Children meeting Jesus in bedtime prayers
Who knows where children first meet Jesus? Some lifelong Christian friends have told me they learned to love Jesus in the same way they learned to love their parents. Others have said loving Jesus was in the air they breathed as children. But they all remember bedtime prayers with their parents. Bedtime prayers with parents allow children to meet Jesus as their parents’ Lord and Savior and as theirs.
Early prayers will likely be extremely simple. They should be. But they can grow as children’s vocabularies grow. One thing I wish I had done more of when my children were little was praising God first of all. I wish I had emphasized more when they were little how awesome God is. I’m sure they would have been very helpful in thinking of many of God’s attributes to praise him for. But they met my loving Jesus, nonetheless. However we meet Jesus with our children, they will see. And God will use those times.
Children meeting Jesus at mealtimes
Mealtimes are both easy and difficult times for children to meet God. They’re easy times to remember to pray. But they aren’t necessarily easy times to actually see God and his work. It may be too easy to thank him for the food quickly and move on to eating.
I remember as a small child preferring my mom’s prayers to my dad’s because they were shorter. I was not focusing on the prayer much at all. And yet those prayers allowed me to grow up in a world in which honoring and thanking God was normal and expected. I knew it was part of my world being right.
Children meeting Jesus in restaurants?
It’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t need to pray with our kids in restaurants or when unbelievers are eating with us, “because we don’t want to offend them.” But choosing not to pray then can deny ourselves an important place of witness. And not praying then can be an offense to our children, who might come to understand relationship with Jesus to be optional—or only for times it’s convenient. Besides, God can use those prayers to open others up to the reality of Jesus as they hear us talking to him. As we talk to him as naturally as we do to the people around us, unbelievers can realize how alive God is.
My husband and I have a family we were good friends with—and even traveled with—for years before they became Christians. They were quite open unbelievers, having experienced hurt from the church in prior years. We always asked permission to open our meals in prayer, and they were fine with that. We kept the prayers short but often included thanking God for our friends and praying for their needs, as it seemed appropriate. After several years, the mother and two daughters gave their lives to Christ, and the father grew much more open than he once was. We still pray for him.
What a huge blessing in our lives! But it blessed our daughters too. They saw prayer at meals serve as a witness to others of the importance of Jesus in our lives. They saw God work through that in bringing others to himself.
Children meeting Jesus in moments of crisis
In my life and in my daughters’ lives, crises have been important times we met Jesus. Situations involving tears and long explanations definitely require prayer. So too do times when people are fearful of something about to happen.
Crisis situations often revealed themselves at night during our family prayer time. Or, if they had come up earlier in the day, we certainly prayed about them as a family again at night. Uncertainty about my husband’s job, a difficulty between a daughter and a friend, or a difficult test in school—all were opportunities for us to meet Jesus as a family. Our daughters experienced the living reality of Jesus in those moments even as their parents did.
Children meeting Jesus all day long
Of course, what we hope for is that our children will meet Jesus all day long, as we hope we ourselves do. Though we don’t always see him and certainly don’t look to him often enough, we know he’s there with us. We long for that to become a reality for our children too.
One way I tried to encourage that with my girls was asking them each morning as they left for school, “How can I pray for you today?” Though one daughter often just answered, “That I have a good day,” I usually got much more specific answers. My hope was that as the day progressed, the girls would be looking for God’s work in their daily activities.
So where do children meet Jesus? It all depends on where they are when they look to him.
God sightings: helping kids see him
Years ago, one of our church series focused on “God sightings”–specific places we saw God working. For quite a while we were diligent in asking each other for God sightings during prayer time. It was fun to see our girls recognize God’s work in answers to their prayers. It was even more fun to see them recognize God’s presence in areas we hadn’t thought to pray about. Yet God was blessing us specifically in those areas anyway. Ahead of our prayers. He knew our hearts. We used to say, “Wow. I hadn’t even thought to pray about that yet.” But after a while, we forgot to look for these special moments, those God sightings.
We need God’s reminders.
The people of Israel were like us. For a while they noticed God’s blessings and talked about them. Then they forgot. God knew that would continue to be true, so he used a pile of rocks to help them remember:
21 [Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 21-24)
We don’t live in a rocky country with a huge pile of rocks to stand as a national memorial. In fact, conservationists tell us that we might cause problems in certain habitats when we do leave piles of rocks behind to show that we have been there. So, what reminders can we set up for ourselves? More importantly, how can we point our children to the ways God is working in our lives and in theirs?
Not all reminders need to be physical.
Our traditions can be reminders. Even our daily habits can be reminders of who Jesus is and what he did for us and continues doing for us. Praying before meals, reading the Bible together as a family, praying for each other during the day–all these behaviors God uses to remind us and our kids who he is today. Can we ignore these reminders? Obviously. Did the Israelites sometimes walk by those rocks without thinking? Absolutely. But God does call us to create our own reminders and our own ways to tell our children about who Jesus is and that he is an active part of our lives today.
