Two Sundays ago, I baptized my son Joseph.
Although we knew it was a decision he had been wrestling with for some time, the timing was somewhat of a surprise. On the first Sunday in February, I preached a sermon that wasn’t explicitly evangelistic, so, as I do from time-to-time, I decided to lead the congregation in a different type of response time, rather than a come-forward invitation. After the service, my son was visibly upset. When we tried to find out why, he fought back tears while refusing to tell us what was going on.
I left it alone until that night, after our regular time of Bible story and prayer. We were joking around, and I took that moment of levity to see if he was ready to let me know what had been upsetting him. Eventually, he told me that he had been thinking of coming forward that morning, and then I didn’t give him the opportunity.
Joseph is now nine years old, and has seemed to have both understanding and a measure of faith for years now. His issue with committing to Christ and especially baptism had always been fear. He has wanted to please God, but he had been afraid of what God might call him to do, and he was afraid of baptism in particular. So in times when he felt the Spirit’s conviction, it was all about mustering the courage to go ahead and make the step. That morning, I had cut him off while he was in the middle of stirring up his courage.
What I realized that night was that, in my earnest attempt to make sure that he made his own decision, I had left him to make a monumental step all by himself. He felt tremendous pressure to make the decision in the moment during the few minutes of music at the end of a Sunday morning service. I assured him that night that he could make the decision any time–long before Sunday–so when the time came, his mama could grab his hand and they could go to the front together. The decision would already be made. When I told him that, he told me he was ready that night.
So when my wife was finished putting the girls to bed, we gathered in Joseph’s room and prayed. I helped him pray to offer his life to Jesus, then I prayed over him a blessing, followed by my wife. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
On the day of his baptism, Joseph was both nervous and excited. With his grandparents in town to witness the event, he was plunged under the water to be raised to a new life in Christ. And since the day of his commitment, we’ve started to see the new creation emerge–stronger, less fearful, ready to learn and obey. (There is a pretty long list of “firsts” for him in just the few weeks since the day he committed to Christ.) It is exciting to see the work God is doing in answer to our many prayers.
I am sharing this story for a few reasons (not the least of which is that I am proud of my son). One is that this experience has reinforced to me the truth that there is nothing I desire more than to see my children follow Christ. I want them to know Jesus, to live the abundant life in him, and to surpass me in knowledge, wisdom, and joy. Nothing I do in life, much less in supposed service to ministry, can undermine this priority. There is no greater ministry goal for me, and I am sure that is true for most ministers who would read this blog.
So I hope that sharing some of the details of this story might help someone else as who is praying for their children, worrying about how to guide their child firmly toward the Lord without violating their need to own the faith for themselves. The lesson here is that God did it. He did the work in Joseph’s heart, gave me the insight into what was really going on, and led all of us to pray in a way that freed him to overcome his fear and follow through. We prayed for a good, solid decade for that day. The work of discipleship is still just beginning, but we rejoice in answered prayer.
Finally, my son’s conversion helps me to realize, with full impact, the value of a single life turned to Jesus. For those of us who work with small numbers, we need a reminder of the significance of each person. Not every person I encounter is my son, of course, but he or she is someone’s son or daughter, God’s precious creation. Just as I would not trade my son’s conversion for ten thousand others, there is no less dignity in being the one who faithfully calls the few into the kingdom than the one who calls the multitudes.
I have two young daughters; Susanna is two and Hope is six. (Susie cried out, “My turn!” after she saw Joseph’s baptism.) I pray in faith that the day of salvation will come for both my girls at the right time. Meanwhile, I ask God to make my heart tender to the sons and daughters of others, to help me see in them the value God sees. Let us be encouraged that, when the numbers are small and the work is hard, if we have ever even reached one, the work is already worth it. And let us believe in faith that a greater harvest is coming.