Child-like faith is not the same as childish faith. There is a lot of that going around. Unfortunately, there is not enough of the other. Perhaps it is our own fault. We are too sophisticated. And we believe suspicion is our best protection. I am the suspicious type. The saying goes, “the burned child avoids the fire.” And I have been burned. Other times, I lit the fire by having barriers instead of boundaries.
Jesus And Faith
Jesus talks about faith. He speaks of faith as a mustard seed, as lacking where it should be obvious, and as empowering. The passage with which I am concerned is Matthew 18:3-4. “And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” Please note the “f-word” is not in this passage. Neither does it show up in the immediate context either. Why refer to this text?
Humility is a product of faith. It is clear evidence of being faithful. Hubris, or damaging pride, is the opposite of faithfulness. The disciples want to know who can claim pride of place. “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:5) If we can take pride in anything, take pride in welcoming people with this humility. The danger is in the next verse “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
A question for pastors in the Wesleyan tradition is, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” The response is always, “yes.” But we don’t get many opportunities. Mostly we teach the children in Confirmation and possibly Vacation Bible School. I had the opportunity in an After School Program hosted by our church called Wonderful Wednesday. It was my test for the Wesleyan question.
We learned some elements about the faith of children in this program. I learned about what it means to teach children.
- Children like stories. Learning how to tell stories is a necessary skill.
- Children pray when taught.
- If we are diligent, children learn to trust their own spirituality.
The Prayer of Faith
Children learn three kinds of prayer. These prayers are thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. The third kind, intercession, is the most important for their spiritual development. Children tell us their concerns and joys. They take interest in the welfare of others. Children pray for pets, siblings, friends, and family members. The situations are often concrete. They may pray for a new place to live, or a family member in jail or the hospital. Children pray for their teachers as well.
The school where our Wonderful Wednesday students attended hosts a “field day” at the end of the school year. During one of these events. a child was injured and he was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room. His younger sister was left behind and very upset. Some of our students tried to console her. One said, “Let’s pray.” The others agreed to pray with the sister. They stood in a circle and held hands just like they did at Wonderful Wednesday. The students also invited a teacher to join the circle. The children showed the teacher how they learned to pray together.
Humility And Trust
What surprised me the most about this story is the compassion shown by the children. It came from a sense of trust. The children trusted the prayer would comfort the little sister of the injured boy. The Wonderful Wednesday students believed the prayer would make her feel better and not be frightened. They did not say “our prayer will make your brother better.” But they prayed for her bother.
The trust the children showed allowed them to care. They did not try to stop her fear with words, “Don’t be afraid. He will be all right.” The students said by their action, “we will help you not to be afraid.” They shared in the fear of the other child. They were not afraid. They have empathy because they trust God to be involved. Where does this confidence come from?
Faith And Welcome
We told the children Bible stories. We taught them how to pray. But we instructed them by welcoming them into our lives. They developed confidence by our taking their concerns seriously, helping them with homework, providing a light meal, and by playing with them. These actions built their faith. We thought giving them information about the Scripture and Jesus was the way to build their faith. That was only a part of it. And it was not a large part of it.
The children developed a faith with a spirituality that allowed for trust, empathy, and compassion. Now I understand that part about the mill stone and the depths of the sea. Anyone who would destroy these in another person, adults included, cannot be considered a person of faith. These are the values the churches should be demonstrating and teaching. They are the values we should be insisting our leaders hold. This child-like faith will save Christianity eventually. But if we have those values, they will save us now.