I was there with my four-year old boy Ethan on the Virginian hilltop that crisp fall day.
I sat on the trail edge with him in my lap looking out on the valley of burnt oranges and brilliant reds. And I prayed with him when he asked Jesus into his heart. It is one of my favorite memories.
Ethan isn’t an overly expressive boy – except when scoring touchdowns. He is shy and quiet around strangers. I think it comes from his Canadian Anglo Saxon roots. It’s the same excuse I use for not dancing in public… For the two years following Ethan’s salvation prayer, he was reserved. That is to say, his faith was a private one. When it came to life, he was loud at Lego Star Wars and flag football. But when it came to praying, he was beyond quiet, he had nothing to say.
Ethan didn’t like to pray. Not at the supper table, not at bedtime, not in the morning and certainly not at church. He was shy. He was embarrassed. He did his best to give the impression of disinterest. I was facing a parent’s conundrum. I wanted my son to learn how to pray but I wasn’t certain how to make it happen. I had been trying to find a way to encourage him, not for form or religious expression but for relationship - that he might encounter God’s love through prayer.
Prayer is one of the ways we learn how to hear God. This hearing is absolutely essential because hearing increases our faith. In fact you could say it this way “faith comes by hearing… (Rom 10:17)” So I was intent on my son not just knowing about God but knowing how to hear God.
Several years ago on a Saturday morning, two years after Ethan’s salvation experience, our kids came into the bedroom and jumped in bed with us. After the customary “good morning” and “how did you sleep?” my daughter Maddy told a story about a friend of hers who just got a puppy.
As a parent of children without a puppy, this is dangerous territory. But before I could say anything to defuse the situation, Karen blurted out, “it would be fun to get a puppy!” That’s all it took. Maddy heard a positive comment about a dog and the little fire we had spent years squelching immediately ignited into a raging inferno. “We should get one! I want a puppy sooo bad!” Ethan chimed in, “Me too, it would be so cool!” I looked at Karen incredulously and then did my best to give her the evil eye. She just smiled.
The rest of the morning was spent discussing all the reasons we couldn’t get a dog right now. As I got out of bed I said, “Your sister Eva is too little.” Maddy said, “She’s almost two, dad, and then she will be three!”
As I brushed my teeth I garbled, “We don’t have a fence.” Maddy was ready for that one - “I will walk him every day, three times a day!” “Yeah, me too!” Ethan promised.
As I put my shoes on to go for my morning run I said, “What about the poop - who’s gonna pick it up?” I thought I had them on that one. Maddy didn’t even hesitate, “We will of course!”
When I got back from my run, Maddy and Ethan met me on the front porch. As I stretched, Maddy began explaining how they could get a bucket and a shovel and how her friend has a dog and they pick up the poop with bags.
I showered and dressed and found Maddy and Ethan waiting outside the bathroom door with drawings of them playing with the “beautiful puppy.” “What’s this one?” I asked Ethan. “In that picture I am wrestling with the puppy,” he grinned. “And this one?” I asked as I took the second offering out of his hands. “In that picture I am sleeping with the puppy.” He actually giggled, which if you are a parent you know is almost impossible to experience without joining in. I giggled with him and then realized I was dangerously close to being swayed by Maddy’s sincere enthusiasm and Ethan’s boyish charm.
I had to leave for a meeting. But before I left, I found Karen in her office and with as much accusation as I could muster said, “You started this!” She just smiled.
What I found when I got home blew my mind. Karen was on the computer, the kids were hovering around her. As soon as I walked in, the kids started yelling,
“Dad come see, come see! It’s the most cutest puppy ever!”
“Seriously?!” I said to Karen. She just smiled.
The Maddy-Ethan-persistent-spouse stuff continued all afternoon and evening. Karen just kept smiling.
