I'm not a fan of using the phrase "asking Jesus into your heart." We don't find that terminology used anywhere in scripture, and I think it is more confusing than helpful for most children.
That being said, we know and respect parents that have used that terminology with their children. And these families remind us that no matter what language you use with your children, you have to explain it anyway.
One phrase that I prefer over "Jesus in your heart" is "following Jesus." We see this language throughout the New Testament. However, we must explain to our children exactly what it means to follow God.
A great example of following God can be seen in the life of Levi (Matthew), from Mark 2:13-17. You can teach your children how Levi followed Jesus by his example of: 1) Knowing about Jesus, 2) Wanting Jesus more than anything else in life, and 3) Introducing Jesus to others. Additionally, this passage also shows why we should follow Jesus.
Knowing Jesus (vv. 13-14)Levi was a tax collector. As a Jewish man working for the Roman government, he was despised by the other Jews. He was content to just go through life, and make it work for himself.
But then Jesus was came. Jesus was nearby, teaching, and He called to Levi, "Follow Me!" Levi promptly began to follow Him.
Now, obviously Levi must have heard some of Jesus' teaching, and have heard of what Jesus was doing. I don't think he would have followed someone without knowing anything about him. He had some baseline knowledge.
In order to follow Jesus, you must first know about Him, and grow in your knowledge of Him. You must put yourself in a position to learn about God: reading the Bible, talking to Him, worshiping with others in a church.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." Romans 10:17
Wanting Jesus (v. 14)Levi knew about Jesus. Then, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, Levi "got up and followed Him." He left everything that made him successful in the world's perspective: money, solid job, healthy family, etc. He preferred a relationship with Jesus over worldly comforts.
There is nothing wrong with money, a good job, education, family, etc. However, if you want to follow God, you must love Jesus more than all these things. Jesus does not want to be a nice addition to your life; He wants to be the center of your life.
"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" Matthew 16:26
Introducing Others to Jesus (v. 15)Levi was learning about Jesus, and he thought so much of Jesus that he left his former life behind. And he thought so much about Jesus that he wanted all his friends to know Jesus, too. After all, if you knew the cure for cancer, if you kept it a secret, that would be morally wrong. In the same way, if you know the One who has the cure for our sin problem, and you keep Him to yourself, what kind of person would you be?
Levi doesn't run off to another country to tell people about Jesus. He starts with those people he already knows, and who are just like him. No matter what our sin issues are, we all need Jesus. I am no better than the prostitutes, tax collectors, and pagans that Levi invited to the party. But Jesus wants me, and He wants everyone to come to faith in Him.
"The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9
Why Follow Jesus? (vv. 16-17)If you want to make your own life work for yourself, if you have all the joy and hope and satisfaction you want, if you are perfect enough to get to heaven, then don't go to Jesus.
Now, whether or not you choose to follow Jesus does not change the truth about Him. He is God, and He died on the cross for our sins, and He rose again to prove His power over sin and death.
We all have a sin problem (Romans 3:23) and because of sin, we deserve death (6:23). But God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us, and to give us life (5:8-11). All He wants us to do now is respond to His offer of love, to trust in His sacrifice, and to follow Jesus.
The most important decision we ever make in life is what to do with Jesus. Will you ignore Him, or follow Him? Will you give Him a courteous acknowledgement, or will you trust Him?
"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9
- Spiritual Birthdays: Should We Emphasize?
- "How Do I Know If I Love God?"
- "How Do You Know That Jesus Is Real?"
- How Do I Know If My Child Is a Christian?
- Discipleship: When Is Enough Enough? (from The Resurgence)
**image courtesy of tudor-rose via flickr