Pete was green with one black and white wing. His coloring was odd for a canary, but so was his voice and pluck. He sang like nothing I’ve ever heard and was my constant delight.
As a child, I also had a stamp collection. When it was laid out, Pete would fly into it, scattering stamps everywhere and taking one in his beak to sample. If I pointed my finger at him, he considered that an attack and came at me, his beak open. As soon as I backed off, he began to sing. In no time, to get him to sing all I had to do was point at him.
I must miss both childhood and Pete. I dreamed last night that I still had him, as well as Vicki, the female that we bought to keep him company. (He stopped singing at that point, but when Vicki died, he sang all day!) The dream was so vivid that when I woke I had to keep shaking my head to fight a sense of disorientation.
Today’s devotional verse is about being like a child. My childhood included this plucky canary and the enjoyment he gave me, but this is not what Jesus was talking about.
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)The comments that go with this verse say that a person needs to come to Jesus like a child to be saved, but a careful reading shows that this is not what Jesus says. He describes how a person must first be converted, then become like a child.
Conversion is the work of God in a human heart. He gives new life and faith in Jesus Christ at the same time. From that point forward, His goal is to transform the convert into the image of His Son. In a spiritual sense, a newly converted person is immediately in the kingdom of heaven, but entrance to it in a physical sense comes later. The conditions for getting in are conversion — and the proof of that conversion is childlike humility.
Jesus had to be thinking of very young children who still have a dependent attitude and outlook. Only little children are simple in thought, helpless and trusting, unaffected by the jaded world around them, without pretension and ambition. They are still sinners but naive in many ways, totally dependent on others, and free from selfish claims to greatness. They submit themselves to the care of their parents, and in having their needs met they are not demanding or obnoxious.
We cannot do anything to earn or deserve eternal life. We cannot become like a little child, then get saved and enter the kingdom. The order is like this: we are first saved, then become like children. That is what the Spirit of Jesus Christ does in a human heart. He brings a humble and dependent attitude that is unlike anything we can do ourselves.
I might have started life like this little child He speaks of, but because of my sin nature (which is part of every human being), my self-focus soon showed up. Actually, even as a baby, I wanted what I wanted NOW. In just a few months, like any other child I knew how to make my parents come running. I knew how to make people think I was cute and I knew how to manipulate my brother. This is not the type of childlikeness that Jesus was talking about.
Pete the canary died more than forty years ago, but I woke up this morning missing him. As I read the Bible and thought about what it means to be like a child, I should be longing for far more than my childhood pet. While Pete amused me and kept me company, the greater value is the trust and innocence, the simple joy and delighted contentment, of being a child of God.