Finally it was bedtime. I sat at the foot of Maddy’s bed while she scratched my head and Ethan sat on the floor with me. I told them a story about how one time when I was younger, I went on a treasure hunt. I discovered a cave with a golden statue. The cave was booby trapped with poisonous arrows that shot out of the cave walls. And there was a huge pit that I had to use my whip to swing across. And after I got the statue, the place started to cave in and a huge perfectly round boulder almost flattened me. I barely escaped the cave…
After my story, I prayed for both of them. Maddy wanted to raise the puppy discussion again but I pulled that old dad trick - “I don’t want to talk about it anymore until I have discussed it with your mom.” Then I herded Ethan into his bedroom to tuck him in.
When I got there, he didn’t want to talk about the story or even wrestle. He just wanted to discuss the puppy. I had planned on using the same tactic I’d used with Maddy, when I heard God speak to my heart. It was so beautiful I choked up.
“Jason, I love you. Do you believe me?” That had become a common thread in my own prayer time with God. He seemed pretty intent on me becoming sure in His love.
And in that interaction with God I suddenly knew what He was inviting me to do. While kneeling by Ethan’s bed I said, “Hey buddy, let me ask you a serious question. How much do you think God loves you?”
He paused, “I don’t know.” I asked another question. “Do you think God wants you to have a puppy?” For a moment there was hope in his eyes. Then he got serious and again said. “I don’t know.” I smiled and leaned in, “I want you to pray and ask God whether we should get a puppy. You and God talk for a while and then you tell me what He says. We will do whatever He tells you.”
I could barely control myself emotionally as I said this to him. I already knew Gods answer. You see, He loves my son with a love that rivals His love for me. I kissed Ethan on the forehead and said, “ I want you to really talk with God and hear what He says. When you have heard from Him, come tell me.” Ethan looked at me, scrunched his brow and in a reverent tone said, “Ok dad.”
About twenty minutes later He walked downstairs. “Dad?” “Yes?” I said. “I think God wants us to get a puppy.” I nearly started crying again. My son and God were talking! “Are you sure?” I asked. “I think so.” Ethan said. “Well, I think so too but I want you to be sure. Go pray some more until you are sure.” Another twenty minutes or so passed and he came down again, this time grinning ear to ear.
“I’m sure!” he said.
“Me too. Lets get a puppy!”
…I believe God is always saying one thing: “I love you.” And He always follows up with a question, “do you believe me?”
What would our lives look like if we could answer the question God is always asking: “Do you believe that I love you?” What would life be like if we could somehow live in the revelation that the plans He has for us really are always good? (Jeremiah 29:11) What kind of people would we become if we could somehow breathe in and out such authentic hope. How profound would our joy be to know this Jesus?
1 John 4:8 says it best: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God is love. The words “God and “love” are interchangeable. His very nature is love. The very foundation of this universe is love.
I am learning that the power of His love is life altering. It’s my salvation, my redemption, and my provision. It’s my strength, my joy and my peace. God’s love is an all-consuming fire that encompasses every particle of me - if I surrender, if I let Him. Every need or question I have is answered in a greater revelation of his love.
This isn’t a “feel good gospel” that I’m preaching, this is a feel good, love good, give good, die good, pray good, live good, suffer good, praise good Gospel… It’s all Good!
This isn’t name-it-claim-it, this is about faith, about hearing and knowing and owning. This isn’t about God giving us things, but about the revelation of God’s love. This is about an understanding that he loves us regardless of what of our circumstances say. This is about believing that His love is good, always.
Can you imagine if our hearts where like Ethan’s when we prayed? Can you imagine if we could truly come to God with such sincere anticipation? I believe that if we knew His love, truly knew His love, we would never fear again. Sin wouldn’t exist and nothing would be impossible. Though this full revelation may not take place until we reach heaven, I believe it’s available to us here on earth now in greater measure than we could even ask or imagine.
As Ethan headed back up to bed, Karen came into the room and asked, “What was that about.” “Oh you know. We’re getting a puppy.” I said. Karen just looked at me and smiled…
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Website: www.afamilystory.org