So many Christians have
the love of a child
the faith of an adult.
This is a problem.
“Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus, John 15:13
“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Jesus, Matthew 18:3b
If I asked everybody to name the two most powerful attributes of Christianity, I’ll bet the words I would get more than any others would be Faith and Love.
But both of these words are dangerous, because Love can mean a bzillion things, and Faith just sort of sits there, sounding defeated. So let’s fix that real quick before we move on.
When I say Love, I mean active, determined selflessness. So we’ll hold onto the word love, but utilize it as a fierce and powerful verb instead of a state of emotion or preference, as it is often (mis)used.
When I say Faith, I mean active, daily decisions to put your life in the hands of another. And since we already have a better word for that, I’m going to replace “Faith” with “Trust”. In fact, I make this substitution as often as possible in conversation.
So now we have two strong, unwavering verbs: Trust and Love. How we live these actions out in real life makes up a huge part of our Christianity. How we grow in them is a major determiner in what kind of disciples we become. So that begs the question: How does our Rabbi say we should grow in Trust, and grow in Love?
In the John verse above, Jesus is showing us the epitome of love; to care so much more for another’s benefit than for yours, that you are willing to die for them. This is how love grows: forward, in maturity. Learning to put yourself last. Let’s think about that from the beginning…
- A healthy baby loves only those who provide warmth and sustenance.
- A healthy adolescent loves mostly those who provide for her, but is learning how to be more selfless.
- A healthy adult loves those around him by consistently putting their needs first.
As you can see, most healthy human beings learn naturally how to grow in love, how to put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often this comes to people when they develop close friendships, and/or get married; most often it shows up when they have kids. Although it’s far from perfect, it still tends to point in the right direction.
In the Matthew verse, Jesus says sort of the opposite thing about trust (or faith.) Although the natural growing up process tends to bring people closer to the ideals of love, it actually takes people further from the ideals of trust.
- A healthy baby trusts everyone.
- A healthy adolescent trusts family, friends, teachers, police officers, perhaps neighbors, but not strangers. Anything beyond that is dangerous.
- A healthy adult trusts only those who have earned her trust. Anything beyond that is naive.
But Jesus tells us we have to change and become like little children. Even as we mature in love, we must go backwards in faith and trust. Obviously he doesn’t mean that we should start trusting every e-mail spammer, or conspiracy theorist, or (ahem) politician. After all, we are supposed to live in wisdom. But he does mean that we need to open our hearts to trust God more.
Yet, when it comes to our relationship with God, we routinely get both love and trust backward.
Although we know how to love some people by putting their needs ahead of our own, how often do we put God’s desires ahead of our own? How often do we ask God what would benefit him the most, regardless of what it costs us? Do we really love him like adults, seeking to center our lives only on whatever is best for him? Or do we love him like children, with no thought except what’s in it for us? The answer is unfortunate: we most often love God like children.
But in the matter of trust, where we’re supposed to behave like children, we all tend to grow up too fast. We say we trust God, but are we actually giving him the benefit of the doubt? Do we base all our conclusions about him on the a priori knowledge that he is good? Do we really cast all our worries and doubts at the feet of our Savior? It’s a shame, but the answer, once again and all too often, is no.
What else can I say except to reiterate the call that’s on our lives?
Put God’s desires ahead of your own.
Ask God what would benefit him most, regardless of the cost.
Seek to center your life only on whatever is best for him.
Love him like an adult!
Give God the benefit of the doubt.
Always remember that he is good when forming your conclusions.
Cast all your worries and doubts at his feet.
Trust him like a child!
Let your love move forward, and your faith move backward.