The Church You’ve Always Longed For: God Wants To Hold Our Hand
We read in the Gospel of Matthew these words: “Jesus called a child whom he put among them and said, ‘Truly I tell you unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'”
What did Jesus mean when He said that?
Some suggest that He was referring to the fresh innocence of a child, but I don’t think so. I would submit that children are not as innocent as they appear. A little boy asked his mother: “Where did I come from?” The mother replied: “The stork brought you.” The little boy asked, “Then where did you come from?” The mother replied: “The stork brought me.” The third time the little boy asked: “And where did Grandma come from?” The mother answered, “The stork brought her too.” The next day the youngster announced to his first grade class: “There hasn’t been a normal birth in my family for four generations.” Yes, children are not quite as innocent as they seem to be, so I don’t think that is what Jesus was trying to say.
Others suggest that Jesus meant that we are to be loving, as little children, but I don’t think so. You remember the Sunday School teacher who said to her second graders: “Do any of the Ten Commandments apply to the way we treat our brothers and sisters?” One little boy answered, “Yes, one of them does: Thou shalt not kill.” Well, kids can be rough on one another. I heard about one youngster who was beating up on his next-door neighbor. His mother broke up the fight and dragged him home. She said: “Don’t do that again.” He said: “Why?” She replied: “Because God will learn about it, and you will be in big trouble.” That night when it came time for him to say his prayers, he refused to do so. When his mother asked him why he refused to pray to God, he replied: “The less I tell Him, the less He will know.” Yes, children are not always very loving, so I don’t think that is what Jesus was driving at either.
So what did Jesus mean?
I think the answer is found in two words contained in the verse itself. Listen: “Unless you change“—first word—”and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Whoever becomes humble“—second word—”like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The word change is actually a military term. It literally means to do an about face, to make a 180 degree turn, to reverse your direction. The word humble, as it is used here, does not refer to humility. It literally means dependence. Children do not possess much humility. Right from the git-go, they are basically self-centered. From the moment of birth, they think the world revolves around them, and that everyone else is there simply to meet their needs. So humble, as Jesus used it, does not refer to humility. Instead, it means to be dependent—to rely upon. Of course, children are totally dependent upon their parents. Therefore, I think what Jesus is saying here is this: “Unless you reverse the direction of your life and become dependent upon God rather that upon yourself and other things, then heaven will not be yours.”
You see, Jesus understood that children understand what dependence means. Dr. Robert Coles, of Harvard University, the most famous child psychologist of our time, underscores that point in his book, The Spiritual Life of Children. He and his team interviewed 500 children from all around the world. They taped the interviews. Often they asked the children to draw pictures, because they knew children sometimes expressed themselves more freely by what they draw than by what they say. As a result of the study, Coles arrived at the conclusion that when a child thinks of God, the child thinks immediately of dependence and trust.
Example. Here is an eight-year old African-American girl. A grown woman is screaming at her using threats and epithets. The little girl looks at her and smiles and says: “I’m not afraid because I am looking at God and He is smiling at me.” That’s dependence.
Example. Here is a child from Europe who is asked to draw a picture of God. As she is drawing the picture, she suddenly interrupts her own work and says: “Does God ever get rained on?” And then before the member of the team conducting the interview could say anything, the little girl answered her own question. She said: “Sure He gets rained on because we get rained on, and God is always with us.” Dependence.
Example. Here’s an elementary school boy who was the fastest runner at his school, and he is interviewed about this in terms of his faith. He says: “When I am running, I feel that God is running with me. I don’t pray to Him to win, because I don’t think that’s fair, but I’m awfully glad that God picked me.” Dependence.
Example. Here is a little girl from Boston—eleven years old. Her seventeen-year-old brother was killed in an automobile accident just a few months before. She is asked what this says to her about God. She looks out the window for a very long time and she turns to the interviewer and she says: “God works behind the scenes. He doesn’t brag about what He does, but He is always helpful. He’s always pitching in for us. He can’t do everything He would like to do here because of us, but in heaven, where my brother is, He’s the boss.” Dependence.
Example. Here is a paraplegic boy. He says this when he is talking about God: “Sometimes I try to pretend that I was alive when Jesus was here. I picture Him and He looks very special. I don’t mean that His clothes are special. His face is special. There’s something about Him which shows His love. And he teaches us—he teaches us so well that now, hundreds of years later, we are still learning from what He was teaching, and something else: He never leaves us.” Dependence.
A sense of dependence and trust, feeling that God is with you and therefore, you can totally open yourself to whatever God will do in your life. That’s the dependence of a child. I think that’s what Jesus meant when He said: “You are to become like children.” In other words, we are to be totally dependent upon God—we are to build our lives around dependence upon Him. God is to be first. God is foremost. God is primary. God is ultimate. So don’t depend on yourself. Do an about-face. Depend upon God and trust Him completely…like a child.
So…Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty were leaning against a tree talking. Peppermint Patty asked: “Chuck, what do you think security is?” Charlie Brown answers: “Security is when you’ve been somewhere in the car with your mom and dad and you’re riding in the back seat and you can stretch out and fall asleep; and you don’t have to worry about anything. Your mom and dad are in the front seat and they take care of everything. That’s security.” Peppermint Patty smiles and says: “That’s so wonderful.” Then Charlie Brown wrinkles his brow and says: “But it doesn’t last. Suddenly you’re grown up and it’s all over. You never get to sleep in the back seat of the car anymore.” Peppermint Patty, sadness etched on her face, says: “Never?” Charlie Brown replies: “Never.” Then stricken with the tough realities and the painful difficulties of life, Peppermint Patty cries: “Hold my hand, Chuck, hold my hand.”
Well, here’s what is true. Jesus Christ came into this world to strengthen us, to deliver us, to tell us that we don’t face the challenges and the difficulties of life alone. The great God who made us, the Lord of life, the creator of the universe, this God wants to hold our hand.
So I want us to be a church which cultivates and encourages that child-like quality of complete trust and total dependence upon God. I want this to be a church where we know that God cares for us in Jesus Christ. Because if we are a church where we know God cares for us in Jesus Christ, then we will be a church where we care for each other in the name of Jesus Christ.
And what, pray tell, could ever be more wonderful than that?