Jesus taught spiritual truths with real-life stories. As a parent, grandparent, or Sunday School teacher, you have probably read these stories hundreds of times. Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’s parables are about seeds, plants, and growth? These stories are more than just tips for a past agricultural age—they are rich lessons for us today. The parables teach us how to water, feed, and nourish spiritual growth in the children we have the privilege to lead.
Gazing outside my office window on a chilly New England spring morning, I see one of my favorite trees in our front yard. Every year, the tree’s branches start to flourish in the late spring, and buds begin to poke out after a long winter’s beating. And at the start of summer, its strawberry-red blooms are stunning. This is the fruit of a seed planted in good soil, watered, supported, and cared for. The seed grew more and more each year until it became a strong, vibrant, flourishing tree.
Think about the hearts of the children that God has entrusted to your care. Some may already be sprouting and growing well in their faith. Others may seem more like empty branches, and others still like seeds. How do we awaken their hearts to come alive to the gospel? The answer is that we cannot. Only God can break the seed’s outer shell and start the miracle of new life in their hearts. Like a gardener standing before her tiny vegetable plot in the spring, we don’t know what seeds will sprout. We faithfully water and care for them all—and trust God to provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6–7).
Here are five distinct “watering cans” that can be a helpful part of the process to awaken, nourish, and nurture children’s hearts:
For children and adults alike, trust is earned, not given. When I served in Young Life years ago, one of their core values was “earning the right to be heard.” As we build relationships, we open the door for evangelism and discipleship. So play a game together. Ask open-ended questions that get them talking and follow up on something they previously mentioned to you. When we connect with children over what interests them, they will open their hearts and minds to hear what we want to teach.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Your words are powerful. Your encouragement might be the only praise a child hears all week long. Even if a child is too young to communicate back to you, they can hear and understand the tone of your voice and the melody of your words. As children mature, it is vital that they hear truth and edification, spoken in love, from a variety of adults in their life.
As leaders, teachers, and parents, our time with children is limited. Deuteronomy 6:5–8 encourages us to teach our children to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, and strength. “And these words . . . shall be on your heart” (6:6). The most important message we can share is the gospel. What a privilege to tell children the truth about who Jesus is, what he has done for them, and how they can honor him in their lives.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Give children the gift of a godly example. As you teach, serve, and care for others, they can see the fruit of the Spirit alive and working in you. Greet them with a hug or high five. Show up faithfully and excited to be there, week after week. When time with kids doesn’t go according to plan, demonstrate patience and gentleness. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” May they follow our examples, as we follow the example of Christ.
As you educate children with God’s Word, pray that the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to know Christ and equips them to make him known to others. Some of the most heartfelt and transformative conversations can come from a child sharing their faith with others. Encourage children how to apply Scripture to their daily lives. Teach them how to search their Bibles when they face trials, feelings, or questions. Show them how to share the gospel with others or lead a friend to trust in Christ.
Fellow waterers, be encouraged with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:5–9:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”1 Corinthians 3:5–9
We are servants of the Lord, ambassadors for these children who are brought into our lives for a season. We care for the tiny little seeds—hearts that might be still asleep, barely awake, or fully alive for Christ. Water away, fellow workers. You might not see strawberry-red blooms today. But I assure you, in faith, the blooms will abound. Do not become weary in the work that you are doing. A month from now, a year from now, or even a decade from now, there might be a strong, vibrant, flourishing believer who comes to find you and tell you all that God has done in their soul. Your heart will leap for joy over the visible fruit of a seed you played a part in watering.
This article was originally posted on Bible Study Media’s blog.
Hearts Alive provides liturgical congregations a high quality, three-year children’s curriculum that combines captivating content, lectionary alignment, and gospel focus for students ages 3-12. Join our Hearts Alive Community to learn more about the curriculum and connect with others using it in their congregations.