I am sure that some of my (English) readers will remember the days of the BBC Radio programme known as “Children’s Hour”. It was introduced by “Uncle Mac” (Derek McCulloch). As a young lad in the war-time years of the early 1940s, I can even now remember my joyful anticipation as I waited for such firm favourites as “Toytown“, “Norman and Henry Bones”, “Cowleaze Farm”, and the Zoo Man (George Cansdale). And at the end of the programme, Uncle Mac would say “Goodnight children – everywhere.” Suppose the BBC were to repeat a few numbers from those days. How would the children of today react? Would they say, “That was great! Why can’t we have more of that sort of thing today?” Or would they say, “Oh no! That’s stupid kids’ stuff. Let’s get back to – – -.” (Indicating their present choices of children’s’ TV programmes.) Would I be right in saying that a few would say the former, but the majority the latter? Sad to say, I think my conclusion must be correct. No longer do we have the gentle magic of those early programmes. Instead we are presented with a mad whirl of fast-moving visual images, creating hyper-activity in those who watch.
In the earlier years of TV the smaller children were given “Playschool” each weekday morning. This was slow-moving and sheer magic. My wife and I were often sitting with our children watching with great interest. But suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the beautiful old format was replaced by something “better”, something more “trendy”, something “in keeping with the days in which we live.” We ceased watching, feeling that an old friend had died.
And what do children read these days? Do they still curl up on the sofa and become totally absorbed in Enid Blyton’s“Famous Five” or “Secret Seven”? Or perhaps Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”, or the works of A.A.Milne, Beatrix Potter, Edith Nesbit, Lewis Carroll, or Arthur Ransome? Or would they listen to one of Rev. Awdry’s records about “Henry and Gordon” and other railway engines, read by Johnny Morris?
Well, these books and records are still available, but there are so many other books of a quite different genre, depicting dinosaurs, super-men, aliens, rockets, guns, flying saucers, demons, and hideous looking beings supposedly from outer space. All of which seem to focus on destruction of one type or another. The change has not taken place over-night. It has come about in slow stages. Children have gradually adapted to the new format, without possessing the memories of their over-sixties grandparents. And peer pressure ensures that they go along with the crowd, even if they squirm at the horrific material they are supposed to enjoy.
So why am I asking these questions in this present Telegraph? To put it in a nutshell, I believe that dark powers are intent on destroying the whole fabric of family life, from headships down to the children’s environment. No longer are children being allowed to enjoy their earlier years as once they did. They are being forced to grow up in a hostile environment that is already bearing evil fruit in teen-age behaviour.
But this paper is not intended as a polemic. Having stated some obvious historical facts, which are sad to contemplate, I would like to present a few thoughts from the Scriptures of a more positive nature. What is man’s usual quest in the Christian life? Jesus showed clearly what it is in Matthew 18:1-5. “The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the GREATEST in the Kingdom of Heaven?'” Yes, this is the commonest quest amongst believers. To be GREAT. To be a LEADER. To be an EVANGELIST. To be a HEALER. To be a GREAT SONG LEADER. To be SEEN and to be KNOWN amongst men. To have a NAME that is a household word. To achieve mighty things, and feel the comfort of achievement, believing that God will be pleased. To be a GREAT WRITER, whose books are sold by the million. To be thought of as an AUTHORITY, whereby people will say, ‘But SO-AND-S0 says in his book – -.”
Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s children asked that James and John could be seated beside the Lord in His Kingdom. (Matt.20:20) The Lord asked whether they could share His sufferings, and they said Yes. But Jesus said that the privilege would be granted by His Father, not by Himself. And so, what is the character of Jesus’ Father? How will He choose and appoint His ministers in the coming Kingdom? Are we given any clear prescription, whereby we might emulate the example? Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ question, ‘Who is the greatest?’ may have come as a surprise. First of all, we are told, He beckoned to a small child standing nearby, and probably sat him on His knee. “Truly I say to you, except you turn (i.e. start to think differently) and become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” It was not just a matter of being the GREATEST in the Kingdom. It was a matter of just ENTERING the Kingdom. And the little child was the answer.“Whoever will humble himself, as this little child, will become the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Note here, ‘the greater’, not ‘the greatest.’ (The A.V. is inexact in translation.) We are not told the reaction of the disciples.
