rebelling against low expectations

What Does It Mean to Have Childlike Faith?

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“It’s so hard to pray because I always forget or don’t make the time.”

“I just don’t know how to grow closer to God. He feels far away.”

“I feel like I’m totally failing in following Jesus. Am I even a real Christian?”

Have you ever said or felt any of these things?

We tend to make following Jesus a sort of production. We have to say the right things, read the Bible at a specific time, pray a certain way, believe the right things, be on the right side of political issues, know a lot of answers, and never, ever mess up.

But while we’re busy trying to get it right, we miss the sweet authenticity we get to enjoy with Jesus. Because Jesus is perfect in his grace, there is no relationship more authentic than what we can enjoy with God. So why does it often feel so distant, legalistic and monotonous? I think we often miss the simplicity with which Jesus calls us to follow Him because we’re too busy trying to be “adults” when Jesus calls us to be children.

He uses a literal child to explain to his disciples the kind of faith that He requires from us:

“‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3-4).

So how do we turn and become like children while still trying to grow and mature in our faith? We look at how children conduct themselves!

Children tell their parents everything.

Have you ever noticed how much kids love to talk once they get going? They tell stories about their days, talk about their friends, share what they created in school, and openly unleash their emotions. They tell their parents everything and they don’t worry about how they sound when they do it.

Do you pray in this way?

Often, we are taught to pray (whether directly or indirectly) with a kind of formula: “Dear God, thank you for . . . help us to . . . we love you . . . Amen.”

That’s why so many people are terrified of being called upon in a group to pray. They’re afraid they will stumble over their words and say something that doesn’t fit within the right “formula.”

If we are to humble ourselves and become like children before our Father in heaven, then we will pray like children speak to their parents. We can come to God like he just picked us up from school and joyfully asked how our day went. And while sometimes earthly parents are more preoccupied with other things to be fully engaged and listening to their children, God is always fully engaged in prayer with us. It’s usually we who are preoccupied by other things as we pray to our Father.

Are you struggling with something that seems too small to bring to God? Children can’t conceptualize what is too small to talk about. They talk about it all. They suspect that a friend stole their favorite pen? They’ll talk about their distress over the situation with their parents. They’ll cry about a broken cookie. They don’t stop to analyze whether or not what they have to say is worth it.

Are you struggling with fear over something that you don’t think you should even be afraid of? Children call their parents out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night in order to share their fear of the monster under the bed. They don’t know the difference between “rational” and “irrational” fears and they don’t wait for the opportune time to seek out their parents when they are afraid. When they’re afraid, they run to their protective father.

You can do the same.

This means that prayer can truly be a continuous practice all throughout our days because it doesn’t have to fit into a formula or time of day. If we are to treat God as children treat their parents, no time or subject is off limits. We won’t worry about how we sound or what subject we choose to discuss. We won’t worry that we sound stupid or immature. We won’t worry about judgment coming our way. We will just talk when something comes up.

“God, I’m sad today and I don’t know why. Help me figure out why.”

“This test is making me nervous. I’m afraid that if I don’t do well, my grade is going to drop and I’ll disappoint my parents.”

“I feel like my friends like her more than they like me. I don’t know if it’s in my head.”

“I’m sad I spilled my whole smoothie on myself this morning. I was really looking forward to drinking that smoothie. And it made me late.”

It’s almost as if our thoughts become prayers. We share it all with our Father in heaven because he cares about it all.

Children go to their parents when they need comfort.

When children get hurt all they want is to be comforted by mom or dad. When they have a bad day at school, it seems that only mom or dad have the ability to bring them the comfort they need.

Children don’t worry about bothering their parents with their problems. They run to their parents for comfort. They run in fear, confusion, hurt, sickness, disappointment. They don’t hold back their tears for fear that what they are dealing with is too much for their parents to handle.

Children are extra cuddly when they need comfort and they don’t think twice about where their greatest source of comfort will come.

And yet — we don’t treat God the same way. To us, He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and yet we seek other forms of comfort in music, video games, Netflix, food, sports, grades, and relationships, because we simply don’t trust that He will comfort us in the way we need it.

To us, He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” and yet we seek other forms of comfort in music, video games, Netflix, food, sports, grades, and relationships, because we simply don’t trust that He will… Click To Tweet

But what if we’ve never experienced the comfort God has to offer because we’ve never even tried to come to God in our pain, fear, confusion, sickness, or disappointment? What if we’ve always run to something else and then questioned where God was when we needed Him the most?

If we are children of God, then we have unlimited access to the God of all comfort. We don’t have to run to other things that promise comfort and deliver emptiness. We don’t have to worry about how “irrational” our fears may be or how small our hurt is. We can run to God just as a child runs to his parents in need of comfort.

Children trust their parents.

