Is that a provocative title? Yes. Is it clickbait? Maybe. Do I want you to stop teaching your kids to love Jesus? Certainly not. Do I have a point to make? Yes. Have I already asked about 3 too many questions? Definitely. Ok, well what am I talking about then? (Woops another question – sorry!). Hmm, let’s lead into this with a story…
The kid who was supposed to love Jesus
I want you to picture a kid. Let’s call him Dennis. (Unless you pictured a girl, and then you can go with Denise). I will stick with Dennis for now though. Dennis has the incredible privilege of growing up in a Christian family. His parents take him to Sunday School and talk about God. Sometimes they even have a crack at reading the Bible together as a family. And the one big thing that Dennis’ parents really care about is whether or not he is loving Jesus. He is asked regularly, ‘Do you love Jesus Dennis?’ If he shows any hint of doubt or uncertainty towards Jesus, it is shut down very quickly. He sees others at church who just seem ‘on fire’ for Jesus. But that’s not him.
So he learns to hide those feelings of uncertainty and doubt. As he grows up he is super conscious of his need to love Jesus, but sadly he just doesn’t feel it. By the time he leaves school, he leaves his faith behind because he has just never felt it. He’s never felt a love for Jesus – the one thing he was supposed to do. And he couldn’t get that right. So he’s off to try his fortunes elsewhere.
Love is a tricky thing
The sad thing is that there are far too many Dennis’ (and Denises) out there. Too many kids have grown up trying to love Jesus, but have been turned off by their lack of feelings. Now I don’t want to make Dennis’ parents feel guilty here. It is his sin for walking away. But I reckon there is some stuff they could have heard early on that would have been immensely helpful. And that is, don’t teach your kids to love Jesus first. What I mean by this, is don’t have loving Jesus the base category.
The most important thing you teach your kids to do. It will be an important category (see below), but it is not what needs to come first. When we teach our kids to simply love Jesus, we are asking them to do something very difficult. We are asking them to love someone they can’t see. This is tricky for anyone. Particularly when it is in competition with money, boys/girls, toys – things they can touch and feel. And if they don’t feel the love, they have nowhere else to go, because love for Jesus is the baseline.
Teach them to trust Jesus first
What needs to come before loving Jesus, is trusting in him. Trusting in him as a person. Teach them that he is strong, loving, kind, good, holy, righteous, and gracious. Teach them that he is God. Teach them that he loves to save. Teach them that he has all authority in heaven and earth. Teach them that they can trust him. He is trustworthy. This helps to personalise their relationship with Jesus, and will make love more possible.
And teach them to trust in his work on the cross. Teach them that he lived a perfect life, died a sinners death (for us), and rose back to victorious life. Teach them that if they trust in this work alone, they can be saved from sin into eternal life. Teach them to trust in Jesus for their salvation.
What about love?
So where does love fit into all this? Should we stop teaching our kids to love Jesus? Definitely not. There is a fairly strong command that Jesus gives about this somewhere…
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30
So we do still teach them to love God, but not first. We teach them to trust in Jesus first. And you know the wonderful thing about doing that? Love will naturally flow. When they experience the forgiveness that is found in trusting Jesus, it is likely that love will begin to flow. It’s not always the bubbly feeling we’d love to have (all puns intended). But it’s a deep affection that is marked by unwavering conviction and endurance. Again, I think Jesus said something about this…
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
Jesus is saying when we have been forgiven much, we will love much. So if we want our kids to love Jesus – which we do! – teach them to trust in him. And as they find their many sins forgiven in him, they will find their love for him kindled and growing.
A hot tip on love
Without a doubt, the hands down best thing you can do to help your kids love Jesus (after teaching them to trust him of course) is expressing love for him yourself. You don’t have to be flowing with bubbly feelings, but why not let a, ‘You know what? I really love Jesus’ come out of that mouth of yours occasionally. Or if you know that your kids are looking at you while you’re praying (they’re obviously not the only ones with their eyes open…) work to have a small look of affection towards God on your face. Or take a moment to explain that it is because you love Jesus that you chose to drive the family to church on this freezing morning rather than staying at home in front of the fire! Just from time to time, allow your kids to see that you love Jesus. This will be huge for them.