From 1955 to 1999, “The Marlboro Man [stood out] worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world” (quote source here). Rugged and fiercely independent, the Marlboro Man became an icon of Americana, and his image sold billions of dollars of Marlboro cigarettes around the world (not that cigarette smoking is a good thing since it can severely damage one’s health over time).
As Americans, we love to see ourselves as fiercely independent as the Marlboro Man image that was represented in advertising during those years. We don’t like to have anyone telling us what to do or how to live. And that independent streak follows into everything we do in America. We like to be the Captain of our own ship, even if it eventually shipwrecks (but we certainly hope that it doesn’t).
While our independent streak is part of what has made America great, there is also another side to it. In a July 2015 article titled, “Independence… Is It Really A Good Thing?” by Cindi McMenamin, speaker and author, she opens her article with the following:
In a day and age when independence is praised, I wonder if it’s really a good thing when it comes to our relationship with God.
“God helps those who help themselves,” we say, as if quoting Scripture. Oh really? I believe Scripture implies God helps those who admit they can’t help themselves. The Apostle Paul, who probably considered himself quite independent before he met Christ, claimed the strength that comes through a total dependence on God when he said God’s “power is perfected in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). (Quote source and entire article available at this link).
Power perfected in weakness isn’t something we often think about especially when it comes to acquiring any kind of power, yet it is at the core of what it means to be Christian–e.g., total dependence on God and not in ourselves. It is having a “childlike faith” that Jesus described in Matthew 18:1-7 and again in Matthew 19:13-14:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
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. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” ~Matthew 18:1-7
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~Matthew 19:13-14
In a 2016 article titled, “5 Characteristics of Childlike Faith,” by Barnabas Piper, author, speaker, and blogger at BarnabasPiper.com, he states:
Childish and childlike are similar words with vastly different meanings. The former encapsulates all the worst things about children – petulance, immaturity, obnoxiousness, selfishness, and so on. It is antithetical to faith.
The latter, though, describes all the beautiful things about children – trust, joy, innocence, curiosity, wonder, forgiveness, and so much more. This word, childlike, is the flavor our faith in God ought to have. What follows are five characteristics of childlike faith that make faith robust, rich, and full of life–like a child:
- Children ask honest questions
- Children ask openly
- Children ask with vulnerability
- Children don’t know what’s best but trust their parents
- Children trust and find satisfaction with parents
1) Children ask honest questions
By honest questions I mean questions that do not challenge or subvert or undermine. They simply want to know the truth. Yes, children are sinful and do challenge authority, but think of their curious questions, their eager questions, their innocent question. Each one has a single motive: teach me.
We forget this as adults because we encounter (or ask) so many loaded questions – questions with ulterior motives, meant to challenge, designed to undermine or embarrass. We become passive aggressive with our questions or just confrontational.
Children are not like this. They are just eager to know truth.
Childlike faith asks honest questions.
2) Children ask openly
Unlike adults, children do not fear for their reputation or image and do not care who is around when they ask a question. This can create some awkward situations when they wonder “why is that lady wearing that” or get curious in the feminine care aisle at Target.
But they simply want to know and think nothing at all of who knows they have a question. There is no shame and no embarrassment until we teach them to be embarrassed.
Children also focus only on the one they are asking with complete trust that an answer will be forthcoming. This is part of the reason they ask so openly; they are only thinking of one person, the one who can provide their answer.
Imagine if we prayed like this and were so singly focused on God that what others thought or who else might know of our questions, ignorance, worries, or doubts would be of no consequence.
Childlike faith asks openly.
3) Children ask from a place of vulnerability with the expectation of an answer
When they are little children see parents as omniscient. They expect parents to know everything, but over time are forced to come to grips with all the things parents don’t know.
Children instinctively know that their knowledge is limited, even if they can’t articulate it; that’s why they ask so many blasted questions. So to find out Dad and mom can’t answer all their questions takes a position of vulnerability and makes it feel uncertain and tenuous.
They start with total trust then grow out of it.
We don’t have to grow out of vulnerability and total trust in God, though. We can grow in it. Unlike parents, God does know everything, including so much that is beyond our capacity to ask or understand.
We can be utterly dependent, or rather admit our dependence. We can be completely vulnerable, honest, and open with our questions and we can expect that God will answer us with precisely what we need. Childlike faith is that which knows we don’t know, knows He does, and asks with the expectation that the answer He gives will be the right one.
We can be confident that even in our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient.
4) Children do not know what is best for them most of the time, but they trust their parents.
Parents generally know what is best for kids, or at least they know better than kids do. No candy for breakfast, don’t play in the street, don’t eat that glue, don’t poke the cat, eat your veggies, do your homework, don’t hit your sister.
