It had been a big, colorful week for my younger half. They look forward to this week of VBS like a parent looks forward to the end of bed wetting. With three free hours of alone time five nights in a row, you had better believe it was a favorite week for all of us.
As I pulled the blankets up to my five-year-old’s chin one of those nights, ready to swap prayers and eager to hit my own blankets, he wanted to talk about Jesus. He knows how to get me, that stinker.
He told me about a man at Bible School asking the kids if they wanted to invite Jesus into their hearts. He told me about wanting to go up front with the others but being too embarrassed. He told about his big sister leaning in and telling him it was ok to stay in his seat. My boy stayed but felt there was something important about this moment he needed to tell me about.
And I listened to every word.
Growing up in the church, my five oldest kids have asked Jesus into their hearts a combined total of three thousand times, so I have had plenty of years to process this decision.
I always listen to their Invitation stories and smile. I always encourage them and tell them how much Jesus loves them. But I don’t whoop and holler and pull out the cake anymore. Except for the cake. There is never a bad time for cake.
Here is why:
The decision to become a Jesus follower is not a one-and-done. Sometimes there is a defining moment that changes one’s life forever, but most often, there is a series of moments that bring about a changed life. Sometimes there are no lines drawn in the sand or big aha! moment at all, but only a gradual believing that takes place in the soul of a person.
To make a big deal out of my young kids’ Big Decision seems to say, “Hurray! Oh Sweetie, I’m so relieved. You are now IN, which means you were previously OUT.”
In our house, we start off with the assumption that our kids are going to follow Jesus.
We say things like,
“We think about other people and not just ourselves because we really want to do things Jesus’ way.”
“Our family does things Jesus’ way so we are not going to sit on a brother’s head and fart until he cries.” (I wish I had more pious-sounding examples.)
We start with the assumption that our kids are inside of God’s family, not on the outside waiting to be let in.
We serve communion to all of our kids, from the time they can chew up a cracker and spit it out. We want them to feel the belonging of God’s family.
Will there be a time for them to grab on to Jesus for themselves? Of course. Absolutely. I see my teenagers often making choices to align themselves with Jesus and sometimes making choices that tell me they are unsure how involved they want him to be. God alone knows their hearts.
As a parent, I prefer those choices are propelled by a love for Jesus and not a fear of going to hell.
What is more compelling? Understanding that the most important, most loving, most amazing being in the universe is completely crazy about them and offers them friendship and wholeness? Or believing that they may be banished to a burning hole if they don’t make friends with that important Jesus?
Which way honors Jesus?
There are a few things I don’t mind my kids being slightly afraid of: running out into the road and eating the last piece of my favorite cake. But I don’t want to scare my kids, or pressure my kids, into following Jesus or into repeating phrases of a prayer.
Let’s take a quick look at the terminology we use because words are important. Where does Jesus talk about wanting an invitation? Especially into a body part?
When we read the preaching stories in the book of Acts, we find the emphasis in on believing. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” When people heard the disciples preaching about Jesus, they believed. When people saw the miracles performed in the name of Jesus, they believed. (Acts 16:31, 8:12-13, 9:42, etc.)
Something shifted in their spirits; they went from one way of thinking to another.
Believing in Jesus meant that those who made up the first Church believed he was who he said he was. It meant they believed he forgave sins, like he told the paralyzed man (Luke 5:20). It meant they believed that his ways of loving and praying and holding our possessions loosely were best (Matthew 5 and 6). It meant they believed that Jesus’ upside-down idea of giving up their lives meant truly keeping it (Matthew 16:25).
The idea of “inviting Jesus into our hearts” probably comes from the verse in Revelation 3:20: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
Interestingly, this verse is taken from the the letter God is sending to the church in the town of Laodicea. The church. As in, these letter-receivers are already believers.
Do you know what does make me want to celebrate? One of my own making every day decisions to follow Jesus:
-giving their money to help a friend
-doing the unpopular, right thing
-apologizing with humility
-offering the biggest piece of cake to their sibling.
Those choices are the proof, the ones that shout “I am following Jesus.”
My kids belong to Jesus. Our family belongs to Jesus. And as they gain independence from me and from the rest of their family, they get to choose for themselves. This independence in the physical and in the emotional is a gradual maturing. I believe that their independence in the spiritual is gradual as well.
One day they will indeed need to make the choice for themselves.
That night under the covers, with all the sincerity of a kindergartener, my little sweetie told Jesus he wanted to follow him forever. I smiled, kissed his soft cheek and reminded him of how much Jesus loves him.
I will always encourage my kids to listen to the nudges of Jesus and say Yes every time. I hope their love for Jesus prompts them to say yes to the Heart Invitations, the the kindness invitations, the feed-the-poor invitations, the call to sacrifice and pray and make a difference.
Because as a family, we follow Jesus.
If you are keeping score at home, that was indeed three references to cake. Because where you find celebration talk, you really should find cake talk.