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Learning from Children

Multiple times, I’ve heard a children’s teacher in the church tell parents that she loves her job as she says, “I feel like I learn more from them than they do from me!”. I know I’ve said it a time or two when I’ve worked with kids. It’s one of those clichés that you feel inclined to say when a parent compliments you on how well you work with their kid. As trite as this phrase may sound, I still find it to bear some truth.

As Jesus was fulfilling his earthly ministry, we see much of his interaction with adults, but a few times in Scripture, we’re blessed to read of how He ministered to young children. At one point, people were bringing little children to Jesus so that He might lay hands on them and pray for them, but the disciples rebuked the people. They likely thought it was socially improper for them to be brought before the Messiah. After all, these children were likely immature and unable to comprehend the teachings of Jesus the way adults could. Were they worth the time of day? Some of them may have been so young that they might not even remember this interaction with Jesus. Wouldn’t it be more useful for Jesus to spend His time praying for grown adults who could actually understand what He taught? 

Despite this, Jesus responds to the disciples, saying, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

These words of Jesus are profound. Throughout Scripture, we are told to imitate Christ and even called to imitate those in the faith who are more spiritually mature than us, yet here we are called to imitate children. In his epistles, Paul tells the Philippians and Corinthians to imitate him and his fellow workers, but these are men who have suffered for the gospel and who are grounded theologically. Why would we imitate children? They likely haven't been imprisoned for the Gospel, and they certainly couldn’t explain all the nuances of the hypostatic union. And yet, children possess something valuable that we lose as we age – a sincere trust and deep faith in those who watch over them. They are humble, and that is what we are to imitate. This isn’t my speculation of what Jesus is getting at when he tells us we must become like children since he also says, “Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). 

Becoming Lowly

One of the reasons I loved working with children from a young age was that I didn’t have to be concerned with how they perceived my every word or awkward body language. They knew I enjoyed working with them, and that was more than enough to make me lovable to them. All I had to do was take a few minutes to give them attention, and almost immediately, they would pull on my hand to play with them or give me a random hug and tell me they loved me. 

Their trust was earned by simply showing them love and kindness, even if it was just for a minute. They were also incredibly carefree, not being anxious or worried about what the next moment would hold. There’s something so precious about this inclination of theirs. Children who are loved well are trusting and not weighed down by anxieties. Why? Because they trust those who love them and believe that they will continue to be well cared for tomorrow, just as they have always been. Their faith is steadfast because their mind only knows the past and present character of those who care for them. What reason do they have to worry or distrust their caregivers when they have only known love?

Why should they fear? They don’t have all the responsibility we adults have. We have a plethora of things to worry about – ever-changing world politics, finances, our careers, our marriage, our family, and the health and safety of our loved ones. Who cares for us!? When a natural disaster strikes and leaves us destitute, who will care for us adults? When we’re let go from our job and have nowhere else to apply, who will care for us? When our relationships are in shambles, and we have no friends we can trust, who will care for us?

For the Christian, the answer is simple: Our Father in Heaven. While we know more about the dangers and evil in the world than a young child, we know of a better caretaker than any parent. Even the best parent is prone to fail, yet their child trusts them; how much more should we trust our Father in Heaven? 

It would be bizarre for a three-year-old, who has always been cared for, to walk up to his mother and ask, “Mom, will you love me again tomorrow? And will I have food to eat tomorrow?” Why, then, should we question the care of our perfect Father when He has never given us reason to distrust Him? 

So Jesus says to us, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). 

Just as a child’s trust in their parent is steadfast because they know their parent loves them, our faith in our Heavenly Father should be steadfast because we know of His character. Becoming childlike is not immaturely forgetting what we know or forsaking our responsibilities; it's about becoming humbly dependent on God as a child is humbly dependent on their parents. To fail to depend on God is to fail to trust Him, which is pride, but to trust and believe Him is humility. 

To humbly depend on our Father in Heaven, we must continually remember what we know of His good character, just as a child only knows the care of their parents and doesn’t worry about tomorrow. Since this isn’t our inclination, like it is a child, it’s something we must strive for.

When I think of fostering a heart of humble dependence on God, my mind is drawn to the Psalms – specifically the Psalmist David. He faced hardship after hardship, causing Him to despair often. You can imagine he was tempted to a distrustful pride. Yet, He cultivated a childlike trust in God by remembering what He knew. Look at the words of the Psalmist here: 

“I remember the days of old;

    I meditate on all that you have done;

    I ponder the work of your hands.

I stretch out my hands to you;

    my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord!

    My spirit fails!

Hide not your face from me,

    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,

    for in you I trust.

Make me know the way I should go,

    for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:5-7).

Is this not the essence of childlike faith? Like a child, David comes to His Lord, asking that He make known to him the way He should go. He wants the face of God not to be hidden from him, he wants to know of God’s steadfast love, and he wants direction. Doesn’t this resemble the cry of a young child to their mother? 

Clearly, trusting in God wasn’t the inclination of David’s heart. He cultivated a childlike dependence on God by remembering the days of old – by meditating on what God has done. His remembrance produced a heart of humility that caused Him to stretch out His hands to God as a needy child. He remembered why He must trust His Lord. He remembers that He is dependent on God for safety. He became like a young child who is lowly is heart. 

So much of our time as adults is consumed by worry, as we trust in ourselves to find a solution to our problems. Rather than crying out, “Help me, Lord. I’m needy”, in our pride, we say to God, “I have got to do this myself.” What better father is there to run to than the one who rules over all creation? When we come to Him as a child, we soon find it to be true that His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He is gentle and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:28-30). If even the Lord Jesus is lowly in heart, as a child, how much more should we obey the call to become lowly?

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Proverbs 3:5-6


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