Children get frustrated with these commands even though they are for their good just like we get frustrated with how God knows what is best for us and commands us accordingly.
Children don’t always understand why parents say “no” or “do this.” Often the reason is simply beyond their maturity or capacity for understanding. And despite griping and moaning, if parents are loving and generally stable, kids trust them. Kids have an incredible capacity for trust.
We understand even less about God’s reasons because of the depth and breadth of His wisdom and in the infinity of His mind. And we certainly gripe and moan and outright rebel against Him and occasionally throw a tantrum too. But because of His Word, His character, His promises, and all the ways He has shown His love we can absolutely trust Him.
Childlike faith trusts the parents.
5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.
Even if children are frustrated or confused by parents, so long as the parents show love the children will trust them deeply and take pleasure in their presence. Kids are home with parents.
Three years ago my family moved from Illinois to Tennessee. At the time my daughters were seven and four, and the move was pretty smooth for them. They were happy throughout the process with just a couple exceptions. That’s because they were with their parents. They were safe and loved and secure.
Imagine if we had handed them each a duffel bag and a bus ticket and sent them to Tennessee. It would have killed them, maybe literally.
How much more should we take pleasure in God’s presence even when we cannot understand His reasons and the future seems terribly uncertain.
We know His love, shown for us in Jesus that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We know His promises: I will never leave you or forsake you, I will be with you always, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ, fear not for I am with you.
God is the answer to our questions and doubts and the soothing for our anxieties. His presence and love is what we need, always.
Children get this. They understand so little yet they are so much more right than we are. We have grown out of faith in so ways.
Childlike faith finds satisfaction with parents. (Quote source here.)
And, of course, God is our spiritual parent, but He’s so much more than that, too. In another article published in 2016 titled, “Childlike Faith Is Not Childish,” by Rusty Osborne, Ph.D., assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at College of the Ozarks, he states:
Faith Like a Child?
“Childlike” isn’t a new term to anyone familiar with Christian thinking and practice. We’re often directed to passages like Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The point: we should be childlike in our faith, trusting our heavenly Father the way a kid trusts his earthly parents.
The notion of childlike faith, though, is often morphed into something more troubling. I’ve often heard Christians rebut tough questions to the faith flippantly: “I don’t know; I mean, aren’t we supposed to have faith like a child? No one can know everything; we just need to leap like a child into our Father’s arms.” Or something like that.
Sadly, in this context, “childlike faith” becomes like tar slapped on the pruned tree branch to prevent further growth. If there’s a problem in our understanding, or if we venture into uncharted theological waters, we can always retreat to the Neverland of childlike faith.
Childlike Faith vs. Childish Faith
But childlike faith is not childish faith. The first resonates with and embraces the neediness, dependency, and smallness of those who understand their place in the kingdom of God. The second simply refuses to grow up.
Over and over again in the New Testament we see the apostles exhort Christians to mature as Christians—to grow up in the gospel. Paul exhorts the church in Corinth toward Christian maturity, insisting that the apostolic wisdom he imparts will be grasped by the “mature [teleiois]” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later he writes: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature [teleioi]” (1 Cor. 14:20).
Paul isn’t contradicting Jesus’s teaching about becoming like a child in order to inherit God’s kingdom. He’s simply recognizing that having childlike faith doesn’t mean celebrating childish thinking. In fact, he informs the Colossians that the focus and aim of his ministry is maturity:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature [teleion] in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28–29)
Embracing childlike faith means we accept that Christ’s call to kingdom greatness looks like service and not harsh ruling, meekness and not selfish ambition, and continual dependence on God’s grace. Anyone who has pursued service, meekness, and dependence will tell you these characteristics don’t come easily to sinners. In fact, true childlike faith sees the necessity of growth in these areas and turns to the One source of life and strength for help…. (Quote source here.)
In a 2012 article titled, “7 Qualities of Childlike Faith,” by Tom Stuart, leader of Ignited2Pray Ministries, and founder of Bridgewood Community Church and Interactive Church Resources, he lists these seven qualities of childlike faith, and explanations of each one are available at this link:
[God] wants us to be ever childlike in our faith relationship with Him while continually putting aside our childish self-centered ways.
Here then is a list of 7 qualities of childlike faith to which every Christian should aspire and seek to nurture, no matter what their age:
As mentioned above, you can read explanations for each of those qualities at this link.
By now you know the difference between “childish” and “childlike.” Those seven attributes are very childlike, and that is what we should strive to be like all of the time. In fact, it could even save your life. Read what King David had to say in Psalm 116:6 (NLT)…
The Lord protects those of childlike faith . . .
I was facing death . . .
And He saved me . . . .
YouTube Video: “Giants Fall” by Francesca Battistelli:
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here