The next chapter of Matthew has an interesting follow-up on this subject. (19:13-14) People were bringing their little children to the Lord, so that He might lay His hands upon them and bless them. “The disciples rebuked the people.” But Jesus said, “Allow the little ones to come to me. Do not prevent them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” It would appear that the disciples considered the children beneath their dignity, and not worth worrying about. After all, this was a ‘man’s job.’ They didn’t understand the mind of their Master. “Are not five baby sparrows sold for a farthing?” asked the Lord. “And yet I say to you that not one of them is forgotten before God.” (Luke 12:7) In Matthew He said that “not one falls to the ground without your Father’s (awareness, or care.)” Once again, Jesus speaks of LITTLE THINGS. The disciples were showing anxiety over big things, but Jesus turns their attention to the little things, and their IMPORTANCE to His Father. “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Perhaps His disciples were getting a little impatient. What about the hairs of our heads? What does it matter whether we have a good mop of hair, or become bald like Elijah? What is He getting at? “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) I imagine the Lord must have plucked a blossom as they walked along. To us, it might have been a dandelion, or a buttercup, or some other very common wild flower. So what? Who pays any attention to such? Are they not just trodden underfoot as we walk along? Surely there are much more important things at stake? Didn’t the Master come into the world to be the Messiah? The King? The Mighty Ruler of mankind? Are we not to be with him in His glory? Then why all this talk about buttercups? Solomon, ah yes, now there is a good example. Surely the Master will be as great as Solomon – even greater, and we’ll see this Roman invasion of our land terminated for good very soon now.
“Consider the birds of the air – – your Heavenly Father feeds them.” Consider, consider, consider – – – why all this focus on these little things? Why can’t we get down to basics? Why can’t the Master stop bantering about kids, hairs, buttercups, and birds? Of course the birds find their food each day. It’s taken for granted. But what’s the significance to us, now, at the climax of history? Surely it’s time to get to grips with the mighty things, the things that matter to our nation? “For God so clothes the grass of the field – -.” There He goes again! GRASS!! This is getting ridiculous!
They walked into the Temple precincts, and observed people placing their tithes and free-will offerings in the Collection Box. An elderly lady was seen to drop a couple of very small coins in, and walk away. It contrasted strongly with the previous man, a Pharisee, who let everybody see the extent of his generosity. “Come here!” said the Master to His disciples. “Did you witness that? Truly I tell you this poor widow has cast more into the treasury than all the others out of their abundance. For this was all her living.” Two small coins. What good were they? When the money was counted, they might even get lost, roll on the floor, get lodged in the cracks between the flag-stones. What good would come from such LITTLE THINGS? But the Master praised the widow. His Father saw, and His Father was not concerned about the future of those two coins. It didn’t matter whether they rolled away or were counted with the larger denominations. God was interested in the widow, and she had behaved as a LITTLE CHILD. It didn’t matter to her that she had nothing for tomorrow, because God would provide, even as He provided for the birds of the air.
It was nearing the Passover. Jesus was reclining with His disciples in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Mary broke open an alabaster box of precious ointment, worth a whole year’s salary to a soldier. She proceeded to anoint the Lord’s head and feet. The disciples were aghast at the sight. “What a waste!” they said. “Why wasn’t this treasure sold and the proceeds given to the poor?” How could Mary have kept such a treasure after listening to the Lord’s lectures about possessions? But Jesus knew their thoughts as well as hearing their words. He looked them all straight in the eye, one after the other, till they were silent. “Leave her alone!” He said firmly. “Wherever the good news is preached throughout the whole world, Mary’s act will be remembered with it.” Just a little thing really. Of no great significance, they thought. “What a waste!”
Why doesn’t the Master concentrate on His work? He’s always emphasising LITTLE THINGS. This is getting exasperating. Shortly afterwards He girded Himself with a towel, and began to wash their feet. That caused a stir of great proportions. Peter was most vocal about it. “I want to be YOUR servant, not You mine!” is the tenor of his remarks. “Why are you grovelling there on the floor? Are you not meant to be the Messiah? Didn’t you commend me for saying once, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God? What are you doing? Don’t you have any sense of your person, your dignity, your royalty?” The Master rebuked Peter, and he learned his lesson, and calmed down.
