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Forever Children


I love children.


I love them for many reasons, but one of them is that they’re so funny. Here are some quotations to lighten your day.


Did you know you’re always touching something? Unless you’re flying naked. (i)

Evie, age 6


Simon to his dad: Tax day is coming up. Are you excited, or are you going to jail?

Simon, age 9


Peeing is like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it.

Lila, age 9


Why is the moon following us?

Eli, age 5


Jesus loved children too. His culture may not have valued them very highly, but as we know, he often kicked against cultural norms. So, most of us are familiar with his words concerning children.


15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Luke 18.15-17


Matthew’s account doesn’t include verse 17, but there it is in Luke. As is customary with Luke’s telling of the story, he includes a detail aimed at challenging his readers. Reading verse 17, I certainly feel challenged. So, what does it mean to ‘receive the kingdom of God like a little child?’


GROWING


Children grow.


I have three children and one grandchild. All of them are still growing (and so am I). My grandson, Sam (11 months), has just learned to walk, and he’s so excited about it that he walks with his hands in the air. Look at me! I’m walking! Praise God! (He’s a budding charismatic, and he doesn’t even know it).😂 There are few joys to compare with watching a child grow during the first year of life. The stages come so quickly. Smiling. Rolling over. Sitting up. Crawling. Surfing the furniture. Walking. What a gift it is to see a child grow.


Later, there’s talking and pushing and running and fighting and shouting. Growing becomes noisier and more complicated. And a lot messier. Painting and arguing and sharing and whining and building. All the verbs—action words.


Growing. It’s what children do. (ii)


It’s also a verb associated with the kingdom of God.


The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.

Matt 13.24a; 13.31b


Seed grows. Mustard plants grow. It’s what they do. The idea of growth is picked up by Peter in one of his letters.


But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3.18


Paul also writes about growth.


Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Eph 4.15


I can’t escape the conclusion that when Jesus speaks about receiving the kingdom of God like children, he has in mind the idea of growth. However, when it comes to growth, there is a critical difference between children and adults. Children grow naturally. It’s the way they’re made. Our bodies develop over time and we grow into adults. It’s inevitable. As Christians, however, our growth depends on the choices we make as we live our lives of faith. Sadly, it’s possible for followers of Jesus to remain immature. This is not what Jesus had in mind when he referred to children. He wants us to grow. So, today, a few challenging questions to consider.


  • Are you growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus?

  • What are you doing to ensure that you continue to grow?

  • Are the people in your church growing?

  • How are you helping them to grow?


INNOCENCE


Why do children make us laugh? Sometimes, it has to do with innocence. They don’t know what they don’t know, and yet they still want to communicate their thoughts.


Take this quotation, for example:


I asked my five-year-old if he wants the baby to be a boy or girl . . .“I want the baby to be Batman.”


Sounds reasonable, of course. Who wouldn’t want Batman in their family? The thing about innocence is that it evokes such a longing in us. I’m particularly drawn to children who break social conventions not out of rudeness or spite, but simply because they are so direct. They don’t know about social conventions (and that’s fine by me.) For example . . .


"My mom says I should just ignore people I don't like, and well, that's you."

Noah, age 8


Once we’ve grown up, we sense the need to control our tongues, fighting hard to avoid causing social embarrassment. Not so this five-year-old, who said . . .


"I'II tell you what I'm going to do this weekend. I'm not going to put a shirt on. Probably not pants either.”


If you look up ‘innocence’ in the dictionary, one of the repeated phrases you’ll find is ‘absence of guile.’ In other words, no pretence. The five-year-old who tells you he won’t be wearing pants this weekend has no interest in being socially appropriate. Because he has no knowledge of what that would mean. That’s why his words make us laugh. And when we do, there’s a part of us that wishes we could be just as honest. Some of us have a Noah inside screaming to get out. (I’m one of them.) We find all the pretence stifling. But there’s good news.


We need to become like Noah and all those children quoted above. Because this is how we receive the kingdom of God. With an absence of guile. Like children. With an open and innocent heart that refuses to put on a front. For adults, this is called humility. This is why we find a related set of verses in Matthew’s gospel.


Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matt 18.3-4


Children are innocent in part because they simply don’t know the limits of their knowledge. This gives them tremendous and hilarious freedom. Like Greta, aged four, who said, ‘I really love being human. But some days I really wish I could be a fairy.’


This is funny because children are innocent, unfettered by pretence, and this is beautiful. Sadly, we lose our innocence as we grow, exhibited clearly nowadays when we reach our teenage years. We become those who think we know everything when we know very little. Instead of remaining innocent, we come across as foolish and arrogant. And we often reap the consequences.


Jesus knew of our propensity for pride, and therefore called his followers to adopt a childlike, humble approach to the things of God, embodied in his kingdom. But perhaps most importantly of all, our humility must be wrapped in the most beautiful aspect of childhood.


PURE FAITH


There are few sights more wonderful than a small child reaching up to a parent, expecting to be picked up. A child’s greatest need is to feel safe, and when they do, they develop a pure, innocent, beautiful faith. Mum and Dad (iii) look after me. I feel safe with them. So when I reach up, I expect them to pick me up. Now!


You’ll notice that a key word in Luke 18.17 is the word, ‘receive’. "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” When children ask, they expect to receive. Of course, they don’t always ask for the right things at the right time, but their attitude is one of faith. They view their caregivers as those who love and protect them, and so they place their faith in them, asking them to provide for their needs.


Faith is both a gift from God, and the attitude of the heart by which we receive. This is really why we need to become like children. We need faith desperately and continually. It needs to be the air we breathe, viewing all of life through its prism. For only by approaching our God with the faith of a child can we hope to navigate this confusing, painful world in which we live. "Ask, and it will be given to you" (Matt 7.7a)


So, if you desire to grow, and you lead people who also want to grow, then approach God as a child. What a beautiful irony it is that in order to grow, we must remain as children.


Forever children.


To grow and receive God’s kingdom, the Lord calls us to approach him with humility.


And with the innocent, trusting heart of a child.


Forever.

 

(i) Quotations taken from various sites around the internet.


(ii) – Sadly (and sometimes tragically), there are medical conditions that can affect growth. Cushing’s syndrome, Turner syndrome, and Russell-Silver syndrome can affect growth, as well as achondroplasia, which results in dwarfism. These conditions are relatively rare, however, and most human beings do experience normal, expected growth.


(iii) – Most children are cared for by their parent(s). Other kinds of caregivers are, of course, possible.

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