At five years old I hadn’t committed any big sins, broken any laws or caused any trouble in the neighborhood. In fact, I suppose my biggest fault according to my mom was that I would sometimes develop selective amnesia ( If she asked me if I had broken a rule I would sometimes reply , “I forgot”.) I guess I’ll have to take her word for it since I don’t ever remember doing that.
What I do remember is being at a revival meeting where my uncle Bob Utter was preaching and knowing that the sinners he was addressing that night included me. No one said anything directly to me. I just knew. So I got up from my seat, took my five-year-old self down the aisle and knelt at the altar alongside people several years older and several feet taller than I. But we had all come for the same reason. To ask forgiveness for our sins and to ask Jesus Himself to come and live inside us.
Granted, I had been born into a pastor’s home and had heard talk of Jesus all my life. But that didn’t make me exempt from needing salvation. Nor did it make me exempt from temptation. The very next day after my “come to Jesus” experience a bully at my school pushed me out of the swing set and into the dirt. I came up out of the dust ready to attack with every bit of vengeance my small frame could hold when I suddenly remembered, “Oh, I shouldn’t do that because Jesus lives in me now.” That incident alone leaves me certain that young children have the mental capability and spiritual capacity for an early relationship with God.
Proverbs 20:11 states that “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right.” Having spiritual awareness at an early age gives a child a distinct advantage through the sometimes tumultuous developmental years which are to follow. Knowing Jesus early on gave me a certain sureness of what I was about “on the inside” which later translated as the self-confidence needed to sometimes go against popular opinion or cultural tide.
Having spiritual awareness at an early age gives a child a distinct advantage through the sometimes tumultuous developmental years which are to follow.
I love the story of Samuel (I Samuel 3), a child who was brought to the temple at an early age to serve under Eli the priest. When God calls him, Samuel does not recognize the voice of the Lord because (v7) “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” Then when Samuel goes running to Eli the first, second and third times his name is called, Eli finally realizes it is God who is calling Samuel’s name and instructs him to say, “Speak Lord”, if he hears his name called again.
Samuel does as he is told and receives an entire prophetic revelation of events to come, spoken to him directly from the Lord. He relays these words to Eli the priest who confirms they are from God. Then verse 19 says “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.” Another translation of that same scripture reads. “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said was wise and helpful.”
Children have a potential for understanding spiritual concepts which is far greater than we sometimes recognize. As the guardians of their development, we the parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and friends are granted the privilege of encouraging and enhancing their spiritual growth. Many churches now have staff hired specifically to teach the young about prayer, discerning God’s voice and practicing spiritual gifts which in the past have been thought of as being only for the adult congregation. With earlier exposure to the world’s evils and perils, I for one am reassured when I see families, churches and communities of faith equipping their children with the armor needed to defend themselves against the onslaught of ideologies coming their way.
As the guardians of their development, we the parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and friends are granted the privilege of encouraging and enhancing their spiritual growth.
In my opinion it is never too soon to teach, to train, to nurture and to impart foundations of faith which will strengthen a child’s inner self and most likely help sustain them for life. A clear memory I hold dear to my heart is of tucking my three-year-old, Jordan, into bed one night. Squeezing him tightly I kissed his forehead and said with a smile, “Do you have any idea how much Mommy loves you, Jordan?” With all the confidence in the world he lifted his forefinger in the air and proclaimed, “Not as much as JESUS, Mommy!” I was thrilled that somehow I had imparted to him the truth that even though I loved him with my whole being, there was a faithful, all-wise and all-knowing God who loved him even more.
Aware of the fact that I would one day exit the stage of their lives, it was important to me that my children were connected to a Divine Presence which would never leave them, never fail to give them guidance and, as in the case of Samuel, “let none of their words fall to the ground”.
Addressing Timothy, Paul’s protégé whom he referred to as “my dearly beloved son”, Paul encourages him to stir up the gift of faith within himself “which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Tim 1:5) Paul references to Timothy the firm faith that was modeled for him by his mother and grandmother but also reminds him that same foundation exists inside him, no doubt a faith he had held since he was a very young child.
The following verse is perhaps my favorite in all of scripture: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7) Encouraging and imparting faith to a child helps him become a person of substance, of compassion, of insight and of grace. And perhaps best of all, it helps allay the fears of a world he cannot control.
My faith has sustained me in dark times, held me in sorrowful times and strengthened me when I have needed it most. That faith has been examined, questioned, tested and tweaked. But I will forever be grateful that as a five-year-old child I boldly walked forward and claimed what was to become the very best part of all I will ever be.