People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
These days most churches compete for children. We welcome them, love them, and recruit platoons of volunteers to teach them about Jesus and his Word. That’s as it should be. But we may miss what Jesus was getting at.
Take that last statement: “And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” Pastors typically do that in Jesus’ name at the dedication or baptism of infants. But after that, most of us don’t invoke God’s blessing upon them again.
This doesn’t mean we shepherds don’t know our lambs or bless them in other ways. But from time to time those who minister to our children should do just what Jesus did. We should find some special moment when we can draw a child close, our hands resting on their head, our eyes on theirs, and speak rich words conferring the Lord’s grace-gift to them; their birthright. “The Lord bless you, Jamie!” “The Lord will take care of you, Ella, and show you how good he is!” “Jesus’ face lights up when he sees you, Martha.” “God’s peace upon you, Adam.”
We’d do well to create more blessing opportunities. How about asking parents to bring their children to you during their birth month so you can bless them? Or on Children’s Day, the second Sunday in June, invite parents to bring children to the front so you and your elders can give each one God’s blessing while the congregation watches and sings?
Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He said this for the sake of the watching adults, schooling them in another of the kingdom’s counterintuitive principles. The spiritual advantage children have is that they don’t have to face the painful work of humbling themselves before they come to Jesus. They already know they’re small. Repentance doesn’t take such strenuous wrestling. None of those children around Jesus had been overheard arguing about who was the greatest disciple.
Kids approach Jesus differently than adults. One time we invited three younger children to pray in our morning worship service. We asked them to simply pray as they did at bedtime. I still remember the hush that came over the congregation as those little voices prayed for grandparents, for a pet, for someone who was sick, for a friend who didn’t know Jesus. Short and so sweet. We were humbled.
Dan was arrogant. He was tall and imposing, proud of his scientific smarts. He was a street fighter and smoked like a chimney. But he was drawn toward Christ, so we talked. Gradually his defenses came down and his questions were answered. Finally, he surrendered. When I asked if he was ready to ask Christ to save him, he said he was. “Dan,” I said, “I’ve never asked anyone else to do this, but I think you need to kneel, so you always remember that you got small before God.” And so he did. There on his knees in my study, as small as a child, he entered the kingdom of heaven.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.