Listen to the Children
By Pat Knight
Our pastor had recently died during open-heart surgery. Everyone in our congregation was grieving. I knew I must explain his death to our five-year old, but I was unsure whether he could understand. As it turned out, I need not have worried. He comprehended more completely than I ever imagined.
Our son’s reaction was initially one of stillness and contemplation. Then, suddenly, as a warm glow spread across his face, he smiled and responded, “Oh, Mommy, wouldn’t you like to go there—to heaven with pastor, to see Jesus?” I embraced him with a bear hug, as we talked more extensively about heaven, where our pastor now lives with Jesus—a home of beauty, where happiness abounds.
Jesus loves the children. Is it any wonder? Deep within the heart of a child, He identifies pure motives and innocence. He gave us instructions to receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child. That means we cautious adults are to exercise the same tenacious faith, intense beliefs, and confident trust that children employ. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16).
Just what happens between early childhood years and adulthood to cultivate skepticism, agnosticism, or atheism? As we mature, we acquire more common sense and discernment. We learn to question everything, sometimes the very foundations of our faith. Did we experience mistrust from a dishonest person? Perhaps a major player in our lives deceived us. Intimidation may have convinced us that we will never measure up. Trauma possibly caused perpetual fear or terror. Life’s experiences gradually manipulate our attitudes and belief systems.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The responsibility for parents to teach their children about God and His saving grace is just as important, or even greater, than all their other preparations for life. Children who believe in their Savior and heavenly Father, will possess a foundation of faith that can be built upon as the child matures. Then, when faced with decisions and turmoil of adult living, reliance will be based on God and His promises. Jesus loves the children and He expects us to teach them to love Him, too.
The enemy giant “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42). Goliath had an over-inflated view of himself as he scoffed and cursed at David for attempting to fight him, calling him a dog. Undoubtedly, the giant was looking for a bigger challenge for a sparring partner. Goliath had been shouting defiance for forty days, but no one else had come forward to accept the challenge. “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11). When David declared he would fight the Philistine giant, King Saul warned, “‘you are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy and he has been a fighting man since his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). David was deluged with criticism rather than confidence from men lacking their own personal courage.
David never doubted, nor did his faith waver, as he announced he would slay the giant (1 Samuel 17:47). During his early shepherding years, David killed a bear and a lion with his bare hands, giving credit to his Lord for the victories. God continued to empower David, tutoring the next king in His sovereign classroom, preparing him to one day succeed Saul. David grew up to be an effective, efficient, empathetic king, named “a man after God’s own heart.”
The difference between the boy David and all of the seasoned fighting men in the Israeli army, was that David took his Lord into battle with Him. God enables His children with strength and power regardless of age or ability. We are admonished to encourage those people God has assigned with kingdom work.
Believers are assured: “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). God provides the victory, just as He promised “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are so young, but set an example for the believers in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Those who are young are admonished to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 4:16). Have we lost our sense of wonder, our compelling spiritual innocence? Children know whom to trust. Their tell-it-like-it-is descriptions defy adult explanations.
As we keep our ears attuned to children, there are many things we learn from them: a simplistic approach to life, unbridled enthusiasm, and unashamed love. Catch their excitement and pure faith. Look for opportunities to participate in the spiritual education of a child. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no fear or hesitation in their love of Jesus.
If Christ appeared physically in the presence of children today, they would run with eagerness into His arms, recognizing His love and splendor. Would we unabashedly follow their example? The question is ponderable, for Jesus provides a specific warning pertaining to our verbal and physical reactions to Him. “‘If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and holy angels’” (Luke 9:26, The Msg.).
Jesus is an undeniable fact of life, whose paths we must follow for success and joy. Children integrate spiritual lessons quickly and thoroughly. It is no wonder most adults would prefer to return to the innocence of their youth, a lifestyle abounding with trust and joy. We need never abandon Jesus’ gifts as we age, for He has promised abundant lives, lavished with grace and mercy for all who trust and follow Him. Let us re-evaluate our faith, prioritizing childlike singlemindedness, unreservedly accepting and following our Savior.