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).
It probably started out innocently enough. A toddling boy clambered up Jesus’ bent knees and threw his body clumsily into the arms of the smiling stranger, or a little girl ran through a mesmerized crowd and thrust herself into his laughing arms as he sat teaching a multitude on a hillside. At some point, Jesus encountered a child that stole his heart, and from then on, they became a large part of his ministry. Parents who, at one point probably held their children back for fear of upsetting those around them as they listened to the teacher, felt more at ease as they watched Jesus’ playful interaction with the children who no doubt grouped around him, taking advantage of the fact that he was the center of attention. His disciples were indignant. Perhaps Peter went first, grabbing a child before he could run headlong into Jesus’ sermon and accosting him to turn back and find his parents. And maybe James and John, those Sons of Thunder, stepped into the path of a gaggle of kids and put them on the road back to their families. Who knows which disciple reacted first or said what. What we do know is that the disciples wanted Jesus to be able to minister unhindered by the nonsensical interaction those kids were after.
Jesus’ response was precious. In essence, he said, “Don’t stop them from coming to me. Let them come!” And then he said something that applies to all people, regardless of their age: “…for such is the kingdom of heaven.” What does this invitation mean to us? What does it mean to be “such as” a child? I’ve pondered this for a while, made a list of qualities I find universal to children, and will do my best to explore the depths of what it means to be child-like in Christ.
To begin with, children are often more obedient. They don’t spend time questioning the wisdom of their elders. They recognize authority and respect those in authority. Of course, there are exceptions but they are the exception, not the rule.
2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Holiness is a hot topic in the church today, only no one talks about holiness. They talk about grace and accuse anyone whose ministry includes righteous living of being “religious” or “under the law.” But I wonder what minister who truly hears from God doesn’t preach on righteousness and holiness, “without which no man shall see God” (Heb. 12:14).
A child of God is obedient not because he or she is trying to earn his or her way into heaven. It is because the child loves and respects his or her Father. This holiness is God’s desire for us, and His children pursue it because it is His delight. I don’t want to be righteous so that other people are in awe of my life. I pursue righteousness and make hard decisions every day that keep me in line with the will of God because I love Him and respect His lordship in my life. A child of God is not attracted to the laisses-faire lifestyle that says because of grace, we can live uninhibited. Uninhibited is a dangerous path for a child of God to walk, because it is flirtation with the world and the temptations of the enemy. A child of God appreciates boundaries and lives to know the will and happiness of the Father.
In the same strain, that child will actively seek the guidance of the Father so that he or she may know what makes His heart glad. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). He spent time away from the crowds, away from even his closest friends, to be alone with his Father and hear the will of God. He is our example, if we are the sons and daughters of God. Children know they don’t know everything. They seek the wisdom of their elders. They spend time listening and will follow the instructions of someone they trust unequivocally. They ask for direction, they want to know what will work and what won’t. They want to understand the world around them and how they fit into it. Our Father is able to instruct us, if only we will become like children and ask … then listen.
Children are a little intrusive. They do not understand, nor care to understand, the concept of personal space. A parent’s lap is a child’s perch from which he or she sees the world. There is safety there. Comfort. Peace and tranquility. Children love to get close and cuddle. Still to this day, my daughter will lace her fingers in mine while we stroll through the neighborhood, forgetting the world around us and walking hand-in-hand with me like we have since she was a toddler. If I am sitting in the living room after a long day of work, you can bet one or the other of my children (or even sometimes both) will be snuggled up next to me, melting into my side and making it impossible to move. I love this about my kids. I often muse about how much God must love it when a dear child of His refuses to give Him any personal space. I know He must delight in those moments when we press into Him, discontent until we are smooshed up against His ribcage, looking up into His face in adoration. Or as we walk beside Him, our hand in His, losing ourselves in that contact. It’s rapturous.
Another thing I love about children is their reckless love. Children have no prejudices. They don’t see color or sex, they don’t care about socio-economic status and they don’t spend any time worrying about where a person comes from (or comes out of). A child loves to love others. A child of God loves to love others. There are no lines of division. A child of God will love even those who are living in sin, praying earnestly in intercession for those who are taken captive by Satan’s schemes.
I’ve also noticed how much emphasis kids put on eating and drinking. I have a niece and nephew that must taste everything in my house when they come over, and wash it down with a gallon of milk. Children are good eaters. I’m talking, of course, before they become picky. There was a time when both of my kids ate a vegetable and fruit at every meal … the good ole’ days. Anyway, the point here is that when there is food and drink available, kids will eat when they are hungry. And they are mostly hungry. A child of God will exhibit the same kind of ravenous hunger and thirst when it comes to the Word of God and communion with the Holy Spirit. When the Food and Drink are available, a child of God will unabashedly dive in to satiate the spirit-hunger that comes upon them. He or she will take time to feed off of the goodness of God on the regular to keep from starving to death spiritually. And a child of God will notice spiritual starvation and immediately hit the heavenly pantry for a powerful snack or a banquet at the end of a long day.
Finally, children are full of joy. They laugh. A lot. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Children of God will find strength in being joyful. Satan will try to wreck the lives of God’s children because he knows that a child of God is stronger when joy is abundant. He saps us by destroying all our reasons to rejoice in God. But here’s the secret: God is our reason to rejoice, regardless of our circumstances. Christ alone. A child’s greatest delight is their parents. Not their belongings or their friends. Not their positions of sports teams. Simply their parents. If God’s children can get back to the simplicity of this kind of love, we would be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). We would be strong in spite of the storms of life, because we would live in the joy and delight of our savior.