Ministering to Children
By Shelly Esser
The steady hum of voices and laughter lured me upstairs from where I was working. To my surprise, the backyard was spilling over with kids. Although I didn’t recognize it at first, my yard was in harvest. All over the newly green sprouting grass were the imprints of the playful feet of the neighborhood kids. Like little magnets, they were being pulled day after day into our yard. I wish I could tell you that I was thrilled with our daily yard intruders, but I wasn’t. Instead of seeing the eternal opportunity that was before me, I found myself irritated and resentful.
“What are all these kids doing here and where are their parents?” I silently wondered. “Do people think I’m the neighborhood babysitter? After all, I’ve got four active kids of my own to supervise.”
Almost before I could finish my complaints, God interrupted with, “This house and yard isn’t yours, it’s Mine and I am the One who determines the guests.”
In the middle of my resistance I was continually being convicted by the passage in Matt. 19:13-15 which says, “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’...And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them.”
Like the disciples, I was irritated, seeing the children as unnecessary interruptions. Perhaps, the disciples were upset because the children interrupted their time with Jesus. For me, it was the feeling that these kids were interrupting the carefully crafted schedule for my day. Probably more troubling was the realization that I was rebuking God through my poor attitude for allowing these children into my life; my attitude was communicating to Him that I didn’t want them brought to my home. I wanted them to go, not come. The longer I looked at my reaction, the harder it was for me to face the selfishness in my own heart. Simply, I didn’t want to take the time to open my heart to the kids that God was sending my way. I was tired of the kids on my doorstep every day, asking for snacks and drinks of water, wanting us to move our cars so they could ride their bikes on our driveway! I secretly wished that they would just disappear, or better yet move. Over time, it became glaringly apparent that my attitude was hindering what God wanted to do in the lives of the kids He was asking me to minister to. I was not being open to God’s will for me regarding the children in my neighborhood.
By nature, children are one of the most receptive groups to the gospel. In a recent survey among 4,200 young people, the Barna Research Group discovered that the greatest evangelistic window is among young children between the ages of 5 to 13. Children under the age of 15 comprise one third of the world’s population. Alarmingly, other statistics suggest that 78 percent of today’s young people are growing up in non-Christian settings. Childhood is God’s time for spiritual harvest. In my own observations, I have seen a real spiritual openness among the kids around me early on that slowly dissipates the closer they get to adolescence.
While children in the suburbs have frequently been granted every material indulgence, they are often emotionally starved, severely lacking in social graces, and spiritually orphaned. Many live in homes that have been completely deprived of Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:13-14 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden...Let your light shine before men (and children), that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Could it be that our home was to be the “light on the hill?” According to Scripture it is God’s will that I be the “light of the world,” that my “light should shine” so others would see His glory.
Sometimes we don’t want to see the harvest because it will kick us out of our comfort zone, forcing us to do something about it. That was certainly true for me. The first thing I did to change my heart was pray for an attitude adjustment. I prayed for God to free me from my selfishness, to give me the love that I didn’t have, to be willing to do God’s will. I prayed, “God, help me to see this challenging opportunity as a ministry, a chance to pass on the faith to those without.” Most of the kids in my neighborhood are completely unchurched¾growing up without Jesus. I didn’t want to be guilty anymore of being like the disciples who didn’t want the children to come to Jesus.
In Mark 10:16 we’re given the beautiful picture of Jesus’ compassion and love for little children: “And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them.” Jesus took time out of His busy schedule to take children in His arms and love them. Could I do any less? God was asking me to let Him use my touch to embrace the little children on my doorstep.
Prayer eventually changed me, transforming the way I now look into the children’s faces. Instead of feeling irritated when the doorbell rings or when a little face presses against our patio window to peek in, I see the spiritual hunger in their big, wanting eyes - a Holy Spirit-led hunger that keeps bringing them back for just one more touch, one more kind or encouraging word, one more conversation, one more glimpse into a Christian home.
There are children all around us whom God wants to touch through us. Loving and caring for the kids in our lives will cost and challenge us. But now more than ever, they need us. The question is: Will we let them come? Will we pause to embrace them and listen to the things that are on their little hearts? Childhood is the window of harvest. Every day that we delay, more spiritually hungry children will slip out of this window, making it even harder for them to hear and receive the good news later on.
It’s been a process, but I’m learning to be obedient to God’s will, letting the “rug rats” in my neighborhood, as we now affectionately call them, come into my heart. Most of the time, instead of seeing them as annoyances and irritations I see them as precious, priceless souls who need a Savior - lost little children in need of someone who will simply love them enough to pass on the faith.
There goes the doorbell again so I’ve got to run. Once again, the children have come. This time, thanks to an attitude readjustment, I’m eager to bring the light of Jesus to the children God is bringing to my doorstep!