Yesterday, I was inspired by my 4-year-old daughter’s decision to ask God to “be the leader of her life” to dig up an old article on how young children can make decisions to follow Christ. That article was written almost seven years ago when my oldest, who is now 10, made his own decision to follow Christ.
Sometimes, though, a child’s decision to follow Christ can’t be pinpointed to a single moment or prayer. For some children, it is more of a realization that they are following Christ and they can’t think of having decided to do anything else. That was the case for me as a child. I grew up in a Christian household and can’t remember a time that I haven’t loved God or not wanted to follow him and be a part of his family. As I grew up, I would hear of people talking about praying “the prayer.” Since I never remembered doing that, I would raise my hand and repeat after the teacher or pastor or evangelist… on more than one occasion… to make sure that I had done the salvation thing right. Whether that’s good or bad is for a whole other discussion.
Luckily, I had parents who simply reaffirmed my desire to follow God and never questioned whether or not I had prayed some special salvation prayer. They knew that I did have a relationship with God and continually modelled what that meant through how they lived their lives.
I’m so glad that I had an experience like that because my oldest daughter, who is 7 now, never had that “salvation moment” that her older brother and younger sister have had. She simply came to the realization that she was following God and wanted to continue following God and love him and be a part of his family.
I don’t remember the exact day, but I do remember she was five years old when I realized this was the case for her. We were talking as a family during some activity about following Jesus. She raised her hand, along with her older brother, when we asked who was following Jesus. Out of curiosity of what a 5 year old’s understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus, I asked her, “How do you know you are following Jesus?” She answered, “Because I love him and he loves me. I want to do the things he wants me to do. I follow him like you and mommy and Jeremiah.”
At a point like this, the temptation would be to ask if she had prayed to ask God to be the leader of her life. In so doing, I think I would’ve crushed her declaration in faith that she was following Jesus. Luckily, I chose to affirm her. Since then she has exhibited over and over again a growing understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and the sacrifice Jesus paid to make that possible.
Last night, knowing that I was going to write this post, I asked her (in a ritual that gets repeated with my other children as well), “How do you know you are following Jesus?” She answered simply, “Because I love him and I know he loves me. I feel his love for me. I want to live the way he wants me to live. He’s my friend.”
I, then, asked her if she was worried that she never prayed a prayer like her brother or sister. She said, “No. Because I know that I’m following God and God knows, too.”
Every child will respond to the call of God’s Spirit in her own way. Some will have that cliche-ish defining moment where they pray a prayer or make some sort of declaration and can point to the exact time when they decided to follow Jesus. Others will simply come to realize that they are a part of God’s family and are following him and loving him with their hearts, souls, minds and bodies. It is our job as parents and ministers to be there to affirm their declarations of faith and continue pointing them to the author and finisher of that faith.