It is normal for children to cry in the presence of the Holy Spirit. There seem to be different reasons for the tears and it is important to attempt to discern the reason before taking any action which might quench the Spirit.
I know it is often hard for adults to watch a child cry, for no “apparent” reason, but in my experience the pain – if they indeed feel any - seems quite irrelevant to the child when it is all over. The common result is immense joy because they have been in the presence of God.
What to do when a child cries
My first action is to do nothing. I wait and I watch for a while. I ask the Lord for discernment. If I feel He shows me what it is I then act accordingly. In every case I tread carefully. I do not immediately offer words of comfort, or the handkerchief. These could stop the work of the Holy Spirit if ministered too soon. Sometimes I will lay a hand gently on the child or ask another child to do that, or a few children – but never a crowd. I find it’s best to keep the supporting group small. Others can pray from a distance.
At some point, but not too soon, if the Lord hasn’t given any discernment, it is appropriate to ask the child if they know why they are crying. If they do not know, then the most likely reason is that it is intercession.
When it’s intercession
If a child does not know why he or she is crying, the answer usually is that it is some form of intercession. Sometimes the child knows, but not always. They will not be worried about that, so there is no need to pressure them for an answer. They will be happy to have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. They need to be reassured however that the Lord has used them powerfully for whatever reason He had. Tears of intercession can come in waves. Sometimes a wave of tears can be followed by a wave of joy, even laughing, before another wave of crying comes again.
Tears of Healing
Sometimes when hurting or abused children come into the presence of the Lord they will cry at the touch of His power and it will bring healing. Again, sometimes children don’t realise healing is taking place and will simply be experiencing God’s love while they are crying. The child can look to be in such pain, but be experiencing nothing but joy and love inside.
Tears of Repentance
One work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin, and He does not make children an exception. If they are crying tears of repentance they will know it. When the work is done and the sin confessed, there is a sense that the tears have washed them clean.
Tears in a Vision
Sometimes a child will begin to cry when they are experiencing a vision from the Lord. It would be most important in this case not to interfere with what the Lord is saying to this child through the vision or experience they are having.
When it’s just His presence
Some children cry for no other reason than the Lord is present. These children are sensitive to the Spirit and need to be encouraged that they may feel God’s heart more often and more easily than some others.
How long should the crying last?
Be prepared for the crying to last for a long time. Be assured it is not harmful. There have been rare occasions when I have asked the Lord to bring an end to the crying, and I have prayed for His peace to come, but I do not do this lightly. I must feel sure it is the right thing to do. Times I remember that I prayed for the crying to stop were that I felt the child was being affected physically, perhaps hyperventilating or looking exhausted and perhaps overly distressed. Sometimes the crying lasts just minutes, but I have seen children cry for over an hour. If the crying is intercession it is important not to stop the crying until there is a sense that the job is done, or at least that child’s part in it.
Why is the crying sometimes “catching”?
When a child is crying tears of intercession, it is quite common for supporting children to start crying also. I believe this is the Lord simply allowing them to share the burden which has been placed on the first child. If the tears are for healing, supporting children can pick up the pain of the child who is being healed, and therefore their tears are intercession for that person.
When crying is followed by laughing this too can be infectious, and it can genuinely be Holy Spirit laughter. However, laughing is more likely to be “flesh” or become flesh, than crying, so discernment may be needed when this occurs. After all it is funny to see someone laugh! Care needs to be taken not to be harsh with children over this and risk spoiling the work of the Spirit which has taken place. If laughter is discerned to have become the flesh, then to distract and move on to some other form of prayer or worship may be appropriate action.
Children do cry in the presence of God. There is no cause for concern. It may look emotional, but it is Spiritual and they actually enjoy it. It is an experience they do not forget, and one which whets their appetite for more, more power, more tears, more of the Lord.
Children’s Prayer Network, Australia