A few months ago, a children’s staffer at my church was excited to tell me my daughter had prayed to receive Christ as her personal Lord and Savior that morning. As gently as I could, I thanked her for letting me know, but responded that, although my daughter might have repeated a prayer, she, in fact, did not pray a true prayer of repentance and salvation. When I asked my daughter about it later that day, she had no recollection of that moment.
My daughter was four years old then. She is now five, and I know she does not yet comprehend God’s saving grace and the sacrifice He made on her behalf. She doesn’t even like to pray. Yes, she can give the right answers when asked why Jesus died on the cross and what sin is. Yet, she is quick to point out it is her brother who “sins a whole lot.” It’s not an issue of believing in God; her young mind simply hasn’t reached the point of understanding salvation. What a child can comprehend about God is different than what an adult can understand - life experiences, maturation, and the ability to read/study all play a part. Yet, there are basic tenets that must be understood before a person can become a Christian, regardless of age. (For example: a child's understanding of sin may include things such as telling lies, being mean to siblings, not sharing, etc. The sin of an adult may include pride, hypocrisy, idolatry, etc. Regardless of the depth of understanding or experience, the basic tenet is this - sin is something I do that disobeys God. I am a sinner.)
A few things to note:
I am in no way discounting that children can be saved at a young age. I think some children come to a realization of their sinfulness and God’s saving grace much earlier than others.
I am grateful for those who invest in my children each week at church. I am thankful they are teaching them about salvation, forgiveness, and what a life devoted to Christ looks like.
It is very easy to get a child to repeat a prayer. That is why we must be very intentional and careful in the way we talk with young children about salvation. Don’t get me wrong – we should talk with them about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our sins. Yet, the approach must be different than for kids who are older and can grasp things more maturely. (That’s another blog post for another day.)
I have spent a great deal of time processing children, salvation, and how my role as a parent plays into that. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I have learned so far:
My name is Mom, not Savior. I have no saving power over my children. I am not God. The same sacrifice that saved me from my sins is the same sacrifice my children will have to accept as their own one day. Nothing I can do can save my children. That is God’s job. I’m a tool He can use to point them in the right direction. This is a hard truth for me. I long for my children to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. At times, I ache for them to understand the love and grace God has for them. I’ve been asked before what is the one prayer I want God to answer more than anything. Without a doubt, it’s for my kids to be saved.
My timing is not God’s timing. In all honesty, I would love for my children to be some of those who are saved at a young age. Maybe they will be; maybe they won’t. I’m powerless. But, I trust His timing and believe God will answer these cries from this mother’s heart.
In the waiting, I will pray. I will pray fervently for the souls of my children. I will pray my daughter comes to understand God’s love for her is bigger than anything she could imagine. I will pray she opens her heart and mind to the desire He has for a deep relationship with her. I will pray my son realizes he is a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ. I will pray he not only accepts Him but lives his life with great boldness and courage for the King.
I will teach my children. I will teach my children about the goodness and grace of God, the sacrifice of the Savior, the forgiveness of the Father, the mercy of the Almighty. I will read God’s Word to my children. I will pray with them. I will seek to be a living example of Christ in my actions and attitudes. I will discipline them in love and teach them God’s desire for them to be like Him. I will let them know the joy that comes from Jesus. My job as a mom is not simply to keep them alive (although somedays, I consider this a BIG accomplishment); my job as a mom is to help them thrive … to help them understand what abundant life in Christ is all about … to show them they were made for more than just themselves.
I fully believe God chose my husband and me to parent our two children because we are the best ones for them. I don’t take that lightly. And, while I am powerless to save, I have been given the great task of raising my children in a way that will lead them to the One who can.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9