Over the past few weeks, the sight of school buses on the streets is a signal to all of us that a new school year is underway. First day of school pictures adorn Facebook and Instagram and the rumble of a marching bands will soon fill the air under Friday night lights. I always marvel this time of year by pausing long enough to observe how much my children have grown and by speculating how God might use them as their young lives unfold. In every community, children are a gift from the Lord. We should pray for them as they undertake both the challenges and opportunities of education.
As our young people take another step toward adulthood, though, we should not falsely assume that important life lessons are always handed down from those who are older. Remarkably, while explaining the kingdom of God, Jesus taught that adults should become more like children, not vice-versa. In what may be His most counterintuitive statement, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me (Matthew 18:3-5).” In other words, our children can teach us an important lesson about walking with God.
Jesus is not calling us to immaturity or even ignorance, but to greater dependence upon God for His grace. The goal is not to be childish, but child-like. If you want to know God, the first step is to humble yourself like a child who is, by his very nature, dependent upon his parents for life and survival. Think about how needy we are when we come into this world. Certainly, as children grow, they become more independent, but during infancy they cannot hold up their heads, feed themselves, or change a single diaper. Even my older children still look to my wife and me for food, shelter, and clothing.
When my older daughter was born, my 6-year-old son spotted what he perceived to be the perfect bows for his new baby sister. He turned to his mother and exclaimed, “I want to buy these for her first gift!” The statement was less about sharing information and more like an inquiry for help. To this day he’ll tell you that those bows are from him, and yet, he was entirely dependent upon us to buy them. And that is precisely the point Jesus is making about the kingdom and children.
Before we can know God, we must first recognize that we bring nothing to the table. We are dependent upon Christ to purchase redemption for us through His sacrificial death on the cross. We must surrender to Him with no strings attached, realizing that we contribute nothing to the salvation that we so desperately need. Even as we grown and learn to walk with the Lord, we do so to glorify our Father who is heaven rather than in an effort to become His child (Matthew 5:16).
Interestingly, Jesus makes a similar remark about children a second time (Matthew 19:13-15), right before His encounter with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26). The placement of His words seems to suggest a direct contrast between the faith God requires and the misguided priorities we celebrate today. Perhaps nothing fights against our surrender like the accumulation of great wealth. As our resources increase, our independence grows. How many people are led away from God because of their unbridled desire to get rich (I Timothy 6:9-10)?
Thus, as we grow into adulthood, the burdens and temptations of life slowly pull our hearts away from God if we are not vigilant. Jesus’ remedy of becoming like children is a call back to the awareness of our need for and a renewal of our dependence upon the grace of God in our lives. So, let’s pray that our kids learn much throughout this coming school year. But let’s also ask God to teach us to be more like them as we live out our faith. B&R — Dooley is the author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.