In Mark 10:15 (and Matthew 18:3, and Luke 18:17) Jesus said something that people have wondered about ever since. He said that we must receive the kingdom of God “like a little child” or we will never get in. What does it mean for us to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child”?
Four things come to my mind:
Little children have curiosity or open-mindedness. They constantly ask questions because they want to understand what life is all about. It is reported that on average, a five-year-old asks 65 questions per day, but a forty-four-year-old asks only four questions per day.
Fred Smith points out, “Dr. Walt Hearn, a biochemist at Yale University (an old friend of mine when we were both students at the University of California at Berkeley), surprised me once by saying, ‘Fred, every night when you go to bed you ought to be more ignorant than you were when you woke up.’ I took this as facetious until he explained that if I considered my knowledge as a balloon and every day that balloon increased in size, it touched more and more ignorance on the periphery.”
Little children have that unstoppable curiosity. They have open minds. They want to discover life. We ought to approach God and faith in the same way: With an enthusiasm to discover what God will reveal to us!
Little children learn through practice. It is reported that on average, a five-year-old engages in 98 creative tasks per day, but a forty-four-year-old engages in only two creative tasks per day. Those creative engagements are the way in which little children learn new skills.
Mary Rita Schilke Korzan adds further insight as to how children learn:
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to pain another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew that there is a God I could always talk to, and I learned to trust in Him.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing, and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it, and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”
Little children learn by trying and putting into practice what they watch. We ought to approach God and faith in the same way: By trying to put into practice what we see in Christ!
Little children delight in the life that surrounds them. It is reported that a five-year-old laughs 113 time per day, but a forty-four-year-old laughs only 11 times per day.
G.K. Chesterton observes, “A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Little children delight in the gifts of life. We ought to approach God and faith in the same way: Delighting afresh in every gift God gives to us.
Little children long for loving connection. When my daughter was young, she would get in front of me, stretch out her arms, and plead what I thought was, “Uppy!” (but later I learned was her attempt to ask, “Up please!). Today my young grandchildren love to climb on me or cuddle on my lap or in my arms. A natural desire rises from the heart of a little child to be loved and to be held. We ought to approach God in the same way: Seeking for God to pull us close to His heart and to fill us with His love.
In 1978, Dan Fogelberg was laying on a hammock in Maui with his girlfriend, Maggie Slaymaker. According to Fogelberg, “All seemed right with the world,” and a love song for Maggie “seemed to write itself”:
Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean
Higher than any bird ever flew
Longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you
Stronger than any mountain cathedral
Truer than any tree ever grew
Deeper than any forest primeval
I am in love with you
And the song goes on to promise:
Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow
Burning lines in the book of our lives
Though the binding cracks, and the pages start to yellow
I’ll be in love with you
The song speaks of endless love and was a popular song for weddings in the 1980s, but, as Fogelberg and Maggie found out, eternal love is easier to sing about than to live out. Dan and Maggie were married in 1982, but they split apart in 1985—which leads to the question: How can we know any love will last?
Every year during the Seder Service at Passover, Jewish people sing or chant or read Psalm 136 (the Great Hallel), with the constantly repeated refrain, “His love endures forever!”
This is a psalm that is sung or recited frequently by Jewish people throughout the year and at times of rejoicing. Interestingly though, Jewish teaching stresses that Psalm 136 is not to be read during the great Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, for those holy days recognize that our moral lives are being held before God, and every person’s fate is being decided upon by God. Therefore those days call for solemnity rather than the rejoicing of Psalm 136.
From a Christian perspective, I find this fascinating, for the Passover meal (when this psalm has been sung for centuries) was Jesus’ “Last Supper” before He was arrested and crucified.
From a Christian perspective, it was on “Good Friday” (the day of Jesus’ crucifixion) when our moral lives were held before God and the fate of every person was decided. When our moral lives were held before God, it was determined that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and it was determined that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But the shocking and wonderful thing that happened on Good Friday is that the sin of the whole world was placed on Jesus, rescuing us from the guilt and death and destruction which we deserved. That’s why the day of Jesus’ crucifixion is called “Good Friday”—because His horrible death was good for us!
Jesus’ death is the assurance that God’s love does, indeed, endure forever!
We can be certain that One who was willing to die for us will never stop loving us. We can be sure that One who already took upon Himself all of our sin will never come up with some new reason to turn away from us. We can be confident that One who died and rose again has already taken away every obstacle to “forever.” His love, indeed, endures forever!
Several times, people have asked me which character in the Bible I most identify with. I don’t know the man’s name, but his words to Jesus match the frequent plea of my heart. (And I would bet that you find yourself identifying with his request as well.)
One day a man came to Jesus, pleading for the healing of his son, Jesus said to him, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). In reply, the man says to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). (Or as the NIV puts it, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”)
So often, that is my plea: I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!
Why would that man not believe Jesus? Probably because he didn’t know Jesus well enough. He didn’t know Jesus well enough to know whether or not Jesus could be trusted.
Why don’t we believe Jesus? Probably for the same reason: We don’t actually know Jesus well enough to know whether or not we can trust Him.
To a significant extent, the life of faith is like the world of the circus trapeze. Douglas Nason writes,
“Circus history was made…in Tucson, Arizona, on July 10, 1982, when 17-year-old Miguel Vasquez completed the first quadruple somersault on the flying trapeze. It was an amazing accomplishment, one that had long eluded even the greatest of acrobats. But circus people know that the true hero that day was not Miguel—the true hero was his older brother, Juan.
“No flyer spinning at the speed required for a quadruple somersault could ever hope to pull out of the spin and grab on to the bar. Everything ultimately depends on having a catcher—someone who is able to grab hold of the flyer’s outstretched arms, break the spin, and hold on tight. Juan was the catcher, swinging upside down on the receiving bar to catch his brother. Here is how Juan described the event: ‘Hanging upside down, I am swinging toward him as he is hurtling toward me at 75 miles per hour. Now I’m reaching for him; my hands are straining toward his, his hands are straining toward mine. I have him! Our hands are locked and holding.’”
How is it that Miguel could leave the bar he started on and thrust himself into the air to be caught by the “catcher”? Because they had grown up together and worked out together long enough for Miguel to come to know that he could trust Juan to catch him.
William P. Young addresses this truth in his book, The Shack, in a conversation between Mackenzie and God:
“‘The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don’t think that I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything…is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don’t.’
“‘I don’t?’ asked Mack, but it was not really a question. It was a statement of fact and he knew it….
“‘Mackenzie, you cannot produce trust…. Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me.’
“Again there was silence, and finally Mack looked up at Papa and spoke. ‘I don’t know how to change that.’
“‘You can’t, not alone. But together we will watch that change take place. For now I just want you to be with me…. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you.” (p. 126)
Trust does not grow out of understanding the circumstances of our lives better but out of developing a closer relationship with God. Trust does not result from figuring things out better but from spending enough time with God to get to know Him well enough to learn to trust Him.
Therefore our plea, “Help my unbelief,” is essentially the plea for a growing relationship with God that will enable our trust in Him to grow. Then we will be able to affirm Oswald Chambers words, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”