I will never forget the day when I encountered Jesus.
On this day prayer became more than just words. With our refrigerator barren and our cupboards empty, we were without food or money. We were in a desperate place, in need of a miraculous provision. My mother gathered us to pray. She had a real faith – a genuine, childlike trust that God would answer our prayers and that we can come to him with our needs.
“Father, we have run out of food and money. We need your provision and we ask that you would provide for our needs. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.” No lofty words were used. They were simple and to the point. We all said Amen and then the kids went back to doing whatever we were engaged in at the moment.
Mr. Kim’s arrival at our doorstep was the answer to our prayers. He came carrying a box full of tasty bread and variety of food items for us. He owned a bakery and decided to drop by while he was in the area. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Jesus had answered and he had provided for our family.
It was my first tangible experience of Jesus answering prayer. That day, something happened in my heart as a seven year old. Jesus became real. From that day forward, I began believing in prayer. I began believing that Jesus cared for me and my family.
Hopefully, we all have stories where we encountered Jesus so tangibly and profoundly that it changed us. These encounters move our relationship with Jesus into another level of intimacy and trust, enabling us to love Him more.
Like us, our kids need to have encounters with Jesus that make Him alive to them. ‘
That day, my mother’s wisdom in calling all her children together to seek Jesus with our needs provided an opportunity for everyone to see and encounter Jesus through an answered prayer. Instead of just praying on her own and hiding our need, she invited all of us to believe Him.
How can we help our kids have these real encounters?
Make Real Encounters the Goal, not Knowledge and Behavior
When we look at what we want for our children’s spiritual development, it is easy to think of it in terms of knowledge and behavior. Let’s face it. It’s easier to do knowledge oriented lessons, and focus on getting your children to do the basics of expected behavior. It’s easier because these are things we’ve mastered, and because we can control them. We’re not dependent on God for it. We don’t really need Him to show up!
I’ve talked to some parents about how they are trying to disciple their kids, and the conversation usually centers around how we are getting them to engage with God’s word (what’s the best kid’s Bible for this age group?), how we do devotions as a family, and what we think of the Sunday school program. It’s easy for me to focus on these things. But, my kids get frustrated at having to do these activities when they don’t understand the goal and they’re not experiencing any real encounters.
It is particularly easy to turn kid’s worship into fun activities. We’ve found great VBS music videos online. We strive to make kid’s music fun. We really want our kids to enjoy it. Our kids love music, dancing, and hand motions. But we want to make sure that the activity doesn’t become the goal!
So I’ve stepped back. I pray for my kids. I watch and listen closely for what is going on with their relationship with God. In all the religious activities we do, I am careful to explain the purpose of what we are doing. Instead of saying, “It’s time for Bible reading,” I say, “it’s time to seek God through His word. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to come speak to us as we read the Bible.” I want my kids to have authentic interactions with Jesus – not to just learn religious behavior because that is what is expected of them. I am praying and structuring our spiritual routines around having those real encounters.
As parents, my husband and I have been working hard to teach, model, and lay the foundations for encountering Jesus. But, if we are not careful, the habits and knowledge of being a Christian can replace the goal of real encounters. We start with the goal of real encounters, but slowly, we began focusing on the habits and knowledge.
Real encounters take time, doesn’t always happen in the way we expect, and require faith that Jesus will come through.
Sometimes we get so caught up on checking the mark, doing the right thing, that our times with Jesus becomes dry, lifeless, and burdensome. We don’t want this for our kids.
Encountering Jesus Through Engaging in the Sufferings of the World
One of the most memorable lines I’ve heard from Pastor Jimmy Seibert (Antioch Community Church in Waco, TX) is, “Everyone wants to experience a miracle, but no one wants to need one.”This presents a problem for me as a parent. I want my kids to experience tangible miracles of Jesus, but I also want to protect them from danger and suffering. The desire to protect our children comes from God. But is it possible that we can idolize our children’s safety and security that they never experience needing a miracle? Is it possible that we are satisfied with the knowledge and habits of Christian life, and yet void of encounters with Jesus? Could it be because we are unwilling to risk?
The problem for myself and many of my peers is that we are comfortably middle-class Americans and we don’t face real hunger or danger. Sometimes, we are surrounded by our Christian friends who value the same things we value. So what is the solution? The solution is simple, and integral to our own following of Jesus: mission.
We don’t need to generate needs for a miracle in our lives. We just need to be engaged with people who do need them.
Our society teaches us to surround ourselves with people like us, and to protect our kids. We fill our schedules going from one activity to another, all filled with people mostly like us. But Jesus, calls us to reach out to the broken and hurting of the world – to those who really need a miracle.
Engaging in our hurting world means that it sometimes invites us into suffering. But it is in these places where Jesus’ goodness, love, and power can become real. It takes courage and faith to consciously step into situations that require Jesus. But we want our kids to see us in situations where we need faith. When we need a miracle as we seek to love those who have real challenges, it opens an opportunity for our kids to see our faith in action. When they have relationships with people with real needs, it gives them an opportunity to pray for and see miracles.
