“Become As A Little Child”
Recently I was babysitting my three-and-a-half year old grandson while he and his brother’s parents were at an evening event.
It was early evening, and I was telling him Bible stories before bed. It soon became evident that his parents had done a good job teaching him from the Bible. We were lying on the floor on our backs, and I would begin a Bible story. Before long we would usually come to a part of the story which he knew, and he would say the name of the character about to be introduced: (for example, Adam, the snake, David, Goliath, Daniel, the lion [in the lion’s den].) Whenever we got to a part of a story which my grandson knew and where he could start telling the story himself, he would get this huge grin on his face that just consumed his whole face with joy. I can still see this look of utter and complete joy when he knew a story and could tell part of it himself. I keep thinking of it and remembering it. I am convinced there is a lesson for me.
First of all, and most obviously, Jesus said if anyone wanted to enter the kingdom of God, he or she must become “as a little child.” (Mark 10:15, Matthew 18:3) Here’s one of those verses: “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3). The absolute joy I saw in my grandson’s face in hearing (and retelling) God’s Word deeply affected me. It was contagious. I wanted (and got) more of what he had! In Luke 8:13, Jesus even talks about those who “receive the word with joy!”
I know someone who is an administrator at a theological seminary. I have heard him say that to him reading the Bible in a “historical” and “critical” way is mandatory for modern day believers. Even though I have studied the Bible that way, I have come to a much different place. I think that approaching the scriptures with child-like awe, innocence, trust, and joy is incredibly more important! In each person reading this is a little child who receives the Bible stories with simple trust and joy. Can you still get in touch with that person inside you? Set your inner child free, and pick up your Bible!
Secondly, I am sure someone will point out that in Luke 8:13, and parallel passages in the gospels, Jesus talks about those who “received the word with joy,” but who subsequently withered in their faith “because they had no root.” Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Obviously Proverbs is saying there is a way to teach children God’s Word so that they put down roots and their faith endures. What does the Bible say about putting down roots? Psalm 1 says the person who “meditates on God’s Word day and night” is like a tree which has deep roots next to a stream of water. (Jesus also said the Holy Spirit would release streams of water within us—John 7:38.) So I believe part of the key to keeping the joy with which a child receives the Word is to meditate on God’s Word day and night, and to ask Jesus to let us experience His Spirit—the streams of living water within us which make the Word continue to come alive and to give us joy.
Finally, I have always noticed that Proverbs 22:6 says, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” When I was a little boy, I had great joy in the Lord, but when I was older I got jaded and cynical about God and His Word. I do not think that is inevitable, but I do not think it is uncommon either. I wonder, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15), if he was not thinking of many of his adult hearers whose faith had grown cold, who had lost a sense of wonder, awe, joy, and enthusiasm when hearing the Word! He was telling them to return to their child-like faith.
So we should imitate (and if possible, hang out with) children, who love and receive God’s Word with joy-- “pre-logically,” “pre-analytically,” “pre-critically” and “pre-scientifically.” We should imitate them. We should concentrate on reading God’s Word with the eyes—and hearts—of children.
Then, according to Jesus, we will find ourselves entering God’s kingdom here and now.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.