But I imagine Judas Iscariot had seen enough. This cringing, demeaning character was not worthy to be called a Messiah in his eyes. It was time to leave, time to report events to the High Priest. No use having a man like this walking the land gathering a following. Best thing would be to get Him stopped while there was still time, before He made a complete fool of Himself. Yes, that’s the best plan. Better watch out for a suitable opportunity. And it came at the Passover supper, where He talked of being killed. Whoever heard of such things? How can you possibly retain respect for such a man? And so the drama unfolded. The disciples fled. The Lord was arrested, “tried”, mocked, spat upon, scourged, and finally crucified. This strange man, who favoured all these LITTLE THINGS, and even considered His own life unworthy to hold on to, this enigma, this man who had performed such mighty miracles and yet kept on speaking about grass, and birds, and buttercups, and hairs, and baby sparrows, at last He was dead.
It had been such a strange period of three years. Almost impossible to understand. There were such high hopes, especially for the first eighteen months, but then – – – it almost seemed that He wanted the whole exercise to end in failure and futility. Why, oh why? But the resurrection morning arrived. The disciples refused to believe the clear evidence brought by the women, who’d actually seen Him alive. They considered them “just idle tales.” Why? Because they’d not understood what their Master was driving at. They’d not understood the importance of the LITTLE THINGS. Their minds were so constantly set upon the grandeur of the coming Kingdom of God, the majesty of Messiah’s reign, and their own part to play in it, that the real basic truths had been trodden underfoot along the way. The “little child” was still an unimportant member of the public. Just wait until he was a grown man, someone who could command the respect and dignity of the populace, THEN he would be worth consideration. But whilst still a junior, he should be kept indoors, subject to his mummy, and of no consequence to the world at large.
“He who is greater among you shall be your servant. The one who exalts himself will be brought down, and the one who humbles himself shall be established.” These were the Master’s words. He had in fact spoken far more frequently in this vein than they could remember. But the words still remained at the bottom of their list of priorities. The Lord had commissioned them to go and preach the good news of His resurrection. This gave them a new impetus, and elevated their minds once again to the higher echelons of Kingdom work. All the teaching about the little birds, and the grass, and the buttercups was soon forgotten.
A great and mighty work began at Pentecost, and looked fair to engulf the whole nation before long. Peter and the eleven were at last engaged in what they had longed to do all through the Lord’s ministry. Soon the sheer size of the work began to take its toll. There were complaints from some of those in need. The disciples found themselves harried and burdened beyond endurance. A decision had to be made. It is recorded in Acts 6. Reading from the Greek, the disciples spoke thus – “It is not pleasing to us to abandon the word of God and serve at tables.” It is not pleasing to us – – note the tone of the remark. Not pleasing to US. Did they consider what was pleasing to the Lord? Here is an example of the GREATNESS factor emerging once again. It was NOT PLEASING to them to SERVE. They had some high and mighty business to attend to, and lesser mortals must be found to deal with meals and the washing up.
Nevertheless, the seven chosen had to be filled with the outpoured spirit, and we are told that God used them mightily in their humble ministrations. Stephen became the first martyr. Philip’s mission is recorded in detail. Now notice the reaction of the multitude to the disciples’ words. They were “pleased” with what they heard. They were in favour of having a pyramidal system of authority growing up, because that was the way the world worked. It was according to custom and practice. It was acceptable in human terms. And the multitude hadn’t been tutored by the Lord. But the disciples had. And they ought to have known better. But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying that this has misinterpreted the word of God. The pattern that Peter asked for was surely the correct one? Wasn’t it? Isn’t that how Christian work ought to be done? Shouldn’t there be chief ministers who take the word about, and minister in high office, whilst others share in the load in more humble capacity? Secretaries? Typists? Computer operators? Organisers? Managers? Drivers? In fact a whole army of people all subservient to the “BIG NAME” minister, the man everyone wants to hear, because he is so well known? Isn’t that how it OUGHT to be done?
Is it? – – – – – Hasn’t the lesson been learned? What do we see around us today? Everywhere we look we see the pyramidal system at work in Christian work. Try writing a personal letter to one of the BIG NAMES and what happens? Sooner of later a reply might come. (Not always, I find.) It starts like this – “Mr BIG NAME has asked me to thank you for your letter, which was appreciated, but you will of course realise that he is far too busy to attend personally to all his voluminous correspondence – -.” Have you had experience of this sort? Most of us have. Do you just sit back and accept it? One expects it to happen when writing to the Queen, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Prime Minister, but should it be the regular practice of the Lord’s people? Some might argue that from the managerial point of view, nothing would ever get done if the pyramid system was not used. We have only limited time, limited resources, to achieve great works with abundant harvests. If saving souls is our prime objective, then shouldn’t we use whatever means we have at our disposal to reach the lost? Let us garrison our troops, and march on the world and get at least some of them saved! What if the world uses computers to speed up its communications? So should we! What if the world uses vast auditoriums, with sound-amplification and the use of video and film? So should we! What if the world uses Television channels to propagate their messages? So should we!