In order for children to talk to their parents about anything and go to them for comfort, they have to fully trust their parents. If a child can’t trust their parents, they won’t run to them in times of despair. They won’t share their unedited thoughts and feelings with them.

I have a three-month-old baby, and I see her unyielding trust in me every day. She trusts that I will always meet her needs. She falls asleep best on me because she is comforted by me and trusts me. There’s no deeper trust than falling asleep in someone’s arms.

Children trust their parents often without any kind of hesitation. When it’s time to drive somewhere, children don’t hesitate before climbing in the car. They don’t anxiously distrust their parents’ driving ability or where their parents are taking them. They trust that their parents know how to drive, know where to go, and will get them there safely.

Children ask their parents whatever questions come to mind without the fear of how they sound. They don’t worry that their question is too big, too small, or too stupid to ask. They ask the most philosophical questions—that most of the time parents don’t even know the answers to—but they ask because they trust that their parents know everything. They believe their parents have all the answers and trust the answers they receive.

In our relationships with God, we have to have that level of trust in order to engage in the same relationship with Him. We bring all of our questions to God because we trust that He has the answers.

We bring all of our questions to God because we trust that He has the answers. Click To Tweet

We can “hop in the car” with God and trust where He is taking us, even if we don’t know the way. We trust His plan for our lives because we know that we aren’t in charge. We trust Him in everything because we are humble children who are deeply aware that we don’t know everything, and thus we unleash our questions, doubts and curiosity on God. We trust God’s word when he says he is working all things together for good, for those of us who love Him (Romans 8:28).

We can trust that our heavenly Father knows all the answers, will always meet our needs, and has a beautiful plan for our lives. The greatest part? He does it all from a place of gracious, redeeming love.

Children embrace their parents’ love.

We all wrestle with these kinds of lies at some point in our lives:

I don’t matter.

I’m not important.

I’m burden to others.

I’m not lovable.

I’m just an afterthought.

It’s these lies that keep us from embracing God’s love fully. We just can’t believe that we are that loved.

And yet, I can’t imagine my daughter thinking these things because they’re so far from the truth. I loved her before I even knew her. I love her when her diaper leaks on me or she cries in the middle of the night. She has done nothing to earn my love, yet I love her more and more every day. Nothing she does makes me love her less.

So if I, a flawed human, can love my daughter in this way, imagine how deeply we are loved by our Creator! He has always known and loved you (Psalm 139:13-16) and He won’t love you any more or less depending on what you do (Ephesians 2:4-10).

It’s a love so extravagant that we often can’t believe it or embrace it.

But children have no problem embracing their parents’ love because it’s all they know. They welcome hugs, high-fives, cuddles and kisses. They giggle and play with their parents. They run to their parents crying or cheering. They tear open their gifts on Christmas (and even let their parents clean up after them!) Children embrace their parents’ love in all its’ forms without any doubts or questions.

It’s when children embrace their parents’ love that they can face their fears with confidence, be who they are, and try something new without the fear of disappointing anyone.

The Reality of Earthly Parents

All of this sounds great, but most of us know the reality of our earthly families. This article describes relationships between children and parents at their very best. But the sad truth is that many children don’t have the safety and security of this kind of relationship. Instead, the world is riddled with messed up, broken, dysfunctional parents and abandoned, hurting children. Some might read these words and think, “I never had this relationship with my parents, so I still don’t get how I could have it with God.” Our relationships with our parents will never be perfect and some might be more broken than others. Yet God is not unpredictable, changing, or unreliable like people. Even if this experience is not what you’ve held with your earthly parents, it is always what you can experience with God. He’s the best parent. He’s the One we can always trust.

And still, many of us also know the reality of how relationships with parents change as we get older. We stop telling our parents everything. We start to believe they don’t understand or don’t care. We start to feel the pressure of living up to their expectations and the fear of letting them down. We realize our parents don’t know everything so we stop asking questions. We experience conflict with our parents, so we stop trusting them. We look to other places for comfort. We even start to question their love for us.

This is precisely why Jesus calls us to humble ourselves like children, not teenagers or adults.

Children are flawed, messy, emotional, dependent beings and they willingly run to their parents just as they are. It’s when they fully embrace their parents’ love and trust them fully that they feel safe enough to grow and mature.

Will you do the same with God?


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About the author

Elizabeth Davis

Elizabeth Davis is in her eighth year of joyfully sharing the Gospel of God and her life with middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students in student ministry. Her plan is to invest in students forever because she believes they are the World-Changers and Kingdom-Advancers (and adults are boring). She can be found in a local coffee shop writing, reading or spending quality time with good friends. Along with regularly writing on topics of Health & Wholeness for TheReb, Elizabeth writes about faith in Jesus and finding joy in battling a chronic illness on her blog, elizabethrdavis.com/.

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