Jeremy Riddle was leading worship when Ellie got so lost in worship and then got really quiet and sat down for the rest of the time. Afterward, I asked her what was going on, and she asked if we could go on a 1:1 date so she could tell me. She began to tell me that during worship, Jesus said, “You and I are friends, but I want to be your best friend.” She knew Jesus was telling her there was more, and in the middle of the Winco parking lot, she accepted Jesus. Jeremy, to me, you will never be just a great worship leader. You were the man who ushered Jesus into the room and came specifically for my daughter!
I WANT TO BE YOUR BEST FRIEND
Do children need to be believers to play in the Kingdom or do they play in the Kingdom to choose Him? I think it is both. When did God speak the loudest to Saul (Paul)? When He was Jesus’ enemy #1. When did Jesus invite Matthew? When he was full of greed. When did Jesus welcome the man on the cross? When he was destined to hell. God’s most profound act of love was a free gift to those who didn’t know Him. Oh, yes, He cares for those who do not yet know Him. God speaks and interacts with unbelievers. And in doing so, it provides an encounter with the One who is worthy of it all. Encounters become the gateway in which many realize He is the One and make the choice to follow Him. This is a glorious, beautiful event because it becomes their testimony which no man can argue or deny. Our goal as parents should be to seek to provide our children with encounters with Him and the joy of playing in His Kingdom so that they experience Him. Head knowledge is religion where encounters are relationship.
Some ways to usher our children into an encounter could include: showing them a Scripture of how much Jesus cares about them (not just to correct their behavior), asking Jesus questions that pertain to their world, heart and cares, inviting Jesus into their pain, taking them to church, allowing them to stay with you during worship, sharing with them what He showed you during your quiet time, telling your own God stories, letting them dance at home with worship music, soaking (simply sitting/lying quietly generally with music on to feel His peace), asking God to help them with something (and then helping them see how He responded).
When my children were little, I had a sign on the wall that said, “Dear Jesus, thank You for ______. Would You please help me with ______”. Each day they would pray filling in the blanks. I was modeling for them how to be thankful and come to Jesus with what was important to their heart. At the end of the day, we would play the High/Low game where they would share what was the high and low of their day. Their highs would almost always reflect the very thing they asked Jesus for. One day my daughter asked Jesus to help her get a sweet treat. It felt rather insignificant to me, but hours later we were at a store, and a clerk said she made one too many ice cream cones and offered it to my daughter. I immediately reminded her of her prayer that morning. I saw my role as a dot connector. Teaching them to pray, then helping them see the way God was responding and speaking to them. Their faith grew each time leaving them hungry for more. We were building their stories with Him long before any of them made a personal decision to follow Him.
God has been highlighting my son to me for months now. Something just wasn’t quite right. I didn’t know if it was hormone issues, a heart splinter, or something else. I would cry out to God to reveal what was going on, and slowly the picture came into focus over a period of about six months – He isn’t a believer! There was a noticeable difference between him and the girls with attitude, interest in spiritual things, and even joy. God began to show me that when they were little, and we were going after hearing God’s voice, I would say to them, “Where does God live? In heaven? Out in the field? No, He lives in your heart,” but that isn’t actually 100% true. It is true that Jesus passionately loves us, and we can hear His voice and even play in His Kingdom, but each person must choose to receive Him and invite Him into their hearts. I believe the Lord allows children/us to play in the Kingdom so that we will enter the Kingdom, but playing in the Kingdom isn’t always the fruit of salvation. Matthew 7:22. I was keenly aware I could not go to my son directly and tell him, “Hey, I don’t think you are really a believer,” as that would have crushed him. I waited. I prayed. I cried out, and I waited some more. I knew God was after His heart and needed to let Him do the work. I continued being alert to His leading. It isn’t that my son didn’t know God, he did. It was that deep inside, he knew something was missing. He lives in a culture where kids are powerful, heal the sick, and hear God well. While my son was able to still participate in these things, he was keenly aware there was a space between his relationship with God. Others were modeling what he didn’t have. While it should have created hunger, instead, it created a wall of separation, and he felt exposed. It is hard to stand up against a culture and say, “Hey, I am not experiencing this!” We came home from church, and chaos broke out. I gave everyone the opportunity to enjoy some alone time. I sat in the living room asking God what was going on, and He told me to invite Hudson to sit with me. We sat face to face, and I could see the anguish in his eyes. I began to ask him about the space between him and God. A large teardrop fell, and I knew this was the moment I had prayed for. I asked for forgiveness for not clarifying when he was younger that someday he would need to make his own choice if he wanted Jesus in his heart. Such a sigh of relief validated his confusion over the months, perhaps years. I explained fully what salvation means; he was a sinner and has fallen short, Jesus died on the Cross for HIM, and Jesus longed not just to talk to him but actually reside and live inside of him. I passionately believe salvation isn’t just for the soul to enter heaven someday, but that salvation is for our mind, body, and spirit. We began to pray and ask Holy Spirit what parts of his mind, body, and soul needed healing. God had me ask if it was hard for him that his earthly father is very kind, even provides well for him, but doesn’t touch and interact with him. The tears began to pour out, and I asked, “And do you feel that way with Father God? That He is good, loves you, and provides for you, but that your heart longs for Him to touch, encounter, and embrace you?” With tears and the sweetest tenderness, Hudson became a Son!
