A lot of times when dealing with our kids we strive to correct their conduct and very often we are satisfied with that. Yet we really want to win their hearts not just their outward behavior. I think God deals that way with us as adults as well. We can change a person’s behavior sometimes without effecting how they think. We’ve all heard the little boy who was ordered to “sit down” by his father he said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.” Proverbs 23:7 has been translated in several ways, but I’m hung up on the old King James Version. It says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; But his heart is not with thee.” Getting beyond the archaic language we see that actions and external words and or actions never tell the whole story. I’m sure we’ve all experienced those times in life when we submitted to some authority; parental, legal, social, etc., while inwardly rebelling from the very principle being addressed.

Jesus was adamant on the condition of our hearts much more than he was on the external behavior patterns in our lives. His struggle with the religious leaders he frequently dismissed their legalistic obedience explaining that they have missed the great parts of “love, mercy, compassion.” All these deal with our hearts. Further I’d argue that when Jesus taught, he always addressed our consciences rather than our conduct. Think about this as it relates to raising adult children or dealing with people as a whole. If I had the choice of having an impact on a person’s behavior or on their conscience, I would definitely choose their conscience. Shaddix says this is what he prefers as well because, “The issue of conduct is specific and narrow, limited to a particular situation or circumstance. Conscience, on the other hand, is general and broad, influencing any number of varying life situations. A person’s convictions and standards—what they believe—apply to the multiplicity of issues that he or she will face along life’s path.

I’m not suggesting we need to ignore specific instructions concerning our children’s behavior, but the surely the more important issue is their heart. If we simply address conduct in specific situations, however, we only address that problem. When we address character and conscience we make Christ-like principles relevant for the current problem and allow our children to make the connection themselves with the indwelling presence of the spirit. More importantly, the instruction addresses a plethora of problems that our children will face as they move on in life. Indeed, as a conference speaker said, “raising children is heart-work.”