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Pat Verbal

A Heart After God

How do we nurture faith in the hearts of children? In Hebrews 11:6 we read, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Children understand the concepts of being dependent. They depend on parents and teachers to help them master new skills. Maybe this is part of what it means to have childlike faith -- to rely on the guidance of someone wiser and to believe that trust will be worth it. God trains us to be faithful as he is faithful. This is not simple behavior modification, but the radical transformation of a heart after God.

"To be faithful is to be present and patient wherever we find ourselves," writes Westerhoff, "that is, to neither run nor fight. To be faithful is to open ourselves spiritually to God and to discern what God is trying to do so that we might cooperate."

Do children see this kind of authentic faith in your church community? Beckwith, in her book Postmodern Children's Ministry, writes, "Communities are places where all of life is shared on some level: the good, the bad, the messy, the shameful, the startling, and the fantastic. It should be the one place where those who are wounded...can come for balm and healing."

Families attending a large Bible church in Texas experienced a very unusual worship service in September 2004. At the beginning of the pastor's sermon, he invited a couple to join him on the platform. As they came forward, he explained that the wife had formerly been the Minister of Music of this church. She had resigned two years ago after admitting that she was involved in an affair.

For the next half hour, she and her husband described their journey from pain to wholeness. They told how their pastor and Christian friends led them to forgive, repent, and be reconciled to one another and their family. This couple's children came forward and told everyone how proud they were of their parents. The church board affirmed their faith in this couple by reinstating the woman as Minister of Music. To end the service, she sang "Amazing Grace" before a tearful congregation.

My grandchildren attended that worship service. They'd moved to Texas three years earlier with my son, who's a single parent. I can't tell you how many times we've prayed and cried with them, trying to make God real to children whose mother says there is no God. I was grateful that Sunday morning for a dramatic display of faith and the clear message that God is at work in the hearts of people. When I asked our grandchildren what they felt during the service, one replied, "I felt like we're not alone."

While your church may not agree with such a public forum, consider Westerhoff's words: "The church exists for no other reason than to help make and keep human life genuinely human...The church cannot afford to be an institution among institutions."

What are some ways your church is sharing the "real heart" of the gospel with children?

Courage to Live God's Story

The "yellow brick road" of this generation leads through a postmodern forest, where dangers grab for kids' very lives. The loving God they sing about in Sunday school seems powerless when they hear of global violence…especially against children. Keeping children busy with good things is okay, but helping them see God in the hard places will give them courage to live out their faith story.

I've read James Dobson's bestseller, When God Doesn't Make Sense, several times. It's filled with stories of people who trusted God when there was no good reason to believe. Many were angry with God, yet they decided to trust him with their very souls. Dobson drew two conclusions. First, we can have crises with God or without God -- either way, crises will come to the human condition. Secondly, God doesn't have to explain himself to us -- because he is God.

Like the adults in Dobson's book, countless children have loved and served God in spite of cancer, divorce, the death of a parent, disabilities, parents with mental problems, poverty, and abuse. Why did these brave kids choose to trust in a God they couldn't see? Because they didn't just know about God…they had met God personally. Where? In communities of faith and in worship. Kathleen Chapman, in her book Teaching Kids Authentic Worship, calls worship the glue that makes kids stick to God.

"Practicing authentic biblical worship as God intended produces supernatural adhesive," Chapman writes. "Simply put, [this] relationship with God generates glue so strong nothing on earth will break its hold. If children are worshiping God the way God intended and Scripture instructs, they don't walk away from him."

God's yellow brick road leads children to a heavenly home beyond their wildest imaginations, where gates of pearl and streets of gold await them. It's not over the rainbow, but it's through faith in the cross of Christ where dreams do come true. cm

Pat Verbal is an author and founder of Ministry to Today's Child, a consulting and training ministry (

Road Signs to the Land of Things Unseen

  • STOP -- Say what you've been told about God.
  • YIELD -- Put what others told you about God into your words.
  • GO -- Use something you know about God in your life.
  • CAUTION -- Understand someone else's ideas about God and compare them to what God's Word says.
  • CROSSROAD -- Put several facts or ideas about God together and use them to answer a question or solve a problem.
  • SAFE CROSSING -- Decide if this truth or action has value to you and why.

The Prayer of Examen

"Yahweh, you examine me and know me" Psalm 139:1.

Examen is the daily examination of our glimpses of God and our failures to notice God. Traditionally, examen is done at the end of the day. Two questions make up this reflection.

The first question focuses on the positive parts of the day when you were most aware of God's presence or for which you want to thank God.

The second question focuses on the parts of the day when you felt most separated from God or those actions for which you wish to ask God's forgiveness.

Examen concludes with prayers of confession, thankfulness, and intercession.

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