Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
—Psalm 9:10 (NIV)
“Catch me, Mom!” Looking up from inside the pool, I saw a tangle of arms and legs flying toward me. There was no fear—just an absolute trust that I would be there to catch my son before he went under water.
As an adult who prides herself in doing constant risk assessment, I marvel at this level of abandonment and sheer trust. I test the water temperature before I ever stick a toe in the pool. I check to see how deep and clean the water is, looking for creatures that might have fallen in. When everything checks out, I cautiously slip into the pool, gradually lowering my limbs in one at a time. Sometimes, I think that I trust God’s promises in the same way. I take them one slow step at a time. I check to see if what God said could possibly be true—then, and only then, do I venture out in faith.
I have noticed that young children aren’t plagued with this reserved trust. If God says He answers prayer, then they expectantly look for His answer. If God promises to forgive them, then they confess and move on. If God calls them to tell others about Jesus, they boldly tell the grocery clerk about Him. No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).They understand what it means to trust God freely—unreservedly.
Lately I have asked myself, What if I abandoned my caution and broke away from my adult-onset wariness? What would it look like if I trusted God wholeheartedly to be who He says He is? How would I act differently if I uninhibitedly trusted in the promises of His Word? These answers came to mind:
- I would no longer have to be anxious before beginning a new program because it is God who will establish it (see Prov. 16:3).
- I wouldn’t be plagued by comparing myself to others who might do things better—because I believe in my status as a beloved child of God (see 1 John 4:16).
- I would be free to praise God before I see an answer to a prayer because I rely on God’s unshakeable trustworthiness.
There is an amazing freedom that I am finding in this type of reckless trust in God that I never experienced in my previous cautious reliance on Him. I am starting to discover just how much fun it is to say, “Catch me, Father!”
Strengthen Your Ministry: Study, Study, Study!
If you work with kids, it will happen sooner or later. While teaching a lesson, you you ask the class if they have any questions. Sure enough, one child asks a question that has nothing to do with the lesson.
Not only that; it’s a difficult one to answer quickly. For example: “Where did God come from?”or “Does God love the devil?” Or, “How can Jesus be God and man at the same time?”
And soon, others in the class start raising their hands with additional challenging inquiries.
Fruitful Learning Times
Our initial reaction may be to dismiss these questions because they don’t pertain to the lesson. But while this may be tempting—especially if you’re not sure how to answer—these can be some of the most fruitful learning moments for you and your class.
After all, the reason kids ask hard questions is because they are already thinking about them. Why not try to address them, even if they sidetrack you from the main lesson for a while?
Spend Time Studying
If you are a children’s pastor, or if you regularly teach kids about the Bible, it’s questions like these that remind us of the importance of studying (see 2 Timothy 2:15) to grow in our understanding of God. This can include reading books about theology, doing biblical research, memorizing Scripture—seeking God so we can get to know His will and how to love Him and others, not just to have information to present.
If we adopt an attitude of study to know God and know His will, we will be in a better position to disciple others. If we only study to obtain information for our lessons, that information will not be as impactful as presenting knowledge that has actually affected our hearts. We can’t give out what we don’t have ourselves. Kids can tell when Jesus really means something to us personally versus when we’re just sharing information.
Here are a couple of benefits this type of studying mindset provides to you and your ministry:
Preparation for Hard Questions
Sometimes, we need to be OK spending time studying a subject that may not have much to do with children’s ministry at the moment. For example, I have been struggling with the question of violence in the Old Testament as well as the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (For example: How does the New Testament fulfill the Old?) These subjects don’t appear on the surface to have much to do with children’s ministry. Even so, they might have more impact on children’s ministry than we might think initially.
This is what I mean: studying challenging subjects helps me better understand God’s purposes and how to relate to Him. This also helps me as a children’s pastor, as I teach about Him.
I can envision the day when a child will raise his or her hand in class and ask, “Why did God command the Israelites to kill all those people but Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for them?” (If we’re honest, we adults ask this question too.) The easy answer would be to say, “Because God commanded it and we don’t need to question it.” Answers like that sometimes do more harm than good, because we’re not showing respect for a child’s honest inquiry.
Studying difficult subjects like this can better prepare us to have well-informed answers. And we learn about resources we can share with parents, which can help them talk about challenging topics with their kids.
Absorb God’s Word
There are many reasons studying various topics in theology and Bible interpretation can assist us in ministry. But the most important point I want to make is that it is always good for us to know the Bible intimately. I encourage you to find the best way to simply sit down and read and absorb your Bible.
Memorizing Scripture has proven to be tremendous exercise for me. I like to memorize whole chapters and books at a time. Doing so helps me see the big picture and themes throughout a certain book; it helps me to develop perspective. If this sounds interesting to you, start with small books or letters such as Philemon, Titus, or 2 or 3 John. You will be surprised at how memorizing whole letters like these can help you in your understanding of them. Do a google search on Bible memorization apps you can download for help.
