This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Jesus in my heart

My daughters periodically beg to become members of our church. This would warm my heart more if their requests didn’t always fall on Sundays when we celebrate communion.


I sympathize. How well I remember that gnawing desire to solemnly pull off a piece of the soft bread and delicately select my own teensy plastic cup filled with dark, mysterious juice.

Of course, I explain to them that, as Anabaptists, they are given a chance to mature before professing public, lifelong commitments. However, each time they ask I am reminded that they are getting older; with each year comes greater accountability.

Soon my eldest will go to summer camp. At the final campfire she may be invited to make a conscious decision to choose Christ and his kingdom. This is what I pray for, yet I hope she will understand what she is in fact choosing.

The wording we use with children varies. They can accept Jesus as their personal Savior, or make a commitment for Christ, or get saved. My least favorite has always been, “ask Jesus into your heart.”

For young children this is confusing in a literal way. We tell them true stories about a man who talked to Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and then reveal that this same man wants to crawl into their chest.

As an elementary kid I always found the phrase a bit odd, if not comical. I wanted to go to church and heaven. I wanted to sing to God, to follow his commandments, to please him. Which is to say, I wanted to be a Christian. But I never desired to have Jesus in my heart.

The heart invitation is also confusing spiritually. Why does Jesus need to come into me now, at this particular moment? Hasn’t he always been with me? Isn’t he everywhere, all the time?

I suspect we use the Jesus-heart metaphor because we figure children can’t understand an unseen reality. But that isn’t true.
Children are intimately aware of powers they cannot see. Love and anger and fear: all have tangible implications. They change behavior, alter events and shift reality.

Children feel all kinds of “spirits” in their bodies. Excitement is in their gut, churning around. (My daughter calls them “flutterflies.”) Peace is in the muscles, relaxed and quiet. And anger crawls all over, from clenched fists to locked knees.

What a revelation for a child to be told she also possesses a Holy Spirit — the perfect, completely good, breath of God. What a salvation to know that whenever she calls upon the name of Jesus, this Spirit will reveal the Truth and instruct her in the ways of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We often fear that our children get fed up with the exteriors of Christianity: the required time, rules, money and guilt. Being part of the church does indeed come with unsavory side effects. We live in a fallen world, and Christ’s bride still bears many blemishes. So why not tell our youth the best part at the very beginning?

When they “accept Jesus” (the man from Galilee who bodily left planet Earth quite a while ago), they really accept his Holy Spirit.

Because of this Spirit they will feel and see and hear the power of his kingdom unleashed in their hearts and minds, their actions, their lives.

Perhaps the very best part is that because of the Spirit they will know with their entire being that this whole Christian thing is real.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Asheville, N.C.

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