Thursday, November 1, 2012

Childlike Faith

For the past week or so, I have been stuck at home fighting a pretty bad chest cold.  I hate being sick--it is debilitating on so many levels:  I can't run; I can't go to the gym; I don't feel good enough to see family or friends; I miss out on leading worship at church; I can't sing and miss my rehearsals with my other bands; and I get behind on housework and such due to feeling poorly.  It pretty much stifles every area of your life when you are battling illness.

But one good thing that comes with being laid-up sick is the fact that you are forced to "look up."  I have spent a great deal of time this past week in prayer and in reading my Bible, which is only a good thing.  I have found in the past that when I am sick, I can be more prone to attack by the enemy (and sometimes, I am my own worst enemy)!  When my mind is quiet and still, and I am stuck in the house alone for prolonged periods of time, that is when I tend to struggle more with negative, depressing thoughts, or worries in general.  Plus, it isn't easy to feel great mentally when you're stuck on the couch for endless days hacking up a lung! So to combat this, I pray and read my Bible--works like a charm!  I know I am not alone in this because even Christ was attacked more by the enemy when He was in a vulnerable state.  As we know from the Bible, the enemy attacked Jesus most often when He was hungry or tired.  The enemy's pathetic tactics are so easy to forecast, it is almost comical.  Fortunately, I now know how to combat it before it starts.  God tells us His Word is like a sword, and I believe it. 

Yesterday being Halloween, I was laying on the couch resting (again) and not feeling well (good times).  So I began reminiscing a bit about all the fun costumes I made or helped concoct with my daughter, Allie, throughout her years growing up at home.  One of my personal favorites was the year she dressed-up as, "a tube of toothpaste" ("Crest," to be specific).  She was around four years old at the time, and brushing her teeth on her own was a very big deal--almost a rite of passage for her (of course, Mom always had to do a quick, "finish" or "check" of her brushing each time, just to be sure)!  Since I was finishing up my teaching degree at the time, teacher "idea" books and supply magazines were strewn about our home pretty regularly.  So Allie happened upon this costume idea from a fall issue of a teacher's magazine I had.  She saw it, giggled profusely, and said in her best dramatic voice, "That's so funny and goofy!  Oh, I just have to be the toothpaste, Mom!"  So we made her a giant toothbrush to carry out of cardboard and bought a new car washing scrub brush, for which we cut a hole and taped to the fake cardboard toothbrush, to use for the bristles (which also made it easy to carry since it had a handle).  I sewed a little white sheath dress for her to wear on which we painted the Crest logo, and she wore a small, white, pleated lampshade on her head for the cap.  It was so cute and really hilarious.  In all my years, even as a teacher, I never saw another kid dress-up as, "a tube of toothpaste," for Halloween. Our idea was quite unique, and Allie was right--it was funny and goofy!

In thinking about all the things people dress-up as or try to "become" on Halloween, I thought about the fact that God asks all of us to, "become like children," in order to come to know Him personally.  Actually, He requires it--He doesn't just ask.  In Matthew 18, the disciples ask Jesus who the greatest person will be in the Kingdom of Heaven (besides God and Himself, I presume).  Jesus responds by bringing a child in front of them as an example.  He says to them in verses 3-5, "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.  And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me."  He goes on to tell them in verse 6, "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."  He reiterates the value of children again in verses 10-14, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish."  What an amazing parable to share about how much love God has for each of us!  He cares about every one of us individually, and desires for us to come to Him as a humble child or as a lost lamb that needs a Shepherd.  He wants to make us His own, care for us, and love us as dearly loved children.

In Mark 10, people are bringing children to Jesus to pray over them.  This irritated the disciples for some reason and they became angry about it (perhaps they thought Jesus had better things to do than pray over petty kids).  Jesus scolded them for their anger and said, "'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'  And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them."   

Now I have to admit, these are some of the verses that made me want to become a teacher.  My first year in college, married with a baby, I was faced with the glaring reality that I would not be able to be the kind of wife and mother I wanted to be and also study successfully to become a pediatrician--which was my dream since I was thirteen years old.  I was smart, but I was mostly "book smart," not naturally, "gifted" smart.  Studying for a degree in medicine would come at a high price for our family--it was a price I was not willing to pay.  So I switched my major to, "Physical Therapy," when a mentor told me it would be a better field in medicine for me with having a family.  But I had no real heart-connection to that field, and upon entering a practicum/clinical for one of my classes in that field of study, soon realized I actually despised it.  I bawled all the way to my car that day, realizing I had spent countless hours studying a math and science curriculum that was now unnecessary and that had been excruciatingly difficult for me.  In struggling to let go of my medical "dream," I realized that the essential, pure component in it was my desire to help children.  I'd always had a heart for kids and if Jesus did, too, then there could be no better field in which for me to spend my time than in education. I remember hearing this verse in Matthew 19:14, "Let the little children come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of God," in a sermon one Sunday, and had the epiphany I needed.  I changed my major to Elementary Education, and never looked back.  The field of education has been good to me and to our family.  It was an easy path to trod, and allowed me to be the wife and mom I wanted to be.  God was good to me.

In Luke 10, Jesus is preparing His disciples, as well as the 72 believers and followers of Him, who are getting ready to go out to teach and preach the Gospel and the Good News about Him.  He is giving them warnings and encouragements, and prays in front of them in verse 21 saying, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what You were pleased to do."  Here again, Jesus is revealing the harsh fact that even the truths and mysteries of God are revealed only to those who are as children and who come to Him as children--not to those who think they know more than God or think they don't need Him or His truths.  Again, it seems clear, that a mind and heart that are humble, open, and full of child-like faith are prerequisites to being a follower and a believer of Christ in God.  They are essential to having a place reserved for yourself in heaven. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

So why does Jesus say we are to become like a child, and what does this look like?  I believe He wants us to possess the following:  blind, innocent faith; a humble spirit that easily trusts; a happy, content heart; a playful, peaceful existence; a joyful presence; a deep need for love; a recognition of our need for support and help in life; and an open, eager-to-please mind and nature.  Those are the things I thought of first.  Most children start out in life possessing most of those--it is just a natural part of being a healthy child to fully trust and willingly rely on a trusted parent(s).  We are all born with a "sin nature" though, also, as God's Word tells us clearly in too many places to list (Ro. 7:18; Ro. 7:25; and the best one, Ro. 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,").  But as for the good stuff that most kids seem to naturally possess, somehow we lose a lot of those precious traits along the way.  Life experiences, disappointments, and sin taint us.  Other people's words and beliefs about us haunt us (forgive the repetitive Halloween parallels).  Few of us make it to adulthood (or through it) unscathed by sin and the world.  So Christ is beckoning us to come back to our childlike being and give Him our messed-up lives.  He wants us to start over and be reborn in Him.  He wants us to believe in Him and trust in Him, His truths, and His ways--cheerfully, willingly, and with a joyful eagerness to live as His child. Instead of doubting the things we don't "get" about Him or fully understand about Him or His Word, He wants us to just trust Him and stop trying to, "play God."  That is not a costume He ever wants us to try to wear.  We are His children, whether we want to believe it or not.  When we give in to that truth, wear our proper identity, and stop wearing other masks and costumes, that is when all the good stuff of life can flow in and through us again.  Praise God for making His truths known to a little child; even one such as me.