I have heard this verse spoken and talked about many times, and almost every time it has to do with faith. I think this passage has a much deeper meaning. It says that we adults need to change and be like children in order to be able to embrace the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t call out faith specifically.
About two years ago, my daughter (who was 5 at the time) observed a group of people huddled around a man after church one day. She asked my wife what was going on, and my wife explained to her that the man, Kevin, needed new lungs and the other people were praying for him to get better.
We thought nothing about this because it was a normal interaction, yet from that day forward she prayed almost every night for “her friend Kevin.” She didn’t know Kevin exceptionally well, yet she called him “my friend Kevin.” Each night before bed, she remembered him; in Sunday School class, she remembered him; and even in non-prayer times, she remembered him.
Well, Kevin had a rare lung disease called IPF, and after almost 2 years of waiting, while he was in route to Pittsburgh to wait his turn for his new lungs, he died. It was simply tragic; a guy fights for his life for several years, and now that progress was being made, it was all over. It didn’t seem fair at the time, and it doesn’t seem fair now, but it was reality.
Our church family was heartbroken, but mostly my wife and I dreaded the conversation we were about to have with our now 7 year old. How are we going to explain this? I mean, she prayed every night for the guy, and he died anyway－why? How were we going to answer her hard questions about prayer and why God doesn’t answer prayer? What were we going to tell her when she asks us why and how God would let this happen? These are questions we wrestle with as adults, and I had to explain it to a 7 year old?
Now was our moment it was time to tell our child her friend Kevin had died.
Worried, she replies, “What is it?”
I go on to say, “It’s about your friend Kevin…”
Interrupting, she asks, “Did he die?”
Confused, we simply say “yes,” and now here it was that she asks the question: “Why did he die?”
After tears on her part and painful sympathy on our part, we explain to her that he ran out of time and didn’t make it to the new hospital. Then we told her that now we need to pray for his wife and kids. Do you know what she said next? She said ok, and that she would pray for his family to not be sad.
Wow! As adults we confuse and complicate things. We are the ones who ask the insecure questions about God while we self-medicate and comfort by saying things like, “he’s in a better place now,” or “he is well now, we are the ones still sick.” What a cold-hearted pile of crap. Although those things are true, they are not helpful.
See, my daughter was upset, but she didn’t question God, or doubt prayer; she simply accepted the circumstance and asked God to bring comfort to hurting people. She shifted focus of prayer instead of making it hard, complicated, and asinine.
To bring us back to Matthew 18:2-3, I am pretty sure the previous situation explains what that verse really means. I was the one who was confused, sad, and broken-hearted. I was the one putting God into a box of my rationale and understanding. I was the one confused on prayer and the way things work. It was my developed, complicated adult mind that missed the Kingdom of God in this situation because I was making it into something it wasn’t.
My child simply believes God; she thinks He is nice, helpful, loving, and she still thinks He answers prayer. I learned a lot from my child that day, and after my conversation with her, this verse popped into my head. I understood what being childlike was like, and even though it was simple, it was also powerful. People always associate children as being weak, and that is an unfair assessment. We compensate our weakness with manipulation, power, and false confidence; children are simply strong. They are strong in their minds, hearts, and will…I mean, anyone that is a parent knows the strength of a child’s will.
There is all kinds of hurting going on right now within the walls of God’s Kingdom. There are real hurtful situations happening to people I know personally. Many of my friends have lost their ministry job, some have been hurt by betrayals, and others are burned out and tired. Maybe, just maybe we could all use a lesson in childlike-ness. I mean, how awesome would it be if us adults stopped questioning and doubting God and instead put that sort of effort into prayer?
Let’s never question God’s position in the world; let’s question our own. Let’s not question God’s love for us; let’s question our own love. Let’s not question why God doesn’t work in peoples’ lives; let’s question why we won’t help people with their lives. Let’s not question whether or not God answers prayer; let’s question our own resolve to pray. It’s my opinion that this is the deep stuff of Matthew 18, yet the reason we don’t live like this is still reduced down to a shallow canned retort. You know we would say something like this “we are the problem, not God.” I mean, how does that help anything? I know God is ok and secure, and I know that I am messed up. I especially don’t need somebody else telling me I am messed up.
Finally, let’s stop looking at children as annoyances, or being too simple-minded to understand real life situations. I have learned a lot about God and relationships simply by watching my children. Life is complicated, messy, beautiful, and awful all at once, but it can be something profound when viewed with eyes of a child. That, my friends, is how we embrace God’s Kingdom. It’s something that can only be understood with a childlike mind, faith, and heart.
Stop making it hard, and do a little more feeling and trusting. Shut down the mind, believe, and pray a little more. We need to try and use our hearts a little more and our minds a little less. After all, this is how we are made: we were made to have a relationship with God, yet our minds make it so much more complicated than it ever should become.
The fact that my friend Kevin had died is difficult and hard to understand. The cool thing is that praying for his families comfort has brought me comfort. Like so many other things, it’s in the serving and the giving that we ourselves find answers and peace. I want to challenge everyone to take time to connect with God in prayer and worship. Stop making it difficult, and just do it. Let me close by quoting the great philosopher Yoda. When it comes to embracing God’s Kingdom and thinking like a child, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”