What’s involved in leading a child to Jesus?
Aiming for Jesus.
Children should aim for Jesus. He’s the bulls-eye. He should be the One at the centre of a child’s world.
But that’s easier said than done.
Children have many targets throughout their lives. The first target when they’re born is their mother’s breast. Babies aim to eat, burp, poop, and sleep. And when something goes wrong, they cry. Then it’s the first smile, cuddles, sitting up, crawling, talking, walking, getting the right shoe on the right foot, and so on.
As children grow, they rapidly take in and interact with the world around them. Their parents are usually the centre of their lives, and family members and friends are other circles of interest. What they experience with their five senses captures their attention, and their initial aim in life, broadly stated, is figuring out life.
Most children’s drawings have a house, a tree, and a smiling sun. In a young child’s world, Jesus isn’t usually in sight. So how do we help children draw Jesus into their pictures? How do we connect them with Jesus when they don’t see Him or look for Him? By starting where they’re at – by starting with life.
Hunger for life.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6. Children may not be looking for Jesus, but they are looking for life. From the moment they’re born, children have an insatiable hunger for life. More than survive, children want to thrive. And this innate desire to live rather than exist is built into us by God.More than survive, children want to thrive. This innate desire to live, rather than exist, is built into us by God. Click To Tweet
While the desire to live is instinctively in us, children are unsure about the world and their place in it. A child can barely begin, let alone sustain, any meaningful attempt to understand and respond to the riddles of life without a comprehensive worldview. That’s why, before children grow older and secularism gets to flaunt its version of life, every child should hear that the way to real life is only possible through a relationship with Jesus.
A relationship with Jesus starts with children seeing He’s the marvellous creator, pure source, Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) and the perfect example of life. As children experience life as a fantastic adventure with Jesus, their relationship develops. To strengthen the relationship, we must help children discover the joy of being everything God intended for them to be.
When children appropriate Jesus, they get “more and better life than they ever dreamed of” John 10:10b (MSG). Note the phrase “more and better life.” Abundant life is superior to what the world offers. What the world offers, even at its best, is sub-standard. It’s sub-standard because when all is said and done, it assigns value to worthlessness. As English puritan John Bunyan alludes to in “Of the Boy and Butterfly,” the world’s best things at best are painted nothings and false joys.
Even though the world offers nothing but limitless indifference and a wasteland of meaninglessness (Ecclesiastes 1:2), it’s still attractive to children. The world’s enticements are well marketed and there for the taking, and children want what they see. As every parent knows, children want what’s popular and cool. That’s because a child’s natural inclination is to satisfy their desires and passions.
Come what may, children try to find ways to get their way! The predisposition to do things our way, and not Jesus’ way, is called sin. That’s why every child should learn that death is the outcome when they go their way and not Jesus’ way (Romans 6:23a). The opposite is also true. For every child who confesses their sin and embraces Him, Jesus’ gift is eternal life (Romans 6:23b).What the world offers, even at its best, is sub-standard, because ultimately, it assigns value to worthlessness. Click To Tweet
There are no shortcuts to real life. The way to life – to Jesus – is through the cross. We must therefore share the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return with every child.
When we share the story of Jesus with children, we should reveal how life comes at a cost. There’s no easy street. Someone has to pay. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10. Yet the bad news about Jesus’ sacrifice (death on a cross) is good news! Jesus paid the ransom that sets every child free from sin so they can embrace and enjoy abundant life (1 Timothy 2:6).
Jesus’ story is remarkable and unique. He has done what only He could do to make abundant life possible for children. But a Spirit-filled life isn’t automatically conferred on every child when they’re born. Children must be born again to know the Spirit-filled life (John 3:3-8). To be born again, a child must confess their sin and embrace Jesus by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). When a child confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10), then, and only then, does Jesus open the gate that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).
Fighting for life.
That’s not to say that the Spirit-filled life doesn’t come without a fight. Satan is hell-bent on stealing, killing and destroying life (John 10:10a). He wants children to aim for another target – one where the bulls-eye is anything but Jesus. So children should know that to grasp life in Christ, they must be saved from Satan’s attempts to seduce, entertain or fascinate them with illusions of life that lead them away from the One who is life.
Children must also know that Satan is the ruler behind the scenes governing the world’s systems. These systems relentlessly dull the minds of children (2 Corinthians 4:4), pulls them away from Jesus, and are opposed to the fullness of life found in Him. In the words of British biblical scholar F. F. Bruce: “The world is dominated by a spirit totally opposed to God, organized in such a way as to exclude God, drawn towards unworthy goals of material status and self-interest, quite different from the goals towards which the Christian way leads.”
In a world controlled by Satan (1 John 5:19), we must ensure that the things we say and do never give children a false sense of security. Friendship with the world is hostility toward Jesus (James 4:4). We must not be misled. Satan and the world’s systems enslave children in darkness, and children desperately need to see the light.The world's systems relentlessly dull the minds of children and pulls them away from Jesus. Click To Tweet
Seeing the light.
To see the light, children must bridge the gap between knowing about Jesus and intimately knowing Him. Knowing Jesus can be tricky. Satan can seduce children into thinking they know Jesus when they don’t. Knowing Jesus is complex. Children can know Bible stories, be familiar with biblical truth, have spiritual experiences, rattle off Christian jargon, pray the sinner’s prayer, or be baptized, yet still not know Jesus.
It’s when children realize that Jesus loves them, lives inside them, and empowers them to live for Him that children know Him (John 10:27). And equally, children know Jesus when they care more about being in a relationship with Him than about anything else. An active connection is evident when children reject the ways of the world (1 John 2:15), join Jesus in turning the world upside-down, and present their lives to Him as living and holy sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
Knowing Jesus isn’t easy. Children can’t physically see Him. So to know Jesus, children need to be taught how to enter the Story. That is, we must equip children to read (hear, listen) and reflect (study, contemplate) on the Gospels in ways that enable them to encounter the vibrant, monumental, glorious, and forever alive Jesus.
Children can’t hit a target they can’t see. The psalmist says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” Psalm 119:130. Note how God’s Word lights up the bulls-eye (Jesus). There are no two ways around this. For children to see His glory (John 1:14) and discover the secret of letting Christ live His life in and through them, they need to have meaningful encounters with His Word.
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© Scripture Union, 2022