Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Childlike Faith and the Stuff of Dreams

My two oldest girls fishing together
As a parent to young kids, I've often been struck by their ability to receive the simple purity of God's truth with humility. I believe it's often easier for children to accept the absolute truths of Scripture than it is for many adults. They more readily take God's truth at face-value. This is partially because children don't tend to over-intellectualize things. There is simplicity on the far-side of complexityand in their simple understanding of God's Word, children are able to by-pass a lot of the complexity, while adults are more apt to getting lost in the weeds

For example, when my oldest daughter was three years old, she had an amazingly lucid grasp of the Trinity and her description of it, childlike as it was, was just as profound as any theological explanation I've ever read! The concept of the Trinity made sense to her both cognitively and spiritually, and she accepted it without hesitationin other words, she accepted it with childlike faith.

Children are intrinsically humble and teachable. They aren't already puffed up with pride and worldly knowledge. They haven't yet been corrupted by the faithless cynicism and negativity of the world. For this reason, it's easier for them to walk humbly by faith and not by sight. Isn't humility what Jesus was actually talking about when He said that we must “become like children” to enter His Kingdom? He said, whoever “humbles himself” like a little child is the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2-4). 

This is why I'm so thankful for those who dedicate their time to children's ministry. Children's ministry can sometimes be under-valued, or even treated as a baby-sitting service while the adults are ministered to. But little children represent a vital mission field. I have an inspiring friend who's passionate about her role as a nursery coordinator and has a vision for sowing the seeds of salvation in little hearts. She understands the powerfully life-changing impact of ministering to these little ones who are so often over-looked. 

Children's hearts haven't yet become hardened by life's trials and so their hearts are fertile for a faith in Jesus Christ to take root. There are so many encouraging stories of children putting their faith in Jesus early on. And I've heard story after story of people coming to accept Christ in adulthood because in a moment of tragedy, or during a challenging time, the distant but powerful memory of a lesson or song they learned as a little child in Sunday school resurfaced with power, leading them back to Jesus.

One of my kids' favorite conversation topics is about how big God is. They marvel at how He is bigger than the sky. They list off all the things they can think of that God is bigger than. It might seem like a childish and mundane conversation to the casual observer, but what they are really doing is rejoicing in who God is. They are fascinated by the fact that He is omnipresent...that He created everything...and that He forgives them when they are naughty and never, ever stops loving them. John Piper has said, "For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts. But childlike wonder and awe have died. The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator."[1] My kids inspire me to go back and ponder God's goodness and His greatness and cherish Scripture that testifies to who He is. They remind me of why I love the Psalms, especially my favorite one, Psalm 139, in which David paints a worshipfully vivid, awe-inspiring picture of God as ever-present, intimately loving, all-knowing.

And so, I cherish the moments when I can listen to my children talk about God. It's so refreshing to hear them profess their faith with such heartfelt conviction and simple clarity. The other day in the car, I listened to my seven-year-old explain to my five-year-old why God doesn't catch her when she jumps off a chair. It was certainly a better answer than I could've come up with on the spot!

And I love how each individual child displays his or her own, very personalized, response to God. My five-year-old daughter recently had an interesting dream about God that I thought was worth sharing here. Here is a paraphrased version—the details in the following account are all her own:

My big sister and I were walking along with God. My sister was holding one of His hands, and I was holding the other. We were walking through a hotel hallway. We came to a door. First, I tried to open it [she stretches her arms up], but it was too high. Then my sister tried to reach the handle [she stretches her arms up], but she couldn't reach it either. Then God reached down and opened the door for us [she motions pulling down the handle and opening the door]. 

In the doorway were three men. One was tall, one was medium, and one was short. The tall man saw God and he went: "gasp!" [in excitement] because he was happy to see God. The second man, went: "huh?" because he wasn't sure who God was. And the short man went: "hmmmmmm..." [she taps her finger on her chin while frowning cynically] because he thought God was too tall.

She concluded by repeating the three reactions to God: "It was like: 'gasp!' 'huh?' 'hmmmmmmm...'"

I was awe-struck by her account of the dream. There are so many things you could take from it! So many layers of meaning! She didn't seem to think that there was anything particularly meaningful about the dream herself, but she was excited to share it because it was about God. While she appreciated the dream in a childlike way, from an adult perspective, I could discern the profound nature of the dream. This brings up an important point.

As Os Guinness puts it, "Although a Christian should believe simply, he should not 'simply believe.'" When Jesus told us we need to become like children to receive Him, He didn't mean we should remain as infants in our faith. In fact, Paul clearly exhorts us not to be like infants because infants are blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Eph 4:14). Indeed, children may be easily fooled and led astray by false teaching. Their tendency to accept things unquestioningly can sadly be abused. Instead of remaining childlike, then, we are to mature in our faith, and “test everything” holding on to what is good (1 Thes 5:21). A childlike faith must mature into a discerning faith that is anchored in Christ and reflects a growing, deepening understanding of God's Word.

C.S. Lewis once said, "[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim." As my children grow up, I pray that they will continue to grow and mature in their faith, without losing their tender-heartedness or their sense of childlike wonder. I love how Martin Luther King put it when he said, Christians need tender hearts and tough minds!

If you are looking for resources to help your children learn about God, William Lane Craig's book series, "What is God Like?" is one of the best we've read. His writing really resonates with my children and addresses many challenging questions about God with simple, clear, biblical answers. 

[1] Desiring God, 1996, p. 89

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