Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?

7 Things Children Teach Us

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Mary Van Weelden

Mary Van Weelden is a writer and a journalist, and is currently working on a double M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Westminster Seminary California. She and her husband are actively searching for the best taco place in Escondido, CA. Come talk to her about practical theology and comma placements on Twitter at @agirlnamedmary.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I have four children, and I’m amazed by some of the questions about God that I get from them. In all honesty, sometimes I’m left speechless! For example, while potty training, one of my kid’s wondered aloud, “Papa, does God ever have to go poop?” I must confess, as a pastor, this was a question I never thought I’d have to answer!

The answer in one sense is no, but in another sense, it’s yes! God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchanging. We have to poop because we depend on food, and our bodies must get rid of the waste from what we eat. In his essence, God doesn’t depend on anything: he’s self-existent. This is what theologians call “aseity,” meaning that God exists of himself and isn’t dependent on anyone or anything. God doesn’t have to poop because he doesn’t have to eat!

However, something wonderful happened during the course of redemptive history. The eternal Word of God took on human flesh (John 1:4, 14). Jesus Christ embraced our humanity. And since the second Person of the Trinity united true humanity to himself, it’s proper to say that God experienced things like hunger, suffering, and … pooping. That may sound crass, but it gets at the reality of Jesus’ incarnation. We can say that God in himself is not dependent on anyone or anything and therefore doesn’t have to poop. In the mystery of the incarnation, however, God the Son subjected himself to humanity so that he might restore it, and that included experiencing things like suffering, death, and bowel movements.

Kids say the darndest things, huh? Their questions often cause me to reflect on some glorious and profound truths about God.

Even if you’re the adult in your home, you know that you’re not always the teacher. In fact, the Bible uses the stories and imagery of children to teach us valuable lessons about the nature of God, faith, and ourselves. This Core Guide, written by Core Christianity contributor Mary York, highlights just a few lessons we can learn as children become our instructors. We hope it encourages you.

—Pastor Adriel

Children Teach Us That We’re Helpless

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4)

The writers of the epistles often referred to believers as children. It’s an important comparison and one that we shouldn’t brush aside simply as an endearment. The apostle Paul draws these comparisons multiple times in his first letter to the Corinthians, first describing spiritual immaturity as infancy (1 Cor. 3:2) and later building on that illustration by explaining that children don’t know or understand fully the things of God (1 Cor. 13:11–12).

John says that believers are literally children of God: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12–13).

Children are helpless. The apostles’ comparisons, then, ought to invoke in us a deep sense of humility as we contemplate our own helplessness, and our own lack of knowledge and understanding. And yet, in that helplessness, we’re not left alone.

Jesus himself instructed his disciples to bring the little children to him––an event documented in three of the four Gospels (Matt. 18:2–6, Mark 10:13–16, Luke 9:46–48). The children don’t come on their own but are brought to Christ (Mark 10:13). He gathers them up himself––“And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16).

We see this imagery in baptism as parents carry their children to receive God’s covenant blessings. So we, also, cannot come to Christ on our own. We’re helpless, dead in our sins (Col. 2:13–14), far from God (Eph. 2:12–13), and unable to come to him of our own will (John 6:44). We must be brought to Christ, and it’s Christ himself who brings us: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

Like children, we’re helpless. But our Father sees fit to draw us near to himself, bless us, and call us his own.

Children Teach Us that We're Needy

Anyone who’s spent time around children knows that they’re the model of neediness. They need food and water, comfort, protection, and guidance. Adults need these things too, but we try to hide our neediness, seeking self-sufficiency. Children, however, aren’t ashamed of their neediness—and they accept these things from the Lord without the grumbling and negotiation we hear so often from adults in the Old and New Testaments. Often, it’s more accurate to compare ourselves to the discontented Israelites wandering in the wilderness, thankless to the daily provision of God, than to compare ourselves to the children in the Bible.

Throughout Scripture, God sees, hears, and calls out to children specifically, extending himself to each in their need. Imagine being Ishmael, the son of Abraham––who is a wealthy and successful man––and Hagar, his wife’s maidservant. When Abraham has a legitimate son by his wife, you and your mother are turned out into the wilderness with nothing but bread and water. The water runs out and your mother puts you under a bush for shade and sits several paces away from you to cry out to God in her despair. Your mouth is dry, your body burns from the sun, and you feel far away from home, so you cry too. And God hears you (Gen. 21:17–18). He provides a well with drinking water and comforts you and your mother with the promise to make you into a great nation––which he does.

