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Little People, Big Faith

From the mouths of babes can come great spiritual truths.

When I began volunteering in children's church many years ago, I did it out of a sense of duty. I figured by giving up one Sunday a month to tend to everyone else's kids, I'd gain three Sundays in church without my own. I envisioned myself soaking up biblical knowledge on those Sundays, unhampered by continuous whining and numerous trips to the bathroom. Not a bad deal.

Over the years I've come to realize, however, that for all I planned to learn in "adult" church, some of the most important lessons I've gleaned have come as I sat on a tiny plastic chair among a throng of sometimes jittery but always enlightening children. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like little children, and I can see why. They've got it all figured out.

Here are four universal truths I learned in children's church.

Lesson 1: Worship with abandon

Children love show-and-tell. Often on Sunday mornings, a child comes with a new toy or an exciting story he or she wants to share. But one morning I was greeted with a different type of show-and-tell request.

"I have a dance I want to show everybody," six-year-old Meredith said confidently.

"Sure," I answered and quieted all the children. "Meredith would like to show us her—" I turned to Meredith. "Is it a tap dance? A ballet dance?"

She shrugged. "It's just a dance," she said matter-of-factly.

"Okay. Meredith, take it away." I settled in one of the tiny chairs to await what I assumed would be a number from a recent recital or dance class. Suddenly, in a loud, self-assured voice, she began to sing a popular praise and worship song. As she sang, she spun wildly around the floor, waving her hands in the air and swaying her hips in every direction.

I quickly scanned the audience to make sure none of the kids were laughing; obviously, this was an impromptu number. But the other children were watching with rapt attention. Then I looked back at Meredith. From the look on her face, she couldn't have cared less what the other kids thought of her dance. Clearly, she was dancing for an audience of One.

When she finished, the room erupted in applause and Meredith took a sweeping bow.

"Meredith," I said, "that was wonderful." She just smiled and sat.

Often when I'm praising God, I'm more concerned with my reputation than I should be. What if someone is watching? What if I look foolish?

Then I remember Meredith and her dance of abandon. And I try to emulate her, forgetting my inhibitions and offering up my praise to an audience of One.

Lesson 2: Pray with faith

Each Sunday we have a time of prayer requests when the children share things that are on their minds or near their hearts. We often pray for a sick grandparent, an upcoming t-ball game, or a misunderstanding with a friend. And we pray a lot for pets.

This last concern was on the mind of Alana one morning. "Please pray for my cat, Smokey," she said solemnly.

"What's wrong with Smokey?" I asked gently.

"He ran away," she replied. When we prayed that morning, we included a plea for God to bring Smokey back home.

The next week when prayer request time rolled around, Alana once again raised her hand.

"Please pray for my cat, Smokey," she said. "He ran away." So once more we prayed for the wayward cat to find his way home.

This continued for weeks, then months, until it occurred to me one day that we'd been praying for Smokey the Lost Cat for almost a full year. I realized it was highly unlikely Alana's pet would be returning, but I also recognized that, despite a lack of any evidence of an answer to her prayer, she kept on praying. Her faith never wavered.

Many times we expect quick answers to our prayerful requests. Perhaps because of the hurry-up society we live in, patience is scarce and perseverance even scarcer. But watching Alana reminded me that Jesus instructed his disciples through the story of the persistent neighbor to pray faithfully and with determination (Luke 11:8).

I'm not sure what happened to Smokey. After that year, Alana moved and our prayers for Smokey ended. Maybe Alana learned to accept that occasionally God answers our prayers in ways we don't like. Or maybe (as I prefer to believe) Smokey inexplicably turned up one day. Whatever the outcome, I do know that through a cat and a trusting six-year-old, God taught one of his less persistent children a valuable lesson—one I try to remember when I feel my trust beginning to slip in the face of an as-yet-unanswered prayer.

Lesson 3: Believe the story

One Sunday morning I was telling the kids the story of Abraham and Sarah. Suddenly Daniel, who often adds to my lessons, piped up.

"Abraham had another name," he announced. I was impressed that he knew the whole Abram/Abraham tale. Maybe these kids were listening after all.

"Yes, he did," I told the kids. "Daniel, what was that other name?"

"Ham," he said proudly. Though the other students were enthralled by this knowledge, I felt the need to set the record straight.

"Well, before being called Abraham, he was called Abram," I went on.

But Daniel would not be swayed. "I'll call him Ham," he said with certainty.

I've worked with six-year-olds enough to know when to admit defeat. "You know, Abraham was just like us—with family, friends, and neighbors," I said. "And 'Abraham' is a pretty long name. They may have given him a nickname; they just might have called him Ham." All the students seemed satisfied with this answer, and we went on with our story.

As I thought later about this lesson, I decided maybe the children got more out of the 'Ham' incident than the actual Bible story. When I read in my Bible about Noah, Joseph, and Paul, I don't tend to think of them as real people. They're Bible heroes, larger than life. Legends. But that Sunday morning, Daniel reminded me that before they were scriptural celebrities, those men were just average guys facing the same trials and uncertainties that plague us all. Maybe Abraham was just Ham.

Lesson 4: Love without condition

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in children's church is one I see play out every Sunday I share with these smallest inhabitants of the kingdom.

As we sit on the rug for our story time, pair off to play a game, or rotate around the room to fun centers, I love to observe the interaction between the children. Some of the kids come from well-to-do homes while others are from less-fortunate circumstances.

They attend different schools, are different sizes, genders, and races. But I've never seen a more cohesive group.

They love each other just because they do. When they face troubles, they support each other in their own unique way. I've seen one child throw his arm around another when he's sad. I've seen a child share a toy with someone who's feeling left out. I've witnessed children offering their snacks, their chairs, and their help on numerous occasions to their classmates. And every time I see such selfless acts of kindness from children, I think of the life Christ led. The way he gave tirelessly to others, even when they mocked, betrayed, and finally killed him.

We're supposed to love one another like he did: unconditionally and unselfishly.

Like these kids, we're supposed to comfort the downhearted, befriend the friendless, and give to the needy. It's the essence of Jesus' message, and I think these children's church kids get it.

Maybe we should all trade in our pew seats for those little plastic chairs once in a while. We just might learn something.

Beverly Dillard is a freelance writer living in Georgia, where she continues to teach children's church and learn about God from the (dis)comfort of a little plastic chair.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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