We need to be living reminders of the reality of Jesus Christ.
God told the Israelites they needed to love him with all their hearts and talk about him continually with their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV). In the same way, he tells us that we need to season our conversations with the reality of Jesus Christ (Colossians 4:6 NIV). To our children, we are the most powerful reminders of Jesus they have. We need to make intentional choices in being those reminders. My husband and I chose family prayer time before the first person went to bed. For us, that has been a lasting legacy for our family–and a powerful stimulus to our faith.
I challenge you to choose either family prayer time, talking to your children daily about God sightings, or some other special tradition to become your spiritual legacy in conveying the living reality of Jesus Christ.
Sitting on the beach playing with my twenty-two-month-old grandson, I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness.
This is a baby who was prayed for long before he was even conceived and who came into the world with much trauma. Just before his birth I had also experienced trauma with my back injury and surgery. Now the two of us can sit together on the beach and play for hours. I felt so strongly that God is good.
With my heart overflowing, I said aloud, “God is so good, little one. He has blessed me so much by you.”
His immediate response was, “God is good.”
I was startled and then even teary eyed as he repeated it over and over. At this point he had spoken very few sentences in his life.
Obviously, a little one knows when he has hit on something that pleases an adult. So he said it probably a dozen times, and I repeated it with him, as we continued to play. My joy increased.
But what surprised me just as much was his saying it hours later, while he was eating and listening to the adults talk. His mother was talking about something great that had just happened, unrelated to him.
Our toddler’s nonchalant “God is good” surprised us all.
It is so true in general and fit perfectly as a commentary on the conversation. Even though his mother had not mentioned God in that particular conversation, she tells him regularly about God’s love for all of us. She has taught him to add into their prayers together people and things he is thankful for.
He is learning—before he can fully talk—both the goodness of God and the reality of Jesus Christ in his life. It amazes me how God works in our children before we can even know they understand.
We know that adults sometimes come to know Jesus through sudden commitments and radical changes in their lives. But children—and even most adults—usually come to know Jesus gradually, a bit at a time. We have no idea how early they come to know the reality of Jesus Christ in their lives.
My dad—a church planter—always said most people come to faith in Jesus sort of like the opening of a rose. As we come to most relationships. Some people fall into a “It feels like we’ve known each other for years” relationship, but most develop friendships gradually over time.
So it is with our walk with Jesus.
Though we know that “God is good” from the mouth of a toddler is not a dramatic conversion experience like that of Saul of Tarsus, we know it shows God is working. It also shows the importance of little comments we make around them without much thought.
As our late Pastor Norm Meyer said repeatedly, even on the day he told the congregation he was dying of bone cancer, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”
Weirdest engagement ever?
I know my parents did not have the weirdest engagement ever. But it seemed like that to me when I was growing up.
For one thing, my dad was exactly ten years older than my mom. We used to laugh at our parents that our dad could have babysat our mom.
But the weirdest part was how they met and decided to get married.
The story they told us is that one day my dad’s friend, the only other unmarried seminarian in his class, suggested my dad get a date for the upcoming wives and girlfriends tea at the seminary. My dad’s friend had a girlfriend he wanted to bring, and he wanted my dad to keep him company.
My dad gave the obvious objection: he wasn’t dating anyone at the moment.
His friend had an easy answer, “Ask Mary LaGrand. She’s great. She’ll be up for it.” My mom was a student in a college class he was teaching, and he thought she would be the perfect person for my dad to ask.
Dad was game. As it turned out, Mom was too.
She told us later, “They never let women inside the seminary. I had always wondered what it was like. So I jumped at the opportunity. It sounded fun. And I knew Frank and thought he was fun.”
For some reason we kids never found out, Frank and his girlfriend never showed up that afternoon.
And the event really wasn’t called “The Wives and Girlfriends Tea”–it was “The Seminary Wives Tea.”
As could have been predicted, the other seminarians and their wives saw my dad’s entrance with my mom as an announcement. They teased him about “holding out on us.” I met one retired pastor decades later who still refused to believe that was my parents’ first date.
That day as they were leaving the tea, my mom said to my dad, “You owe me. Big time.”
He laughingly agreed: “What do I owe you?”
That dinner with its four hours of conversation changed my parents’ lives.
My mom’s version of it: “He knew where he was going and what God was doing with his life. I wanted to go too.”
They evidently had quite a few more dates in the next two weeks before deciding to get married. But they chose to marry in six months, despite the fact that my mom had just finished her junior year of college and my dad was heading overseas to study at the Free University in Amsterdam.
Over the years I asked to hear that story many times, amazed that my rich-girl mom chose to marry my farmer-turned-student dad because of how impressed she was with the calling he was answering from God. She saw the reality of Jesus Christ in his life.
