Thirty-three years ago in December 1989, our fifth-born child was delivered. I had some of the richest Bible studies at home with our adorable newborn son while everyone else attended the church services of that Christmas season. It was that year that I realized the importance of the book of Malachi for pondering the birth of the Christ child.
The arrival of Messiah empowers familial love.The arrival of Messiah empowers familial love. When we turn toward Christ, we are turned toward our children with love and affection. Click To Tweet
We live in a world not unlike the world into which the prophet Malachi proclaimed his message. Though Israel was back in the Promised Land after their captivity, and some Jews lived zealous religious lives, many, if not most, were increasingly secular. The laundry list of reproofs in this short book shows sins similar to our own.
Husbands divorced the wives of their youth, abandoning their responsibilities in order to marry unbelieving women. Homes were broken. Families were left unsupported.
Involvement in the mission God had given Israel to reach the wider world with the Good News of a coming Savior and a forgiving God had largely failed as the nation became insular and the leaders secular or pagan.
Financial giving was down as the people looked more to their own comfort.
Malachi addressed each of these issues with rebukes and calls for them to return to the Lord, summarizing the main points at the end:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses,” Malachi 4:4a (ESV).
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).
Then there was prophetic silence from the Lord for four hundred years.
At last Jesus Messiah – Emmanuel, “God with us” – appeared, heralded by John the Baptist, who urged repentance in the spirit and power of Elijah. And the fathers’ hearts turned, as predicted – “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
As I snuggled my newborn, love for him filling my heart, I was pinned to the text by these final words. I still am. Being a legalistic rule-keeper at that time, I thought we were responsible for turning our hearts toward our children, and in some degree that is true. But it is done by cooperating with the Lord as he changes us from the inside out. It’s the Lord who does the turning.
How does the Lord turn our hearts toward our children?
First, the Spirit of Christ in us softens our hearts and moves our emotions. When we turn toward Christ, we are turned toward our children.
They come to us tiny, adorable, needy, and demanding. The “heart” is the seat of the emotions in the language of the Old Testament and the New. The heart is where our deepest innermost feelings occur. The passage states “fathers,” probably because the fathers here were the hard-hearted instigators of divorce and abandonment, but of course the Holy Spirit moves both parents’ hearts, turning us to love our children.
Our part: Don’t resist the Holy Spirit. Allow yourself to love your children deeply and selflessly in a Christlike way. Let go of yourself. Love your children like Jesus loves you. Let the love of the Father flow through you, overcoming the selfish tendencies we all have inside us.
Second, the Lord also instructs, giving us the how-to:
All through the Old Testament, Israel had been instructed to bring their children up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. They were to talk of the Lord and his ways as they sat in the house, walked by the way, rose up, and lay down, involving the kids in a lifelong loving focus on the Lord. Loving and raising children is a 24/7/365 project.
Our part: Follow God’s instructions. Turning our hearts toward our children involves concern for their immortal souls, in obedience to Christ, not merely occupying ourselves with feeding and educating them. Their physical care is essential. Their education is crucial. Their spiritual instruction is primary. All go hand in hand. Our love and care is then used by the Lord to mature them, to turn them toward him, and to turn their hearts to love us in return.
But, what else? In Malachi’s book, the Lord urged commitment to their marriages, providing an environment conducive to feelings of love and security for the children. There are many reasons people divorce, sometimes for safety because of violence, harm, and abuse. Sometimes because of marital unfaithfulness. Malachi isn’t addressing these legitimate reasons.
Here Malachi writes of causeless abandonment. The spouse being divorced, husband or wife, did nothing wrong. It only takes one to walk away, leaving a spouse who did not want to be divorced. The divorce discussed here is frivolous divorce with no attempts at reconciliation, because the one initiating the divorce has hardened their heart and turned toward a pagan lifestyle. The selfish one leaves behind wounded and hurting victims.
If you’re the one left by an abandoning or unfaithful spouse, the Lord is on your side. Read Malachi. He is with you. He loves you. He will be a father or a mother to the children bereft of one parent or the other.
In 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 we’re told that we’re responsible to learn from the failures of those who went before us – the people of the Old Testament – and to rely on the Lord to provide us a way to escape those same sins.
