Finding delight in the ways of God.
As I passed by the entrance of the National Zoo one morning, I couldn’t help but notice a little girl around the age of six walking out of the zoo with her mother. “It’s just so totally cool!” she exclaimed loudly, beginning to recount some of the animals she had just seen with an expression of wide-eyed wonder radiating from her face. The young girl was positively enraptured by her visit to see some of the exotic animals living here in our nation’s capitol.
I have thought often about the joyful excitement of this little zoo visitor over the past year, as it is rare to see such an expression of delight in this often cynical and disaffected world. Yet here was a girl soaking up life, marveling at the beauty of God’s good creation! Here was a soul thrilled by a simple visit to the zoo! Some really foolish person might be tempted to look down upon the girl for her childish ways, but I suggest that a truly wise person would instead envy her. Certainly many of us have experienced far greater pleasures without possessing nearly as much delight in our hearts; for such is the poor condition of busy souls which have been starved from savoring goodness.
If we take the Bible seriously, then we must believe that a precocious little girl like this one can teach us many good lessons. After all, Jesus Himself once held a little child in his arms while telling His disciples that they must become like the child if they had any hopes of entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). That is, when our Lord wanted to show what a faithful follower of God really looks like, He chose a small child as the best possible illustration. We would do well, therefore, to study the ways of children if we desire to grow as Christians.
By telling his disciples that they must become like little children, one thing that Jesus certainly meant was that they must acknowledge their total dependence upon God for life and salvation. Just as children rely upon their caretakers to meet their most basic needs and to keep them from harm, so we must humbly rely upon God to save and sustain us as well. We are to approach God like a child, knowing that we desperately need Him to survive and to flourish.
One way that Jesus teaches us to approach God like a child is in the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4), where we are instructed to pray to God as “Our Father,” to ask Him to keep us from evil, and to request provision for our most basic need of daily bread. Thus, Jesus invites us into a relationship with God that is characterized as being like that between a child and a loving and attentive Father.
Yet another way that children model Christian faith for us is in their ability to be captivated by good and beautiful things. Like the excited girl I passed by in front of the zoo, enchanted by the wonderful zoo animals, our hearts are meant to be filled up with delight for beauty and goodness. “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…think upon these things” said the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” wrote the Psalmist in Psalm 34. In other words, the Bible teaches us that we are to move through this world captivated by a sense of God’s goodness and savoring the beauty of His creation. Here, again, children teach us the way through their unique ability to take true delight in things.
The author C.S. Lewis once wrote about the pressures we face during adolescence (and beyond) to appear “very grown up,” which often robs us of our ability to be truly delighted. For Lewis, overcoming this pressure was a key factor in his own spiritual growth and for his development as an author and thinker. Lewis wrote: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” We would do well to put away these fears too.
Dear Reader, have you allowed yourself to be captivated lately? Have you been savoring goodness? Or are you perhaps moving through this world wanting to appear “very grown up” and important? I ask you to ponder this question because the Bible warns us often about living with such pride in our hearts (See: Proverbs 11:2; James 4:6). Yet, it also upholds an alternative vision of what a well-lived life looks like: childlikeness.
You see, according to the Bible, we follow a truly marvelous and loving God, one who relates to us like a Father, and we live in an enchanted universe where the planets sing God’s praises and all of creation testifies to His goodness (Psalm 19). And we are frequently reminded in Scripture that God is indeed in control, so that we need not fear the days ahead (Matthew 6:25-26). Thus, we have the freedom, like little children, to cast aside our anxious worries and to savor the goodness of God, which is all around us. This, we are told, is exactly what our souls need.
Perhaps a visit to the National Zoo sometime soon would do your soul a lot of good?
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.