Jesus called a little child to him ... and he said:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-3
Childlike, yes. Childish, no.
I shared in my last post the experience of being anointed at an Alpha conference on August 30, 1999. Although the before and after events – an earthquake and a dove – might be seen to dwarf the quiet moment on my knees, they were merely the slices of bread around the real deal: receiving the anointing oil, the powerful symbol of God’s abiding presence.
I labeled it a life-transforming event, but the effect was not immediate. More than four years later, I was still a childish member of God's family.
A single verse had directed my walk with God for almost thirty years: we make it our goal to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9). In my mind, that goal was never met. Yes, I was confident about my call to serve him, but my journal reveals a neurotic conviction that I wasn’t measuring up to his expectations for me.
April 23, 2004 – my gracious Father decided it was time for me to become childlike.
Once again at Mission Springs Conference Center, my spiritual home. Once again seated at my favorite prayer bench among the redwoods. And once again, the all-too-familiar feeling that there was something I needed to do to convince God (and myself) of my sincere devotion.
When I walked away from the bench that day, I carried with me a sense that God had whispered in my ear: Relax. There’s nothing you need to do.
No, there wasn’t a voice. But there was something by my feet. Half-buried in the dirt in front of the bench was a simple green craft bead. And another. And another. I picked them up, fourteen beads total.
Why beads? The bench, one of three at the base of a cluster of redwood trees, is officially a Mission Springs Children’s Outdoor Education site.
But on this day, God gave me a history lesson, with fourteen beads as the object lesson. Not one or ten. Not fifteen or twenty.
My anointing happened on the day that marked the completion of fourteen years of ministry at Escalon Covenant Church. As I sat on the bench with those beads in my hand, it was as if God was reminding me and assuring me: Trust me. I love you, and I am pleased with you. Yes, I have heard your cries. I have been with you all these years. I am with you now and always will be. Now grow in your love for me and for others.
That week I bought a larger key ring and slid all fourteen of those green craft beads on it. The original ones have long since broken. I now have my own small supply, and still keep a few on the ring. And the picture of the dove I shared last month has fourteen beads hanging above as a reminder.
Do I believe God put the beads in the ground for me to see? Like the blue spigot seven years before, I can’t explain their appearance. But I can affirm that God wanted me to remember my anointing. To remember the earthquake and the dove. To live in the reality of being his child and have a peaceful spirit as a result. To remember his promises and his goodness to me. To trust him daily. Really trust him. Rely on him.
Fourteen beads did that for me.
More specifically, I walked off the emotional roller-coaster of worrying about whether I was pleasing God, never to return. I turned my focus to loving God and loving my neighbor.
Why? Because I took Paul’s testimony as good counsel: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. ( I Corinthians 13:11)
Childlike, yes. Childish, no.
How does this transformation happen? How do we heed Jesus’ statement and make Paul’s statement our own?
One word guides our thoughts – Turn.
God turns us into his children
Jesus spoke truth about how we become part of his family of faith: unless you change [literally, be turned] and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. We don’t impress God so that he will adopt us. Instead, this new birth into his family is a gift.*
God wants us to remember our primary identity – we are his children. As we live into that truth, his love transforms us and helps our faith to increase.
But becoming childlike is a process. I like how Daniel Patte summarizes it:
“Would-be disciples are not spontaneously like children. They must become like children by turning away from what they are, by humbling themselves. Self-denial, giving up what one is, is a prerequisite for participating in the kingdom. **
I believe the first turn we make is a turn toward the life-giving path to which Jesus calls us.
Turn toward …
In a crucial encounter, Jesus affirmed a sincere questioner who understood the importance of the two great commandments: “‘… Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:25-28 New Living Translation)
Love God. Love your neighbor. Yes, there is something we need to do, but not in order that God will be pleased with us or will love us. We turn toward and remain on the path of life like children following their loving father. It’s how we thrive.
As our simple prayers and daily declarations are reflected in our actions, we slowly become childlike in our faith.
We love God with our hearts as we say yes to God, trusting him to be faithful to his promises, and learn to walk in his ways.
We love God with our souls, saying thanks for his goodness, joyfully receiving from him all we need each day.
We love God with our minds, as he transforms us to see, think, and understand as he does, causing us in wonder and awe to say Wow!
We love God will all our strength by calling for help! in the midst of our dilemmas, trials, and hardships, depending on him to provide us with all we need.
We become childlike in our relationship to others – becoming more serene, secure, and harmonious – as we open our hands and hearts to give and to receive.
Childlike, yes. Childish, no.
Turn away from
The concept is simple: turning toward something includes turning away from something else. To become childlike means that we must forsake our childish ways of relating to God and to others. But how do we know if that describes us now?
Again, we can look at what we say and what we think. Recalling some of the expressions we all uttered as children, we can muster up the courage to ask ourselves whether we’re still saying them.
Do any of these sound familiar? Do they describe your present walk with God and your interaction with others?
No. I won’t.
Why should I? What’s in it for me?
Who cares? It’s not my problem.
Been there. Done that. Not interested.
Leave me alone. I’d rather do it myself!
It’s mine! I’m not going to share!
None of these reflect the Spirit of Jesus. The childish ways that we have learned and to which we have become accustomed are not helping us. The book of Proverbs would say we’re walking in the ways of folly and self-absorption.
Childlike, yes. Childish, no.
If you can hear yourself saying or thinking these statements in response to God or to people, it’s time to turn. To turn away from yourself. Maybe turn around. And turn toward the path of life and health.
Be assured – God loves it when we turn from our immaturity and turn toward him, seeking to trust him and honor him daily. He will never turn his back on you!
As we turn to and remain on the path of life, the Holy Spirit will prompt us to turn with him to someone to has fallen by the side of the road. Yes, the Spirit will call us to love our neighbors. Does this remind you of the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Yes, it should. Like Jesus, we follow him throughout the day – to lend a hand or to lift a spirit. As Jesus said, go and do likewise.
Turn. Turn. Turn.
In 1965, the Byrds popularized a song written by Pete Seeger – Turn, Turn, Turn. A catchy tune, it’s an anti-war protest song, taken almost word-for-word from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die….
Our identity as children of God is not for a season. It’s for a lifetime. It’s for eternity.
For the rest our days, as his dearly loved children, may we Turn. Turn. Turn.
Turn toward the path of life. Turn away from the path of folly. Turn with the Spirit as he prompts us.
Benediction of Blessing.
May God give you an unquenching desire to be childlike in your faith.
May you have the courage to identify the childish tendencies in your walk with God.
May you Turn. Turn. Turn. as the Spirit prompts you.
* The version of Jesus’ statement found in Mark and Luke is different from the account in Matthew: Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
** The Gospel according to Matthew, Daniel Patte p. 248.
Pointing Finger: Photo by Guilia May Flya on Unsplash
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM