Turning Hearts

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Ministry:  the Holy Spirit

Turning Hearts: the Invisible, Inevitable Ministry of the Holy Spirit

I have a very close relative who was unable to have her own children. She has had years of trouble with a strong-minded adopted daughter. Far beyond the call of even a birth mother, she
has sacrificed and built her life around her adopted daughter. The heartache she has known is truly off the charts — anyone’s charts. In a phone conversation last week I told her about the last two verses in the Old Testament,

Malachi 4:5-6: He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

I told her this was had been my prayer for her and for her daughter for quite some time.

I pledged myself to pray that the Holy Spirit would turn the heart of this young woman to her mother. In many years of frustration, nothing else has worked.

As I thought about this promise and its strategic location as the last words in the Old Testament canon, I realized what a powerful promise it really is. Reading in sequence we jump from Malachi’s prophesy to the ministry of John the Baptist telling whoever would listen to “prepare the way of the Lord.” For 400 years the prophecy of Malachi seemed to hang in the air. The angel Gabriel told Zacharias that his son John would speak in the spirit of Elijah calling for generational unity in the family of God. (Luke 1:17) When would this great turning happen?

John came on the scene saying now was the time — Messiah was coming!

Years ago in their wonderful worship musical, Come Together! Jimmy and Carol Owens turned this passage into a song:

Turn the Hearts of the children to their parents.
Turn the hearts of the parents to their young.
Turn the hearts of us all to one another.
Turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

And it happens. Invisibly, inevitably, the turning takes place.

No trumpets blare. No high sounding cymbals clash. No timpani thunder. But something truly significant happens when we expose our hearts to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God, the Holy Spirit, adjusts the impetus and direction of our hearts. It may be only a slight adjustment, one hardly noticeable even by us, but the Lord has done a work that only He can do.

The heart is a mystery to us; it is desperately wicked and beyond our ability to know. (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV) So says the Bible and we know it to be true. Yet the heart is the essential element of true worship. Jesus cried to the crowd, “With your lips you draw near to me but your hearts are far from me!”  We all know that if we get all the music right and all the tech right but our hearts are not right, it isn’t worship that pleases God.

So we prepare our hearts, taking the advice of John the Baptist. We bring down the mountains of pride. We fill in the dangerous valleys of undeveloped theologies. We smooth out our rough, unskilled areas and straighten out our crooked places of questionable behavior because we want with all our hearts to see the glory of the Lord revealed to the people we lead in worship.

And as we do this spiritual work, the Holy Spirit turns our hearts. He turns our hearts away from lesser things to spend more time in prayer and study. He turns our hearts toward the singers and players we lead and we really do come to love them. The congregation we lead becomes precious to us. We know that we really can’t lead people in worship if we don’t love them so the Holy Spirit turns our hearts toward them.

Try as we might our hearts can only be turned by the Holy Spirit. Our faults lie deep, beyond the reach of good intentions and best efforts. But they are in ready reach of the Spirit of God. In fact, this is a ministry that is high on the Spirit’s agenda for each of us.

• Where there is strife between generations over worship music, hearts need to be turned.

• When the church has an internal focus and does little to help the hurting people in the shadow of their steeple, hearts need to turn.

• When performers are more concerned about the integrity of their art than the holiness of their hearts, the Holy Spirit wants to turn their hearts to the right.

• When the Word of God is neglected in favor of shallow sermons aimed at “itching ears,” hearts need desperately to turn.

How does the Spirit perform this ministry prophesied by Malachi? I believe it is built into the Christian disciplines. As we continually present ourselves to the Lord in prayer and Scripture day in and day out, this repeated exposure to the Word of God and the Spirit of God changes us.

• The writer to the Hebrews said the Word was a sword to divide the impulses of the heart from the call of the Spirit.

• Paul said the Spirit’s job was to conform us — turn us — to the image of Christ.

• He also said that to contemplate the glory of the Lord (that is, to spend time in worship and the Word) that His glory would change us from glory to glory.

There is no club to join, no subscription to buy, no dues to pay, no hoops to jump through — just worship God in private and in public and He is faithful to turn our hearts.

Let this be an encouraging word to you as a leader. I know sometimes it seems you are not getting anywhere. I worked at one church for 5 years. At our annual staff retreat, my goals were almost exactly the same every year! I even left one position after 9 years largely because I felt I was unable to change anything. I lost track of all the good things God was doing through our ministry. I am sure I am not the only one to use the wrong measure to judge my ministry.

Human hearts are known to lose their way

The truth is, every time we call on the name of Jesus, every time we lead a group of singers and players to prepare and present the music of His glory, every time we lead the church in a song of prayer or celebrate the Incarnation or the Resurrection — every time! — the Holy Spirit is turning hearts. The ministry of Elijah is reenacted on our platform or in our rehearsal room as we call people to worship. Fire falls from heaven to turn hearts toward God — oh not the blazing display on Mt. Carmel, but an unseen flame of the Spirit resting on each of us, warming our hearts.

So, let’s pray for it. Let’s claim it! Just because the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not seen, that doesn’t mean He isn’t at work, faithfully turning our hearts toward God and each other.

In that same phone conversation last week, my cousin told me a strange moment when her daughter came to her in tears, so sorry for all the pain she has caused. She said she wanted her mother to be proud of her and she wanted to take care of her mother the way she had cared for her. It only lasted a short while before old habits returned. But it was a sign that the invisible, inevitable work of the Spirit was happening. Her heart is beginning to turn.

Turn the Hearts of the children to their parents.
Turn the hearts of the parents to their young.
Turn the hearts of us all to one another.
Turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

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Turning Hearts

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