Illustration: In graduate school, I took a course in
Chinese philosophy. The Buddhist monk who taught the course said to me, "As a
Christian, you teach your children to pray all wrong. You teach them to pray,
'If I should die before I wake.' It would be better if you taught them to pray
'If I should wake before I die.' "
The monk went on to point out that most of the people he
knew were half awake when they ought to be asleep. But even worse, when they
were asleep, they were half awake. No one seemed to be totally alive. Nobody
seemed to be turned on to what was going on around them.
I remember teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania
where I picked a student on the front row and said, "Young man, how long have
He said, "What do you mean?"
I said, "How long have you lived?"
He said, "T years."
I said, "No, no, no. That's how long your heart has been
pumping blood. That's not how long you have lived."
I told the class about the time I went to the top of the
Empire State Building in New York City. I was 9 years old at the time, and as
we ran around at the top of the building, I suddenly caught myself and said,
"Tony, you are on top of the Empire State Building!"
In one mystical, magical moment I took in the city. I lived
that moment with such intensity and focused on what was before me with such
spiritual energy, that if I live a million years, that moment will still be
part of my consciousness, because I was fully alive when I lived it.
I looked at the student and said, "Now, let me ask you the
question again. How long have you lived?"
I remember the student looking back at me and saying,
"Doctor, when you say it that way, maybe an hour; maybe a minute; maybe two
minutes. Most of my life has been the meaningless passage of time between all
too few moments when I was genuinely alive."
What an interesting commentary. Most of us do not live life
as we should. We let it slip away from us. I don't know where my life has gone.
It seems to me that just as soon as my pimples cleared up my hair fell out.
Life slips by. It's gone. It's over.
We need to ask whether we have lived life. The only people I
see living life with any degree of joyful spontaneity are children. That's why
Jesus said that unless you become as little children, you will in no wise enter
the kingdom of heaven. Children are so intense. They cry with agony. They laugh
with joy. They are turned on to what life is all about.
Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like little
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Unless
you can approach life with their kind of enthusiasm, you can't be part of what
What did Jesus see in children?
have no doubts about their real importance
First of all, I think he saw kids who had no doubts about
their real importance. People who are worried about their , their
worth, their value usually go through life being overly concerned about
Illustration: My friend has a 5 daughter.
One day during a thunderstormlightning flashing, thunder roaringhe went to
check on her. He found his little girl standing on the window sill leaning spread
eagle against the glass.
He said, "Jennifer, what are you doing?"
She said, "I think God's trying to take my picture."
Here's a little girl who knows who she is; she knows her
value; she knows her worth.
If you're going to live life fully, you have to feel good
about yourself. Most people I know are down on themselves. That's one of the
reasons Jesus came. Jesus came into the world to do something that would enable
you to feel differently about yourself. Most people I know can name the things
in their lives that are wrong. They beat their chests and say, "There's so much
wrong with me." Of course, there's a lot wrong with you. There's a lot wrong
with me, too. But here's the good news of the gospel: Jesus himself came into
the world not only to die for our sins but to absorb everything that is dirty
and ugly and negative and to free us from all of that. Jesus not only cleanses
you from the dark side of your personality and removes those things that ought
not to be, but he imputes to you his righteousness.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get to heaven.
You can walk in; I'm going to strut. I'm going to yell at the angels, "Out of
my way, angels!" Well, they're only messengers. "You there, get me a hamburger!
I'm going to go before the seat of Christ; I'm going look at
God, and just stand there. I'm not going to say anything. I don't have to
because Jesus will be there. He will say, "Father, I would like you to meet my
friend Tony, the perfect one." I hope my wife is there.
You say, "How can you get off with that?"
The Scripture says your sins are blotted out. They are
buried in the deepest sea. They are remembered no more. Jesus will present you
before his Father spotless, without blemish. All the things about yourself that
you don't like, Jesus says, "Let me take them upon myself and make them my
If you were to have psychotherapy, after a brief while you
would feel terrific because everything that's negative about you gets
transferred over to the therapist. At the end of a session, a good
psychotherapist is feeling terrible, and the patient is feeling great because
through the process of discussion, everything negative about you has been moved
over to the psychiatrist.
Jesus is the ultimate counselor, the ultimate
psychotherapist who takes upon himself everything that's dirty, ugly, or
rotteneverything that has you down on yourself. He takes it upon himself. He
makes it his own. That's the good news of the gospel. You can have the childlike
freedom that comes with deliverance from all that is negative and dark. You are
able to live life passionately, intensely, and with great excitement.
have a quality of spontaneous joy
There's another important thing: children have a quality of
Illustration: I took my son to Disneyland when he was
just a little tyke. As we were leaving, he said, "I want another ride on Space
I said, "Wait a minute. I'm out of money, and I'm out of
He said, "Jesus wants me to go."
