Jesus’ disciples once asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Perhaps they expected to hear the name of a famous teacher, or a king. Perhaps some of them were secretly hoping to hear their own names listed as worthy of heavenly honor. Jesus, however, called a little child to him and 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. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Considering this was not the only time the disciples asked Jesus such a question, it is unlikely they were thrilled to hear such his answer. In our day, also, people follow the most charismatic leaders and flock after teachers who promise them riches or glory. A message about humility and coming as a child is not likely to be very popular.
We grow up learning the world’s way of thinking and build our life on those lies. Even in homes where teaching about religious matters is a priority, so much of what we may have been taught was not the truth of God’s kingdom. It may have been our parents’ best understanding, as they were still trying to figure out who they were, and who God was, at the time. This, in turn, is what we pass on to our own children.
We grow up, often rushed through childhood, learning how to be responsible and survive in a dog-eat-dog world. We get gold stars, points and privileges as an incentive to abandon the ways of childhood. We learn to be motivated by financial rewards, the lust to own more, and the desire for prestige.
We become extremely time conscious, tied to our schedules and our goals. We are driven by the demands to succeed, or even just to survive. We lose our joy and our sense of wonder. We lose touch with God.
Finally, we find ourselves totally unable to lose ourselves in anything at all. We can’t slow down long enough or stay focused enough to pray. To actually lose ourselves in a good book, a game, or just gaze at the beauty of God’s creation becomes impossible for us.
People who have suffered abuse of any kind grow up believing even more lies than the rest of us. They face the same pressures as everyone else, plus the added burden of sorting through the multitude of lies they’ve been told about themselves, their worth as a person, and about the God who created them.
For many people, it takes reaching a major point of crisis to realize they’ve lost something priceless. When something drastic happens, they may realize they’ve lost touch with the freedom and openness everyone has before they were robbed of it, the original state of being a child at heart. With this realization, they begin to wonder how to get it back. Finding the way back can be scary.
We have to somehow get back to being a child, and learn to live all over again. To do that, we may have to sort through and confront the things that stole that innocence, joy and trust – that sense of being safe and carefree. So we must begin the process of reclaiming our inner child, the true self that got lost in the shuffle, the childhood we somehow missed. We must open ourselves to inner healing by our loving Creator. That is how we learn to enter the kingdom, now – not just some future, after death Heaven.
This is actually the process of being born again and it doesn’t always resemble the “say this prayer” formula to which many evangelical Christians are so attached. There is a starting point, and sometimes it does begin with saying a prayer, because we have to start with the realization that we are not what we were meant to be and go on from there. But for many, the realization dawns slowly and the process is very gradual. Saying a rote prayer cannot bring us to this point if we are not ready, and can, in reality, interfere with the process altogether because we focus on the packaged guideline and demands of a given church or doctrine and once again get lost in an agenda that keeps us from being open to God’s work in our lives.
We cannot find our way into the kingdom from where we are, confused adults who have built our lives on the lies we believed. We don’t even know how to speak the language of the kingdom. We are aliens in the kingdom. We have to go back and let God rebuild us, teach us our Heavenly ABCs and 123s. We must see the world through fresh, childlike, kingdom eyes to know who we are, who HE is, and how to live in joy and freedom of the Kingdom of God.
Those who have actually started this process may come to realize we can spend our entire adult lives being “deprogrammed” and “reprogrammed.” The longer we walk this path, the harder it can be to even remember who we were before. We may have to stop and think about it to be aware of the strange “planet” the “unborn” ones still inhabit in order to still be able to communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them.
The longer we walk this path, the more we’ll realize how little we know and how much we have to learn about God, ourselves, and the kingdom of heaven. This, in essence, is what it means to come as a child – to be humble enough to realize we do not know very much, and to eagerly reach out to our Heavenly Teacher to open our hearts and minds to all the wonders awaiting us. It is his pleasure to lead the way.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 (New International Version)
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, 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, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16
Father God, thank you for sending Jesus to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to be our inner guide into all truth. Thank you for grace as we stumble along this path, knowing that while we have not yet attained perfect childlikeness, you are a merciful God who only asks that we reach out to you and let you lead us.
As Pentecost is upon us, let us ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit that we may have a willing spirit and renewed energy to continue to walk the kingdom path.