Jesus lives within children just as He does within adults.
Accepting Jesus as Savior, little kids often ask Jesus into their hearts. Once they do, they experience his love and know they are children of God. But do they understand that the incarnational power of Jesus lives within them as well? And do we explain to them that the way Jesus lives within us is through the Holy Spirit?
One mother tells the story of her young daughter getting the stomach flu and worrying that she had vomited Jesus into the toilet.
We laugh at the silliness of the image. But it makes us realize how challenging it is to learn the concept of Jesus living within us in Spirit. As adults, many of us also miss the importance of the incarnational power of Jesus. We know we are children of God but aren’t fully aware of the supernatural power for living that Jesus has given us. In John 10:10, Jesus says he came so that we could live abundantly. How do we do that? How do we teach our children to do that?
The incarnational power of the Holy Spirit enables us to flourish.
If we focus on telling our children how Jesus wants them to act, we short-circuit that learning. But if we ask them how Jesus would act in our situation, we give them a chance to understand. When I was in second grade and upset that a classmate was being bullied, my mom asked me that question. She didn’t say, “What do you think Jesus would want you to do?” She said, “What do you think Jesus would do if He were at your school?”
Her question allowed me to think through the mind of Christ who was working in me through His Holy Spirit. The other question would probably have made me defensive and resistant to doing the hard work of attempting to befriend an ostracized older child. But her asking what Jesus’ action would be empowered the role of the Spirit within me.
Children love to be helpers.
One way we can bless our children in learning this lifestyle is in calling their attention to ways that they can show God’s love to others. Some schools have “helping circles” for children with special needs. Others have tutoring or mentoring opportunities for older kids to help younger kids. But even if those opportunities are not available in structured activities, we can guide them to look for needs. My mother used to ask me the first day of every school year to look for a person who needed a friend.
As the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians about this process, he says,
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 4:16-21)
Praying that the incarnational power of Jesus will guide our children.
Our children understand riches and probably know that God has the most glorious riches ever. But do they see His riches as living within them and empowering them to live for Jesus. My dad helped me understand this as a kid through one story and one anology.
The story was of a poor man who came from Europe to America on a steamship long ago.
This man bought the cheapest ticket possible and packed some food in his bags with him. Partway over, a ship worker saw him eating his stale food alone. He asked him why he didn’t ever eat with the other passengers. The man told him he didn’t have any money to pay for it. The worker surprised him with the great news that the food was free because he had already bought his ticket.
My dad explained to me that that man was sort of like most of us as Christians. When we try to live the Christian life on our own power–instead of in the power of the Holy Spirit–we miss God’s glorious riches for us.
Dad explained the how through an illustration Bill Bright calls “spiritual breathing.”
He explained that we need to “inhale” the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and “exhale” our sin.
Spiritual breathing is like physical breathing in that we:
“Exhale” by confessing our sins immediately to God and claiming His forgiveness.
“Inhale” by asking the Holy Spirit to control and empower us and to keep us from returning to sin. . . .
Usually, we don’t think about our physical breathing. But spiritual breathing is something that requires conscious action — a readiness to “exhale” (confess our sin), and to “inhale” (trust God to fill us with His Holy Spirit).
But the tricky thing about explaining this to kids is that we can’t teach them to do it by telling them what to do.
We need to explain the process and model it. We need to let them know the riches available to them. Then we have to be ready to explain how God works this process. They need us to guide them lovingly to experience the incarnational power of Jesus for themselves.