In Matthew 18, Jesus’ disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest. Finally, they go to Jesus and ask Him to settle their dispute. His sobering response to them is recorded in verse four. After calling a little snot-nosed kid amongst them, He says:
"Whoever humbles Himself as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
What a lesson this must have been for these pompous disciples, and what a lesson for all the sons and daughters of Adam. Here they are, arguing about whom among them is the least humble, and Jesus teaches them an unforgettable lesson about what it means to be "great" as a Christian. He calls them, and us, to be like little children.
What are children like? They are helpless; totally dependent upon their caretakers. This makes for a great Christian, doesn’t it? We are to be constantly looking to the Father for help, in every area, rather than relying on our own resources.
Kids are also worry-free, about everything! My kids certainly don’t worry about whether or not the mortgage will get paid this month, or how much of their doctor’s bill our insurance will cover. Children have no need to worry about any of these things, because they have complete trust in their parents, even with their very lives.
Kids are also sincere and genuine; they are completely transparent. I remember one instance when Lanae, our oldest child, was at church flipping through an old scrapbook of church photos with an elderly lady. Lanae was sitting in her lap and they were looking at all the people in this church scrapbook from some event many years ago. As they were flipping through the pages, she came to a picture of this white-haired lady that looked like she already had one foot in the grave. She was slouched in her wheelchair, oxygen tank in her lap, and tubes running from one side of her face to the other. Her tired eyes fit in well with her downtrodden countenance. Lanae looked up at the elderly lady holding her, and then down at the picture, and then up at the lady again, and then down at the picture again. Suddenly, with eyes opening wide and excitement in her voice, as though she had just discovered a hidden treasure never seen before, she turned to the elderly lady holding her and said, "Look! That’s you right there!" What they lack in tact, they more than make up for in sincerity.
The characteristics of these children, Jesus tells His disciples, are what I am interested in. You want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Well then, stop acting so childish and act childlike in your relationship with me, Jesus would say to us.
The desire of our Lord is that we would be utterly helpless before Him, completely trusting in His provision, and totally sincere in our relationships. Too many times we get caught up in silly comparisons with one another, putting one another down, and all the while our Lord is desiring for us to look up at Him. Go before the Lord and ask Him to help you become less childish and more childlike in your attitudes and relationships. In doing so, we are expressing our desire for the Lord to use us in great and powerful ways for the glory of His Kingdom.
Throughout my junior high and high school years, my father had a ski boat that we would take to the lake during the summer months. It was my job to back the trailer into the lake, unhook the boat, and then park the truck after the boat was pulled off. I remember one instance where a man with one arm was doing all of his loading by himself. Here was a man doing the work of two men, and accomplishing the work with half the resources, so to speak. I then tried to imagine what life without the use of one arm must be like, and quickly realized that it was unimaginable for me, because I had only known life with the full use of both arms.
I have become convinced that this same principle applies to the mercy we so consistently receive from our Heavenly Father. I do not know if it is humanly possible to imagine a life apart from the mercies of the Father; to be alive is to daily experience His mercy.
I remember when my wife and I were newlyweds and we were living in an old, drafty farmhouse in the mountains of Georgia. This house was built in the 1940's and had not known the touch of a plumber or electrician since! But, I remember sitting on the front porch of that house with a guitar and writing a song, "Your Faithfulness Remains." I was so thankful for this little, old house that The Lord had given us, so thankful for my job at Wal-Mart, and so thankful that all of our needs were met. When I stopped to think about the mercies of The Lord, it moved me to write Him a song. Now, if the Lord put me back in that same old drafty, needs-new-plumbing, mouse-infested, “cross your fingers when you turn the heat on” house, would it still be an act of mercy on His part? Sure it would! It would simply be my responsibility to recognize it as an act of benevolent mercy from my Father.
There is a short story at the end of Matthew 17 that can easily be overlooked and forgotten, but is an excellent illustration of the mercy of God in our lives. Tax collectors from Capernaum ask Peter about paying the temple tax. When Jesus and Peter have a discussion about this, Jesus says to Peter in verse twenty-seven, "Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."
Notice the numerous examples of God's mercy present in this story. Perhaps the most obvious is that Christ supplied not only His needs, but the needs of Peter as well. The collectors only asked about Jesus' tax, and yet He takes care of Peter’s taxes. One example of the Lord's consistent mercies in our life is His provision: the gift of His Word, life, health, family, friends, food on the table, and so much more. But, notice one other element here: how did Jesus supply the provision? Peter, a fisherman, was told that the money would be found in the mouth of a fish. Jesus even demonstrated mercy to Peter by allowing him to discover the supply by doing something he loved and was already equipped to do. Jesus could have easily told Peter to go dig a hole in the ground or collect garbage and there he would discover the coin, but instead He allowed Him to know the Lord's provision in doing something he enjoyed.
Do you recognize the consistent mercies of The Lord in your life? They are so faithful that they can become overlooked, or even seen as something we have "earned" through our own hard work and efforts. Let me encourage you to spend time considering the mercies of the Lord in your life, and give Him thanks and praise for His goodness towards you. You will discover, no doubt, that you run out of time before you run out of things to be thankful for. God is so good, and the more we recognize and praise Him for it, the greater our awareness of His mercy in our life.
Socrates once famously warned, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life."
I recently read a study conducted by ABC News just a few months ago in which they addressed the increasing "busyness" of the American worker. Going back to 1970, they tracked the number of hours the average white-collar American worked and, conversely, how much time they had for leisure activities. In their findings, they noted that in 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than they had just twenty years earlier. Also of note was the fact that this trend "hasn't been reversed in the last decade." What are the side effects of this increased "busyness" as reported by ABC News author Dean Schabner?
"Road rage, workplace shootings, the rising number of children placed in day care and the increasing demand on schools to provide after-school activities to occupy children whose parents are too busy have all been pointed to as evidence that Americans are overstressed and overworked."
It would seem that perhaps Socrates was correct in his warnings about being too busy. If the results of being too busy are rage, murder, and much less family time, then I think it safe to classify the effects of being excessively busy as barrenness indeed.
Jesus Christ knew the value of rest - in stepping away from the hustle and bustle of life - and the positive results it can have on your relationship with the Lord and those closest to you. Mark 6 is an incredibly busy chapter: Jesus teaching in the synagogue, praying for his disciples and sending them out, healing the sick, teaching from village to village, feeding thousands of people, and then, after all that, more healing. Interestingly enough, right in the middle of this flurry of activity, the apostles were reporting to Jesus all that they had done when He sent them out. Jesus' response to them, recorded in verses 31-32, is one that speaks of the importance of spiritual rest.
"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."
Are you too busy? Is the church too busy? Are we so continually caught up in a flurry of activity that we run the risk of spiritual barrenness? I have often wondered if those who suffer from "burnout" in ministry have simply subjected themselves to prolonged periods of "busyness" and have neglected spiritual rest.
If you find yourself not listening to those closest to you, becoming apathetic about others, or even just not spending quality time with family, then you may well be on the path to spiritual barrenness. If your schedule is such that prayer is absent, reading is an afterthought, and family is relegated to weekends, or worse, then consider taking this advice from Christ: Come with me to a quiet place by yourself and get some rest. May we not get to the point where we are so busy trying to rescue the perishing that we forget to care for the rescued, including ourselves. At times, the call of Christ is to labor for the harvest, and at other times His call is to be refilled with prayer, solitude, and fellowship. May The Lord continue to provide us with His wisdom and discernment as we seek this balance in serving Christ, serving our family, and serving others as well.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.