When my grand daughter, 1 ½, wants to be held, she comes up, locks her eyes on my face, stretches her arms as high as she can, rocks up on her toes, and cries out in a voice that is at once insistent, pleading, and filled with certainty. “Up! Up!” she cries, with complete confidence. She commits herself fully, because there is NOTHING she wants more in that moment. Everything else is irrelevant.
This “prayer” of my grand daughter is a profound lesson in Matthew 18:3. Here are the disciples coming to Jesus in the midst of an argument. They want to know how “greatness” is determined in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus brings a small child over and says, “Unless you turn your thinking completely backwards and start thinking like this child, greatness in the kingdom won’t matter to you, because you won’t be there.” [paraphrased]
Now, my grand daughter’s thinking is very pointed. She feels the need, she reaches up with every part of her, she asks, and she waits with absolute expectancy. She is not seeking greatness; she seeks only to be close. She knows that being close is all that matters.
There is great power in being held. You can feel healing begin immediately, deeply. And when God holds you, it’s not just arms around you. It’s His heart beating within you as well. He surrounds you and penetrates you with His presence. It is an embrace that only He can offer, that only He can bestow. When we reach up to Him in that full-throated commitment that my grand-daughter feels, it is just as impossible for Him to resist us as it is for me to ignore her and walk away.
When I think of that word, “righteousness,” this is the picture I get. Righteousness is “being held” by the Father. It is everything I need in order to do His will, and His will is that I return to who He created me to be. When I want to know God’s plan for my life, I must understand that what He wants is for me to hunger and thirst after being close to Him. When we desire that more than food, more than breath, more than anything else, all the rest will be “added on” (Matthew 6:33).
We seek greatness, just like Christ’s disciples. We call it control, power, rights, significance, and a myriad of other labels to try to keep it from sounding prideful or selfish. But God sees through our veneer. He knows that what we need is to be “held.” And what He sees from His vantage point is us, huddled in a dark corner, trying to “hold” ourselves. That doesn’t work for my grand daughter, and it won’t work for me. But I won’t stop trying until I change my thinking.
The word from Matthew 18:3 that is translated, “be converted” literally means to “turn around and go the other way.” He is telling His disciples to “think backwards.” No one who wants to be “great” wants to be “held.” Those concepts are directly opposed to each other. So Jesus says, “You need to start over. You need to remember what it felt like to be ‘nothing’ in the eyes of others (which was the exact status of children in that culture and time). You need to deny your desire for independence and control, and learn of Me. And where you find rest in Me, there you will find power to become. You will find that ‘greatness’ is irrelevant, and that all that matters is how I hold you and — within Me — how you hold each other.”