Imagine you’re David, a shepherd boy, the little brother to warriors in the king’s army. You’re obedient to your father and care for his flock (1 Sam. 17). It’s a humble job, but it has its dangers. Wild beasts roam the hills of Israel, but when one attacks your flock, you’re able to stand against it because you trust that God will protect you (1 Sam. 17:34–37). When a giant opposes the king’s forces, you know you can stand against him too, with nothing but a sling and a few stones (1 Sam. 17:40). And God protects you.

Children cry out for what they need, and they trust that their parents will provide. How often do we have this same attitude with our heavenly Father? How often do we cry out to God in our wilderness, or reach out to strike the mouth of our proverbial lions, trusting that he will keep us safe?

We all need the Lord. Like children, we need him for protection, comfort, and provision, and God promises us that these things will be given to those who ask:

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:9–11)

This provision is compared to God’s ultimate provision for his children: salvation unto life (Heb. 5:9). God has already provided for our greatest need—he “did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all” (Rom. 8:32). So we can trust in God’s provision for all things, as Jesus assures us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Children Teach Us the Goodness of Discipline

No one likes to be told they’re wrong, and certainly our stiff-necked selfish habits are more comfortable than the life of obedience and faith we’re called to (Acts 7:51). And yet, every parent knows that correction is an essential aspect of child-rearing. Children teach us the need for and the goodness of godly discipline.

Instruction and correction are important both practically and spiritually. Consequences exist in this world that God has ordered. There are consequences for breaking a covenant, for lying and cheating, for being unfaithful, for being slothful or greedy. The Old Testament outlines God’s covenant with Israel, with blessings promised for obedience, and curses for disobedience. Many of these we see play out in the stories of the Israelites, and others we see specifically addressed in King Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

Proverbs begins with, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Prov. 1:8–9). Correction is not a cone of shame, but a crown of grace! Paul echoed these sentiments when he wrote to the church in Corinth: “I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15).

Paul even emphasizes the nature of a parent-child relationship in which correction so often comes. It’s not enough that we have friends and colleagues to counsel, advise, and encourage us, we need authority figures in our lives to hold us accountable and to keep us from slipping. Proverbs 13:1 tells us that “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction” and later that, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Prov. 13:24).

Discipline is an act of love, like the pruning of a tree that it might bear more fruit: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

Children––acting out from lack of knowledge, fear, anger, and self-centeredness––often mirror our own rebellious hearts. As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we must learn to love the rod and staff that both correct and comfort us.

Children Teach Us the Nature of Faith

Scripture gives children as models for who will enter the kingdom of heaven:

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.’ (Mark 10:13–15)

Commenting on Jesus’ statement in this passage in Mark, biblical scholar Mark Strauss says, “The strength of the assertion may be because the statement is so counterintuitive and shocking in its cultural context. More important, it encapsulates the essence of salvation and the gospel. To receive the kingdom like a child means by faith and in complete dependence on God.”

It’s this great faith and dependence on the Lord for which David is praised in Hebrews (Heb. 11:32–33). Although his conduct as king of Israel merits mention in the “Hall of Faith,” his actions as a shepherd boy, trusting that God would enable him to shut the mouths of lions (Heb. 11:33), are also given direct reference. This same faith compels young David to represent Israel in the match against the Philistine giant, Goliath. David rejects King Saul’s armor (1 Sam. 17: 38–40), clinging instead to his confidence that God will protect him: “And David said, ‘The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will save me from the hand of this Philistine’” (1 Sam. 17:37).

Children teach us the simplicity and humility of faith. How often do we try to add to God’s provision with our own worldly safety nets? How often do we barter with his sovereignty, trusting he’ll protect us or provide for us—but only so far? How often can we say that we bring nothing, trusting God to provide everything?

David, even as a boy, didn’t put his trust in princes or powers but in God. It’s with this faith––the faith of a child––that we enter the kingdom of heaven, not trusting in any strength of our own, but only in the name of the Lord.

