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Why Jesus wants us to be like little children

Unsplash/Erika Giraud
Unsplash/Erika Giraud

Back when I was in elementary school, I heard an expression directed toward me more than once. Usually by teachers, but others said it as well. Here it is: “Greg Laurie, will you just grow up?”

It’s because I liked to goof around and pull pranks. And do you know what? I still like to have fun. I’ve always thought that life is challenging and hard enough. So, if you can have a few moments of laughter now and then, so much better. I try to find it wherever I can.

We all know people who seem to just suck the life out of every room they enter. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. I think it’s a good thing to stay positive and have a good time as much as you can. Yes, just as my teachers told me, we do need to grow up. But that happens quickly enough anyway. Right? Adulthood sneaks up on you. Then one day when you get older you look wistfully back on those days of your childhood and realize how good you used to have it.

I like being around kids, and always have. But I especially love to be around my own grandchildren — four granddaughters and one grandson. I love every opportunity to be with them.

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And take a wild guess who else loved to be around children. Yes, Jesus.

Jesus loved children, and children loved Jesus. They say children are a good judge of character, and they certainly flocked to the Lord. We all remember the story when the mothers were bringing their little ones to Jesus because they wanted Him to bless them. The disciples thought this was a bad idea. They thought it was undignified, and that the kids were a nuisance. They told the mothers, “Go away. Take your kids with you. Don’t bother Jesus. He’s doing important stuff!”

But the Lord wasn’t happy about that. He said, “‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’ And He placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Matthew 19:14, NLT).

Jesus always had time for children. (He even had memories of being one!)

So when the disciples were arguing one day about greatness, and who would be the Top Dog in the kingdom, he used a little child as an example of what we should all aspire to.

“Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4, NLT).

As it happened, Jesus had begun talking about His impending death. In great detail, He told his disciples that He was about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, tortured, and nailed to a cross — before rising from the dead after three days.

And what was the disciples’ response?

“I wonder which one of us will be the greatest.”

Talk about insensitive! This would be like coming back from the doctor’s office and saying to a friend, “I just found out I have cancer — and only have one week to live.” And your friend replies, “Wow, that’s horrible news. I can’t believe that. Hey man, can I have your car?”

In reply, Jesus did the unexpected. He bypassed them completely and called a little one to come over. Maybe it was a little boy, and Jesus smiled and gestured to him. When he came running over Jesus put His arms around him and said, “Okay guys, listen. You want to be great in the Kingdom? You need to be just like this child.”

Small children are a great example to follow. Why? Think about their expressions of love and trust. Think about their complete dependence on their parents. And when you take a little one to Disneyland, you can’t help but see through their eyes and feel a little of their wonder and awe.

It’s like that with a new Christian. When you are around brand-new believers who have just committed their lives to Christ, sometimes it will reignite you as you catch a fresh glimpse of life through their eyes.

New believers need older believers to stabilize and ground them. But older believers need younger believers to motivate and excite them. Sometimes after a while, we may start taking some precious truths for granted. We lose that sense of childlike awe and wonder. But when you get around someone who is discovering God’s amazing grace and love for the first time, it can reignite you.

That is why we put such an emphasis in our church on reaching lost people.

Yes, this is a place for us to come together and hear the Word taught. Yes, this is a place for us to worship together. Yes, this is a place for us to develop and use our God-given gifts. But it is also a place where we should bring nonbelievers to hear the Gospel.

New believers are the lifeblood of the church. You show me a church that doesn’t have a constant flow of new believers coming in, and I will show you a church that is beginning to stagnate.

Coming back to our Lord’s point, what does He mean when He says we should become like little children? It doesn’t mean you should be simplistic, but it does mean you should be simple. It doesn’t mean you should be childish, but it does mean that you should be childlike. To be childlike is to have a sense of awe and wonder and dependence on God. To be childish is to be immature and selfish.

Yes, of course we do want to grow up. We don’t want to stay forever in a childlike state. We need to mature. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:14. “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever, they sound like the truth.  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (NLT).

But is it possible to grow up and still remain childlike? How do we do that? Just like this: We must grow in our knowledge as Christians and mature men of women of God — but at the same time always maintain our childlike dependence on Him.

Kids love to be carried, don’t they? My grandchildren used to say, “Carry me, Papa!” And I was always happy to do that. Now that they are older and bigger, I don’t think Papa can do that anymore!

But we are never too big for God to carry. Our problems and life situations are never too much for Him. In fact, He will carry us all through life from childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, the later years, and the final years. Isaiah 46:4 (nlt) says, “I will be your God throughout your lifetime — until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you.”

God will carry you, watch over you, and never give up on you. The Bible tells us that when Jesus went to the cross, something kept Him going. And it was this: He did it for you. He went to that cross because He knew that you would be His child. He knew that one day you would place your faith in Him, and that you would be with Him in Heaven when you die. That is what kept Him going. He is “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV).

Yes, we all need to grow up.

But let’s never lose our childlike sense of awe and wonder over what He has done for us.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.

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