We hear it from a young age, “grow up!” It’s ingrained in our minds, becoming a regular fixture in our ears. When we’re babies, we’re “grown up” when we roll over, sit up, or drink a bottle on our own. As infants, we’re praised when we crawl, stand, strengthen our legs and learn to walk. We’re “so grown up” when we finish our vegetables, dress ourselves and color between the lines. Before we know it, we’re headed off to school. “You’re growing up so fast,” they say. We step onto the bus, make some new friends and begin our development into fine young ladies and gentlemen. We finish school projects, develop our reading skills and adjust to the demands of “homework.” In the blink of an eye, we’re young adults- passing tests, joining clubs and taking interests in new hobbies. We discover this thing called “romance” and suddenly, we care about our appearance and our status. We learn love and loss, success and failure, but the voices echo and remain... “grow up.” So, we fill out applications and get a job. We learn the value of a dollar and the usefulness of a bank account. We take our road test, get some wheels and drive ourselves into the “future ahead.” Before we know it, we’re tossing our graduation caps in the air, saying "goodbye" to our acquaintances and shipping off to a career, or at least a college that will help us find one! Four years of lecture halls and loans fly by and we’re dumped into the workforce like we popped out of a water slide. SPLASH! Welcome to the real world! “Grow up,” they always say, so that’s exactly what we do.
Maybe this isn’t your story, exactly, but I bet there are some similarities. We're all pushed to “grow up.” Time waits for no one, and it’s the natural order of things to mature and develop. It’s normal to leave certain things behind as you move forward in the process. Your faith is no different. It requires maturity and a willingness to leave some things behind, but pursuing this maturity can also come at a cost if it robs you of a closer walk with Jesus. Grow up too much and you may unknowingly abandon your innocence.
We’re all called to seek the discipline of spiritual maturity. I’ve witnessed and admired many champions of the faith who have set childish ways behind them in exchange for that which is greater, deeper and (in some ways) more reputable. Growth (in the spirit) is not just recommended, it’s commanded! The Apostle Paul explains it this way to the church in Corinth...
"When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.”
1 Corinthians 13: 11 (CEV)
“My friends, stop thinking like children. Think as mature people and be as innocent as tiny babies.”
1 Corinthians 14: 20 (CEV)
There it is! Thank you, Paul, for laying it out for us... “Grow up! You’re not a child anymore. Learn to reason like an adult. Leave the old ways behind. Stop thinking immaturely...” Yeah, I paraphrased, but wait, did you catch the rest? Or did it pass you by? “Be as innocent as tiny babies.” Countless sermons have been made from the pulpit, pushing Christians toward spiritual maturity. Scriptures constantly call our attention to this "higher calling" - the quest to grow up and bear fruit. Your reasoning, your wisdom, your discipline; all refined in adulthood as you pursue the Savior, but your attitude and your outlook toward Christ? They MUST remain as pure as a child.
It’s a necessity, but why?
Because a child can still be influenced. A child can be shaped and molded. Children know how to run free, overcoming corruption with innocence. Two-thousand years ago, the children ran to Jesus, and the "child" within you must run to Him still. Children come before the Lord stripped of doubt; believing in what they’ve been told; taking Him at His word (with their whole heart) because they know nothing else. They need nothing else. A child is spared from the cares of the world and instead, relies on the the capable hands of their Heavenly Father. They trust in their Savior; little lambs in the arms of the Good Shepherd. A child’s eyes see the grandness of their Creator- capable of looking at things with wide-eyed inspiration. A child holds to the simple belief that God will always, always be there. What faith!
Watch the children in your church. Observe the young ones who know Jesus. They're uninhibited. They run with joy, carefree, while we often dwell on our problems. They sing with gusto and passion- they bounce and dance- we halfheartedly clap our hands and mouth the words on the screen. They roar with laughter, relishing the chance to show off the scriptures they've learned, while we fight to stay awake during the sermon or remain diligent in our devotions. Children pray BIG, bold prayers and we smile at their “naivety,” but these mustard seeds are the prayers that will bring miracles. Children plug themselves into God, but discouragement, stress and distraction often unplug us from the very same source. A child is awed by the view of the mountain while our eyes drift to the valley below. God’s ways, His words and His love are made new to a child each day, but so often we remain "unimpressed" by these things we've seen before.
