When Jesus emphasized the importance of our becoming like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3,) He was impressing on us the god-like leanings of a child’s spirit. As one reads further in the same chapter, one notices the extremely protective language the Savior uses about children and His warnings to those who would mar or destroy a little one.
These words and warnings are important teachers. Jesus was calling attention to the spirit of a child, that part of every life that is usually nurtured the least.
Most parents are never trained in nurturing a child’s spirit. Honestly, from the time little baby enters the world, Mom and Dad are totally enamored with her size, beauty and family features; they are overwhelmed with the immediate needs of nursing, rocking and changing. The hunt for the best schools, clothes and educational toys ensues, all the while strategizing to make this brand new child the first prodigy in the family.
While all those things may be necessary in some cases and fun in others, often the time consumed in preparing for external development leaves no room for spiritual development. And, I believe that is one of the greatest tragedies of our generation. For, each child comes out of the womb with a spirit created in the image of God and thirsting for intimacy with the God who created her.
When an infant’s spirit is surrounded with whispers of Jesus, melodies of worship, and tender, humble prayers, her spirit is receiving the very food and drink she so desperately craves. She will continue to grow looking for more of God, opening up her heart to His voice and His ways, because her palate is being trained to thirst after a loving, purposeful Savior.
On the other hand, should an infant enter a world filled with angry words, superficial entertainment and crass, banal mores, the spirit of the child that searches for God slowly begins to shrivel, folding in on itself like origami paper, learning to doubt, question and reject a Savior, as his spirit closes off and dies.
As pastors and parents, we have responsibility to nurture the spirit dimension of our little ones. God created their tiny spirits to be open, filled with wonder, and extremely sensitive in understanding spiritual truths.
I remember one day riding with my grandmother to church. It was Sunday morning and I was meditating on prayer and our need for it. I suppose I was 6 or 7 at the time. My spirit began to speak by asking a question, “Mom, (my name for my grandmother) why is it that God wants us to pray? If God knows everything, why do I have to tell Him my needs?” Then, without even thinking, something else came out of my 6-year-old spirit, “I suppose it’s because He wants us to acknowledge Him in everything we do.”
My grandmother looked at me in wonder that day. She said, “Who told you that?”
The truth was, no one had told me. I didn’t really even conjure it up. It came from my open, seeking, childlike spirit. No one had taught me the word acknowledge; nor, did I fully understand the relational aspect of prayer: I simply connected with a truth, through my childlike spirit.
I share this to remind us all, our children are not the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today. Who they become 10 years from now is directly related to how we nurture their little spirits now, while they are young. Years ago I heard a statistic from the Billy Graham organization. It stated that research showed more than 75% of people who received Jesus as Savior did so before age 17. That means our evangelism efforts should be massive toward the children and youth.
Even so, the parent is the greatest influence of all. And, God will hold the parent responsible for how the spirit of the child was nurtured.
One final thought… Should the child-spirit enter an environment of abuse…mental anguish, physical torment, or inappropriate touch, a child’s spirit can shut down immediately. Because the child’s spirit is so open, trusting and seeking, it is also fragile and vulnerable. Jesus had words for parents who mistreated their children, causing them to be offended with God. Jesus said it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their necks, and be cast into the depths of the sea. In other words, it would be better if they had never been born.
When I reflect on the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, it was this gift of nurturing my spirit-child. As long as I can remember, I have been engulfed in pianos playing old hymns; grandma fanning herself with Scripture; Dad and Uncle Harry preaching to each other across the kitchen table. Everywhere I turned in my life, someone was sharing a testimony of healing or provision. I heard of visions, miracles and wonders. And, most importantly, I was entrenched in the Word of God. Sunday School lessons, Bible memory verses, Christian school education, and parents who daily read and practiced the Words of Life…this was my life.
Of course there were other voices. I heard my share of arguing, disagreement and sometimes, yelling. My eyes beheld many things in the periphery of ministry that could have dissuaded me from the truths of God’s Word. My ears heard plenty of reports that were worthy of nothing but the refuse pile. But the Spirit of God kept me. Because I was trained from an infant to connect by my spirit with the Spirit of God, I had a protection built into my life that has preserved me.
The Spirit of a child is an amazing entity with unexplored vastness and depth. May we value the children in our lives and lead them to love and know Jesus, whom to know right, is life eternal. And, may we ask Father God to restore the spirit of a child in our own hearts, to restore the openness to Him and the glorious sense of wonder.