Reverent love includes a deep sense of being a small, teachable, weak being who is yet alive and admiring God’s goodness. To be under the shadow and care of such a Father is to experience a profound kind of smallness, innocence and safety in his marvelous world. This experience is the aspect of reverence we call childlikeness.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)
Not only are Christians to receive everyone, from adults down to children, but we are to be like children. There is something to conversion itself which requires childlikeness.
What does Jesus mean by “becoming like a little child”? Because before we rush to say that children are pictures of purity and innocence, a myth started by the French sceptic Rousseau, common sense and experience tell us that this is not the case. Children can be very cruel and spiteful to one another. Children do not naturally serve others. Children push to the front of the line, and say “Me first” in screeching voices. Children can be proud, boastful, and supremely selfish. What then does Jesus mean we are to imitate? Surely not the childishness of children, for childishness is something we want to outgrow. Indeed, Paul says spiritual childishness must be avoided: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting…“(Ephesians 4:14)
There is a fundamental difference however, between being childish and childlike. Childishness is something not fully formed, that requires growth and correction. But to speak of something as childlike refers to something that ought not to be lost.
Clyde Kilby’s resolutions illustrate some of the attitudes of the childlike. The first is wonder.
- At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
- I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
- I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
Another is untiring enthusiasm. G. K. Chesterton wrote of childlikeness, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
A third is sincerity, speaking with candour and honesty before people, though with the tact and courtesy that adulthood ought to bring. It is not duplicitous, flattering or hypocritical. The Greek word for hypocrite referred to an actor with a mask.
A fourth attribute of childlikeness is the virtue of biblical simplicity. This is an uncluttered heart and life, free from things that divide, distract or pollute our focus on Christ. It is not filled with objections to the Gospel or choked with worldly wisdom. It is happy to be a fool for Christ, foolish in the world’s eyes, and wise unto God. Nor is it interested in being expert in evil, and growing in the knowledge of what is forbidden. It wants to preserve as much ignorance and innocence about depravity as it can, and be knowledgeable about righteousness and what pleases God
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
… I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. (Romans 16:19)
Tozer advised, “Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think. Reduce your interests to a few. Don’t try to know what will be of no service to you. Avoid the digest type of mind – short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings… Practice candor, childlike honesty, humility”.
Childlikeness lives with a simple trust that if God provides for lilies and sparrows, that he will provide for me if I work hard. It avoids the grief and complexity of pursuing riches for their own sake, or pursuing vainglory, and all the tiresome pomp and frippery that is needed to prop up and polish our image. It finds contentment in a simplicity of lifestyle, and does not become entangled with this world.
A God-fearing, reverent love is little and self-forgetful in its own eyes, and lives in with enthusiastic, sincere, and simple wonder of our Father in Heaven.