Next time you are at the store buy a sweet treat that you know would be a big deal to your child. Sit them down and tell them you bought something just for them. Let them savor every bite and ooh and ahh over how good it tastes. When they have smacked their lips with the last morsel, lovingly joke with them, “Hey, give me back my chocolate.” Keep asking for it back until they say, “I can’t!” Validate them that they are right. The sweet treat has now gone into their body and became a part of them. There is no way to give it back. Tell them that God gave us a very sweet treat – JESUS! And that when we invite Jesus inside of us, He can never ever get out. He becomes a part of us, like the chocolate treat. Explain that when they do bad things, feel all alone, or like no one cares, Jesus is still there. Children who are taught that Jesus is always there are children who go to Jesus when no one else is there.
Hudson’s salvation story is very different than his sisters. A guest speaker came to their school to speak at chapel. God showed up and touched the children so deeply that he was invited back the next week to speak to the older kids. Since I had three kids in that group, I was eager to go. I began to witness something odd happening. There were two groups of kids in that room that day. One group was hungry and clinging to every word and move of the speaker. My daughters were in that group. But there was another group of kids which my son was in, and something was different. While there is always grace with the things of God, their response, or therefore lack of, seemed off to me. Days later I couldn’t shake what I saw with the group my son was in. I would cry out for Jesus to show me what it was and over the course of a few days He showed me that those were the kids who haven’t yet made a choice for Jesus. They are playing hard in the Kingdom, know how to hear Him, prophesy, and heal the sick but when they watch others encounter Him, they feel like something is wrong with them because they know they aren’t encountering Him the same way. WOW! When we see that there is more it should produce hunger in us, but because these kids are surrounded in a culture where there is an assumption they are already believers, it creates shame in them that something is wrong. This broke my heart. Hear me when I tell you what this produces in a child. They are angry and frustrated and often sabotage the things of God in your home. Not because they don’t want Him but because they don’t know how to say, “Hey, I am scared to tell you that I am not experiencing what you think I am”. I have since counseled scored of parents with kids who are acting out negatively only to find out that they feel spiritual pressure to behave, act and feel a certain way with God. They get tired of pretending and grow sick of managing the feelings that something is wrong with them. I knew I couldn’t go to my son and say, “Hey, I don’t think you are saved,” as he already had a deep connection with Jesus, and I didn’t want to do anything to plant doubt or tear that down. It was one of those moments where I honestly didn’t know how to respond. We were at church one day and I left so filled with His love, yet the moment we got home all hell broke loose mainly with Hudson (don’t you just love those moments. Ugh). I was so frustrated that going to church was producing so much chaos that I sent all of the kids to their rooms for a break from each other. I sat in the living room and cried tears of pure frustration. I heard God say, “It is time. Bring Hudson out,” and I KNEW God was telling me it was time to close the gap. I called him to the living room and held him. I asked, “Hey buddy. Are there times you see other kids at school and know that you don’t feel what you see them experiencing?” His eyes got really big, and he had this look of complete shock that I knew. He began to cry and said, “Yes.” I reminded remind him that Jesus loves him and so enjoys playing with Him, but that Jesus wants to be IN him and not just come and go like a friend. Hudson accepted Jesus that day.
We want to model our home after His and allow our children to taste and see that His ways are good so that when they are older, they will not be enticed by what the world has to offer them. I am not talking about legalistic head knowledge of ‘thou shall not’ but the ability to experience it as part of their own journey. Let me give you some practical examples.
Stealing – God says do not steal. When we set up our homes with a value system for not stealing, we are teaching our children that God’s ways work. To steal means to open yourself up for discipline, consequences, and broken trust. We are allowing them to taste and see that God’s ways work. We give them the message, “It isn’t going well for you because you have chosen something outside of God’s protection for you, i.e., stealing.” To ask for something and be denied is hard on the flesh, but as children learn to accept the ‘no’ answers in life it builds character, which will profit them for a lifetime. We don’t punish our children because they chose something outside of God’s best, we use it as a teachable moment to show them why it is important not to steal. (Not saying consequences aren’t warranted, I am saying we don’t want to use Biblical standards for our children and then punish them for not honoring it).
