Christian parents have no greater joy than to hear their children express faith in Jesus. I recall years ago when my young daughter was revealing an interest in the gospel and absorbing truth about Christ. Those memories are precious to me. This is what parents pray for — that the Spirit would draw these young souls to Christ for God’s glory and our children’s everlasting joy.
This joy can be tempered, however, with questions like these:
- “Is she just saying what I have been talking about — wanting to be a part of what is important to me?”
- “He hasn’t shown much understanding in this before. Is this the brand-new grace of salvation?”
- “She knows truth about God, but is this relational trust in Christ?”
My encouragement to parents is to not allow their own joy to be tempered, but still to be honest about their questions. Parents are best placed to understand the hearts of their children; we truly are meant to be our children’s expert. So, ask the questions, but also thank God for the apparent seeds of grace in your children, and strive to create an atmosphere in the home where those seeds can grow up.
This season of grace in young children calls for parental leadership that is marked by the fruit of the Spirit, such as the fruit of love, joy, and patience. As parents mature in the Spirit’s fruit, they warm a home’s environment which, like a greenhouse, is a rich context for patient growth — both theirs and their children’s.
Love for the Long Haul
Often, alongside the profession of faith, candid evidences of grace reveal more clearly our children’s heart regarding Christ. As they profess him with their mouth, look more closely at how they live, and speak, and love. Pray for a loving awareness to see what can easily slip by unnoticed. Unplanned moments may happen during corrective discipline, as our children respond to a song or a sermon, or in an unexpected conversation. These moments are not accidents, but sovereign gifts by God to bless the parent and child. A parent who attends to the unplanned signs of light in and around their children, for the sake of Christ, is walking the path of love.
“Parents are best placed to understand the hearts of their children.”
I know of a 28-year-old man whose eyes were drawn to Christ, leading to a meaningful conversation with his parents, the kind that cannot be manipulated. This moment took 28 years of God’s grace and their patient love to set up. This is parental love for the long haul.
The spiritual moments and conversation parents intentionally set aside and plan for are rich in love too. Consider Joshua setting up memorial stones by the Jordan River — stones designed to stir up questions in children (Joshua 4:6, 21–24). This was planned to produce meaningful conversation about what God had done for his people. For parents today, both Advent and Passion Week are great opportunities for such conversations, as the Spirit would lead.
I recall a conversation with a mother who had a moment of meaningful conversation with her 8-year-old son as he turned to her in tears during a Good Friday service, saying, “Why did Jesus have to die?” She brought him to the service with the hope that the Spirit would move in her boy’s heart, and on this occasion he did. That moment turned out to be a mark of grace in the boy’s life. The conversation was set up by purposeful leadership, and it took eight years of loving and intentional patience.
Joy to Fan the Flames
When children are facing Christ in some way, as when they speak of him, bring Jesus-flavored prayers, sing gospel truth with willing participation, or respond to your leadership in humility, parents can fan those flames with joy. Parental joy in God during those moments is one of the tools in the Spirit’s hands to continue in a young soul either drawing grace or sanctifying grace.
When Paul and Barnabas brought the gospel message to Antioch, the response of the Gentiles was twofold: they wanted more of this teaching (Acts 13:42–43), and they were filled with joy when they realized that this good news was for them as well (Acts 13:48). It is as if they said, with joyful gratitude, “Jesus is for us too?” Similarly, signs of spiritual life in our children may include an increased desire to hear and understand the gospel, a growing eagerness to read the Bible, increased expressions of gratitude, and all of it partnered with the living affection of joy.
“Pray for a loving awareness to see the grace in your child that can easily slip by unnoticed.”
These are signs that help reveal the hearts of our children. Now, we don’t look for perfect signs of gospel longing and joyful gratitude in our children, but we do look for those signs, doing so patiently and joyfully. These signs are caused by the Spirit as he points hearts to Christ. Parental joy, with gratitude, can be one way the Spirit stirs up in our children the same response the Gentiles gave when they heard Paul preach: “Jesus is for me too?”
Patience That Prays for More
Children growing up in a home marked by nurturing patience are surrounded by gentle, merciful ambassadors of the King.
When a young child expresses a word of trust in Jesus or belief in God, it is crucial for the parent to affirm that good word. The private context of the home must be a nurturing context. One way to affirm is to lead the child in a prayer that gives thanks to God for what he has shown the child about Christ while asking for more. This frees up the parent from having to know for sure what is happening in the heart, or to label it, while also honoring God.
This forward-themed parental patience lingers in the moment with God and his good gift, while encouraging children to look for more. For example, we might pray with our children, “Father, my child is speaking words of faith in Christ. Thank you. This seems to be of the Spirit and carries the aroma of Christ. Thank you again, and with hope in my heart I ask for more.”
Show Christ to Your Kids
Parents, during this fleeting season called childhood, bring a great measure of the fruit of the Spirit to your children — gospel conversations and hopeful tones richly drenched in love, joy, and patience. If your children are facing Christ, then be ever so grateful.
“If you are not hearing or seeing your child face Christ, take heart and keep praying.”
If, on the other hand, you are not hearing or seeing your children face Christ, take heart and keep praying. Hold them close and be believable and obvious in your love for them during their unresponsive moments, during their hardness of heart, and during their sin. Love them as you have been loved, for God “does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18). As we reflect the love, joy, and patience of Jesus Christ, we invite our children to keep trusting him — or perhaps to trust him for the first time.