Children are born with some tender qualities which are very beautiful. They believe what they're told. They give love easily. They have the ability to be delighted and amazed by simple things. When they learn to speak they begin by being straight forward in what they say. And they're free to express themselves physically as well as verbally. It's true that in a harsh environment these behaviors tend to be repressed at an early age. And it's also true that each child is born with their own temperament, so some are shy, some are adventuresome, some are happy and some are easily upset. But regardless of where we start, life tends to harden those child-like qualities. Sooner or later we encounter suffering and abuse. Tragedies, which may include seemingly unanswered prayers can leave us doubting God's love. Rejection encourages us to repress our love so we won't be hurt again. Lying and manipulation condition us to be suspicious. In time these forces leave us isolated from God and one another. The tenderness we once had as a child is replaced by sad "adult" attitudes, and these lay hold of us and turn us into the very sorts of people who abused us in the first place.
Then in the midst of this vicious cycle we hear Jesus telling us to go back, to become again like children so we can enter the Kingdom of God. His command is troubling. It seems He wants us to let down our guard and return to being vulnerable. But why? Won't that simply expose us to more pain?
As we look carefully at these verses in Matthew we'll discover He meant exactly what He said. And we'll also discover He's showing us how to keep coming back to God as believers so He can repair our damaged hearts over and over again.
1. Attitudes necessary to draw near to God:
(v. 3) In order to come to God and to continue walking with Him I must let my heart return to attitudes I possessed as a small child.
- Note: He "set the child before them"
- Lk 18:17 "
whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."
(v. 4) Once I have become His disciple I must put aside the tempting thoughts that I am greater than others and deserve honor.
- Note: (Lk 9:47) "
[He] took a child and stood him by His side"
(v. 5) I must gladly receive the Lord's ministry through whomever He sends it. (He often comes to us through persons we tend to despise).
- Note: (Mk 9:36) "Taking a child He set him before them, and taking him in His arms He said to them
(v. 6) I must always be careful to strengthen other people's faith in God, not tear it down
- because God values people very differently than we do:
v. 10 the angels highly honor the childlike
v. 11 no one is considered dispensable, Jesus came to save every one possible.
v. 14 God the Father loves every person
2. "Adult" attitudes
When we think of getting "old," in the bad sense, we think of people who have grown angry, selfish and withdrawn. Amazingly however, numerical age is not an accurate way of determining who's old. I've met teenagers who have grown very "old" and elderly who are still very "young." So apparently our reaction to life is something we can control, at least to some extent. Hardships make me bitter or better depending on choices I make. But with the passing of time most adults choose to silence their child-like qualities the very qualities we need in order to draw near to God.
Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, Harper San Francisco, 2005, quoted in "Christianity Today," 12/05, pp 39, 40:
- "In most children, but in relatively few adults, we see a willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment
why do we lose the ability to give ourselves in this way? Perhaps adolescence introduces the fear of being deceived, the fear of being caught believing in what others have ceased to believe. To be naive, to be gullible-these are the great humiliations of adolescence."
- Surely Lewis would have said that when we can no longer be "wide open to the glory" we have lost not just our childlikeness, but also something near the core of our humanity. "Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and grievous loss."
- Cynic: one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest. Someone who is deeply distrustful of human nature and motives.
- Skeptic: one who is given to doubting until there is absolute proof. ( "I'll believe it when I see it") (one who doubts or disbelieves in God or Christianity)
3. "Childlike" attitudes
Jesus calls us to return to the attitudes of healthy children:
- To open our heart and be vulnerable to love and trust what we're being told is true.
- To humble ourselves and highly value other people.
- To gladly receive God's care through whomever He sends.
4. The price of being childlike
If we decide to obey Jesus our decision to love again may expose us to rejection, and our decision to believe again may expose us to disappointment or ridicule. But the truth is that unless we are willing to embrace pain, which accompanies these decisions, we will be unable to embrace His glory. To respond to God we must open up our heart again.
- Remember: God Himself continues to pay this same price. By giving humans free will, He has to endure the terrible evil we produce, but without free will we cannot love Him or obey Him or become like Him.
5. Where do we start?
We begin by being childlike again with God.
- He's safe
- Worship, honesty, intimacy, forgiveness, submission
This will heal us and transform us until we can properly relate to people and hardship.
- It will transform our thinking until we see others as He does.
- It will give us the capacity to spiritually discern events we face.
And this is where Christmas comes in. The story of the birth of Christ reaches to the childlike heart within us inviting us to believe in a God who loves us so much He sent His Son to be born as a human baby, so ultimately He could die to save us. It awakens hope that there is life after death in a place where we won't have to protect ourselves from pain ever again. Is a place where we can love and be loved too good to be true? The old "adult" in us says, "Yes, bah humbug!", but whatever's left of our child's heart says, "No, that the place I've always known I should be. That's the One I've always wanted to worship."
1) Where do I see myself withdrawing from God? What would be my first step back?
2) Where have I stopped loving someone to protect my heart from rejection?
3) Where have I grown proud and forgotten how much God values people?