taking the words of Jesus seriously

Life’s greatest lessons often come from children. Jesus taught us that, but sometimes we need reminding.

We have flag worship at my church. To some people, the sight of people waving coloured flags must seem as far from Jesus as revving chainsaws, while to others I’m sure the beauty and simplicity of flags somehow convey the majesty and elegance of Christ in some transcendental way. I like it, but honestly couldn’t explain why.

One Sunday, a woman was dancing and waving her flags in front of the congregation during worship. Her son decided to join her, and for the first time, wrestled with the whole physical reality of flag waving. The mother demonstrated in silence, occasionally stopping to fix her son’s hand position. The son waved, landed it on his face, twisted it around the pole. With every mistake, he would sit and fix it, getting the flag off his face, unwrapping from the pole for the umpteenth time.

Kids fail a lot. Then it occurred to me: kids are also very joyful.

That seems counter-intuitive. As adults, we place a lot of importance on success. One of the worst things an adult can call themselves is a failure. One of the best things you can be is a success. When we’re adults, it’s very cut and dried, black and white.

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So, why are children so different?

Part of the answer is simple. Kids fail a lot. The first experiences all humans have in life are failure. Many can’t eat properly for a short while. Most can’t sleep very well. With basically no exceptions, babies can’t hold their heads up. Then they grow, and inevitably come face-to-face with walking. That takes hundreds, even thousands of failures, simply to achieve the very early stages of success.

And what happens when a baby manages to walk very badly for the first time? Thunderous applause. Photos. Kisses. Hugs. Adoration from an expectant public.

As I sat watching the flag waving mother and son, it occurred to me: what I was witnessing is the great biblical metaphor. Parent and child.

Jesus came to live among us. He lived a perfect life. He departed, leaving us to try to imitate his life as closely as possible. And there is only one inevitability:

We will fail.

There is absolutely no denying that. No getting around it. No exceptions. No “but what about?”s. None of us can live up to the standard of Jesus. But some of the very lucky amongst us have a wonderful opportunity laid at our feet:

We get to try.

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We get to try, knowing that we will fail. We get to try, knowing that the standard is unreachable, the bar impossibly high. So, how should we feel about this? How should we feel in relationship with a God whose example is one we can never truly follow?

We should rejoice. We should rejoice at the chance. We should rejoice at the journey, knowing that there will be successes along the way. We should rejoice, because there will be hints of Jesus in our best moments, flickers of divinity present in our earthly lives. And those treasures are the greatest this world has to offer.

And if we want to find those flickers, we must be like children. I know cos Jesus told me.

John Watson discovered Jesus’ footprints late in life, and has been joyfully trying to negotiate The Way ever since. He is a musician and educator, living in Maidstone, in the south-east of England, with his wife and two children.

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