Children Teach Us That We Have Value

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (Jer. 31:15)

The lament of women who have lost their children echoes across the pages of the Bible. War, disease, famine, and murder ripped little ones away from their mothers and the grief is palpable. We read of God’s comfort for grieving women (Gen. 21:15–16) and barren women (Isa. 54:1). We see him protect children (Exod. 1:20–21) and provide them (1 Sam. 1:27). In a way that’s relatable to readers thousands of years later, children in Scripture are depicted as wanted. They have value: “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him” (Ps. 127:3).

Paul and John use this imagery when speaking to early Christians. They––like us––are children of God: wanted, beloved, valuable.

Psalm 139 declares that God created us with intention and design:

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your
book before one of them came to be.

(Ps. 139:15–16)

Before a breath has entered our lungs or a cry has escaped our mouths, we’re fully human, precious in the sight of the Lord. As he hems us in, behind and before, so also he ordains our futures––however long they might be. While still in the womb, God sets us apart for himself (Jer. 1:5). His eternal plans for us don’t depend on us at all. Our actions on this earth––not our faithfulness nor our failures––don’t determine our worth before the eyes of God. He created all humans with inherent worth, made in the image of his very self (Gen. 1:27). And for those who believe, we’re reborn and called God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10).

Children Teach Us That We Have a Place

Inclusivity is an oft-touted platitude of secular society. The world likes to think they offer a place for anyone to be themselves in safety and comfort, and Christianity is decried for being an exclusive religion of fear-mongering and hate. A look at children in the Bible tells us this isn’t so.

In the narrative of Jesus blessing the children found in the Gospel of Luke, the disciples initially turn away those bringing their babies. But Christ himself says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).

During his ministry, Jesus notably spends time with children, blessing and healing them. He raises Jairus’ daughter back to life, rids the possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman of her demons, and cures a boy of his seizures. That Jesus allocates so much of his time and energy to children is quite telling. He doesn’t just include them in the heavenly kingdom––they have a place here as well! Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus addresses those debating among themselves about who was the greatest:

But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their hearts, took a child and had him stand by His side, and He said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.’ (Luke 9:46–48)

We’re to welcome even the least of these in society in the name of Christ. See, although this is very consistent with the familial covenants God set up with the patriarchs, the blessings and curses of which would extend across generations, it’s also consistent with how Jesus treats others in the Gospels. Not only does Jesus welcome children alongside him, he also eats with tax collectors and keeps company with prostitutes––he knows them by name. He comes to the poor, the sick, and the heavy laden and he offers them rest (Matt. 11:28).

No matter how small you may feel, no matter how wretched, wronged, or insignificant you think yourself to be, there’s a place for you in God’s kingdom. It’s a great and glorious promise that the apostle John pens at the beginning of his Gospel: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Children Teach Us That God Will Use Even the Least of These

One of the most well-known biblical stories is that of Moses, the Hebrew baby set adrift on the Nile in a basket and taken from the river by an Egyptian princess. Moses goes on to become a crucial figure in Israelite history, an instrument of God to free the enslaved peoples from the clutches of Pharaoh, to lead them across the wilderness, and to deliver to them the Ten Commandments. But at the very beginning of his story is a special figure: his sister. It’s Miriam who watches Moses while he drifts in the river, Miriam who boldly approaches the princess, Miriam who offers to fetch a Hebrew nurse for Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod. 2:1–9). God uses a little girl to help carry out his plan to deliver Moses and, through him, all Israel.

This isn’t the only time we see children featured in a special way in God’s divine plan. God spoke to Samuel while he was just a boy learning in the temple and used him to bring his word to Israel (1 Sam. 3). God made Josiah king when he was only eight years old and he reigned in Jerusalem for 31 years (2 Kings 22:1–2), rediscovering “the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord” and renewing that covenant (2 Sam. 23:2–3). God begins working through the great men of the Bible like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David when they were still young boys.

In the New Testament, both Christ and Paul emphasize that God entrusts his truth to the weak and lowly of this world. In Matthew 11, Jesus prays about the unrepentant saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matt. 11:25).

Paul echoes these sentiments in 1 Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26–29)

This is a great hope for us. We may be weak, but he is strong. We may be low, but he is great. We may be broken tools, small and insignificant, but God knows this—and he plans to use us anyway. Our childlikeness is part of his plan to reveal his glory to the world.