Malachi discusses having a soft heart toward the Lord and toward our families. It was written down for our instruction. This applies to us as it applied to them.
What can we learn from this?
It will be difficult, otherwise God would not have used such strong words of admonition. We will have to rely on the Lord for the love and self control necessary to truly love our children, to instruct them in God’s ways, and to love our spouses.We will have to rely on the Lord for the love and self-control necessary to love our children wholeheartedly, to instruct them in God's ways, and to love our spouses. Click To Tweet
“Watch over your heart for from it flow rivers of life. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:4, 20-23 ESV).
We can’t coast through the challenge of lifelong selflessness. It will require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as he convicts and motivates us. Our obedience is essential. We can only do this by the power of God.We can't coast through the challenge of lifelong selflessness. It will require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as He convicts and motivates us. Our obedience is essential. We can only do this by the power of God. Click To Tweet
How does the arrival of Emmanuel, God with Us, and his future coming impact the turning of your heart toward your children and toward your parents?
I am a Bible Gateway Partner and Affiliate, one of many bloggers on the Blogger Grid, #bgbg2.
My blog is also available on the BG² portfolio at https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/bloggergrid/:.
My Twitter account @MelindaVInman is on the Bible Gateway Twitter List: http://bg4.me/1DNKdv2.
Excellent, Melinda, Such great teaching from a little studied book.
Thanks for going there!
Thanks for stopping by to comment, Beth. There are so many more treasures in Malachi!
I love this post, Melinda! You included so many great points about marriage and raising children. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen in my years of ministry (thankfully, not too often) where a selfish mother turns her children’s hearts against their father–leaving the father abandoned. Mother’s have a huge influence on their children. I love how you point out the importance of staying close to God. “Search me, O God, and know my heart…Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” Psalm 139:23-24.
That’s so true. And it’s heartbreaking how children are harmed by either spouse turning the children against the other through criticism. I attempted to portray that in the blogpost, though the original text in Malachi referred to the men doing that for the laws of that day left the action to men. There’s much parallel between Malachi and our time. I hope that means Jesus will return soon. Thanks for commenting, Anneliese.
Oh Melinda, you moved my heart and mind once again with your heartfelt reflections on Biblical truth. I have heard those verses from Malachi before, but never reflected so deeply upon them as now. Thank you for remembering and calling this truth out. We certainly do need more love for our children and families, but we simply cannot conjure this up by wishing it to be so. Love is from God so being filled with love comes from the Holy Spirit. May we continue to draw deep from His wells of love through the scriptures and prayer so that we have an abundant supply of love to pour out. God bless you and Merry Christmas to you and yours!
I love your emphasis on the Holy Spirit there, Melissa. You’re so right! He must do the work, for unless God turns our hearts toward loving our children and spouses, it surely will not occur with all the depth, passion, and commitment required to love for a lifetime. We are too weak and selfish, and as old age steals our vigor we need his empowerment lest we become self-protective. For me this is the constant challenge. My autoimmune disease causes me to guard my energy resources now, something I never did in the past. I get depleted very quickly now, whereas before I got sick I didn’t hit the wall until after the crisis had passed. Mentally, I have to tell myself to quit self-protecting in those crucial moments. I can recover afterward. That’s only accomplished by the grace of God. Thanks for commenting, Melissa. I cherish your insights.
Again, Melinda, you make me THINK! This is what I needed to hear today. Right now. I’m working through an issue with one of my kids and it’s exhausting. But just reading through this, I’m convicted. I can’t do it. Only God can turn my heart. Only God can lead the way. Thank you!
That’s what it usually boils down to, isn’t it! But first, if you’re like me, we try to do it in our own strength. I’m incredibly self-reliant, and even after working on this for literally decades, I still charge into the situation on my own. More quickly now, though, I hear the Holy Spirit and ask for help. Praise God! My growth is seen in that I recognize sooner and cry out for help quicker now. I also pray a lot more about situations I know I cannot change. Keep after that awareness, Stephanie. We need him far more than we ever think we do!
Beautiful. Turning our hearts to God in each moment of our lives will bring peace and comfort to us and those around us.
