HAPPY TO BE CALLED CHILDLIKE NOT CHILDISH

I turned 21 this year, and my mum continues to jokingly remind me to act my age. To be honest, I am probably a completely different breed from most of my peers.

I present to you a non-exhaustive list of evidence:

  • One of my favourite pastimes is watching cartoons.
  • I love watching toy and Lego unboxing videos on YouTube.
  • I eat McDonalds for the Happy Meal toys.

As I began researching to get a better sense of childish traits, I realised that the Bible also has much to say about children.

This got me thinking about the difference between being childish and childlike.

Childishness is an obvious sign of immaturity (1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Corinthians 13:11). On the other hand, childlikeness is not a bad thing (Mark 10:15).

This is more than just about interests and hobbies, but mindsets and behaviour. It’s whether our minds are renewed, and whether the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) that signal godly transformation are present.

Personally, writing this piece has allowed me to reflect on areas where I still relate to God and people immaturely.

WHAT DOES CHILDISHNESS LOOK LIKE?

1. Having a sense of entitlement

A childish person expects the world to revolve around them, and to have everything they want served to them exactly as they want it. 

What does this look like in our spiritual walk? It may be demanding that God answer our prayers our way and at our time. When things don’t go our way, we throw tantrums and complain that He does not care enough, and that He favours others over us. 

We sometimes forget that it is by God’s grace and mercy that we have anything at all. And we certainly do not deserve anything but death, which is what makes Jesus’ sacrifice such a precious gift and not a reward based on what we’ve done.

Instead, we should be obeying our Father, just as Jesus modelled for us – not ordering Him to do our bidding. 

In our community, entitlement may show itself in attention-seeking behaviour, always wanting conversations to be about us, and taking more than giving.

When we first became believers, our pastors, leaders and cell members generously and selflessly gave their time to feed and nurture us. But there will come a time when we cannot just be content receiving.

We are all called to be disciplers after being discipled, and that means we have to stop making it all about us, our lives and our problems. It was always supposed to be about God, His people and His kingdom (Matthew 28:19-20).

2.  Avoiding personal responsibility

Another sign of childishness is pointing fingers and refusing to admit our own mistakes.

While it may not look as comical as a child scrunching up their face, balling up their fists and insisting “he made me do it!” or “it wasn’t me!”, in reality it may show itself in the failure to own up (hoping no one notices) and giving excuses when confronted.

I sometimes catch myself having thoughts like this – the tendency to justify my actions and intentions before even considering the feedback given to me.

Though I rarely act like this towards God, my personal struggle is with people who correct and advise me in love.

3. Being defiant

An overly antagonistic attitude towards authority can be the mark of a childish person, where one talks back and rebels.

As mentioned in the previous point, these attitudes do not always manifest themselves overtly, but are often held in our hearts and become the motivations of our actions.

The Christian and submission to governing authorities

I identify with this and have even written a poem about it called “A Sprite full of Spite”.

Many times I find myself like a fizzy soda can just threatening to burst out with spiteful words – words of acid because I had been stewing those “carbonated” thoughts.

Personally, I experience such feelings of defiance towards leaders, not towards God, and I recognise that it is wrong because the Bible teaches us to submit to our godly leaders who only want the best for us (Hebrews 13:17).

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CHILDLIKE? 

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 (Matthew 18:2-4)

Jesus spoke about the importance of childlike faith, an incident recorded across the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Supplementing my reading with a personal take by an early childhood educator, I summarise three points that stood out to me. 

1. Staying humble

At some point, children realise that there is so much more for them to learn as they discover the world.

In relating to our Heavenly Father, childlikeness is submitting our abilities and knowledge to God, and realising that those alone will never be enough. It is looking to Him for guidance and wisdom, and being eager to learn.

Learning to lean on God and “admitting defeat” at times is not easy, especially since we get bombarded increasingly with the need to be competent and capable as we grow older.

But as we humble ourselves and realise we are indeed just a speck in the universe (yet so dearly loved by God), we begin to marvel at and appreciate even the smallest things – like a little child squealing excitedly at the caterpillar crawling on the leaf.

A thankful, joyful heart grows from living each day in wide-eyed wonder at God’s awesomeness. 

Another aspect of humbling ourselves is repenting and thereafter receiving God’s forgiveness and grace when we make mistakes.

2. Trusting that our needs will be met

Children rely completely on their parents to sustain them. In trusting that our Heavenly Father always wants the absolute best for us, that’s the same kind of attitude we can have towards Him.

Our trust in God’s faithfulness will also allow us to ask in boldness (Matthew 7:7), approaching Him with expectancy as princes and princesses of the King.

I believe that the mustard-seed faith that moves mountains also grows from childlike trust in God.  A complete dependence on God and the Holy Spirit also means we trust Him to provide for all our needs.

3. Growing in honesty

Honesty here refers to authenticity. Children are forthright and speak their mind freely.

Like them, we need not hide our doubts but can openly ask questions to grow. We are able to be honest and transparent with our emotions and thoughts (yes, even when they are not politically correct and textbook answers).

Childlike honesty is not having to put on a front before God (who already knows the truth anyway).

I sometimes tell God that I feel sian and not in the mood to pray during quiet time (but after that I still push through and do it with my best).

I am learning to talk to God without inhibition too – to not be afraid that I would bore Him for being too lor soh or that my interests are too niche for Him.

God truly cares so much about every minuscule detail of our lives (Luke 12:7), and He would never get annoyed or tired of our gazillion questions and what we may view as pestering.

Ephesians 4:11-16 tell us that maturity is integral, so that we will become more and more like Him.

I think these verses summarise perfectly why we need to outgrow our childish ways – for the Church to fulfil our role and work together as the body of Christ.

As for me, I think I’ll still be liking what I like for a long time, but I am determined to work towards becoming more childlike and less childish in relating to God and people!

THINK + TALK

  1. Do you identify more with the childish or childlike traits listed above?
  2. What does it mean to relate to God as a child relates to his/her Father?
  3. What areas of your relationship with God and His people do you want to seek maturity in?
About the author

Corinna Ng

Corinna loves writing stories and poems. She pictures her words playing out cinematically as she writes. Other times, you'll find Corinna chilling with Jesus, cooking up comics and watching cartoons.