Do you possess faith like a child? This question is not as easy to answer as it may first appear. There are varying understandings of what constitutes a childlike faith. Is it about innocence and vulnerability? Is it living with wide-eyed imagination and wonder? Is it about teachability?
We may debate these viewpoints, but ultimately, the question to ask is what Jesus meant when he challenged the disciples to adopt a childlike faith. We read about this in the Gospel of Mark (10:13-16). Here, the disciples hinder parents from bringing children to Jesus.
Jesus rebukes the mistaken disciples and blesses the children anyway. Yet he does not stop there. Not only does Jesus bless the children, but he declares that the kingdom he came to inaugurate belongs to “such as these” (10:14). Those with childlike faith inherit the kingdom of God.
We often read this as a declaration of the value of children. Jesus loves the little children, we sing. Yet this misses the entire point of Jesus’ teaching. Rather than commenting on the value of children, Jesus speaks to the spiritual attitude we are all to have as disciples. Christ’s blessing of the children serves as an object lesson to the disciples, and to us, about what it means to participate in God’s Kingdom.
Simply put, Jesus calls the disciples to change how they were living out their faith. As disciples today, we have that same call. To live with childlike faith is to interact with Christ’s blessings in a particular manner. Below are three things to consider if we wish to cultivate a childlike faith.
1. Stop Protecting Jesus
There were many reasons why a parent would bring a child to be blessed by Jesus. Perhaps the child was sick and the parents were in search of healing. Infant mortality was extremely high in those days, so this would make sense. There was also a custom of parents seeking the blessings of an important person.
A blessing by a prominent rabbi, for example, was something to take pride in, and to be honored by. As Christ’s popularity grew, it would make sense that parents would search for him in hopes of obtaining a prestigious blessing for their child.
The issue at hand, however, is not the presence of the children, or the motivation of the parents. The issue is the hindrance by the disciples. The disciples believed that their calling was to be Jesus’ bodyguards.
They saw themselves as needing to protect Jesus from those who should not come. Mark 10:13 declares: “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.” Just as Jesus rebukes the waves, the disciples authoritatively declared children unwelcome in Christ’s presence.
It’s hard to recognize exactly why the disciples took such a negative stance toward the coming children. Some commentators suggest that children were seen to be a nuisance, a distraction against those who were more important.
Others suggest that children should not be blessed until they have the cognitive capacity to understand the blessing. Either way, the blessing of the children was considered busy work. Instead of opening the doors for others to experience the love of Jesus, and the power of God’s kingdom, the disciples became spiritual bouncers keeping people out.
We cannot express a childlike faith if we believe we must protect Jesus from others. In doing so, we prop ourselves up as the mediators of divine blessing. We declare who is in or who is out. Mark records that Jesus is frustrated with the disciples because their actions completely contradict the flow of his grace.
A childlike faith doesn’t feel the need to protect Jesus, either from ourselves or from others. Instead, childlike faith recognizes that Christ’s invitation to new life is always more expansive than we can understand. Christ is bigger than we are. It is not up to us to understand, manage, or limit Christ’s blessings. Our job is to come and to come boldly.
2. Receive the Kingdom Freely
Jesus blesses the children as a sign of his graceful availability to everyone. “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it,” Jesus declares (Mark 10:15). Jesus is clear: The kingdom is offered. It’s available.
We don’t earn it. We don’t merit it. We don’t build it. We are given it as a gift of love and grace. If we refuse to receive the kingdom, freely offered, then we will never fully enter in the reality of Christ’s gracious presence in our lives.
Receiving the kingdom like a child, therefore, isn’t about our own innocence or purity. The disciples, after all, are not innocent people. The disciples are not perfect or pure. If we think that childlike faith is about some long-forgotten innocence, then we will inevitably miss the radical truth Jesus is declaring.
Jesus calls us to receive the kingdom and to receive it fully. Childlike faith is about the willingness to receive Christ’s gift. Children do not bring anything to Jesus as they have nothing to bring. They come empty. They come as they are, with no pretense.
Because of this, there is nothing to get in the way of the honest and real acceptance of Christ. Even if the children do not understand the blessing or the richness of Christ’s love, the blessing of Jesus is received and received in full — without hesitation. Charles Spurgeon once said,
“Do you think to come to Jesus up the ladder of knowledge? Come down, Sir, you will meet Him at the foot! Do you think to reach Jesus up the steep hill of experience! Come down, dear climber — He stands in the plain! ‘Oh, but when I am old, I shall then be prepared for Christ.’ Stay where you are, young man! Jesus meets you at the door of life — you were never more fit to meet Him than now. He asks nothing of you but that you will be nothing and that He may be All in All to you. That is His teaching”
Like children before Christmas, we are to continually reach out to Jesus, straining ourselves to receive that which is offered to us. Our reception of Christ’s gifts is never dependant on our ability, intelligence, or spiritual aptitude.
Disciples are called to daringly believe that what Jesus offers us is available. There are no caveats. There is no fine print. Christ calls us to come to him, plain and simple. Childlike faith takes Jesus at his word.
3. Live in the Kingdom
Mark does not record what occurs with the children after they are blessed by Jesus. Yet we can easily deduce that the children live their lives under the banner of Christ’s blessing. Christ’s blessing becomes a part of their lives.
Furthermore, we can declare that Christ’s blessing has an effect. Jesus never blesses in word alone. When Scripture records that Jesus took children in his arms and “blessed them” (Mark 10:16), the word used means “to bless fervently.”
This is the only time this word is used in the scriptures. With every ounce of gusto and passion, Jesus bestows his favor, his love, and his power into the children’s lives. Thus, they come away from the blessing having been changed, transformed.
Why Does This Matter?
Jesus longs to pour out God’s blessings and love upon us. If we see this passage as a cute little story about Jesus shaking hands and kissing babies, we miss the very radical invitation for us. We miss the deep call for us to boldly live in God’s kingdom.
The Lord’s passionate blessings upon our lives are to change us, transform us. Entering the kingdom of God is not some long-awaited mystical promise, it pertains to how we live our lives in the here and now. Christ’s blessing goes with us, informing how we view ourselves, others, and the world in which we live.
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Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.