Her other suitors had sought to impress her with their own merits. My dad had pursued God. That had captivated Mom. This “weirdest engagement ever” led to a long-distance relationship and Mom’s following Dad across the ocean to marry him—far from friends and family.
Though they experienced some predictable difficulties of such a marriage choice, we children always saw our parents united in their desire to answer God’s call on their lives: during almost sixty years of marriage and ministry. Praise God!
Are we broken reflections of God’s character?
When our children were little, my husband and I tried to teach them well. We tried to teach them to love Jesus, to behave well, to be nice to each other. Many times that worked well. But what we did not realize until years into this parenting gig is that children do not automatically accept our values. We know that’s true of teenagers. We brace ourselves for that during those years.
But I did not expect it so early. I did not think of the possibility that my five-year-old would not accept the values of honesty and respect of others’ property.
The fact that lying and stealing are wrong does not necessarily matter to a five-year-old. And every carefully thought-out punishment cannot change that. Believe me–we tried everything.
Then I read Josh McDowell’s Right From Wrong–a book based on extensive surveys of churched and unchurched teenagers. Wow! He was right. I too had been trying to teach my daughters right from wrong through turning biblical principles into behavior.
I had been missing the why. The perfectly righteous character of our God is the reason we need to act justly in love and truth. As his children we need to reflect his character to those around us.
But too often we are broken reflections of God’s character.
As are our children. But when we focus on their behavior, as McDowell’s book demonstrates, we reinforce for our children their desire not to get caught rather than their desire to be truly good.
I’m grateful my parents never worried to me about what others would think if my sisters or I misbehaved. But even so, I internalized too much of a focus on good behavior, rather than on the reason for the good behavior.
What I needed to realize is that my experience of living as God’s child should make me want to reflect his perfectly righteous and loving character. We seek to do good not to earn God’s love but to reflect the goodness of the God who loves us.
Reflecting God’s character also needed to be the motivation for my children.
I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.
This evening after a series of misbehaviors, I asked her, among other things, if she was a child of God. “Yes,” she answered grudgingly. I asked her if God ever lied. “No,” with eye rolling. Did God ever steal? “No,” in an even more exasperated voice.
Then I asked her if children usually look like their parents. Then if she, as a child of God, wanted to look like God. All her answers were easy until the last one. The question that changed her was “What would it look like if you as a child of God were to look like God?”
She probably took two solid minutes to think that over before answering in a bewildered voice: “Not lie. Not steal.”
After she told me she wanted to look like God, we prayed together that God would give her his power to change. God answered that prayer powerfully. The family could hardly believe the change in her behavior. And that it lasted.
But God changed me through that exchange as well. I realized how important it is to strive to minimize broken reflections of God’s character by focusing on him more than on behavior.
Will Jesus Return on Glorious Fiery Clouds?
Will Jesus’ physical presence simply overwhelm every outdoor and indoor space, making all instantly aware of him at the same moment?
No matter how it happens—and whether it happens in our lifetimes or not—we will all know. Immediately.
One of my favorite memories of high school is of ending our Bible study lesson from The Uniqueness of Jesus. That day one of the girls in our new-believer group had an excited question: “Lisa, when it happens–when Jesus returns–promise to call me right away! Okay?”
I assured her that she would know as soon as I would, because Jesus was her savior too.
But I was amused. The thought had never occurred to me. I knew no one would need to call anyone else to alert them that Jesus had returned. But this new believer, only 14 years old, thought it logical. Since I had first told her about Jesus, she thought I would have the news before she did.
Her passionate enthusiasm for the day of Jesus’ return was contagious. She was excited and wanted it to happen soon.
I wanted to want that too. But I didn’t always live with that thought in mind.
In fact, a couple years later I remember asking my mom if it was bad that I didn’t want Jesus to come back yet. She gave me a comforting answer.
She told me that at my young age it made sense that I wanted to be able to live a while to experience so much of what life promised me. There were good things in life that God wanted me to enjoy and to look forward to.
Yet . . . I think we often fail to focus on what a greater reality we have to look forward to in spending the rest of eternity with God.
Do we need to tell our children they need to spend their time longing for Jesus’ return and for heaven? I don’t think so.
When my eleven-year-old confessed mournfully that she didn’t really want to go to heaven, I comforted her, as my mom had comforted me.
I asked her why. She told me that it did not sound appealing to sing all the time. I laughed and told her how normal she was. I said heaven would absolutely not require constant singing. It would better than the best things we can imagine.
Most of us can relate to not wanting to do anything all the time.
But we also do not want to be like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3: 16-17: “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”
How can we cultivate in ourselves the excitement of my young friend? Can we help our children see Jesus as real? And that living face to face with God is going to be unimaginably wonderful?
How can we regain our first excitement and help our children capture it also?