He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 18:2-4
Like many of the sermons I preach or articles that I write, this one is probably more for me than anyone else. Out of the blue the other day during an Easter Sunday worship service at church, I sensed the Holy Spirit calling me in a playful way to become more childlike again.
It is true and Biblical that parents have a crucial role in instructing and teaching their children in the way and word of the Lord, but many times God uses children to teach or remind parents of what childlike faith looks like. The key word here is childlike not childish. We are called to mature in our faith and understanding, yet at the same time without losing the simplicity, humility, purity and playfulness of children.
I don’t know about you, but I know it’s true of me, and even Jesus’ first disciples, that it is easy to lose that sense of child-likeness. I was a pastor for six years and now lead a mission organization. I know first-hand and in very deep ways, how easy it is to become cynical, jaded, even bitter, due to the disappointments, hurt and things you see or experience in dealing with people and in ministry on a very intimate level. Emotionally it can really sap you of strength and joy. And in the case of the disciples (as well as us too if we are honest) our own ego’s, pride, agenda’s and selfish ambitions rise up and exert themselves in childish, not childlike ways.
Here are four ways Jesus calls us to become more childlike:
There is an innocence and a purity about children that is very much like Jesus. It is also a reminder of Eden. Children are not jaded. They are not cynical. Their spirit’s have yet to be broken by the sin, evil and darkness of this fallen world. There is a freedom in them and a sense of wonder and awe of the world around them, no matter even sometimes their circumstances. Sin has not so defiled them as to yet have their conscience seared. They are “free” from the burdens and cares that we as adults so often carry and feel the weight of. They are not filled with regrets; they have no concept of time closing in on them with things left undone.
How Jesus wants us as adults to likewise guard our hearts from becoming jaded and cynical! How He longs for us to also live with a heart that is pure. Wise and discerning yes; but “innocent” in regard to partaking or participating in that which is evil or impure. He longs for us to be free from regrets; to live with restraint in regard to evil, but without restraint in regard to good. To really go after Him and pursue Him with all our heart. To love freely and unconditionally. To forgive genuinely and “bounce back” quickly when hurt.
There is a certain freedom and lack of inhibition children posses in their spirit. It seems as we grow older we become more guarded and hesitant. We begin to care far too much about what others might think about us. We hold onto grudges much longer. We may “forgive” but we certainly don’t “forget” like little kids do; even just moments later! Don’t you long to live more freely with the innocence, liberation and purity of children?
Children really do have a childlike faith. Yes, that faith can be very misguided! But they have no problem believing the miraculous, supernatural (“magic”) and even impossible. Their imaginations can “see” anything as if it is reality, which isn’t that the definition of faith according to Hebrews 11:1? While our faith needs to be focused, I would suspect all of us would admit God wants to stretch our faith to believe beyond that which we naturally do. Somewhere along the way we seem to stop believing in the impossible and rationalize or justify our unbelief.
Yet how often did Jesus rebuke his disciples for “lack of faith?” If you remember, when Jesus tested his disciples regarding where to find food for over 5,000 people, it was his disciples who struggled with the “little” that the young boy offered, because after all, logically and rationally it wasn’t sufficient to the need. While Jesus’ disciples reaction sounds very “reasonable” and “realistic” and “adult” it doesn’t appear anywhere that the young lad had the same hesitations or struggle of believing. Jesus didn’t rebuke the boy who offered all he had, but rather used what was given to accomplish more than his own disciples thought possible. The “child” passed the test; his disciples failed.
Dare to dream again. Dare to believe God for the impossible. Trust him for the miraculous. Expect him to work in supernatural ways as you give your life to him!
3. Humility/No Pretense
The original issue and question that provoked Jesus’ comment about our need to change and become like little children, came from an argument among the disciples about which of them would be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. It was a pride/ego thing. It was in fact, an “an adult” or “childish” issue.
Children certainly can be very selfish and self-centered, but little children do not have a need to impress the way adults do. Oh, they love to show off and get attention, but they lack the pretense that adults are so good at. They love to play pretend, but they do not pretend to be someone or something they are not to appear wiser or more important than they are. If anything, little kids are great at “embarrassing” their parents by simply being “authentic.” They don’t care where they are or who they are with! They don’t change who they are or even how they act just to cater to the company (apart from parental lectures in advance about “using manners” and being “respectable”).
I think it’s one reason Jesus loved being around children. There was no pretense or hypocrisy in them, that was so common especially among the religious elite of his day!
This is perhaps the hardest for me to write, let alone actually walk in, so it is going to be the longest! It’s so easy to let life or people suck the joy out of you and beat you down. It is also easy for me, by my nature, to take myself and life more seriously than I ought. This is perhaps where I am least childlike.
But think with me. When you think of Jesus do you view him more serious or playful? Most of us probably think of him as never really smiling, but this is a gross misconception. Scripture in fact tells us that Jesus was the most joyful person to ever walk this earth! (Hebrews 1:8-9). In addition, there is a playfulness and very “Jewish” or “Middle East” humor about Jesus in various circumstances and teachings/parables that often we miss as Westerner’s. Plus, creation itself reveals the humor of God; just look at some animals, and some people!!! If you are still not convinced, then where does our humor come from if we have been created in the image of God? Where does the playfulness of children come from? Don’t you also find yourself feeling more at ease and your guard coming down when you are around those who have a more playful nature?
Personally, I am prone to depression and I think some of it has to be with the fact that I am by nature a more intense and serious person. While this can be helpful and good in staying focused, on task and getting things accomplished or moved forward, I know it can also create undo stress and pressure that those more laid back and playful don’t struggle with on the same level as I do. I also miss out on the joy of the journey and beauty along the way, out of being so driven to get to whatever the destination may be. For example, our kids love to go hiking, being we live so close to the mountains. They have no problem taking their time with a playful attitude. It’s rather often us as the parents who are constantly saying “ok, let’s go!” or “keep moving!” or “guys come on or we will never get there” as if “there” is the only place we can be happy and enjoy God’s creation.
There are serious moments in life, but this doesn’t always make us more spiritual as I am prone to want to believe. God even built into creation the idea of a “Sabbath rest.” I am the type that has a very hard time “not working” or taking time off or away from “what really matters.” I hate the idea of “wasting time”, which doesn’t make me a very fun social person to simply “hang out with!” In fact the word “fun” to me is a basically a swear word, because I see no real purpose to it!
And while it is true more time is wasted on frivolous things than ought to be; there is a place and purpose for playfulness as well. Who doesn’t want to be around children for example? They certainly have no problem having fun and being playful! They never get tired even of doing the same thing over and over again; or delighting in the ordinary and simple that we so often bore of or overlook. They also don’t have the weight around them of the illusion, need, or fear of having to be “in control.” Instinctively, children trust. They do not worry or fret about life. They are free to just…be.
Might what I just characterized above actually be what the kingdom of heaven looks like? A realm of innocence, purity, freedom, joy, peace…where there is no pretense or pride? A world free of worry, regret, stress, inhibition, fear, anxiety, burden or care? A reality where the beauty of the King continually inspires awe and worship; where we never get tired or bored of his presence and power? A place where doubt, depression, bitterness, unforgiveness and ego have no place? A place where we are are free to just be who we were created to be?
The kingdom of God is in fact a world that belongs to children. But it is also a place where we as adults are invited into, if we will only humble ourselves, change and become like little children. And isn’t this the kind of world we long for deep down? May His kingdom come and invade our hearts and lives!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14