Have you wondered how to effectively lead your child to Jesus when you’re spending all your energy on simply raising them? Discipleship (guiding our kids along their spiritual journey) is a big responsibility but it doesn’t have to be complicated. We are qualified for the task. Here’s how we’re approaching this sacred aspect of parenting. . .
I can’t tell you the exact date I asked Jesus to be King of my heart. I’m sure it was some time before age 7 or 8. We went to an evangelical church and salvation was kind of a big deal. So even after I initially accepted Jesus, I prayed that prayer again, several times in the years that followed, just to be sure. I prayed it as an excited church camper, a confused, shame-ridden teen, and finally as a zealous college student.
I know now that Jesus was always present within my heart, even before I asked him to rule it and he remained as I stumbled through adolescence figuring out how to develop a faith of my own.
He was always with me and never required a continual invitation to my heart, though I know he longed for ongoing life-transformation – the gift he offers that very first moment we make a decision to follow him and every day of our lives until we take our last breath.
Although I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on a moment or rush my first child into her relationship with Jesus, I have to admit I was anxious as I awaited the day my daughter would decide to make Jesus King of her own heart. Bedtime has always been our most precious time of day – laying together, reading a book or children’s Bible and talking about life, family and often, about Jesus. I regularly told her,
“Sweetie, we’ve been learning a lot about Jesus. When you feel ready to ask him to come and live in your heart, I’d love to pray with you. There is no rush, and if you have questions about making a decision to follow Jesus, I’d love to talk about it.”
Usually, she’d look at me with her overwhelmed, preschool eyes and I’d know she wasn’t quite there yet. I continued to pray and ask Jesus to move in her heart to make a decision to follow him in God’s perfect timing. I’ll never forget that first night she finally responded with a yes.
“I’m ready to do that, mom.” she said.
“Do what, sweetie?” I asked to be sure.
“I’m ready to ask Jesus to come live in my heart.”
I tried to temper my excitement. After all, I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on the moment but rather on her desire to become a friend of Jesus. I asked her to wait while I ran downstairs to grab her dad. I knew he’d want to be a part of this important moment.
When I returned a minute later, she was sobbing.
“What happened?” I asked. To which she responded,
“I hit my lip with the Bible and now it’s bleeding.”
My husband and I tried to hold in our laughter as we gathered around and comforted our girl. Needless to say, she didn’t pray the “sinner’s prayer’ that night. It was several months later that we had the privilege of leading her in a prayer of salvation. Although I did record the date, this story reminds me that it’s not only about the moment our child prays that prayer of surrender.
The spiritual journey of our children begins at home with our ongoing guidance of their growth until one day they have a foundation on which to build their own faith.
So then what do we call it and how do we lead our children to make a decision to follow Jesus?
Pastors, churches and parents often use these common phrases when referring to the process or moment of making a decision to follow Jesus. . .
- asking Jesus to come into (or live in) your heart
- inviting Jesus to be King of your heart
- making a decision
- praying the sinner’s prayer
- accepting Jesus
Since my own childhood and even since that night my first-born made her decision to follow Jesus, I’ve wrestled with the theology hidden beneath each one of these phrases.
I absolutely, without a doubt believe that we need a savior and that Jesus is the One who saves us.
I also believe that we must make a decision to accept his gift of grace, not just the first time we acknowledge it, but again, every single day of our lives. But unlike the fear-driven prayers of my youth, I do not believe this requires us to officially rededicate our life to Jesus each and every time we mess up.
Why am I digging into a theological discussion surrounding the topic of salvation and kids?
When I decided to write a post that addresses this important moment to hopefully help other parents as they guide the faith journey of their children, I found myself overwhelmed and confused as the stories of my childhood collided with the growth and transformation that has happened in my life over the years. I can’t simply repeat or recommend the same speech I heard time and time again as a kid that often left me scared straight.
So I’ve been rewriting the salvation script for our kids and I’m finding it’s not much of a script at all but rather an ongoing, open, honest and organic conversation that can take place at any moment of the day, in any room in our home or anywhere (for that matter).
I started rewriting before we prayed with my daughter that night several years ago and I’m continuing to edit as I learn more about what my children need and look forward to the day we pray that special prayer with my son.
Along the way I’ve taken notes on the essential truths we must convey to our children as they learn about Jesus and (hopefully) make a decision to be his follower. My prayer is that these truths would become a part of our family story and be so comforting, so empowering and so obvious that my children would naturally surrender to Jesus as the author of their lives.
Essential truths to communicate as you lead your child to Jesus:
- We are known and loved by God even before we are born.
- He is always present, from the very beginning, covering us with his love.
- When we begin to understand and can make a conscious decision, praying a prayer of salvation is an act of accepting God’s free gift of grace and forgiveness and choosing to live a life that honors him.
- We cannot live a life that is honoring to God in our own strength. He helps us every moment of every day and offers forgiveness each time we miss the mark.
- God doesn’t require or expect our perfection. He desires to see our lives transformed, or changed, which is an ongoing process that continues as we follow Jesus.
- Our decision to follow Jesus is not only about guaranteeing our everlasting life. It’s about following Jesus so that he may write the story of our lives; for our growth and his glory.
Through your experience and your church community, I pray you’ll develop your own essentials and the language you need to guide your child to be a follower of Christ. Some call it a “plan of salvation” with specific talking points, illustrations and maps. Others take a more organic approach, as we have. No matter the method, the goal is the same; our children being led into relationship with Jesus.
This morning I smiled as I watched my girl fully engaged in worship during kids church. It’s been three years since the night we prayed that special prayer. I often refer back to that moment to remind her of the decision she made to follow Jesus. Her inability to recall it has nothing to do with her dedication but rather her rapidly developing brain that takes in so much new information each and every day. It’s part of my job as her shepherd, to keep stones of remembrance of her spiritual journey until one day she connects the dots of the road she’s traveled and, together with her Savior, charts a course for her future.
Not sure where to start in guiding your children in their relationship with Jesus? We’ve created six, simple Gospel checkpoints you can use along the discipleship journey of your family. Consider following The Gospel for Kids, a kid-friendly presentation of God’s love and rescue plan.
Have you had the privilege of guiding your child to make a decision to follow Jesus? What insight can you offer other parents leading their children?