Have you ever considered the last words of the Old Testament—the words that completed the message they needed until the time of Christ? The last chapter of the Old Testament in our Bibles and chronologically is Malachi 4 and it is only six verses long. It is a prophecy about John the Baptist coming in the spirit of Elijah. Describing his work, the Old Testament ends with these three lines: “and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6 NKJV).
Before about 400 years of silence, God pointed His people to the one who would prepare the way and their hearts for the Messiah and an important part of this was turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. This ministry would be about the heart and would restore right family relations. God wants us as fathers to direct our hearts towards our children. The heart is important to God and as such we need to consider what is going on in the hearts of our children.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us: “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” We need to guard our hearts! It can be difficult enough for us as adults to watch over our hearts and sort through our feelings. It is even more difficult, however, for our children. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (aacap.org), the regions of a child’s brain that are responsible for instinctual behaviors like fear and aggression develop early on in a child’s life, but the frontal cortex which controls reasoning and helps us think before we act is still changing and maturing well into adulthood. Simply put, children, teens, and even young adults have not developed their full ability to make wise choices. They need help sorting out their feelings so that their hearts can stay pure. As fathers, we need to be there to help them.
In his book, Enemies of the Heart, Andy Stanley describes a list of questions he asked his children to help guard their hearts:
- “Is everything okay in your heart?”
- “Are you mad at anybody?”
- “Did anybody hurt your feelings today?”
- “Did anybody break a promise to you today?”
- “Is there anything you need to tell me?”
- “Are you worried about anything?”
I’ve taken this list and adapted and added on to it for my own children. Let’s consider the value of these questions and how they can help us keep watch over the hearts of our children.
1. Is everything okay in your heart?
This is a generic catch-all kind of a question, but it opens the door for discussion and shows that we care about what is going on inside of them—what they are thinking and what they are feeling. We ask so many questions and many of them without direct spiritual significance. “Did you brush your teeth?” “Did you do your homework?” “Did you feed the dog?” If things like these are all we ask them about, they will think that only these things really matter to us. We need to show them we care about them and their spiritual lives.
2. Are you angry about anything?
Anger has a way of rooting itself into a child’s heart. If they feel they have been wronged, they will act out and usually take it out on others. They may be angry because of what someone has done to them or just because they feel they didn’t get what they deserved. “That’s not fair” is a common phrase uttered by children. With time and teaching, we must strive to help them understand that life isn’t always fair and we are not entitled to receive what everyone else has. We must also, however, help them deal with their feelings in the moment. We need to help them diffuse their anger so that it doesn’t reside in their hearts (cf. Ephesians 4:26-27).
3. Has anyone hurt your feelings?
Our hearts can hurt long after physical hurts fade away or hurtful words are said. Children seem to have an especially difficult time dealing with this. They don’t know how to talk to the person who hurt them or they might not understand the situation. They may need a mediator. Help them to work through their feelings and work out their problems with others.
4. Has anyone broken a promise to you?
This one is especially important because you do not want to be guilty of breaking promises to your children. Children can sometimes be deeply hurt by what we see as a small matter (like a promise to get ice cream at the next McDonald’s that wasn’t fulfilled because they fell asleep). Broken promises come from Satan (cf. Matthew 5:37). A broken promises in essence is a lie and lies tear at our hearts. They make us feel like we cannot trust anyone. We need to help undo the damage done by broken promises.
5. Are you worried about anything?
Our children are constantly listening and they are listening to us. Sometimes they overhear us talking about our concerns, money, and various problems and they get magnified in their minds. Or, it may be they have a test or speech they have to give that is gnawing at their minds. To them, it seems like something that is going to make or break their lives when in all actuality it probably won’t. We need to be there to help sooth their worries and teach them what is really important (Matthew 6:31-34).
6. Is there anything you need to tell me?
Guilt and shame will destroy your child’s heart. This question gives them an opportunity to come clean and deal with it. Let them know that while they may need to make something right, you won’t punish them for anything they say. This is an opportunity to show them grace and mercy and help them do what is right.
7. Do you ever feel like giving up?
Children get discouraged. Especially, if they have made a lot of mistakes and faced the consequences. It may be that we have overly criticized them and unintentionally made them feel worthless. They need someone who is their biggest fan to lift them
We need to know what is going on in the hearts of our children, so we can help watch over their hearts. Open and honest communication is essential. Take the time to talk with your children about their hearts and do so on a regular if not daily basis.
by Jeremy Sprouse