Children, unburdened by life’s demands and responsibilities, are free to laugh, play and take life as it comes. Children don’t worry about a to-do list, the source of their next meal, their career path or how to pay the bills.
This simple child’s view of the world was one of the concepts that occurred to Christian singer-songwriter David Dunn as he dealt with the death of his niece. A number of not-easily-answered questions confronted him. In the process, he wrote the songs for his latest album, Yellow Balloons.
“My songs are extensions of me—what I’m going through, what I’m learning about myself, about God and our relationship. Yellow Balloons ended up being formed around two concepts: children and heaven,” he says.
In his song “I Wanna Go Back,” Dunn sings about when he was a child and thought faith could move a mountaintop. But then he grew up and life got tough. “The song is me trying to figure out what Jesus means in the Gospels when He says we should be more like a child,” Dunn says about Matthew 19:2-4: “And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” ESV.
There is such beauty in the way children trust their parents to love them and provide for their every need. They have yet to experience the disappointment of broken promises or failed expectations. They are not weighed down with the burden of responsibilities. Life has not yet trained them to self-preserve or be overly cautious. Jesus tells us that we should adopt this care-free, fully trusting and fully dependent attitude of children. He warns us that if our faith is not like that of a child, we will miss out on the promise of the kingdom of heaven.
“I think that when Jesus tells us to have faith like a kid, He’s reminding us that there is someone other than us who is in control,” Dunn says. “That’s what faith like a child actually means, believing the simple things that God is powerful and that He loves us. When you were a kid, ultimately it was your parents’ responsibility to be concerned about bills and putting the food on the table. I think that’s what living like a child is as an adult: You do your part, and ultimately trust the Lord—and His divine knowledge and power—to own the results.”
Childlike faith means focusing on what is important. “I think another big part of childlike faith is ordering your values the way Jesus does. When you’re a kid, you really only think two things are important when it comes to Jesus: He exists and He loves you. Learning and digging into Scripture are wildly important, but if we value knowledge over trusting God’s knowledge, I think our values are out of order,” Dunn says.
In “I Wanna Go Back,” he references the children’s songs “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light of Mine” because he remembers singing those songs as a kid. “Those songs illustrate the heart and simplicity of my faith. When we sing those songs, we are simply reminding ourselves of the main things—that Jesus is and that He loves me.”
As we grow in our independence as human beings, we sometimes begin to believe we don’t need Jesus the way we did when we first became a Christian. We get better at making it on our own and sometimes start to believe we are sufficient without Jesus.
“We all run around pretending that we control everything. And childlike faith is directly opposed to control. Kids don’t feel like they have control of anything. I think the biggest hurdle is relinquishing the illusion of control. We do that when we acknowledge that only God has control,” Dunn says.
“The main Scripture I hang my hat on, especially in moments when I can’t make sense of something, is Romans 8:28. It says, ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.’ And if that’s true, then everything that happens is good. Theologically, that holds some serious implications. If it’s true, then everything that happens, regardless of whether it makes sense or doesn’t make sense, is for our benefit because He’s a good Father who wants the best for us,” Dunn says.
He also likes Matthew 7, where Jesus says we can trust that God is a good Father who gives good gifts. “We can trust that we’re not going to ask for a fish and he’ll give us a snake. We might think the gifts God gives us are ‘snakes’ because we only see them from our perspective. At some point, my young son is going to think the best thing ever is to run out in the street. When I tell him no, he’s going to think I’m trying to steal his joy. And that happens a gazillion times a day with the Lord. We want something, God says no and we think God is trying to steal our joy.”
Becoming like a child does not imply that God wants us to check our intellect at the door of Christianity. Nor does He tell us to be childish in our faith. Instead, Scripture tells us that we are supposed to mature in our faith (Hebrews 6:1–3) and to love God with our heart, soul, strength and mind (Matthew 22:37).
Yet we can grow up in Christ without out-growing childlike faith. “I think ultimate maturity is really being more like a kid. Sanctification, or growing to become more like Jesus, is valuing Him over everything else and trusting Him as your Father who wants the best for you,” Dunn says. “I think for a long time, my spirituality was wrapped up in how well I could think about, understand, and explain Jesus to other people. Those things are important, but I was valuing it over the truth that He loves me and is taking care of me.”
As Dunn wrote songs for Yellow Balloons and dealt with grief, he didn’t understand why God took his niece. “I still don’t understand it, and I can’t explain it, but if I situate my values so what I value the most is that He loves me, then I don’t have to understand everything. I’m okay because I know that He loves me. I think acknowledging these two cornerstone truths—that Jesus is and that He loves me—is really beneficial. It takes some of the pressure off. I don’t have to understand every little thing in the Bible, because I don’t. And I don’t have to understand everything in the world, because I don’t.”
Christian faith is built on the trust that God is who He says He is—good, wise, all-powerful, all-loving, Provider and Savior. Faith is trusting that even when we can’t see these things, we have full assurance, conviction and hope that He is indeed these things. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1 ESV. Faith is—even when our perspective is limited and we don’t understand His ways—trusting and depending on God.
Because God is good, because He works all things together for our good and because He is trustworthy, we can relinquish our independence or the illusion of control, and fully depend on Him. Just like a child.
Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 18:1–4 that unless they turn, humble themselves and become like children, they won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus uses this universal understanding of a child’s dependence and trust in his parents to teach us how to focus on the main thing: our absolute trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are called to become like children and unburden ourselves from the cares of this world, fully trusting that He takes care of even the tiniest details of our lives.
The disciples banked their greatness on their performance, abilities and accomplishments. We fall into this trap all the time. We get so caught up in being busy for God that we forget God. We talk about Him but forget to talk to Him. Jesus tells us that we must turn away from this type of thinking and become like children.
So what does it mean to become like children? Jesus says “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” Matthew 18:4 ESV. A humble person is one who is fully dependent on the grace of God for all things. The opposite of humility is pride. Pride is one reason that people reject Jesus. Pride causes us to believe that we are fine on our own, that we don’t need help.
Becoming like a child is trusting God so fully that we live our lives with the same attitude and perspective as one who is fully cared for, provided for and loved. We don’t ignore our responsibilities or remain immature, yet we trust that God is the ultimate source for all of our needs. God is our good Father, and we can and must totally rest in his provision and care.