Children, Liturgy and Life

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In the almost six years that we’ve had children in our home, I’ve continually been amazed by what they’ve taught me. That’s why I started this blog, after all. Children have a way of thinking and acting and speaking that utterly changes the way we as adults see the world. They make you think twice—and sometimes three times—about all the things you take for granted about the operations of the world. They tell living stories about the relationship God has with us that we’d miss otherwise. They expose us and send us back up the prodigal road to a Father whose gracious embrace awaits us.

But as Christians in America, I think there are two things we don’t take seriously about our children. First, we don’t really think they have anything to teach us about the gospel, and second, we don’t really appreciate how perceptive they are about the rituals of gospel life. We think them incapable of such activity. We tell them it doesn’t count.

So we silence them. We segregate them. We marginalize them. Corportate worship is one example of how we do this, but not the only one. Whereas Jesus says children are the pattern we as adults need to conform to (Matt. 19:13-15), we often tell our kids they can join us in “real, adult worship” only when they’ve become more like us. We don’t think they have anything to offer, or to gain.

But like the disciples—who were humbled by the little children they tried to cast off but whom Jesus personally welcomed into his presence—I too am humbled again and again by my children. And this is the radical thing Jesus says to you and me about the matter—become more like them. Not the other way around.

I was in my study this morning, reading and muttering through my prayers. I was praying through Psalm 85 that God would revive me again, teaching and granting renewed joy in his presence. If I’m honest, I feel a lot lately like I have so much to fix in my life, and those difficult areas in life leave me burdened. I’ve failed a lot to be more disciplined, to take care of my body, and to make a habit of serving others. As a result I tend to think sola bootstrappa, like I’m going to Rocky Balboa my way out of this mess. If you’ve ever been there, praying with guilt on your back is a disheartening endeavor. The only cure is grace.

Benjamin, my five-year-old, walked in to my study, right smack dab in the middle of that prayer. A bit of fatherly irritation rose to the surface, but it was held at bay by the curiosity I felt watching him. He had a half loaf of bread in his hands. He was walking toward me—the irritated dad/jerk, bitter with the weight of failure.

He looked at me with a tender smile and said, as he broke the bread in half, “Daddy, this is Christ’s body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me, for as often as you eat this bread, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And then he reached up and put a piece of bread in my mouth, wrapping his arms around me for a good morning hug.

You can drive the twenty minutes all the way to work with tears in your eyes after that one. I did. Tears of gratefulness for the little boy whose childlike faith breaks my proud heart every time. For the Lord who uses the very ones I’d send away out of inconvenience to pour sweet, humbling grace upon me.

The thing is, Jesus could have used a thousand different things to minister grace to me this morning. He once put words in the mouth of a donkey, after all. But just like he did with his proud disciples, he chose a child. He put a child before them and said, “Be like this.”

That’s gospel paradox in action. I’ve been to seminary, sat under world-renowned scholars, studied Hebrew and listened to some of the finest preachers on earth. And when I forgot the gospel (again), Christ sent a five-year-old with a loaf of bread and the sweet words of the liturgy in his mouth.

Why would God do that? Why would he use babes and infants—the weakest members of society—to sing his praise and pronounce his gospel truth to a bunch of proud Pharisees like me?

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 27-29).

They may be small, the world may not care a thing about them and we may doubt their capacity for faith. But none of those things seem to stop God from using them instrumentally to deliver his kingdom to the earth.

Grace never looked so good as it does from Three Feet.

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