As a parent, sometimes I think that I’m pretty clever, with little standard phrases that I have developed, in order to guide my children towards a life of success. At least, I think that these are pretty clever until I hear one of my progeny say the very same things to a sibling! Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed at how they sound when I actually hear them out loud.
Children do imitate their parents, though. I can see attributes of my own parents that have become a part of me, even in my adult life. I can see the same phenomenon in my wife. And, when my kids are grown and out on their own (when we’re not quite so close to their daily lives), she and I will probably notice the same thing in them.
At the same time, we also start to exhibit differences as we grow up. Our friends, our experiences, and other voices around us offer us other options, and we get the opportunity to pick and choose among certain traits that we might want to adopt, instead. These can be good things, correcting shortcomings in our upbringing (or adapting to new situations); on the other hand, they can also be bad things, undoing years of good parenting.
Have a look at this verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus:
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.
Ephesians 5:1 NLT
Sometimes, when someone first discovers the joy of following Jesus – the freedom from the weight of sin’s penalty, and the abundant life that Jesus offers – they are “on fire” for Him. They tell all of their friends, and compel them – both through their words and actions – to learn more about the dramatic change that Jesus brings into their lives.
These new believers are exciting and powerful. Like children who haven’t had time to develop the cynicism of adulthood, they believe that they can do anything with God’s help. (And, when they are aligned with God’s will, they are absolutely correct in that.) Even if some old habits need to be improved or replaced, the excitement about imitating Jesus is palpable and inspiring.
Over time, though, some of us lose that passion. When others don’t “get it”, and fail to follow us into the path of freedom, we may want to stop trying. When temptation continues to assault us, and succeeds in dragging us back to sin too frequently, we are frustrated. When trials come, we get discouraged.
Read through what Jesus says in this passage:
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 18:2-4 NLT
I think that a key word here is “humble”. As children (and adults) grow up, we sometimes become “too cool” to follow instructions. We become so enamored with our own opinions that we fail to listen to wise advice. Reaching out for help takes too much of a toll on our pride. Trying to be like someone who isn’t part of the “in crowd” might hurt our so-called “reputation”.
Instead of the simple humility of a child (who knows that he or she can’t do everything alone, and who wants to be just like a beloved adult), we forget those important truths. The “firstborn of creation”, Jesus the eternal God, has shown us how to live. More than that, He has offered us help to do so. Will we accept that help, and seek to follow His example, or will we try to succeed – and ultimately fail – based on our own abilities?
May each of us return to a childlike imitation of Jesus. I hope that each of us (starting with me!) can set aside our pride, accept our limitations, let God direct our paths, and desire to be every bit as righteous as Jesus our example. In doing so, may we make a difference that is as big as He wants to help us to achieve.