I am watching my daughter play contently on the floor when suddenly she springs up and runs off to her bedroom. A minute later she toddles back towards the living room carrying her bag of mega blocks. Unable to keep her balance while carrying the giant bag, she trips over her feet and falls down. “Woah,” she exclaims before getting back up. Opting to drag the block bag behind her, she finished her trek to the living room.
After I open the bag, she makes a few unsuccessful attempts at sticking together two blocks before handing them to me. I obligingly put the blocks together and hold them out as she grabs a new block and confidently sticks it on top.
She adds a few more blocks before taking the whole thing from my hand and dropping it to the ground. I smile to myself as she runs off to her room for something else. Oh, the joy and innocence of a child.
It has been too long since I was a child. Too long since I found pleasure in the simple things in life. Too long since I asked for help without feeling shame. Too long since I fell down and popped right back up without dwelling on my failure.
“Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us to change and become like children,” I think. He knows that as we grow older, we lose all the good parts of being a child—all the childlike characteristics we need to enter the kingdom of heaven.
“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4 (NIV)
The NKJV version of Matthew 18:4 says, “whoever humbles himself like this little child…” I like the use of the word humble here because it brings me back to the characteristics of kingdom citizens. In fact, Matthew 18:3-4 echoes the first beatitude:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
If the kingdom of heaven belongs to both the poor in spirit (the humble), and to little children, then we can use one to better understand the other.
What Children Teach Us About Being Humble
1. Children don’t question their smallness.
Children find no shame in being small. They accept their dependence on others and ask for help when needed. To children, small does not mean insignificant. In fact, their smallness makes them important to the family.
When we humbly accept our smallness, we see our place in the world more clearly. Yes, we are one small person in a big world, but our significance comes from being part of God’s family and living out the role He planned for us.
2. Children imitate their parents.
Children learn things without being taught. When our dog barks outside, my daughter runs to the doggy door, puts her foot through it and yells “Coda! Inside!” We never taught her to do this; she simply watched my husband and I perform the same ritual over and over again, and wanted to be like us.
As a humble child of God, we should imitate our heavenly Father. We should spend so much time with Him that we begin to do what He does and speak like He speaks.
The desire to be like God is already planted in our hearts; after all, we were created in His likeness.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
3. Children seek to please their parents
Children dread the words, “I am disappointed in you,” because they love pleasing their parents. Even a baby learns what makes her parents laugh and then does it over and over again.
Obedience, particularly in young children, flows more out of pleasing parents then from avoiding consequences. When my daughter reaches for something and I tell her no, she pulls her hand away; not because she no longer wants the item, but because she wants to please me.
If our desire to please God compares to a child’s desire to please her parents, we would find setting aside our pride and following Him much easier.
“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21-22 (NIV)
4. Children have a calm and quiet soul
A toddler is full of energy and easily distracted, but her soul is free from stress and anxiety. With a trusted adult looking after them, children feel safe and secure; no need to worry about life.
When we humble ourselves before God, we receive the same ability to let go of stress and anxiety. With our life in God’s hands, our soul can rest.
“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2 ESV
5. Children love unconditionally and forgive quickly.
Children are quick to forgive and forget. After speaking harshly to my daughter, I am racked with guilt, but then she runs up to me with a smile on her face and a book in her hand. She already forgot the incident and moved on.
The unfailing love of a child comes only second to the unfailing love of our Heavenly Father. Even when I feel like I am failing as a mother, my daughter loves me.
A humble person treats other people like a child treats those she loves; they are quick to forgive, and overflowing in their love.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
When Jesus tells us to humble ourselves as little children, it is not to belittle us, but to bless us. We are indeed children of God, and the kingdom of heaven will be ours if we embrace our humble position in God’s family.
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