By David Bunker
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
— Matthew 18:1-5
Over the last three decades, I have been privy to the film and pictorial memories of friends who travel with ministries around the world. From my wife and her ministry “Music for the World” to my friend Mark’s countless travels via Compassion, I have seen thousands of children in various settings.
Some of the most memorable photos captured children in the throes of praise and worship. I remember many times pausing to gaze at the photos placed on walls and tables and nearly wondering aloud “how close to the Father are these children in this moment?”
Proximity to God we know is not a matter of one particular act. But it appears that certain embodied postures do reflect an attitude of the heart. When we worship God it looks like something. What is that something? What within us allows and encourages us to act that way?
What I know for certain is that whenever I observe these photos it never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to an innocence I long for in my own life. As an adult, I struggle to keep this childlike sense of life. I can and do learn so much from children.
Wonder may be at the very heart of worship. We all have an inborn capacity for wonder. Yet I fear that wonder may also be an endangered human faculty. One only needs to visit a church or school where the imagination and questions are excluded to discover how hopelessly unimaginative the teaching and training of children can be.
A child’s world is novel, new, and beautiful, full of curiosity and anticipation. Is this clear-eyed vision merely a naiveté or a deeply endowed instinct for what is truly beautiful and awe-inspiring? Is it inevitable that this sense of God’s world will be dimmed or even lost before adulthood?
How might a child keep alive this inborn sense of wonder as they grow into adulthood? I believe he or she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share in this wonder rediscovering it with the child in joy and excitement and a deep sense of curiosity and mystery.
We have been given in God’s Word a magnificent manifesto for the vibrant curiosity and sense of wonder with which we are all born. The challenge is we all risk losing it if we slip slowly, imperceptibly but steadily into the apathy of going through the motions disembodied. Wonder requests our presence. Wonder is one of our most precious natural resources and therefore one of our greatest responsibilities to steward. If we unpacked wonder what might we find?
We adults, informed by the fall, often walk in our persona, our desired way of being seen by the world and those closest to us. Even in church we can often be absorbed in the worries and duties of our lives merely going through worship and fellowship on autopilot. Our real presence is absent.
Children are not yet controlled by this social propriety and persona. They have no other choice but to be present and sensitive. They are innocent in their intent, trusting without second-guessing, uncomplicated in their requests, self-forgetting in their petitions, full of mustard seed faith, content with the moment, free of preconceptions, and trusting in the Father’s care. I am sure there are countless other traits that may indeed make up or welcome wonder but this is a short list. Embracing wonder is one of the most extraordinary gifts of all, precious and vulnerable to the highest degree. We must, therefore, steward it well in ourselves and our children.
Some months back Chris Tomlin lead worship at the church I attend. The auditorium was packed with a myriad of ages. As you can imagine I fully enjoyed observing people worship and this gathering had brought out a tangible sense of wonder in the body. I was on the aisle so I could see numerous people engaging and reacting to what they were hearing and singing. At one point I spotted a young girl probably 8 or 9 years of age. She was caught up in obvious rapture with her hands raised all accompanied with a huge smile. Right across the aisle was an elderly couple. The older gentleman was displaying a posture and a response that was beautifully similar to the young girl. Here they were separated by at least a half a century in age, most likely not aware of each other by name or face and yet before the Father and His throne they both entered into His presence with similar postures of the heart and body. They were full of wonder it was clear.
So what might we do to foster and steward this profound inclination of the heart in children? This issue of Worship Leader is full of suggestions, experiences, and teachings by practitioners who know and love children and know the same God they worship. But for me here is what I would offer in closing…..If I was able to christen every child at birth with one trait it would be that each child in the world be given a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last a lifetime.
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David Bunker, along with being WL's guest editor, is a poet and teacher, spiritual director and resident muse for artists who are part of the Museville Collective. He is also adjunct faculty at Visible Music College & Judson University in the music and worship arts departments.