I am not recommending seeking out arbitrary needs so that our children can experience Jesus. But I do recommend not over protecting them from the suffering of people around us. There are needs for miracles all around us, but our society teaches us to distance ourselves from those people. The homeless, the chronically unemployed, the undocumented immigrant, the difficult kids in school – our society says it is okay to avoid these people and take care of our own needs. But Jesus teaches us to reach out compassionately to them.
My mother didn’t choose to loose everything and face hunger; it was forced on her by circumstance. But Jesus used that situation to reveal Himself in a way I never would have experienced if we had plenty. If you look back at your encounter moments, when did they happen for you? Most likely, they happened while you discovered yourself in a place you needed Jesus. When Jesus meets us in our time of deepest need, something more happens than just getting what we need. Our hearts realize that His love satisfies us. Our longing to know that Jesus is real and that He truly cares came true. This epiphany activates our faith to a new place of trust and desire to pursue more of Him.
A Real Life Story
One evening, as I was lying next to one of our children for our nightly snuggles, this question was asked of me “Mom, why is God not answering my prayers?” I was surprised, partly because I had no idea that there was prayer going on without me. I was hoping there was, but I don’t always know. That night, I learned that our child had been praying for some time and Jesus had not answered him.
We had a foster child living with us at the time and our kids were having a hard time. This child had been asking Jesus to take him to another family.
“Why isn’t Jesus doing what I asked Him to do? Why isn’t He answering me?”
The request was reasonable, and not any more self-centered than many of the prayers that I pray. I felt encouraged. My child realized the need for Jesus to do something. Jesus had not answered in the way expected, but this suffering was bringing my child into wrestling with Jesus.
That night lying next to each other, we had a deep time of connection. I shared about how I was struggling, how hard it had been to have our foster child with us, and how I sometimes wish I had not said yes. Furthermore, I shared that I was wrestling with Jesus. But, the internal wrestling is not a bad thing. It is okay because Jesus Himself wrestled with God, His Father over his impending suffering. Jesus was honest with God and told him, “Father, remove this cup from me.” But, He also prayed this prayer “But, not my will, but yours.” Then, I read to him from Luke 22:43, it said, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened him”
That night, we found comfort and encouragement as I shared this word and reflection with our child. We prayed together that Jesus would send an angel to strengthen us. Oh how desperately we needed His strength. There was a deep need for His solution and we began seeking Him for it. We watched the Lord orchestrate and arrange a new foster family for our foster son and into a school district we believed would provide better services. Jesus provided. He strengthened our faith.
To love, the ways Jesus defines love, is risky. It compels us to engage in the needs of the world and people in need. It also forces us to wrestle with some of life’s deepest and hardest questions about suffering. Our children will wrestle with this reality of our world. I believe that as we engage in the needs of the world together as a family, it gives us context to seek Jesus and wrestle together in our faith. We cannot engage in everything, but there is someone or something that you and your family can engage in. Ask Jesus. He will show you.
Encountering Jesus by Interceding for Our Children
Lastly, we must pray regularly that our children encounter Jesus in a real way. We cannot make Jesus encounters happen for our kids. God knows that we cannot control their hearts. The truth is that we desperately need the Holy Spirit to work. As parents, we must pray for our kids that the eyes of their hearts would be open to see Jesus and respond to Him in faith. We want to see experiences with God lead to real transformation.
One of my regular prayers I pray as our kids go to sleep is this: “Lord, I pray that as our daughter goes to sleep, that you would meet her even in her sleep, and that you would speak your words of tender love over anything and everything that happened today.”
I pray this prayer every night after Jesus met one of our daughters in her dream when she was four. She had shared with me that she was feeling afraid that something bad would happen to our family. I’m not sure where this fear came from, but it was severe enough that it was a prayer request every night for a period. We prayed every night that Jesus would speak into that fear and we spoke the truth of God’s word over and over again.
One morning, she came to me and said, “Mommy, I had a dream last night. An angel came to me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you and your family. I will be with you and your family forever.”
From this day forward, something changed. Whenever fear would set it, I just had to remind her of the dream. “What did the angel say to you?” This encounter with the angel of God has set our child in a new trajectory of facing fear. I almost cried when I read in her school work: I am Courageous.
God is after our kids’ hearts and our hearts. He wants to be at the very center of our thoughts, desires, and choices. Our aim is not to raise children who behave properly and learn to do all the religious activities, but miss Jesus! We need the wisdom and grace of our heavenly Father. As we engage in the activities that grow their knowledge of Him, we want to see that they are connecting with the person of Jesus for transformation. We join with the Apostle Paul in his prayers for the church, as we pray for our children:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might….”
What are some ways you encountered Jesus? How have you seen your kids encounter Him? I would love to hear from you.
Read Principle 1: We Get What We Are, if you missed it!