The Place of Children
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’” Matthew 18: 1 – 5
I am amazed at what God has been doing in my heart concerning children and their importance in His eyes. I have always believed that they have value in God’s eyes and of the importance to protect both the born and the unborn as vulnerable human beings made in God’s image. Yet, I still held a form of prejudice toward them. I was in a way like the disciples above. I saw that children had their place in a child’s world, but then someday they would finally become responsible adults and could have a place and a voice and a contribution to give at that point in time. I am sorry to say, that even as a father of 4, I overlooked the importance of children. I love my children and I enjoy spending time with them and parenting them, yet I was guilty of undervaluing them.
I was the guy who loved doing mission trips, but when it came to those points in time where we visited an orphanage, I felt like a fish out of water. When could we get back to the important stuff that needed to be done like teaching and training and praying for the sick and equipping others to do the same? The depth of Jesus’ words and His model concerning children and their place in His Kingdom never had truly sunk into the depths of who I was. I could be an advocate for children, however it was more out of protecting them, than seeing them as models of Kingdom citizens as it now seems to me that Jesus portrays them.
These past two years been quite a journey for me as The Lord has deepened the place of children in my heart. A year and a half ago I had a vision of a number of severely broken children coming to me and walking alongside of me, getting healed and then going to get their friends and seeing the same occur in their lives. It was a powerful vision that played out for days and which drew me into the center of it. I was shaken by it. Yet, at the time I only really had a framework for seeing this in terms of the spiritual. I began to reframe this vision in terms of thinking that God must be calling us to work with those who are spiritually poor and broken and therefore it made sense for us to think in terms of church planting and developing a community that could nourish and empower “spiritual children.” However, along the way, as we got on the ground here and continued to return to The Lord for what He was calling us to, it became clearer and clearer that it was indeed “physical children” as well as “spiritual children” that He had put in our hearts and was calling us to.
Over the past 4 months, especially, The Lord has been putting a deep love in me for children and seeing them as Kingdom citizens of today. He has been reminding me that they are The Church of today. I knew that all along, yet I find it having a deeper resonance within me that I can’t quite understand.
This struck me last night as I held two young boys at an orphanage run by friends of ours. Both of these boys are supposed to be dead. They both had certain things about them that made them to be seen as defective and cursed by their tribe and therefore they were destined to be killed by that tribe. They were vulnerable and voiceless, yet some people stepped in and said they would take these two boys and care for them. This was an act of rescue…because without these individuals acting and the mothers showing courage by allowing their children to be cared for by others, rather than being killed, these two boys would not be alive today. Now, these boys have a lot of life in front of them.
I imagine that if they had been in that crowd that day, they could have been the child that Jesus called forward to use as an example. Vulnerable and Helpless, yet Valuable and given a Voice by The King of All. When I read Jesus’ words, I do not see Him only saying to make sure that children are not harmed, but rather I see Jesus placing children in the place of importance in the Kingdom. While the disciples were fighting over who was the greatest and who was most impressive and who would sit at the place of power in Jesus Kingdom, Jesus took them all down several notches by showing that those who were the true powerless and forgotten of society were in deed the model citizens in The Kingdom. We, as Jesus followers, still seem to struggle with the question of who is the greatest, today. Maybe, we need more children in front of us.
There have been many sermons on what Jesus meant by His words and much of the time what has been stressed is the qualities of children that we should emanate. The qualities of being: trusting, vulnerable, loving, quick to forgive, dependent, humble and able to practice simple faith are just some of the qualities I have preached or heard others preach over the years. I think all of these things are true when we think of the qualities that children model for us and the call of Jesus to us to become like little children. Yet, I wonder if there is not another dynamic at play here, too. I wonder if Jesus is possibly making a model that children get to play as vital parts of His Kingdom… today. Is there something about the hearts and minds of children that when they come to know Jesus, they could start practicing what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus, today? Could it be that we miss the point of how children could have a dynamic relationship with God here and now? I am not advocating for children to stop being children and to start acting like grownups who have faith. But, rather if children start acting out faith in Jesus while still exercising creativity like children and play like children and learning like children…could it challenge us grown ups about what faith in Jesus is really supposed to look like? Could the simple trust of a child that God can do what He says He can do (rather than the more adult approach that explains away why God doesn’t do this or or that) actually call us out of the doldrums of faith that so many of us find ourselves in? Could the activity of children not only transform the church of the future, but also transform the church of today – helping us all to better emulate what it means to be strangers to this world and citizens of the Kingdom?
I think of these things a lot these days. For one, I am struck by the statistics. Here in Ethiopia we have almost 50% of the population under the age of 18. This is the Church of Today and the Church of Tomorrow. If children are forgotten and remain voiceless, then the Church of Today and Tomorrow both suffer greatly. I think of this a lot because we are surrounded by many children on a regular basis who are forgotten and voiceless…yet Jesus calls them out of the crowd to come and sit on His knee while He calls the attention of others to them. I also think of these things a lot because of our own children. We have been convinced along the way that God would use our children to help lead us to the what and where we would be working here in Ethiopia. And, He has used them greatly in this journey. The Lord speaks through them in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) and powerful ways. It is so much fun watching them walk out what it means to follow Jesus at their age.
I have been reminded lately of the different people along the way who “called me out” long before it was socially acceptable for me to be involved in ministry. I think of the church I grew up in and how they did not see children as simply those who make up the childrens choir and come and do their little number in front of the church a few times a year looking like little angels. Rather, I remember how they empowered me to be part of the Administrative Council of the church when I was like 14 and how I preached my first sermon in that church at about that same age. I think of the chance they gave me to lead adults in a number of ways when I was 15. I also think of the church that gave me as a young punk at 19 years old the opportunity to be a youth director and teach and train and equip kids, some of whom were less 2 years younger than me. That was 20 years ago, when they took a chance on me. God was so gracious and forgiving of the many messes I made along the way 🙂
I also think of a couple of churches we have been part of in which the children got to play a vital role. They were called to be a part of the Church of Today. In the one we used to have children pray for the sick and we saw the sick get better. In another church the kids made up a vital part of the worship band. At times it was messy and at times people didn’t understand, yet there was something imparted in those kids as they were told at a young age – “You matter. You are part of the Church of Today and you can use what God has put in you to serve Him.” Thanks to our worship leaders there (Kathy & Scott), Joshua still loves to play the drum to worship God today. There is a passion for God that comes out of him when he is given the chance to play. He learned a way that he could express worship at an early age. Of course it needs refined and developed over time…but don’t all of our expressions?
Children are messy. Children are unpredictable. Children are too exploratory. Children break things. Children ask questions. Children laugh when they are supposed to be quiet and solemn. Children goof around when they are supposed to be stoic and serious. I wonder if that’s not part of what Jesus was getting at when He used them as an example. There is a life and vitality in them that if we will acknowledge and invite them to be part of the Church of Today, then both the Church of today and tomorrow will be all the richer for it. As they learn from us and us from them, we pass on a heritage of faith while also finding our faith to be much richer, riskier and alive, too.
Jesus, may we welcome little children, as you welcomed them. And, may we see them with your eyes.