But did the Master have this attitude? I know He didn’t live in the electronic age, but that is beside the point. We must get our sights on what He was like, and how He operated amongst men. First of all it is abundantly plain that He never set out to obtain huge followings. In fact He spoke in such a way that many left Him. Read in particular the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. At the end of a long discussion we are told that “many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” This would be wholly unacceptable to today’s evangelistic thrust. Anyone who ministered in such a fashion would find themselves unpopular and without work in the Christian world. There have to be RESULTS, otherwise the ministry is deemed ineffective.
And then Jesus spoke about a wide road and a narrow road, and only a FEW would find the narrow road that led to life. And in the final analysis, when He sets up His Kingdom, MANY will come to Him and claim to be true disciples, but Jesus will say, “Depart, I don’t know you.” The parables of the Kingdom have much the same thrust. The dragnet may catch all manner of marine life, but when sorted out, only the acceptable fish are kept for the Kingdom. The wheat is gathered, the tares are burned. In other words the Master’s priority was for QUALITY and not for QUANTITY. But man has confused this message, arguing that as many should be “saved” as possible. Merely sign on the dotted line at the end of the campaign meeting, and you are assured a place in heaven.
Such teaching is wholly foreign to the New Testament. Read the Gospels again. See the Master’s manner of life. There was never any hurry, never a rush, never an extra hour arguing the point with the crowds. Instead He gave His message, said “Follow Me,” and went on to the next destination. Those who heard, and recognised His authority, obeyed. The rest were left behind arguing the point amongst themselves. I am not arguing the case of the Calvinist, who believes that only a few will ultimately be saved. That is not the point of this paper. I am asking for a re-appraisal of the Master’s lifestyle, so as to determine whether today’s methods are justified, and I believe they are not. The Master spoke of many things that mattered immensely to His Father, and these were the LITTLE THINGS. But the little things have always been treated with scorn. Very few writers major on the need to consider the LITTLE THINGS. They treat them as the disciples treated them, as of little value. Childish things. Contemptuous things. Things to be put aside in order to get on with the real work of life. But the Master never intended it to be that way. He wanted us to observe the way in which the birds are fed, how the grass grows, how the hairs of our head are all numbered, and the simple and humble beauty of the wild flowers that we often tread underfoot. By such observations we shall be made aware of the REAL character of our Father in heaven, who is aware of even the baby sparrow that falls to the ground. Whenever we pass by the LITTLE THINGS we pass by our Father, and fail to notice Him. Whenever we despise the ways of the little child, and crave more “grown up” things, we miss the Father looking at us through those lovely little eyes. We never really get to know Him at all, and this is such a pity.
I write as one who has spent many years like the disciples, and like the great men who despise little things. I have had to learn the value of little things, and as I spend more time now considering them, I think I am beginning to discover something of the true character of our Father in heaven. My perspective is changing. Jesus said, “Except you TURN, and become as little children.” Yes, that’s it. I have had to TURN my eyes away from high and mighty things, to observe the presence of little things, and in doing so, I have begun to find hidden treasure. Surely there is no greater goal in life than to search out the ways and the character of God our Father?
Recently my wife and I went to see a film entitled “Miracle on 34th Street.” It was all about believing in Santa Claus. Richard Attenborough played the part of Kris Kringle, who declared that he WAS Santa Claus. Without going into the details of the story, the important point in the film was the necessity for children to have such make-believe, and the necessity for their parents to realise why. As Kris Kringle explained in the film, Santa Claus represents all that suppresses evil and selfishness, and promotes giving and considering the needs of others. Take Santa away, and you remove the whole fabric of American society. Some may think it strange that I should mention this in a paper, but it struck me at the time that the PRINCIPLE of the film betrayed the same attitude as our Lord, in His insistence that we give place and time to the consideration of LITTLE THINGS.
