As I disciple women who have strong "church" backgrounds I am amazed at the large percentage of those who've "prayed that prayer and been baptized" more than once throughout their childhood and teen years. As a young adult they then "re-dedicate" their lives to Jesus Christ after living in rebellion. Looking back over their lives they aren't sure when they were actually converted. THIS IS NOT THE BIBLICAL PATTERN!
I believe Samuel's experience clarifies this issue. Let's take a look at his various childhood encounters with the Lord.
- Samuel was a "church boy." "The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli" (1 Samuel 3:1).Samuel hears God's initial call and although he responds he doesn't really understand what is going on. "Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am." And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me" (3:4-5a).
- Samuel hears the LORD call him a second time and he again responds. This time the LORD calls him by name. "Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me" (3:6).
- After Samuel hears the LORD twice and responds twice he still does not "know the Lord." "Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him" (3:7)
- Samuel hears the Lord call him a third time and responds but has yet to enter into a relationship with the LORD. "The LORD called to Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me" (3:8).
- Samuel hears the LORD again, for the fourth time. He again responds to what he hears. But, this time is different. "The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening" (3:10).
Children are sensitive to the voice of God. Adults should recognize God's work in small children as just that--God's work. They should verbalize to those children "God is speaking to you. Keep listening!" Unfortunately, adults in their excitement sometimes run ahead and "seal the deal" by leading the child in a sinner's prayer instead of leading them in a seeker's prayer to optimize their spiritual sensitivity. They are then immediately baptized and become church members. Though many are still in the seeking stage they think that they are now saved. (Children are often saved in at early age. I am simply addressing the growing trend among church kids who've made multiple decisions throughout their childhood and teen years.) God loves your children and patiently draws them. You can trust Him!
When the child again hears God speaking to him what do the well-meaning adults in their lives do? They reinforce the child's seeking as a salvation experience and issue them yet another "spiritual birth certificate" and they pass through baptism waters again. How confusing is all of this!
Then, as young adults, God continues His call. They once again respond, but this time with a "dedicatory prayer." It is after this time that many experience a change in their lives and become genuinely interested in spiritual things. Could it be that they are only now experiencing spiritual birth?
We must become better "soul" managers of children in the church house. And the story of Samuel's conversion process shows us how to do just that.
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
- What do the Philistines believe about their god in comparison to the God of Israel?
- Why does God use Samson? What does His use of Samson tell you about Israel's spiritual condition?
- What kind of father is Eli?
- Why does God remove Eli and his sons?
- What does Eli's conversation with Samuel tell you about Eli's spiritual perception?
- How do the Philistines initially view the Ark of the Covenant?
- What does Israel think having the Ark of the Covenant accompany them into battle will do for them?
- Why does the Lord allow the Ark of the Covenant to be taken by the Philistines?
- What does this teach Israel about God? About the Ark of the Covenant?
- How does the Lord humiliate the god of the Philistines?
- What do the Philistines learn about Israel's God?
Pray for the children in your church and pray for, by name, each of the children's workers in your church. Pray that the wisdom of God will be sought and relied upon by those who work with the children in your church.