Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child

My niece is the best gift opener. Watching her open presents is like watching flowers bloom. Every gift is just what she’s always wanted. She’ll hold the newly unwrapped treasure up in the air while she twirls in circles, before bringing the item down for a long, encapsulating bear hug. She makes the gift giver feel like a national award winner again, just like last year. 

By the time she’s done opening birthday presents, the entire room is swimming in joy. I can’t help but wonder how infectious it could be if we adults exhibited this same kind of enthusiasm for the good and perfect gifts offered by our heavenly Father. 

What if we approached the undeserved gift of eternal life with childlike delight? What if every time we received mercy or grace, we celebrated like it was a new concept instead of an old one we’ve opened a million times? I think this world would want what we have—a relationship with the most amazing God who gives the most amazing gifts. 

We adults, however, tend to be a little lower on the fervency scale, and I think it’s hurting our credibility. Why would anyone want to be part of God’s kingdom when it’s apparently a gift we don’t care much about? On the flipside, when my kids receive a gift they love, they tell everyone they know and everyone they don’t know. And then they tell them again. 

Childlike Dependence 

In Mark 10:15 Jesus says to the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Christ’s statement is prompted by their annoyance at the crowd of kids waiting to see Him. The disciples tried hard to keep the kids away, but Jesus insisted they come. 

We aren’t told how many children there were or how long it took Jesus to interact with each one, but knowing my own children, I can easily picture the buzz of excitement surrounding these little ones. Is that Jesus, Daddy? Is that the One you told me about?

Then when it was their turn, “he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:16). I can only imagine their sweet questions. Can you really heal people? Do you actually know God? Can you tell Him a secret for me? When I grow up, I want to be just like You.

Kids are not embarrassed; parents are. Kids are full of wonder and adoration and trust, and they aren’t shy about showing it. But as life ticks by, pressures mount, and disappointments stack up like old newspapers, we tend to pull back and build walls and wonder if God is as trustworthy as we thought. 

Our tendency as adults is to rely mostly on ourselves—our education, talents, traits, and of course, our impeccable time management skills. (Or maybe that last one is just me.) But God does not advocate for self-reliance. His hope for each of us is that we would cling so intently to Christ that we could say it’s “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). There is nothing self-reliant about that. 

Just as a child depends on their parents for everything, God desires that we depend on Him for all things. 

Childlike Trust

When my kids were little, they asked me crazy questions like: “Why is the grass green?” or “Why do spiders have eight legs?” or “How come we can hear but can’t smell out of our ears?” I would often make up appeasing answers, and they believed every word. Why? Because I’m Mommy, and the fact that I feed them and love them and hold their world together and have since day one, has given them no reason not to trust me.

Likewise, we have no reason not to trust our Father in heaven. His track record is flawless. 

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true. (Ps. 18:30)

Yet, we struggle to trust the Lord with all of our heart, because that would mean giving up control. What if God doesn’t do what I want? 

Just as children who are loved and cherished trust the word of their parents, so does God desire that we trust Him. The Lord is for us, not against us. A child of God has nothing to fear. God is looking for us to have childlike trust. 

In Scripture, we are called to maturity (1 Cor. 14:20). In fact, the writer of Hebrews reprimands believers for not growing up in their faith (Heb. 5:12–13). The goal isn’t to think like a child, but to trust like a child no matter where God leads, what happens, or how disappointed we might feel, believing every day that God’s Word is still true.

Childlike Humility 

Receiving the kingdom of God like a child is not only about adoration, excitement, dependency, and trust. It’s also about humility.

In the gospel of Mark, the Lord’s admonishment to be childlike comes in the middle of more extensive teaching on what it means to be great in God’s kingdom. The disciples had been arguing about who among them is the greatest. Knowing this, Jesus calls them over and says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

Then to illustrate, Jesus takes a child in His arms. Children were considered some of the lowest members of society. His point? If greatness in God’s kingdom is really what you’re after, then you need to put yourself at the back of the line. Humble yourself like Jesus did when He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).

Receiving God’s kingdom is about putting it first. “Your kingdom come” is what Jesus urges us to pray (Matt. 6:10). It’s not our agenda above God’s. It’s God’s agenda before anything else. It’s less of us and more of Him. 

The problem is we don’t generally seek to be smaller and less important. We like being wanted, desired, and if at all possible, a little higher on the world’s ladder. Jesus’ words were revolutionary for the disciples, and if we’re honest, it’s still revolutionary thinking today. 

Childlike Surrender

Receiving the kingdom of God like a child is not a one-time event. It’s a daily choice. Will I choose today to be giddy over the good gifts my Father continues to lavish me with, or will I be just ho-hum about this amazing God who loves me? Will I depend on Him like my kids depend on me? Will I hang on His every Word? Will I trust Him? Will I humble myself like Jesus did?

Just as my niece opens every gift with relentless anticipation, I want to be that excited when I open my Bible. Let’s be eager and awestruck children of God. Let’s be full of trust and surrender, highly anticipating what our Savior will say, and let’s be humble enough to receive it each day.

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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