That’s a great take away, Melissa! When our hearts are turned toward God, it makes all the other loving much easier and intuitive.
Love your thoughts in this post and uncovering more of Malachi for us!
Thanks for stopping by, Julie!
You definitely inspired me to rediscover for myself the book of Malachi! Love your suggestions about turning our hearts to our children. As a mother of a teenager I really appreciate the insight.
Especially when raising a teenager, turning our hearts toward our children is crucial. God bless you in your mothering task, Galina!
Great Christian parental guidance in this post! And now I’m inspired to dig into Malachi for my next study, which I will carry these insights with me as I discover what additional messages God has in store for me as I read. I know every time I approach parenting with a perspective of “how would God treat me in this situation”, I am better for it. We have such a good Father!
Hello, Jamie! I think this is your first time here, so welcome! How would God treat me in this situation is the BEST way to determine how to treat others, especially while parenting. That’s a powerful strategy! It’s amazing what powerful motivation we can discover in even the “smallest” portion of Scripture, isn’t it!
Melinda, thank you! I am looking forward to re-reading Malachi and just taking all of this in. As I read your blog, I thought back to some of the difficulties I started having with my daughter and how God needed to change MY heart to get us back on track. Often we parent from a place of selfishness (how is this child affecting me) instead of really turning our hearts to our children (How can I love them). But as you mentioned our hearts need to be TOWARDS our children.
I really enjoyed that blogpost about you and your daughter. I thought you were very insightful. This post is along those lines. Since 1989, I always start my Christmas meditations with Malachi. It’s sort of like an OT summary of the prophecy of Messiah, right before his first coming is fulfilled. Now, only the second coming awaits us!
I love your writing, Melinda! Immanuel meaning God with us is my model in turning my heart to my children. God with us shows me that I must be with my children. Not lord my authority and position over them, but to labor, love, serve, teach, discipline, and understand them at their level. It takes sacrifice and humility on my part to do this. But isn’t that what it took for Jesus to give us the abundant life? Oh how we need Him to help us through His Spirit. 🙂
That’s a great response, Marcie! God with us. Us with our children. I like how you describe the attitudes and actions we’re called to show our children as we raise them and even after they’re all grown. Sacrifice and humility are the result of following in Jesus’ footsteps and living as he lived. His Spirit equips us. Good thoughts, Marcie!
Thanks for commenting! It was great to interact with you today!
For me, thinking about Jesus coming back places a focus on who I am becoming. As a parent, I should concern myself with becoming like the Lord as much as helping my kids become like the Lord. I try to lead them by example. Since Jesus will return for us one day, I want to move my own life toward him.
The trouble is, it’s hard. It’s hard to grow Christ-like, let alone lead my family to be more Christ-like. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.
By having that mindset of turning toward the Lord and setting your heart on his coming, you’re turning your heart toward your children, because inherent in turning toward the Lord is obedience and faithfulness. The Bible spells out how parents are to train, to equip, and to model faith for their children. Therefore, growing in Christ should make us better parents, if we’re faithful to rely on the Spirit, to know the Word, and to strive to obey it. It is hard, as you said, Chip. And only by relying on him can we make process and grow to become better parents and more mature believers. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!
Beautiful thoughts, Melinda. Your words about family and turning our hearts toward our children really speak to me, and you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned, I’m benefiting from your wisdom and prayerful study! Blessings!
Brianna, thanks for commenting! My children are near and dear to my heart, so the discovery of this emphasis in Malachi was one of many ways the Lord has helped me to grow as a loving mother. There’s always room to grow to be more like the Father in how we love our kids. And I’m always in need of growth. God’s Word has bottomless riches, and I hope to grow in lovingkindness all my life.
I had never read Malachi until someone recently showed me an 8 day devotional about Malachi. Then I read your post. It’s funny how the Lord gently guides us to what we need to read. Thanks for posting!
Thanks for commenting, Jessie. It is funny how the Holy Spirit works like that. At least one other writer we know was also writing about Malachi.
Deep and challenging post that caused me to ponder my relationships. I love reading Malachi and find some great wisdom in his words too. Thanks for providing a road map to follow to allow God to make our relationships the best they can be in our life.