For some people though, memorization is difficult. That’s OK. I heard a pastor say once, “We are not all called to memorize but we are all called to meditate upon God’s Word.”
Find whatever method works best for you to absorb God’s Word in your mind and heart. Feed on it; drink from it. God will use it in your life and in the lives of others. And when kids ask difficult questions, you will be better equipped to know where to direct them in the Bible.
Planting Seeds, Both Now and In The Future
These are just a couple of benefits you will receive from adopting a lifestyle of studying and meditating on Scripture. I encourage you to find time in your daily schedule to take on a challenging topic that has been on your mind for a while. You will be surprised at how God can use that in your ministry—now or later.
In your walk with God and in your ministry, adopt St. Anselm’s motto, “Faith seeking understanding.”
How is your heart?
I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.
I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.
But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)
As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:
For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.
As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.
“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”
Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:
- God’s children (John 1:12)
- God’s beloved (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
- Complete in Him (Colossians 2:10)
- Called with a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9)
- A people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9)
- More than conquerors (Romans 8:37)
- Chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.
What Are They Doing?
I was amazed at what was unfolding before me. I had just given the first altar call in my ministry life and suddenly, kids started to come forward, first one, then three and before I knew it, 59 of the 64 fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys were filling the front of the camp lodge indicating that they wanted to follow Christ!
As much as I would have liked to think that God was calling me to take Billy Graham’s place as an evangelist, He wasn’t.
Something wasn’t right… and I knew it.
I looked at the 5 boys still seated and saw the bewildered looks on their faces. My altar call had been confusing and even a little manipulative. Who knows why all those kids responded that night? Was it because they wanted to know Christ? Or because they thought it was the cool thing to do? Or because everyone else was going forward and they didn’t want to be left out?
The last thing I wanted to do was to mislead a kid into thinking that he was a true believer when in fact he had just been caught up in the emotions of a moment.
That night at Jr. Boys Week of camp caused me to face a vital question: When someone responds to an opportunity of follow Christ, just what are they doing? Are they responding in faith to Jesus with an understanding of their need for a savior and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection, or are they responding to an emotional experience? Or possibly their response is a step towards salvation, but not yet an expression of faith?
I realize that only the Lord knows the heart and intentions of each person, so how do we know what is going on?
I wrestled with this through the years until I realized that Jesus gave four different calls to people that met them where they were on their spiritual journey and moved them forward.
Call #1 – “Come and see.”
When people are introduced the Jesus, they often have reservations and questions about Him. Jesus recognizes this and gives them the freedom to investigate Him. He is Truth, and He knows that He will stand up under any and all honest scrutiny, so He welcomes it.
When two of John the Baptist’s disciples first saw Jesus, they asked Him where He was staying and Jesus responded, “Come and see”. In other words, “Check me out” (John 1:38-39). Later, a Pharisee named Nicodemus had questions, and Jesus welcomed his inquiry (John 3:1-21).
Call #2 – “Follow Me.
Matthew and Philip were given this call (Matthew 9:9; John 1:43). This is a call to learn more about Jesus by following Him and seeing how the Lord makes a difference in day-to-day life – to become a disciple in the broadest terms. Answering this call is not yet true faith in Christ, but is a step towards saving faith and leads to a greater understanding of who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross.
Some people who answer this call become active in the local church and believe that they are saved, when in fact they are not. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 7:21-23 when He spoke of their lack of saving faith and impending judgment. These people would also include Judas Iscariot as well as the disciples who chose to walk away from Jesus in John 6:66.
But for some people, coming to faith in Christ is a process that grows and deepens until the person comes to realize their need for a savior. I am one of those people. I first responded to the gospel as a six year old, but it wasn’t until I was eleven that I fully understood that I was a sinner and Jesus was offering me the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. That night, I exercised faith and became a child of God by answering call #3.
Call #3 – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”
Peter and Andrew were first given this call in Mark 1:17. This call is where salvation takes place. We are invited to trust in Jesus and commit ourselves to Him, and experience the transforming power of eternal life in Christ (Matthew 10:38-39; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Evidence of answering this call is seen in the transformation that occurs. Jesus makes us into something that we weren’t before – fishers of men, children of God, saints – giving us a new life purpose and vision.
Call #4 – “Do you love Me more than these?”
This call to total surrender to Jesus is what Peter received in John 21:15 when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” The “these” Jesus spoke about included Peter’s boat pulled up on the beach next to them, the catch of 153 large fish, as well as his friends and family standing nearby. Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him more than his livelihood, financial success and stability, as well as his family and friends. In other words Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
These calls are not a 1-2-3-step process for everyone. For some, it is, but for others, like the apostle Paul, their first call is a combination of #3 and #4. What is important is that we realize these different calls so we can respond appropriately to where a person is on their journey to Christ.
To help us whenever we are talking with someone about a personal relationship with Jesus we need to remember to:
- Be praying for discernment and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Do not assume you know what their spiritual need is.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Respond to their answers as well as to their questions.
- Ask them if they are ready to make a commitment to Jesus as their Savior.