June 27, 2015.
That's the day my 5-year-old son silently repeated the prayer I asked the high school students to pray.
He quietly listened, sprawled over two chairs in the back by the sound booth as Daddy, the camp speaker, shared about the brokenness of our sin and our need for a gracious and powerful savior. Sin isn't a popular concept to talk about, but it certainly has significant ramifications for our lives. I wanted to share good news, how we have hope in the midst of our brokenness due to God's immense love for us. Somehow the words sank into his little mind and heart, and the Spirit prompted him to pray.
"Jesus, forgive me."
That was it. A simple, three-word prayer. He didn't even tell me about it when it happened. I came and sat next to him after the talk was over, and he giggled and squirmed and made goofy faces at me. I put my arm around him and we sat there silently together. It was only the following day when, unprompted, he mentioned to Mom how Daddy had asked the people to pray, so he had prayed too.
"What did you pray?" she asked.
"Jesus, forgive me," he replied.
She asked if he knew what Jesus had done for humanity on the cross, how Jesus had risen from the dead.
Say what you will about the irrelevance of preaching in our culture. I can offer my own critiques. But those pale in comparison to this moment: My son listened and responded to God's voice.
I preached the Gospel. And he answered with repentance.
He knows that Jesus is God. (He also knows Jesus is also God's Son, which leaves him a bit perplexed. Paradoxes tend to do that, particularly for kindergartners.) He knows that Jesus forgives. He knows that Jesus saves, in every sense of that word. He knows that he, in his little 5-year-old way, needs forgiveness, and that God responds with love and mercy and grace when we turn to him. He essentially prayed a personalized version of the Jesus Prayer:
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Sometimes we may have a tendency to cast doubt upon the faith of young children. "Well, did they really mean it? Did he/she truly understand what it means to follow Christ? Are they truly saved by the prayer they prayed?" I find these skeptical questions to be unhelpful, and betray a lack of confidence in both the God who saves, and the child who has responded to God's grace. Jesus makes it pretty clear: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." I, for one, believe him.
I can learn a lot from my son's simple faith. His prayer is also my prayer. I still need forgiveness, still daily need to practice repentance, still need to experience God's grace through the process of sanctification.
Jesus, forgive me for my cynicism and doubt. Jesus, forgive me for my impatience and anxiety. Jesus, forgive me for the corners of my soul that still wallow in fleshly indulgences. Jesus, forgive me for the pain or harm I've caused others, knowingly or unknowingly. Jesus, forgive me.
God has had incredibly mercy on me, a sinner, for my son has listened and responded to the good news, and I am overwhelmed with joy.