In Psalm 139:23-34, David asks God to search his heart and show him if there was anything offensive lurking inside there.
Self-examination is a discipline of the Christian faith. But often this discipline is overlooked, covered up by the overwhelming grace of God.
Yes, God is gracious. Yes, my sins are forgiven. Yes, Jesus paid for them all.
But these truths do not absolve me from the practice of self-examination. The decision to become a believer is not an event. It is the beginning of a journey. A journey that is walked out with Jesus at your side, with a heart desire to become more and more like Him along the way.
This side of heaven, we will never achieve a full representation of that likeness, but with the help of the Spirit, self-examination of our heart can facilitate partial transformation.
If your children have made a decision to follow Jesus, they have started on this journey with Jesus. And there are things you can do that will enable them to look at their hearts through Jesus’ eyes. These are eyes filled with compassion, truth and challenge to turn from our old ways and embrace the new.
Ways to Help Kids Examine Their Hearts
1) Memorize Bible verses with your children
The Bible is a double edged sword, that can help us discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). This means that the Bible has the ability to cut through our defenses that keep us from looking at the sins that lurk in the corners of our hearts. It can become the very tool that God uses to “search us” just as David asked.
This website has a great collection of simple Bible verses from every book of the Bible (along with an piece of kid-friendly trivia about each book) that you can memorize together. You can make post-its, create songs, or recite them together at dinner. Try to memorize a new one each week.
2) Use heart language in your discipline
The Bible is very clear that what we say, do, and emote comes from our hearts (Luke 6:45). It is helpful to teach your children to consider this, even at a young age. The heart issue behind the behavior, words and feelings matters.
This is why I developed Heart of the Matter Parenting Cards. These cards help kids between the ages of 3 and 7 better understand, with pictures and simple phrases, the connection between their heart and their actions. While they may not gain a robust theological understanding from these cards, it will be laying the ground work for the practice of regular self-examination.
3) Ask good questions
Older children can benefit from questions that will help them examine their heart’s motivation. Here is an original printable that you can use with your older children to promote self-reflection. You may ask your child to reflect on these questions after a misbehavior or at a later date when they are calm and can evaluate the situation more clearly.
You can also approach heart examination from a standpoint of curiosity, not during a time of disobedience. This website has some great questions that John Wesley used for self-examination that you could use as a springboard for discussion with your older child.
4) Practice confession together
In your devotional time with your children, talk about the greatness of God’s mercy, how He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west, and that the penalty of death for our sins has been paid for by Jesus on the cross.
But also be sure to include space for confession (either shared or silently), asking God to show if there is anything that needs confession and repentance.
Click here for a family devotional on the seriousness of sin.
Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind. . .'”(Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Let’s ask the Lord shine His light into the dark corners of our hearts so it can be healed.