I said, "I'm not reading you."
He said, "When you were in church, you said whatever we feel
Jesus feels it. When we cry, he cries. You said Jesus feels every emotion we
I said, "That's right."
He said, "If he feels every emotion I have, then when I'm
laughing on Magic Mountain, he's having a good time too. I think he would enjoy
it if I had another ride on Space Mountain." Not bad theology.
We have a God who wants us to be freed from the burdens that
keep us from enjoying life and living it intensely. He wants to fill us with an
excitement, a childlike joy that enables us to live life with incredible,
spontaneous enthusiasm and joy.
Do you have that in your life? That's what Christianity is
about. That's what spirituality is about. It's not about heaven. It's about a
Jesus who can invade your life and create in you a spontaneous excitement about
living. That's why you need to surrender to the Lord.
G. K. Chesterton said, "I think God is the only child left
in the universe, and all the rest of us have grown old and cynical because of
sin." What a good line!
Illustration: How did God create daisies? I say,
"Like a child." You throw a child up in the air or bounce him off your knee.
When you sit him on the floor, the first thing the kid says is, "Do it again!"
Throw him in the air; catch him; bounce him off your knee; set him on the
floor. The kid's going to yell, "Do it again!" Do it fifty times. The fiftieth
time, the kid is yelling hysterically, "Do it again! Do it again!" The
excitement of a little child.
That's how God created daisies. He created one daisy. I'm
sure of this. In the childlike heart of God, he clapped and said; "Do it
again!" He created daisy number two. Something within God said, "Do it again!"
He created daisy number three and four and five. Fifty billion, trillion
daisies later, the great God of the universe is still creating with childlike
excitement and joy and yelling, "Do it again!"
Remember when you were a kid so full of life, and vital and
dynamic? It's kind of grown dull and slow and boring. No wonder Jesus said,
"Look, why don't you come to me and be born again? Why don't you become like a
little child once again? Let me do my thing in you. Surrender to me. Allow me into
your life. I am resurrected from the grave. I will take possession of you, and
I will change you, and I will give you a sense of worth so you'll be freed from
the burdens of negativism. I will fill you with my excitement so you'll know
joy like you've never known it before."
That's why the gospel is called Good News.
have absolute confidence in the future
There's a third quality that comes to all of
those who are fully alive in the Lord: it's absolute confidence in the future.
I work with kids, and the society hasn't beaten
them down yet. I deal with AAmerican kids and Latino kids on the streets
of Philadelphia. Society hasn't beaten them down yet. They still believe in the
Ask them, "What are you going to do? What are you going to
They say, "I'm going to be an astronaut" or "I'm going to be
a surgeon." They say, "I'm going to be a musician" or "I'm going to be a pro
basketball player." They believe in the future.
As they grow older, ugly realism sets in. Did you see the
movie The Autobiography of Malcolm X?
In one of the most painful scenes Malcolm X realizes the system will not allow
him to be a lawyer, and his dream is shattered. Here's the good news of the
gospel: we have a Jesus who creates dreams and visions for us.
To paraphrase Scripture, "When the young no longer dream
dreams and the old no longer have visions, people perish."
Children believe that they can do something incredible with
themselves; there are no limits; they can be anything. I say to you that the
Jesus who imparts spontaneous joy and glorious visions of the future to
children can impart it to you.
So often people don't have much of a future. I always say a
person is old when his dreams are more precious than his visions of the future.
You're cynical when, in fact, you don't believe in tomorrow. I want to tell you
about the God who wants to make you believe in the future even when you're old.
Abraham was 94 years old when God gave him a vision. You're never too old and
never too young to surrender to a God who will not only make you believe in
yourself but believe that the future will be better than the past.
If there's any argument that I have with modern sociology
and psychology, it's that they're too oriented to the past. They say if you
want to understand a person, you must understand where he's come from, his
background. What is more important than your past and how you were reared is
your vision of the future. A person is more controlled by his vision of
tomorrow than his dreams of yesterday.
The gospel makes people fully alive and makes us into little
children. The gospel makes us believe in ourselves, makes us spontaneously
joyful, and makes us believe in the future. Be fully alive! Let Jesus have his
way with you.
Tony Campolo is founder and president of the Evangelical
Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), an organization that
promotes educational, medical, and economic development in Third World
countries and urban America. His many books include Wake Up America! and
The Kingdom of God Is a Party.