“Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14)
When I was 16 and a junior in high school, I had perhaps my first mega-significant awakening to the goodness of God in the face of Christ. It exploded the boundaries of my perception and opened me up to the reality of God’s limitless grace in a way I had not understood… and as such, it totally set my life on fire.
Something about tasting of God in that way makes one hunger for more. So I ran at God with all my might. I remember sitting in class during those days… and just being downright ANTSY. All I could think about was getting out of school and back into open space where I could seek God… better yet, where I could DRINK DEEPLY from the well of the Divine.
It was from that place that my first and most pure desire to preach came. Tasting God and sensing his heart for his people made me want to vocalize the depths of His yearning… so as to draw people in to what I was tasting. It was a short step from communion to ministry. The simplicity of loving God – and the experience of being loved by God – first awakened a longing to be a voice among the people of God.
Matthew has Jesus telling us that children are a model for faith. Their simplicity and empty-handedness makes them uniquely capable of receiving the kingdom as it comes in the face of Christ. So much so that in one place Jesus can say earlier in Matthew, “Unless you repent and become like little children, you will certainly never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Think of that. We need to repent … in a way … of the sin of adulthood. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising, since Jesus in Matthew also says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” and “Blessed are the meek…” and “Blessed are the pure in heart…” for it is these who receive the kingdom, inherit the earth, and see the face of God.
As the narrative continues to unfold in Matthew 19 and 20, we see Jesus’ words about children in action. The Rich Young Man cannot – in complete and exuberant simplicity of heart – disband himself of his possessions and joyfully follow Jesus. Instead, he tries to reduce faith to a morality-management play. And he misses the kingdom. And in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20), the workers who were hired first cannot appreciate the stunning fact that they are being paid to work in the vineyard… instead, the complexity of their scheming souls causes them to be scandalized at the seeming inequity of grace played out before their eyes. For the rich young man and the workers who were hired first… there is no simplicity, and hence no joy, no Jesus, no kingdom. They are the exact opposite of the children.
Life has a funny way of beating the childlikeness right out of us. My own experience is that ministry in particular can be lethal to childlikeness. We start innocently and with wide-eyed wonder. But then we gain “experience”. Some of those experiences are good, and so we start to feel like we’re something… that we’ve proved something and have something to say. Some of those experiences are bad, and so we become jaded. We watch other churches rise and fall, see other pastors succeed and fail, and we measure our own “success” (or lack thereof?) against an invisible, ever-changing, but oh-so-menacing standard.
And it kills kingdom in us.
It occurs to me that both success and failure in ministry can cause us to lose our souls. We are called to be infatuated with the person of Jesus, and to bring that infatuation to the people of God, inviting them into it, and letting a family of loving, gracious infatuation with Jesus emerge. The moment ministry becomes more than this, the moment the standard changes from this to “this-AND”, I think we’re in deep trouble. I think we’re on the verge of making this whole thing really lethal to spiritual health – our own and others’ around us.
I see this in the “seasoned” pastor-types who have too much experience for their own good and hence cannot embrace the newness that God wants to breathe over his church
I see it in the up-and-coming “successful” pastor-types who parade their successes around, universalizing their methods, and pretending that somehow their successes as measured by a handful of numerical measurements somehow ought to make their voice just that much more authoritative on this or that subject
And I see it in the pastors and church planters whose experiences have been hard and slow-going, and who carry around a palpable sense of inferiority and failure
…and all of it so unnecessary. “Repent, and become like children…”
And then every so often we meet the person who is undefiled by their success and untainted by their failures, who exist so purely and perfectly in the grace of God that while they may be old, they seem quite young.
This morning, through tears, my plea is that what inaugurated the journey for me some 14 years ago would ever be the pure brightness that sustains me through to the end – a sort of loving laughter of the soul as the light of God shines in it, and a deep yearning that, whatever else I become, I’d be a consistently buoyant voice calling people into that light, so that their own souls may come alive to the joy of God.
Keep us simple-hearted, Lord.