Respect – God says honor your mother and father. When we set up our homes to reflect a core value of honoring authority, we are providing for them covering and protection. This is showing them the beauty of God’s Kingdom. When we allow our children to walk all over us and be rude and disrespectful, we are subjecting them to insecurity, lack of favor and broken connection. They will experience God’s Kingdom by being taught to walk in respect and honor for those in authority over them. Once the twins started high school, they witnessed things they didn’t see in their Christian school. Naturally, I was concerned how this would affect them but because I built a foundation around their identity, we continued to use it as a teachable moment. One day my daughter came home and said, “Mom, I always knew you told us why it was important to walk in who we are, but today I saw with my own eyes what it looks like to have a life not knowing who you are.” Another time she came home really hurt by someone who acted like a true spiritual orphan. She understood the hurt was stemming from them not knowing Jesus and went in her room and wept for them. She spent nearly two hours in her room praying, crying and journaling. When she came out, she said, “Mom, I have got to have more of Jesus. I couldn’t imagine a life without Him.”
Does our parenting model heaven? Think about it – spankings, punish, taking away favorite possessions, isolation, harsh words spoken, exasperated parents… Could there be a better way? God is our perfect Father and knows how to run a family well. Is our parenting modeled to look like heaven? Does God give us three warnings and we are out? Does God spank us and then just leave us to deal with our mess? Does God isolate us when what we really need is enlightenment, understanding or better tools? Is He mad at us when we are acting out the hurt and pain in our heart? Is overwhelmed by our needs? Please hear my heart. I am NOT saying discipline, spankings, or time alone can’t be a valuable tool. I AM saying that when those are the ONLY tools in our parenting tool belt, we might be missing the mark. If it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, could it be some of our control-based parenting tools aren’t bearing good fruit simply because we aren’t modeling it after God’s Kingdom?
One Sunday, Ellie came to me and declared that God told her not to go to Sunday school. I wasn’t overly convinced but allowed her to stay with me. She began to worship like I had never seen before. She wasn’t just singing but truly WORSHIPING. I was undone just watching her. Out of nowhere, she stopped worshiping, sat down, and got really quiet. When we got home, she asked if we could have a date, so I took her on my errands. We were driving when she said, “Mom, do you want to know why I got so quiet today during worship?” I knew something was about to unfold, and I wanted to give her my full attention, so I pulled into the parking lot of Taco Bell. She began to tell me that Jesus said to her, “Ellie, you are I are friends, but we aren’t best friends yet,” and she was crying, telling me that she wanted Jesus to be her best friend. I knew then that during worship, the Holy Spirit was ministering to her and leading her to accept Him. With tears in my own eyes, I explained to her that Jesus loved her and wanted to have that place in her life. I walked her through salvation, and with a gust of emotion, she said YES to Him. (Taco Bell will forever be a precious reminder of this glorious event). I love her story because it shows how Holy Spirit was at work, and as a parent, I just needed to be sensitive to what He was already doing in her life.
I want to share the idea of ‘getting kids saved.’ I know of parents who push this ahead of God’s timing, and children generally respond out of a desire to please their parents. One can’t save someone else; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. We must be in sync with what He is doing in their lives, not force it. Forced intimacy is not Kingdom. I have seen countless examples where children know how to talk the talk but don’t know how to walk it out because they don’t have Holy Spirit inside them. I honestly believe this is one of the most dangerous people groups because they appear to carry Christ, but their actions and words rarely line up. It confuses those around them, hinders the witness of Jesus, and deceives the person into thinking they have a relationship with Jesus when they only have head knowledge. This is deception, and deception is darkness, yet they walk around as if they are in the light. When my kids were little, I would share the Gospel, Bible stories, or part of my journey with them and end it with, “Someday, maybe you will choose to accept Jesus in your heart.” I was planting a seed without forcing or leading the timing. I wanted them to know it was their choice and not an expectation coming from me (even though it was my deepest desire that they all come to know and serve Him).
Introducing your child to the free gift of salvation is the most – THE MOST – important and precious responsibility we have as parents. It is not to be taken lightly or carelessly. Their eternal choice affects your family’s generational legacy and is forever. I am not going to give you the 1,2,3 steps in how to lead your child because this is so much more than “Here, do this…” I encourage you to pray about this first and really sit with Holy Spirit and get His heart for your child and what He is doing in them right now. Take this seriously and partner with Him. There are no rules in how one can accept Jesus but there are some foundational truths in what Biblical salvation must entail. This is so important for parents to not only understand but to proactively teach it to their children especially in today’s world where there are so many false teachings, faulty understandings of God’s plan, and twisted messages.