I know, what a blanket statement. I don't mean to generalize. All souls are not equally lost between the "pages of adulthood." There are countless passionate, inspired adults, living successfully in pursuit of God. There are numerous “giants of the faith” who clearly live out the calling to serve in maturity while keeping hold of their innocence. Still, many more of us tend to develop tunnel vision on our walk of faith. We focus on what blocks our path. What begins as a true desire to seek the Lord can quickly become part of another “to-do” list- and this once exhilarating trek to the mountain of God can drop to a stroll amidst the status quo of life.
It’s not too late for the Savior-seeking child within you. No! Innocence is never completely lost in the Spirit. There is life in the Spirit of God. We are certainly crowded by the burdens of the world. There's no mistaking it. Our eyes are clouded by hurt, doubt and fear. We’re tired, worn out and weary. We don’t remember how to run free anymore. We’ve forgotten how to praise, “undignified” in God's presence. Adulthood exposes our eyes to the world. We don't like what we see, so we become cynical. Our innocence and inquisition is exchanged for a glass half empty. The world seems small and we feel even smaller. We’re so easily phased by everything before us. We must return to the days when we believed. "He's got the whole world in His hands."
When I was a younger sprout, my inquisitive nature was always the loudest voice in my head. I had a need to know and a desire to see. In the front yard of my house stood a pine tree, but this was no ordinary pine- It was a monolith, a titan of sturdy wood, cloaked in a robe of heavy needles and nobby branches. One day, I stepped beneath it’s mighty arms and gazed up. I couldn’t see the top, but I knew that I wanted to! It was a beautiful day outside. The wind was blowing and a voice called to me on the breeze… “climb me!” Why should I ever deny a tree it’s wishes? I set my foot on the first large branch and pulled myself up. That wasn’t so hard! So, I climbed another, and another, and another. Within minutes, the ground beneath me had distanced itself and the scent of pine filled my lungs. Minutes passed and I was in the thick of it now. The branches grew smaller and smaller as I worked my way up, spiraling around the trunk like a squirrel, grabbing sap between my fingers as I stretched for sturdy holds. I looked down, but the crisscrossing branches had blocked my view. I had no idea how high I was. I continued my ascent. It was dark in the canopy now, but I saw slivers of sunlight peeking through the needles above me. My hands were sticky. My arms and legs were tired. My eyes burned from the bark that fell in my face, but I pushed on. My little hands were big enough to grab the center of the tree now! I reached above my head one more time, grabbing nothing but air. This was the top! I wiggled my way through the skeletal sticks that clung to its peak and poked my head out to soak in the view of my neighborhood. My curiosity had taken me to these heights. My desire for wonder had brought me one step closer to maturity. Of course, it also led to a scolding when my Mother discovered my whereabouts. I double-timed my climb down at the sound of her voice, but nonetheless, I was humbled by the experience. I had climbed to the heavens. My little eyes beheld God’s glory.
I look back at that experience and wonder. Would I make the same climb today? Sure, I might... if I had the spare time… or the energy... or a girl to show off for, but would I ever do it for the pure delight? Would it feel the same as it did when I was a child? Children thirst for adventure. Adults often submit to what’s safe. Would you abandoned the climb? Have you lost the wonder of a child?
I encourage you today. Do something about it! Find your innocence in the Lord again. You don’t need to change who you are. You won’t lose your "status" or your self-respect. You can live in the maturity you’ve worked so hard to obtain, but you can do it with the heart of a child. You belong to the Father, plain and simple. Let His love reignite the wonder within you. Let it bring you to your knees. Let it stir you with a vigor, un-felt since the days of your youth. Is this concept foreign to you? Perhaps you’re a little too "grown up." Maybe it's time to “grow down.” See God with the eyes of a child.
“About this time the disciples came to Jesus and asked him who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus called a child over and had the child stand near him. Then he said: I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. But if you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 1-4 (CEV)
“Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are...” 1 John 3: 1 (CEV)