He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2-3)

While most of us revert in various ways to our childhood – whether by being playful on the plus side, or sulking on the minus – most of us don’t actively aspire to being like little children. Instead, we’re trying to become more mature. So why is Jesus telling us we need to revert or we’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven?

The first distinction we should make here is that Jesus is calling us to be child-like, not child-ish. In our language, childishness is associated with the negative aspects of immaturity – whining, sulking, selfishness, etc. – not anything God wants us to emulate.

What then are the child-like characteristics that fit us for God’s kingdom? Here are some that come to mind:

Little children trust their parents absolutely. We also need to put our absolute trust in God our Father – easy to say, hard to do. It’s so natural to put our trust in ourselves, our family, our institutions – and then come to God when all else has failed. When it comes to God, our trust muscles can be awfully flabby. We say we trust God, but often our actions and reactions don’t bear it out. It’s hard to be an adult in the world and a little child in the heart. It takes a daily decision to trust God and a determination to follow through.

Little children look to their parents for love, guidance, provision and protection, comfort and care. This aspect of being child-like goes hand-in-hand with trust. It involves a close relationship that permeates every part of our daily lives. In His love and care for us, God has provided us with families and friends, and we naturally look to them for all these things. But we need to remember that He is the source of all these human relationships, and that we are to seek Him first and place our ultimate dependence on Him.

Little children want to please and are prepared to love unconditionally. How much are we thinking about how we can please God today, in this or that circumstance? How prepared are we to love God and others unconditionally?

Little children are eager to learn and want to be like their parents. How enthused are we about delving into God’s Word, both alone and with others? Do we want to be Christ-like, or do we settle for just being a better person?

Little children learn the value of obedience and want discipline. In a child’s orbit – if it’s a healthy one – obedience is rewarded and disobedience brings consequences. If asked, no child would admit to wanting discipline, but the truth is that children flourish when there are clear boundaries, secure in the knowledge that someone is providing fences to keep them safe. Today’s culture is kicking down God’s fences at an increasing rate, and it’s dangerously easy to step through. Do we recognize consequences as God’s discipline – do we even explore the possibility?

Little children see and delight in the wonders of God’s creation. Do we take time to not only smell the roses, but reflect on the God who created them? Does the evidence of natural beauty around us prompt a surge of joy and thanksgiving? Do we honor God by caring for what He has given us?

Little children warm the hearts of others and draw them by their openness and innocence. Even strangers want to engage them and are delighted by their smiles. How do we relate to others? Are we people with genuine smiles and openness – the kind that invites others to engage us?

Little children look forward with confidence, secure in the knowledge their parents will make things right. While earthly parents can’t always make things right – just ask anyone whose child has a terminal disease – God is a Father who can and does. Whatever we may think of outcomes, God uses everything for good. (Rom. 8:28). Little children who are loved are the world’s most optimistic and hopeful people. We are God’s children; should we be less?

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1John 3:1)