In 2 Kings 6:5-7 we read about one of Elisha’s miracles. A man had been cutting down logs from the trees when his axe head fell into the water. “Alas master!” moaned the man to Elisha. “It was borrowed.” The man was fearful of what to say when he returned to its owner, empty handed. But Elisha sensed the heart of God, and caused the iron to swim, and thereby recovered the lost item. Only a small thing? But it was important in the sight of God, and the prophet knew His mind. It is a new angle on Elisha’s 12th miracle that may have escaped our minds before. Returning to the Gospels, in John 13:33 Jesus refers to His disciples as “Little children.” At the time they didn’t understand what He was trying to convey. They probably let it pass as one of the Lord’s unacceptable remarks. After all, they were NOT little children, but grown men. They may even have felt somewhat belittled, even insulted by the epithet, but John remembered it, and in later days he came to understand what his Master meant.
When writing his first letter, seven times he addressed his readers as “Little children.” I suspect that he hoped THEY would understand, even as he now understood. Have we understood? A little child is one who has not lost the sense of wonder and awe at God’s creation – the stars in the sky, the beautiful sunsets, the grandeur of the rainbow, watching the bluetithanging upside down on the bag of nuts, or the kitten getting tied up in a ball of wool, or a baby seal on the beach barking for his mummy because he’s hungry. A little child is one who listens to his daddy reading a story, and is captivated by it, and wants more and more. And daddy knows that this child-like attitude is going to enable him to teach simple and profound truths about God, and the little child will BELIEVE. Why? Because of the TRUST he has in daddy. A little child is one who has a great need for affection and warmth of love, and will repeatedly snuggle up to his mother’s breast while sitting on her lap, and within that warm environment, will fall asleep, totally secure. A little child is one who loves to play games with other children, games of make-believe, where toys become alive and enter into all sorts of escapades. All these things and more are the marks of a little child.
Should we not, as adults, retain a sense of awe and wonder? Should we not read God’s word and believe it in the same manner as the child listening to his father? Should we not seek for that true sense of love that God our Father possesses, whereby we can stop worrying and sleep soundly in the knowledge of His care and security? Should we not enter into the joyful world of creative abilities, the grown-up version of the child’s games? Maybe we used to be like the little child depicted above. Then perhaps we grew up and felt the need to cast away those early delights. But what of later years? Let me quote the brief letter that C.S.Lewis wrote to his god-daughter, and which forms the introduction to the Narnia Chronicles.
My dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C.S.Lewis.
Finally I should like to quote in full a most delightful piece written by Michel Quoist, found as the first item in his book “Prayers of Life”. It is entitled “I like youngsters.”
God says, I like youngsters. I want people to be like them. I don’t like old people unless they are still children. I want only children in my kingdom; this has been decreed from the beginning of time. Youngsters – twisted, humped, wrinkled, white-bearded – all kinds of youngsters, but youngsters. There is no changing it, it has been decided, there is room for no one else. I like little children because my likeness has not been dulled in them. They have not botched my likeness, they are new, pure, without a blot, without a smear. So, when I gently lean over them, I recognise myself in them. I like them because they are still growing, they are still improving. They are on the road, they are on their way. But with grown-ups there is nothing to expect any more. They will no longer grow, no longer improve. They have come to a full stop. It is disastrous – grown-ups think they have arrived. I like youngsters because they are still struggling, because they are still sinning. Not because they sin – if you understand me – but because they know that they sin, and they say so, and they try not to sin any more.
But I don’t like grown-ups, they never harm anyone, they have nothing to reproach themselves for. I can’t forgive them. I have nothing to forgive. It is a pity, it is indeed a pity, because it is not true. But above all I like youngsters because of the look in their eyes. In their eyes I can read their age. In my heaven there will be only five-year-old eyes, for I know of nothing more beautiful than the pure eyes of a child. It is not surprising, for I live in children, and it is I who look out through their eyes. When pure eyes meet yours, it is I who smile at you through the flesh. But on the other hand I know of nothing sadder than lifeless eyes in the face of a child. The windows are open but the house is empty. Two eyes are there but there is no light. And, saddened, I stand at the door, and wait in the cold and knock. I am eager to get in. And he, the child, is alone. He fattens, he hardens, he dries up, he gets old. Poor old fellow! Alleluia! Alleluia! Open, all of you, little old men! It is I, your God, the Eternal, risen from the dead, coming to bring back to life the child in you. Hurry! Now is the time. I am ready to give you again the beautiful face of a child, the beautiful eyes of a child . . . For I love youngsters, and I want everybody to be like them.