I recently ran across an interesting story written by Langston Hughes. Basically the story was about how when he was younger, he was placed on the front pew at a certain age and there was the expectation that he would “get saved” that day along with the other children. He waited and waited and felt no need to do such a thing. His aunt and the preacher pleaded with him as other children went to the front to “get saved.” Here’s the very end of the story:
I heard the songs and the minister saying: “Why don’t you come? My dear child, why don’t you come to Jesus? Jesus is waiting for you. He wants you. Why don’t you come? Sister Reed, what is this child’s name?”
“Langston,” my aunt sobbed.
“Langston, why don’t you come? Why don’t you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don’t you come?”
Now it was really getting late. I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long. I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn’t seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.
So I got up.
Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.
When things quieted down, in a hushed silence, punctuated by a few ecstatic “Amens,” all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God. Then joyous singing filled the room.
That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old – I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn’t stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn’t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn’t seen Jesus, and that now I didn’t believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn’t come to help me.
All too often this similar thing happens for church kids in the United States. We grow up in churches and when we hit about the age of 12 or so, people start expecting us to make that decision. I know this because I remember that pressure.
The problem with this expectation of children is that action is forcing God. We can’t predict when God is going to move in someone’s life. Just because they have been going to church their entire life does not mean that they are ready to make that commitment at a magical age. God has a plan for each of us and that includes the time when we accept and commit to follow Christ. The only thing we as Christians can do is encourage the children to listen, make sure they’re hearing the gospel message, and pray that they will listen when God does work in their hearts. They’ll know when that time comes, whether it’s when they’re 12 or 27. It’ll happen when God knows that they’re ready to accept him.
The problem with this urging that happened in Langston Hughes’s life and many modern church kids’ lives is that it leaves many confused adults. They grow up in church, go forward to pray the prayer with their friends at a certain age because that’s expected, and then leave home to find out that they really don’t want that kind of life. It has to be a personal decision. Otherwise, it leaves confused young adults who don’t really know why they believe what they believe and at some point they start questioning their own beliefs. (speaking from experience once again, but thankfully I decided to keep following God).
I’m not sure where I am going with this, but maybe this story/reflection will help someone. Maybe you teach children and need to remember this. Maybe you are a child and don’t like all of the pressure. Maybe you’re a young adult who needs some assurance of their beliefs. Whoever you are, turn to God for guidance. Let him answer your questions.
If you want to read the entire story (which I suggest), I found it here: