Making Children Disciples
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #4
"Making Children Disciples"
January 25, 2014
When Jesus said, "Follow Me" (a phrase that occurs 17 times in the Gospels), it was for the purpose of making them disciples. A similar phrase, "Come unto Me" (6 occurrences), has the same purpose, for one comes to Jesus to follow Him. One may come initially in response to the mysterious drawing of His Spirit, may be merely curious, and want simply to observe or inquire with no intent to follow. But as the contact occurs, the drawing and coming will lead to following if there is no resistance. Jesus is that charming! We were designed for that, and He has preserved in each the ability to sense His drawing, and agree with it. The Bible calls that faith.
It is in the coming and the following that the discipling occurs.1 One of the best known uses of "Come..." promises a gift--"I will give you...." And my coming and His giving leads to another dual invitation--"Take ... and learn...." That must be the essence of discipling--the ongoing coming, giving, taking, and learning. The resultant promise is redundant--"I will give you rest" and "you shall find rest." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Perhaps the most engaging picture of rest is that of a child asleep. Just go to images.google.com, enter "sleeping children" and be calmed with what innocent rest looks like. Visit Nathan Greene's art site (www.nathangreene.com), find the Family Collection, and again be charmed by Jesus and children at rest. Could discipling include, and perhaps begin, with rest? Eve began with Adam at rest. And we could say that Adam and Eve's walk with God began with rest that first Sabbath day, their first full day with Him. It does appear that the first man and woman--God's first human children--were discipled by God Himself, flowing from His creative acts.
Children at rest, secure in the care of those who enjoy being with them, and who have their best in heart and mind, is a good place to begin considering the theme of "Making Children Disciples." If we adults as God's children have entered into His rest--His finished work of creation and redemption; if we have exchanged our yokes which are neither easy nor light for His which is both; if we are His disciples, then we can lead the children into the joy of being His disciples also. We must see that we cannot give the children what we have not ourselves received. It is from the abundance of God's heart that He has given all we need to be effective teachers of the children.
Receiving "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8) poured out upon the human race in the gospel, will impart to us the value God places upon us, that we can then place on all humans, especially children. We will see them through the eye of faith--God's faith.
The divine view of sinful humanity provides us the grace we need in mentoring the little ones. And the incarnation of divinity "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3) gives us much instruction too, on what children need from the Savior. Consider first what the Father chose for His Son during His human childhood. How valuable were those quiet, growing years! They were not quiet through idleness and boredom, but through the simplicity of God's rhythm of life--the joy of selfless service alternating with the rest of togetherness, permeated with the spirit of devotion that was nurtured by the oracles of God (Romans 3:1, 2) and the natural world. (See The Desire of Ages, p. 74.) The picture is compellingly simple, and astoundingly profound.
A. T. Jones in his vital book The Place of the Bible in Education, makes the same point with a graphic story to illustrate.
It must be significant that half of the "Come unto Me" phrases in the Gospels are in reference to allowing the "little children" to do so! Jesus' heart was open to their openness. His simplicity found fellowship in their simplicity. His invitation we considered of "Come ... and learn" described the curriculum--"I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). In teaching children to be disciples of Jesus, could we also be in school to learn the childlike traits of Jesus Himself from them? (See Ibid. p. 21.)
The lessons from our history are simple and consistent. Repeatedly in her letters to individuals regarding the Minneapolis message, Ellen White called for the simplicity that a child demonstrates. Indeed "a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6)--not just the lower creatures, but the "adult" humans who need lessons in meekness and lowliness. Recall this confession of hers at Minneapolis:
This standard was repeated in case after case struggling with the message, and in need of this discipling. Read in the sources the details of the refrain noted here--
G. I. Butler (sick in Battle Creek)--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 97)
Ministers at Minneapolis--"of a little child" (Ibid., p. 141)
R. A. Underwood--"as a little child" (Ibid., pp. 234, 247)
Madison and Howard Miller--"of a little child" (Ibid., pp. 390, 394, 400)
Matthew Larson--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 585)
Uriah Smith--"of a little child" (Ibid., pp. 795, 1044, 1045)
J. H. Morrison--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1085)
I. D. Van Horn--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1139)
John H. Kellogg--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1160)
Frank E. Belden--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1190)
A. R. Henry--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1654)
We all need to "come ... and learn." Then we can teach and disciple the little ones.
1. The noun "disciple" is at times used as a verb also. We see verb forms being used, as we will here employ. "Making Children Disciples" can thus be rendered "Discipling Children."