. They are getting a little older, and the next thing you know—it’s over with essentially. If they make bad choices and start moving the wrong direction, there is very little we can do once the momentum starts going that way. These are the years where we need to make sure that we are very sensitive to the small things and help them build in the right way with what things we do give them to do. We need to view it that way. It is not what things they are running us around with, it is what things we are giving them to do. We are managing their assets for them. We are giving them things to do. And if we don’t view it that way and we let them run us around while we try to drive from the back seat, then we are making a mistake that they will regret and we will regret for a long time.
You were asking about things that they want to do. I know with my son there are things he wants to do and I might let him do those things. But then there are also things that maybe he wouldn’t have thought of to do himself, and I have him do those things as well. With things that they want to do, what will often come into play is that they are looking at it through rose-colored glasses. Once they actually get into it and find out that maybe pursuing the thing was a little more costly than they thought it was, at least you can refer back and say, “Remember, you wanted to do this.” And hold them to it and don’t just let them quit when it starts becoming tough. But you can at least use the fact that they said they wanted to do it. When it is something they didn’t want to do, you can’t bring that back to their attention because it was your idea that they do this. But when it is their idea, and it starts getting costly and they want to quit—then you have an opportunity on your hands. And it will be costly. Anything that is worth anything will be costly. They probably will be tempted to bail out of it, and we shouldn’t have the carnal sympathy to let them start and stop things depending on how they feel about it on any given day. Help them have the discipline of following through on something even if it proves to be a little more costly than they thought it was going to be when they first got into it.
It seems like they will enjoy whatever they are good at. They will start off with great intentions, whether it be golf or whatever. And if they are naturally good at it right off the bat, then they like it, enjoy it, and they will want to keep doing it. If they are not good at it—“Well, I don’t like golf.”
They need to have a heart for the battle as it relates to work ethic. This comes up constantly. When someone is not good at something they immediately don’t want to do it. For some it is reading; for others it may be sports. They won’t tell you they are not good at it, but you know that’s the reason they don’t like it. “I don’t like this. This is a waste of time, a waste of money. Why does anyone like this?” Teaching them to have a good work ethic becomes a vital lesson in a situation like this.
How do you address it?
I think you know. When you see that, those are the kind of things you talk about. You try to get at the heart of the matter. “Why is it you really don’t like this? Are you embarrassed? Is it because people are watching you and you feel like you are failing and you have your ego in it? You understand these things are things that break God’s heart. We can’t be driven in any way by our egos or by fear of men or anything like that. Do you sense these things in your own heart?” The process of sensitizing each other and our children to the things of the heart is what gives us the capacity to hear God, respond to God, obey God, and repent if we can’t see it. If it is invisible to us because we are dazed and insensitive, then we are just going to go through life with the priorities of men and waste our lives.
Just the process of talking about it HELPS THEM. Sensitizing each other to the mysteries and the issues of the heart and calling each other to let God be the standard rather than the way men think, has a ton of value. Just the conversation itself is 90% of the solution. Of course, the children do have to provide the heart to change and to evaluate things God’s way. They do have to choose God’s way over man’s way. They have to bring that to the table, but our part is to help sensitize them to the issues of the heart that most people are too dull to ever see. They spend their whole lives building the wrong way and they never see it.
We can help them. We can lead them. We can make a difference in their lives. Don’t let time slip away. We can do it through our wonderful Lord, JESUS!