Early on in my church-going life, Sunday school teachers gave a lesson on "Faith Like A Child". They told the story of Jesus scolding His stupid adult disciples when they tried to keep the pure-of-heart children from surrounding Him. The lesson ended with my friends and I assuming we had stronger faith than our parents and maybe even our pastor. I'm not making this up. We discussed these things over graham crackers while we waited for our parents to pick us up after the service. Our six-year-old arrogance came from all the self-esteem lessons we learned in elementary school. Public school said we deserved to be treated like the center of the universe. Sunday school taught us, whether intentionally or not, we had a knack for faith. We were naturals.
I can understand why those Sunday school teachers didn't teach us Proverbs 22:15 in the same lesson. "Doing wrong is firmly tied to the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away from him." Our parents may have found us crying into our crackers if we heard that sort of thing. You're all sinners and need correction. It's true, though. From birth to old age, everybody sins. We tend to do what we want instead of what God wants, trusting ourselves over our Creator. That's sin. I didn't learn the sin lesson at Sunday school nearly as well.
In the following years, the pride I put in my faith settled in like a syrupy stain. Without realizing it, I became just like one of those disciples pretending to know better than Jesus. My interpretation of the Bible was better, my shortcomings ignorable, and my reasoning irrefutable. It's a dangerous attitude.
My pastor taught through a series on Proverbs last summer. The sermons paired with personal prayer and study made a significant change on my attitude. I decided to take more responsibility and seek wisdom. The church places a high value on discipleship and I began meeting with an awesome guy. He asked me at our first meeting, "What do you want to learn?" I thought about it for a second and said, "How to be an adult." I wanted to become a shining example of biblical manhood after the Proverbs study.
I had a good goal, but my attitude still carried the old stain of pride. If I could learn how to do things right then nobody would bother me to improve. I could give the answers instead of having to answer for myself. Yes, God wants boys to grow into men. He wants them to leave their parents and take wives, to work hard, to lead a family. But the subtle lie I accepted came from a warped idea of "independence".
All those months of reading Proverbs and I missed the number one, basic, first-grade principle from Proverbs 1:7. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Cory Wigal, pastor of Church on Church Street, put it this way, "Learning to fear God is the first smart thing anyone can do."
Without getting too far off track, I'll use a tried and true comparison for how we should fear God. My dad is a big man. He still has two inches and sixty-some pounds on me. I would need at least ten more years before I could take him in a fight. So you can understand how as a child I had a certain level of respect for my dad's strength. I may have mentioned the time I thought he was going to kill my brothers. Well, this image of my dad inspired a respect for his power, but he was also the man who let me sit on his lap while we watched episodes of Nova on PBS. He took me to Tigers games and wrote a song about my name. At times, he'd pick me up from behind and give me loud, smacking kisses on the cheek saying, "I LOVE YOU!"
This is the picture I have of a father. Why wouldn't I trust someone who could wipe me out but inexhaustibly loved me instead? My obedience to Dad was trust put into action. When I think of my relationship to God as Father, the statement still applies. Like the Psalmist, I wonder, who am I that He should be mindful of me? But He's the one who loved me so much He sent Jesus to die so I wouldn't have to pay for my own sin. Do I believe it enough to put my trust into action?
Let's look at the best Father/Son relationship in history. Jesus most certainly grew into a man according to Luke 2:52. His character doesn't lead me to believe He lived in a state of what my sister calls "adult-olescence". But He continued to trust God the Father enough to pattern His every action accordingly. In John 5, answering criticism for supposedly working on a holy day of rest, Jesus said, "Yes indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does." Here is a perfect picture of childlike trust. I have tried in the past to give a solid definition of faith. Jesus, being God, defined a life of faith by trusting His Father and imitating Him.
The lie of independence absolutely denies this kind of trust in the Father. It leads me to believe I can make decisions based on my own wisdom. This lie told me I could rightly discern between good and evil like God. Faith requires me to trust God over everything. If I do anything apart from following His lead, then I fail to imitate the perfect example of a life faith set by Jesus. Romans 14, talking about everyday things like meals and calendars, makes this very clear: "Whatever is not from faith is sin".
Maybe a righteous life isn't defined by a list of do-and-don't. Could it be that righteous living means we become like children and trust God the Father, telling people we want to be like Him, obeying Him out of both respect and love? Fools run from God's wisdom and discipline. If I try to be independent of His oversight and do things on my own, does that make me a bad kid more than a responsible adult? In light of this, Romans 8:1 gives me even more comfort when it says, "There is no longer any condemnation awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Jesus."
I once told the man discipling me at church how I wanted to be an adult. Here is my new goal: I want wisdom. To get wisdom, I must always respect God above everything. I must accept what He says and learn from His discipline. This will never change. In time, though, I may come to a point where I can read Proverbs 4:1-3 to my children with confidence. "Listen, children, to a father's instruction; pay attention, in order to gain insight; for I am giving you good advice; so don't abandon my teaching. For I too was once a child to my father; and my mother, too, thought of me as her special darling."
Any wisdom I may have to share in the future doesn't depend on a vague level of adulthood, but rather on a humble recognition of God as the source of all wisdom. I was once a child who trusted my dad. I want to continue living as a son who trusts his Father.