Saturday, March 22, 2014

Let the Little Children Come

I was seven years old when I first heard his voice.

I knew his name, I'd heard most of the stories in his book, and I understood that without him I'd be lost. I loved him and I somehow knew that he loved me. But I had so many questions.

My Sunday School teachers had faithfully explained that in order to go to heaven, I had to invite Jesus into my heart. So every night, before I drifted off to sleep, I prayed a Sinner’s Prayer. It wasn't that I didn't trust Jesus to respond to the prayer--I knew that he was always good. But even at the ages of 5 and 6 and 7 I was aware of depravity in my own tiny heart. Each time I prayed that prayer I questioned my sincerity. Did I really mean it? Was I truly sorry for my sins? Had I used all the right words? How could I be sure that my prayer had worked? These questions haunted me most nights as I anxiously hugged my pillow.

Then one weekend I was invited to go to a friend's lake cabin. I have no memories of that time at the lake except the conversation that took place in the dark room as we slowed our breath and waited for Mr. Sandman. When my nightly questions came, I spoke them out, posing them as if, perhaps, my sweet friend might also have the same questions. Though I imagined I was speaking to her, she never replied. Eventually her gentle snoring indicated that she had already succumbed to sleep. But my questions kept surging on, like a tide that could no longer be restrained.

Do you believe in Jesus? Was he really the son of God?

Do you know that he died on a cross? That was almost 2000 years ago, but somehow it still matters today. Why does it matter?

They say he came back from the dead. That part is important. But why?

I think he loves people. I think he even loves me. I think he loves me even though I’m wicked. Is that true?

The questions came in their regular way, but on that night, the strangest thing happened. Each time I asked a question, an answer was spoken to my heart.  Satisfying answers, which I repeated aloud so that my ears could hear what my soul finally understood.

I did not know at the time from where the answers had come. They came from inside of me, and yet they were separate from me. But I knew they were right and true. It was only years later, as I told this story during a Bible study, that I realized that the Lord himself had spoken.

I never prayed the sinner’s prayer again. I slept that night with assurance.

I went home and told my dad that I wanted to be baptized. On Father’s Day 1978, wearing a white eyelet dress with a red satin sash that was sewn by my mother, I made a public profession of my faith—a faith born out of questions.

As I grew in knowledge and understanding, I found that the scriptures actually confirmed what I had experienced. For Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Being born into a Christian family, there wasn’t a day in my life that I didn’t know the name of Jesus. I believed before I could understand the significance of my belief. But in speaking out my belief—in confessing it, even to a sleeping friend—my salvation finally became a reality to me.

In his grace, Jesus revealed himself to me. He promises to be found by those who seek him with their whole heart; I sought him with my whole seven-year-old heart. It was an earnest quest, and Jesus showed himself faithful. Which is why I am especially moved by the Biblical accounts of Jesus welcoming the little children. I know from personal experience that Jesus still speaks to children.

I may not have understood everything at the age of seven, but Jesus made sure that I understood enough to not only be saved, but to certain of my salvation. He has proved faithful to me ever since. I am not saying that my faith walk has been flawless, but it has been consistent. I've had many questions and doubts along the way, but those no longer scare me, for my faith was made sight in a night of questioning. 

The difference is now I recognize his voice when he answers.

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