Biblical salvation must include the truth that: #1. God loves me (Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Romans 8:38-39) #2. I have sinned (Romans 3:23, Matthew 25:46) #3. God sent Jesus to take my place (1 Peter 2:24) #4. If I believe in Him, I will be adopted (Romans 10:9-10). I encourage you to do this in one sitting or pick one theme a day to build up the story. The goal shouldn’t be to get them saved (unless Holy Spirit is moving), but to arm them with truth and understanding. I bought these wooden pieces at the local craft store to help give visuals. Anytime you can role-play, act out or partner with JOY it makes the principles come to life for the child. I encourage you to pray about this and ask Holy Spirit to show you what He is doing in your child’s life already. Partner with Him.
#1. God loves us – period. This is the entire basis of creation and salvation. God loves us and desires that we would choose Him and have a relationship with Him that would reflect a child perfectly secure in their Father’s love, protection, provision, and affirmation. Talk to the kids about God’s love – what does it look, sound, feel like? Ask them if they have felt loved before from someone and then compare that to God’s love for them. Spend time exploring a love that can never ever be damaged or ruined. WOW.
#2. We are ALL sinners. Even cute, sweet little babies are born sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. No one, not one, can boast, except Jesus of being pleasing to God on their own. This is a massive lesson in humility and having an accurate assessment of our spiritual state without Jesus. Talk to the kids about sin and that it is anything that displeases God. Sin isn’t a list of rules, but things that make God sad because He knows it will not go well with us or bless us. Talk about ways we sin. Yes, some sin appears to be bigger like murder, but to God it is all the same. Talk about how many things we do a day that fall short of His best for us. Share your own experiences with the ways you have fallen short in the past 24 hours. Model humility.
#3. God sent Jesus to die on the Cross for our sins. Someone has to pay the price, be accountable for the crimes committed and God loves us so much He allowed Jesus to get the ‘spanking’ for us. Hell is a real place and when God says He sent His Son to save us, He isn’t kidding. While hell can be a big topic for small children it is important for them to know it isn’t a choice between earth and heaven. God spared us from a dark place that is for forever. You can use as strong or sensitive of language as appropriate for your child, but the picture of hell is that there is isolation/being alone, no connection, total darkness where there is no help, no peace or joy, and never being able to relate to Jesus. A good word picture small children would understand would be sitting in a dark closet in a time out for the rest of their lives. Jesus came to open the closet door and let us out!!! Jesus is the bridge between darkness and light. Jesus is the One who carries us to the Father in His arms. No one gets to the Father except through Jesus.
#4. We have to do our part in accepting this free gift and say with our mouth that we acknowledge we have sinned and believe that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. When we do that God adopts us into His family forever. Heaven is a huge concept for kids to grasp but zoom in on the fact it is unbreakable and forever. Talk about what it means to be a Son or Daughter in God’s Kingdom. Luke 15:10 – “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
I encourage you to use the verbiage, “Someday maybe you will decide you want Jesus in your heart,” instead of asking them if they want to pray. Why? Because children love to please you, and this is something that needs to be Holy Spirit-led. Your job is to teach them; His job is to save them. I cannot wait for your children to be adopted, move into the palace and join the party – FOREVER!
Emma came bursting through my bedroom door when she was five and announced, “Mommy, I have to have Jesus in my heart right now!” She said her Sunday school told her all about Jesus, and she needed to do this. I said, “Oh, sweetie, that is the most amazing thing. How about you come to me first thing in the morning if this is something you really want to do?” I wanted to be sure this was her heart or something she felt like she was ‘supposed’ to do. She said, “Mom, NO. I can’t wait that long,” and so we prayed, accepting Jesus in her heart. I told her that Jesus tells us once we have accepted Him to go tell others and asked who she wanted to tell. She jumped off my lap in a flash, and about five minutes later, her twin sister, Lauren, came into my room, asking to accept Jesus. We celebrate their spiritual birthday each year, thanking God for adopting both of them.
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about Christian parenting, it would be this mindset. Walk with me for a moment as I explain. People become believers out of their journey with God and want to raise their children in a godly home. All is good, except their children aren’t believers… yet. When someone accepts Christ, the Holy Spirit moves inside of them and begins this incredible transformation process that will continue until death. It is gorgeous, glorious and a force to be reckoned with. God LOVES all of His Creation, God SPEAKS to all of His Creation, God CARES about all of His creation. But there is a difference between a spiritual orphan and those who are called Sons and Daughters. Let’s put it this way. Anyone can enter God’s house, open the fridge and eat whatever they want, they have access to God and can talk to Him, but at the end of the day, non-believers go back to being an orphan fending for themselves. Sons and Daughters remain in the palace because it is their home. Not all children are Sons & Daughters… yet. I honestly believe we work against God when we treat our children as if they are believers when in fact, they are still seekers.