Becoming Like a Child

by Will Peycke

Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant and overhear a conversation between two 30-something men in the booth behind you. You hear one man say, “I don’t do anything unless my dad tells me.” What would you think?

Words like “needy,” “codependent,” and “immature” come quickly to mind. Talk about “failure to launch”—this guy needs to grow up!

And yet that is exactly what Jesus said in John 5:19, “I do nothing on my own; I do just what I see my Father doing.” Jesus is the most dependent person who ever lived.

We put Jesus in a super-spiritual category. (After all, he is God in the flesh!) But this childlike dependence is how Jesus does life. “I do nothing on my own” is not a random, unique statement: Jesus says things like this at least twenty times in John 5-12. (A few of the clearest examples: John 5:30; 6:38; 7:16; 8:28-29; 12:49-50.) “Childlike” is the core definition of Jesus’ heart.

So when Jesus tells us to become like a little child, he is saying we should become like he is. And Jesus often told people to become like little children! He said no one could enter the kingdom of heaven unless they became like little children (Luke 18:15-17). He associated the humility of little children with model kingdom behavior (Matt 18:1-6). And he referred to children’s requests as models for kingdom praying (Matt 7:7-11).

At the men’s summit last month, we explored “Dependent Masculinity”: doing life through prayer, depending on God instead of relying on our own strength, abilities, and gifting. The key to dependence—and to prayer—is learning to be a child of your Father:

When Jesus tells us that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), he is inviting us into his life of a living dependence on his heavenly Father. When Jesus tells us to believe, he isn’t asking us to work up some spiritual energy. He is telling us to realize that, like him, we don’t have the resources to do life. When you know that you (like Jesus) can’t do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense. (Paul Miller, A Praying Life, 45)

What does this look like? As a dad, one characteristic of children comes quickly to mind: kids are real, authentic, genuine. Whether they are experiencing pure elation or utter misery, children tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and speak whatever is on their mind. As Abraham wrote last week, children communicate with raw, unfiltered honesty.

It’s hard for us to remember that Jesus accepts people where they are (Matt 11:28). We get frozen with our selfishness or our thoughts and are often ashamed of being real with God. But Jesus loves honesty! He wants to hear our true heart.

So admit you are messy. Be real. Cut the pretense! When something is bothering you, be like a child and go with it to your Father. If there’s something worrying you, admit that to God. If you’re sad, angry, anxious, take those emotions to your Father. Come to the Father as you are: a messy, dependent child. And as you do, rest assured that your Father delights in your coming.

A few years ago, one of our kids got the idea to bring Kay breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day. Kay and I woke up to all kinds of exciting noises coming from the kitchen. After several minutes, in walked the child with a tray of food: soggy cheerios, a full glass of milk, a bagel with cream cheese, a banana, an orange, a tube of Gogurt, a dish of nuts, and some chocolate. And a hand-written “Happy Mother’s Day” sign… and a huge smile from ear to ear.

Best Mother’s Day gift ever, right?!

Kay didn’t scold the child for bringing too much food, or foods she didn’t want to eat, or pouring milk on the cereal ten minutes ago. She didn’t issue any rebukes about climbing on counters, making a mess in the kitchen, or writing some letters backwards on the card.

She just delighted in her child.

That love parents have for their children, that delight we feel in them—have you ever wondered where that comes from? It didn’t begin with us. It is a reflection of how God feels toward his children. Your Father delights in you as his child. He loves it when you come to him, just as you are, honest and real. He wants you to bring him the messy details of your life.