Yvonne, thanks for stopping by. Malachi gives us the review of all that went before and sets the stage for the story. I really love beginning here! It really lays the groundwork. God bless you, sister!
Whew! This is so important Melinda. I feel such a huge responsibility with my children. Trusting God with their growth and my own is so crucial…Now, if I can just do it.
I’m like you, Brittany. I took every moment of childrearing seriously, felt such agony over my mistakes, and so hopeful over what felt like successes. Leaving it all in God’s hands is essential. As I’m growing older (60 next year), I’m beginning to comprehend more fully that I won’t always be here to pray for my children. And I’m realizing how entirely they’re in his hands. With all my successes and all my mistakes that went into their makeup, in short, they’re his. And I hope and pray he brings them all ever nearer to him throughout their lives. You have such a good heart, sister! Thank you for stopping by!
Such great verses! I had to tweet 2x 😀
Yes, orientation towards Christ turns us towards our families in the right ways.
How does Christ’s coming & return impact how I turn to my kids and family?
Well, for one thing, I love having a baby this time of year. It makes the story of baby Jesus feel nearer – how humbly he came.
And to me, Jesus brought us the example for love, mercy, humility, and so much more. He showed us how to love our children deeper, to have mercy on them, to be humble even around those more lowly than us. It’s just a whole ‘nother way to think about leadership / shepherding imo. Gone is lording it over others… dead is the self-serving ego. It’s beautiful.
That’s a great addition to the discussion, Christina! I think the baby-in-arms factor is what made the passage jump out at me on that Sunday morning so long ago. We learn so much about God the Father when we become parents. We find selflessness we didn’t know we had. We can relate in a small way to his passion for his children, even to the point of death. Good point! Thanks fo much for commenting so thoughtfully!
This was a great reminder of the importance of loving our children – and not less, to let go of ourselves.
I believe you are; this is a complex matter, and all the dots go hand in hand.
Thanks for stopping by to comment, Edna! Turning our hearts toward God and toward our children is indeed a complex matter. I so, agree.
This is great, and I love the part of how God does the turning, not us. Thank you, Melinda!
That’s the best part, isn’t it, Jessica! In our brokenness, we often can’t even conjure that up. But the Lord is with us and in us, doing the work. God bless you, sister!
Don’t resist the Holy Spirit. I think that is such a critical aspect of faith that we can easily stray from, sometimes without even realizing it. Thank you for these calls to action and the encouragement for each one!
I believe you’re right, Emily. We get ourselves in a world of trouble when we resist him. Yet, we often do. Thanks for commenting.
Hi Melinda. This is such a great message for us to take to heart as we prepare to spend time with family and dysfunction. How significant Malachi is today. Thank you for writing and sharing this. (BTW, one of my sons and I are both born in December, and my soon was Baby Jesus in our church musical 10 days after his birth.)
That’s one blessing of having a baby in December. You may end up providing the baby Jesus star of the performance. Happy birthday to you and your son, Stephen! God bless you and yours this holiday!
This post inspired me to spend some time in Malachi! I have read it but it has been a while. Looks like perfect Christmas reading, just in time for all the family events. Thank you!
Thanks for stopping by to comment, Michelle. It’s a great book for our culture today. We’re not so very different.
It’s been a while, my blogger friend! Ahhh… you do have a way with words. I love how you express yourself! These things – issues of the heart – are paramount to the life of a Christian. Keeping our hearts soft, trusting our Lord and not relying too much on “over-thinking it,” is are key. Bless you and your Christmas season with family & friends!
Thank you for your kind words, Lisa. Keeping our hearts soft and trusting our Lord certainly prevents us from overthinking. We know we have a Savior Whom we can place all our confidence in, and to Whom we can commit our children, knowing He will pursue them, will watch over them, and will help us to parent them to the best of our abilities.
Melinda, this is so sweet and humbling. And how beautiful for this advent season as a reminder to turn our hearts toward our children. I love how you note the spiritual care of our children is primary. And a soft heart toward the Lord and our family. How sad when we get involved in ministry to others and forget those under our roof and those closest to our heart.
I agree with you 100%. When the Jews had returned from their captivity, Malachi had to speak to many issues in their lives, and this was one of them, the turning of their parental hearts to their children again.