In Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus saying these remarkable words. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…”
Why like a child? Perhaps this true story from a doctor in South Africa will help us understand.
One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labour ward; but in spite of all we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, so I asked for a nurse to bring a hot water bottle but shortly afterwards she came back in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). “And it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. “All right,” I said, “put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.” The following noon, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I told them about the tiny baby and explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough without a hot water bottle. During prayer time, one ten year old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. “Please, God” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, “And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen”. I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything, the Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, I was told I had received a parcel, a large parcel! I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot, excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly coloured, knitted jerseys. Then there were the knitted bandages and the children looked a little bored! Then as I put my hand in again, could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out yes a brand new rubber hot water bottle! I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted!
Father please help each of us to learn from children. Help us to trust you even when everything appears lost. Help us become more like Ruth.