Monday, April 6, 2009

Livin' On A Prayer

When I was a kid one of my most treasured possessions was my dad's worn old copy of "The Four Spiritual Laws" left over from his years on staff with Campus Crusade. I kept it in the top drawer of my desk so it was easily accessible if a playmate suddenly wanted to receive Christ as her Savior and Lord.

One thing I liked about this little marigold tract was the prayer to receive Christ toward the back of the booklet. I wasn't quite sure what I should tell my friends to pray and I certainly didn't want them to pray the wrong prayer and jeopardize their eternal destinies, so I took great comfort in that prayer example.

By the time I reached high school I was confident enough in my grasp of the gospel to give my own example of what one should pray if they wanted to become a Christian. I think it was something along the lines of, "Dear Jesus, please forgive my sins and come into my heart. Amen."

When I was in college and became ever so much more learned, I concluded that the phrase "come into my heart" was too confusing. Thus I switched to "please come into my life" (I'm not sure why I thought this was any less confusing) and tagged on "and make me the person you want me to be" for good measure.

This lasted me into my first few years of children's ministry until I started viewing everything through the lens of Christ as King. Then I modified my example prayer to, "Dear Jesus, please forgive my sins and be my King."

Judging by this timeline, I should be updating my prayer example within the next year. But I've recently wondered if I should give kids examples of prayers at all. The Bible explains what one must do to become a Christian, but offers no uniform prayer for doing so. It feels a bit like adding to God's law when I tell kids to pray a specific prayer. Also, giving kids the same prayer example every time I present the gospel may give them false assurance of salvation. They might think, "Hey, I prayed this prayer so I must be saved" without ever actually repenting and turning to Jesus.

I'm pondering if I should simply present the gospel, tell them what a Christians is and then leave the actual praying up to the kids. God knows their hearts and desires - do I really need to tell them what to say?

What do you think? Was hearing a specific prayer example helpful in your conversion experience? Was it harmful? And do you use a particular prayer when you're sharing the gospel with kids? Your thoughts are always appreciated.


briankb said...

I too grew up with those ever-present tracts. Even as a child they made me uncomfortable however. Today, with all due respect, they seem formulaic, as if we could follow a magical incantation to invoke God's grace. How about just leading by example and challenging the kids to live as Jesus taught. Belief comes as grace comes, unannounced and without formulas.

Johnnie said...

"I certainly didn't want them to pray the wrong prayer and jeopardize their eternal destinies."

Wow! I have to say, any God that would do that is one I want no part of!

Surely you don't quite mean that...

Mastering Divinity said...

I don't really have an answer here, but I know this: When the daughter of a pastor at my church prayer her prayer a few weeks ago to become a Christian, she, being about 5 years old, at no urging from her mother who was there with her, asked Jesus to be her "sacrifice". I thought that that was pretty amazing.

Jenny Bruce said...

Hey Johnnie! That comment was meant to be sarcastic. I guess I haven't quite mastered the art of written sarcasm:)

Mastering Divinity: That's so beautiful! I really think kids grasp so much more than we give them credit for, which is why I'm rethinking how I present the gospel.

Johnnie said...


I think it's more that I haven't quite mastered reading carefully...but thanks for clearing that up. I've been around Christians who (wrongheadedly) would have made just such a claim with no irony at all...Thanks for being a good sport for my own wrongheadedness...

riley said...

Hey Jenny,
I have actually wrestled with this quite a bit. Especially after I joined staff with AIA and use the Knowing God Personally booklet (now a nice blue color) on a regular basis. Of course the "kids" I share the gospel with are much older than the ones you deal with. I go through different season on what I think. Currently I am seeing there is some value to giving a possible prayer. Mainly because I really have had students that have no reference for talking to God and by just reading through the prayer with them it amazes them that they can talk to God so simply. But I stress that the there is no formula and ultimately it is a matter of the heart (that maybe is easier to get across to a college student though).
I can understand your fear that they might assume that they are saved because of some "magical" prayer w/o being truly repentant. I feel that tension for sure. But if this is the case then they really didn't understand the gospel to begin with.
Good thing to continue to wrestle through!

Bill Faris said...

Steve Sjogren of "Servant Evangelism" fame recommends that those approaching God in prayer for the first time begin with the words: "Here I am" and see where it goes from there.

Vik said...

I dont ask my kids to pray for their salvation. I generally let them know that I am praying for them. I think that as youth begin to understand what it is that they believe and the life changes that are upon them, they will begin to pray themselves, or ask me for prayer as well. it's more about the process than the product of coming up with a prayer and being saved on the spot. we are not saved; we are being saved.