Become Like Little Children
Why did Jesus single children out to serve as an example for his disciples, and hence, for us? So many people do everything they can to "grow up" and reach adulthood. Yet Jesus thought children were precious for a reason!
At two different occasions, Jesus spoke to his disciples pretty firmly about the value of children:
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me." (Matt.18:3-5 NIV)
"Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." (Matt 19:14 NLT)
In the first instance, the disciples were asking him who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In the second instance, people (probably parents) were bringing their children to Jesus to pray for them, and the disciples were scolding the people for doing so. In both cases, Jesus' response emphasized the worth of children. Most likely, Jesus was not simply talking about age or naïveté.
As followers and disciples of Jesus, let's ask ourselves these questions:
- Why did Jesus tell his disciples that they needed to change and become like little children or never enter the kingdom of heaven? There are pretty powerful consequences if they/we don't.
- What is it about little children that would make them greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
- And if we welcome little children, or "the childlike" (The Message), in Jesus' name, why is it likened to welcoming Jesus?
- What do they have, or what qualities do they express, that are so special that God's kingdom belongs to them?
The NIV and NLT Bibles attribute the quality of humility to children, as we read above: "whoever humbles himself." The Amplified Bible gives these attributes: "trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving." Eugene Peterson in The Message uses "simple and elemental." So if we want to live in the kingdom of heaven, we must express such characteristics.
Watching my own child during her first year -- who is teaching, enlightening, and transforming me every day -- has given me insight into why Jesus affirmed that if we want to experience the kingdom of heaven, we need to become like little children. Here are five childlike qualities that stand out to me:
Children are completely trusting of their parents. If they need anything -- a shoulder to sleep on, a diaper change, milk or food, a hand to help them walk, arms to crawl into -- they turn to their mommy or daddy with wide eyes, open arms, complete trust. Obstacles may be in the way, but as long as they're holding onto the hand of a parent, they're totally confident that they'll make it.
Isn't that what we need to do with our Parent -- to be completely trusting of God? No matter what happens at home, school, work, we can trust that God is indeed taking care of us, as the 91st Psalm assures us. And when we hold onto God's hand, we'll discover that no obstacle is too big. We may need to take some huge deep breaths to release all of our fears and trust, but that's what children do. They simply trust their Parent, our Father-Mother God.
Receptivity - Teachability - Humility
Children love discovering and learning! They have eyes that say, "Teach me!" And they point to everything wanting to know what it means, wanting to touch it, to experience it for themselves. In complete humility, they are open to what God is telling them.
Are we always in the state of wanting to learn more about God and how God sees His creation, His children? Have we ever found ourselves thinking that we may know something so well that we really don't need others' input? Here's our opportunity to have the humility to say to God, "Teach me! Teach me about You and about Your creation." After all, God is infinite. Imagine how much we have yet to learn!
Focus on the Now
When babies discover something new, they look at it from every angle, put it in their mouths, roll it around, and even drop it to see what happens. They are totally focused on the present moment. And if something happens -- if they fall off a toy -- they may cry for a little bit, but when a new toy comes along, they're once again absorbed in every aspect of it. The hurt is gone. The joy is here.
Do we need to be more absorbed in the present moment with God? How would our lives change if we were completely focused on what God is giving us to work with, to do, to think, to love? We wouldn't worry about our career, family, or mistakes we've made. We'd find it so much easier to forgive and move forward.
There's no better sound in the world (I may be biased) than little children laughing. They delight in the simplest of things -- a silly face, a cute little tickle, a tumbling toy. There's no concern about how others will think of them. They simply are joyous.
Oh what a gift not to feel concerned about how others think of us! Just think about how free we feel when we express joy without limits or worries! Isn't that what God wants for us? Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we're told to "rejoice."
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts children give to the world is their purity. They are untainted and untroubled by worldly concerns, issues, problems. They go about their day seeing and doing good. Their joy, their very being, is pure, good, and true.
Doesn't the kingdom of heaven require purity? Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt 5:8). Only a pure state of thought can truly see and understand God and God's kingdom.
So as the New Year starts, let's continue our celebration of the Christ child! Let's welcome all the beautiful, childlike qualities into our hearts, thoughts, and lives and open wide the doors of the kingdom of heaven so we can experience the harmony it brings.
We can take the advice of Paul when he encourages us to greet God "with a childlike 'What's next, Papa?'" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.