Please pray the following prayer with me: “Lord, please quite my mind and heart to the things that might distract me from hearing from you about an issue most of us don’t think about enough – the size of our ‘buts.’”
Note how I spelled “but.” It only has one “t.” Not two. How many times do we say things like, “Lord, I would do it but….” I tried to finish this but….” “I would like to attend the small group but….”
May the Lord convict us about our “buts” as we enter into the world of Jesus and his followers.
Luke 18:15-30 says, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
It appears this man’s question was genuine. He wasn’t trying to trap Jesus like a lot of other people were. This ruler really wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
Do you notice here how he made sure his response tied into Jesus’ teaching about how those who want to receive the kingdom of God need to be like little children? In essence he’s saying, “See Lord, I’ve been following God since I was a little child. I’ve been faithful.” I’ll bet he was feeling pretty good about his spirituality and his relationship with God. But Jesus wasn’t quite finished.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.
Within a matter of a few seconds, Jesus showed this man that even though he had been religious since he was a boy, his heart wasn’t totally devoted to God. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us what he said to Jesus at this moment, I wonder if he responded with a big “but.” “But Lord, I’ve been keeping the commandments you mentioned since I was a boy. I want to follow you, but you’re asking me to give up the things that make me happy and give me security.”
Jesus had just shown him that following God since being a child is far different than following God like a child. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been Christians. What matters is the kind of Christians we are. Jesus said our faith should be like that of little children.
Now we have to ask:
What does it mean to be like a child before God?
Let’s wrestle with two obvious answers to this question.
1) Children listen. They don’t give orders. Most parents I know understand they are to instruct their children and their children are to follow them. Yet how many times do we tell God what we will and won’t do? “But I’ll do it if I have time.” “But I won’t do this because someone else could do it better.”
2) Children naturally trust their parents. They have faith their parents will protect them and lead them down the right path. Yet many Christians refuse to trust God. “God, I know you want me to do this but I won’t because I’m afraid.” Essentially we’re telling God we don’t trust him when we show this big “but.”
After Jesus challenged the rich ruler with this difficult command, he pressed his point:
24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Just like the rich ruler in this passage, we want to be spiritual and have a close relationship with God. Our desire is to inherit eternal life. This is why we worship on Sunday mornings. This is why we’re so busy working in ministries and trying to be a good witness in our communities. However, as we just read, attending church and doing good works doesn’t really reveal whether or not we’re totally committed to God. We too can follow the “rules” but still make other things more important to us than God.
In order for us to see whether we’re more like a child or the rich ruler, let’s wrestle with a few personal questions:
1) Do I really go to church to worship God and be instructed in his Word …. or do I go because that’s just what I’m supposed to do on Sunday mornings? Do I really want God to convict me of my sin? Do I really want God’s word to challenge me? Do I really want God to ask me to do something that might inconvenience me?
2) Do I pray about the ministries God has given me…or do I simply do them the way I want to do them? Do team meetings begin with prayer? Am I open to doing things differently if it would improve our ministry?
3) What things in my life do I make more important to me than God? In a perfect world, we could all say “nothing.” The rich ruler didn’t want to give up his wealth when Jesus called him to do so. Are there possessions or activities I refuse to give up for the sake of God’s kingdom?
Following God is difficult because God tells us to do things we don’t want to do. However, we have no choice if we want to see his kingdom unfold and have eternal life. This brings us to another question:
How do we receive the kingdom like a little child?
While the answer to this question can be detailed and complicated, the following three principles are a good place to start:
* Desire to grow-up. Children are constantly looking forward to the next stage of life. How many times do we hear, “I can’t wait until I’m ____ years old so I can ________?” Christians need to have the same mindset about God. We have to let go of the old if we want something new. We can’t have both. In regards to the rich ruler in our passage, modern scholar N.T. Wright says, “He couldn’t seriously be seeking the new age if he couldn’t abandon the symbols of the old.” We too have to let go of things that hold us back so we can keep growing spiritually.
* Quit trying – Do!! Please quit saying “I’ll try” when talking about serving God and the church. Saying “I’ll try” opens the door for future big “buts.” How many times have we either said or heard someone else say, “I said I would try, but I didn’t have time?” “I tried but I couldn’t do it as well as I wanted to so I quit.” “I tried but….(fill in the blank.)
Nowhere in the Bible are we told to “try”. We’re told to “do”.
It’s ok if we do it poorly when we’re stepping out in faith in new areas. How many of your children were born with the ability to walk? No one can say, “Mine were.” They had to get strong enough to first roll-over, then crawl and finally walk. As they were beginning to walk, they first took one or two steps and then fell flat on their butts. It’s the same way when it comes to serving Jesus. Maturing is a process that only works if we keep moving forward. Even then we can still stumble and fall.
Many years ago, a family friend named Carol was on vacation with her family in Germany. One day they were touring a castle and Carol decided she wanted to get a picture of the front of the building. This was before zoom lenses were on cameras. She couldn’t get the whole castle in the picture from where she was standing so she kept backing up while looking through the camera. Suddenly one of her legs hit the edge of a fountain. She couldn’t catch her balance and stop her momentum. Carol fell backwards into the water. Of course, she was embarrassed and her family laughed at her. All she could do was climb out and keep going. Walking with God is the same way. Sometimes we stumble and fall but we get up and keep going.
*Allow God to be in charge. In Verse 27, Jesus said doing any of this is impossible without God. The rich ruler was trying in his own strength to be faithful. He really didn’t have a childlike faith in God because his possessions were more important to him that God. Once God’s calling became too much for him to handle on his own, he became very sad. What’s really sad is there is no indication he asked Jesus how to do it. We also need God’s help if we want to be like little children before him.
We must allow Jesus to lead us while having faith that he will do what he says he will do. We quit “trying” in favor of “doing” and, most of all, we do our best to get rid of the big “buts” that hinder not only us but also God’s unfolding kingdom.