Only a Child

by Wess Stafford

Oh, how I wish I had been there-that magical night when a baby who would change the world was born in a lowly manger. Can you imagine? What if you had been walking the streets of Bethlehem that evening and overheard someone say something about the Lord being in town? If someone had told you, "Follow this street to the alleyway and you will find the Savior in a manger," wouldn't you have hurried along the dirt path? Wouldn't you have rushed to kneel at the feet of God Himself? I wonder how many people got there and, with disappointment in their hearts, said, "But it's only a child."

The Bible tells us that many were expecting the Savior to be a warrior. They were hoping for someone to take control from the oppressive leaders of their time. They believed God would take power the way any man wouldby force. How many breathed sighs of despair when they saw that our heavenly Father sent a child instead? Perhaps that's why so many were skeptical that Jesus was indeed the Savior.

That's the way of us human beings, isn't it? We set our minds to what we think God is going to do-only to be disappointed when we find out that He has something else in mind. It's not until later that we realize just how perfect His plan really is.

Why did God choose to send a child? Why didn't Jesus just come to earth as a fully grown adult? Why not an angelic being? In fitting with the core of His salvation plan, I believe the answer is in relationship. God wanted us to know that He knows what it's like to be human. He knows what it's like to hurt, to cry, to be hungry, to be angry, and to be happy. What better way than to live as we do? To grow as we grow?

I know this may sound odd at first, but bear with me for a moment. If God was going to come to us in human form, He had to live with some human limitations. Yes, Jesus has always been part of the Triune God, but when He walked the earth, He was also man. When He was cut, He bled. When He was hungry, He needed food. When tired, He needed rest. So it's probably safe to assume that, just as any other child, the human part of Him needed direction. God the Father, I believe, used those formative years to prepare Jesus for His ministry.

I often refer to this process as "shaping the cement" of a child's spirit. Cement, while fresh and wet, can be shaped into almost anything. Over time, the cement hardens, and shaping is much more difficult. We all have a part in shaping the "cement" of children we come in contact with. Their little hearts are so pliable. We can teach them good or evil. We can teach them selfishness or compassion. I believe God was doing the same thing with His own Son. God brought Jesus into this world as a child so He could shape Jesus into the man He wanted His Son to become. In fact, I believe that's exactly the meaning behind the verse: "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52 NIV).

Why would Jesus need to grow in favor with God? Because the human part of Him had to be shaped into the character God the Father had planned. That reality should help us realize just how crucial it is that we use our time wisely when it comes to our children. If our Heavenly Father realized the importance of shaping His own child's "cement," how can we do any different with our children?

I strongly believe men should accept their responsibility to be fathers to their children. It's why I am so insistent that every child needs an adult in his life who believes in him. Every little girl needs to know she's safe and protected in the arms of her adult caregiver. If only one child grows up without that security, it's one too many.

Sadly, there are millions of children who don't have that protection. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse runs rampant in our world today. What kind of shape are we forming in the "cement" of those little souls who fall victim to man's disgusting desires? How hard will it be to soften their hearts once they've learned they can't trust grown-ups? We-the church-are called to be Christ to the hurting, the vulnerable, the weak. You may not feel like a champion, but you can be a champion in the Kingdom of God-just for doing what God commanded us to do: Take care of the children.

No moment you spend with a child is wasted. Every hug says, "You matter." Every moment helping with homework sends the message, "I care about you." Every second of shared playtime says, "You're safe here."

I implore you to join me in this battle for the hearts, souls, minds, and bodies of children. May you begin to seize every chance to say or do something that will lift them up. May your prayers include them daily. May you reach out to applaud the moms, dads, teachers, and others who work so hard to guide their young lives.

One time, at a carwash, I complimented a mother on how well she was relating to her little boy. While we waited for our cars to be dried, I tapped her arm and said, "You're doing something really important, you know. And you're doing it very well. He is a lucky little boy. Way to go."

She paused, looked at me for a moment, and then tears began to fill her soft eyes. Suddenly, she reached out to me as she said, "Thank you. Nobody has ever said that to me before. You have no idea how much I needed that!"

I wish I could promise you that every such gesture on behalf of children would be so warmly received. It would be nice to experience only joy, love, acceptance and gratitude. But that is not the nature of our battle. In my experience, most of what we do to bless children enrages the hosts of hell. We are paddling our boats upstream against the swift current of a world that has lost most of its heart. But the rewards for persevering will last for eternity. Every child who enters the gates of heaven will trigger a cascade of cheers and joy.

This holiday season, we will spend a lot of time thinking about our children. We will scour the crowded malls looking for the perfect toys. We will think about seeing the excitement on their faces as they run to see what's under the tree in the early hours of Christmas morning. But beyond that, I hope you will spend some time thinking about what's going on inside their hearts-how their "cement" is being shaped. Perhaps it's appropriate that, during this gift-giving season, we remind ourselves of a powerful yet often overlooked verse in Psalms: "Children are a gift from God" (Ps. 127:3)

It's time we started treating that gift as something precious, invaluable. Let us never get to that point where, as some did 2000 years ago, we look at them and say, "But it's only a child."

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