When you think about taking a proactive change of direction to reclaim your legacy, what do you think is the most important thing that you have personally learned in your lifetime so far? With your focus on making a positive influence on your children and grandchildren – your next generation – what truth or idea have you discovered that is such a powerful influence on your own life that you would have to include it among the very top dozen or so important things that you have ever learned in your life?
Who is the one man to influence generations for God’s kingdom?
I recently read a sermon delivered by a gospel preacher who lived over 250 years ago before America became a nation. He was born in Gloucester, England, in 1714 and is often referred to as the greatest English preacher who ever lived. In both England and the American Colonies, he passionately gave himself to proclaiming Christ mostly in open air outdoor meetings heard by thousands of people at a time. One historian estimated that he preached a thousand sermons a year for 30 years. He was perhaps the most influential single person God used to create the society-transforming phenomenon of the middle 1700s called “the Great Awakening.” He became an early example of modern evangelists acquainted with the notable English pastor, John Wesley, who became best friends with one of the most influential men in the founding of America – Benjamin Franklin. Who was this unique man?
His name was George Whitefield. When you learn about his message and how whole towns full of people responded in life-changing repentance, it’s a little clearer why historians have said that without his influence there probably would not have been the generation of God-fearing leaders to stand on Biblical principles to write the Declaration of Independence to England’s King George that ignited the American Revolution.
I don’t know when I ever read through an entire 18th Century sermon, but I must admit that I appreciate the passion and conviction that George Whitefield had in declaring the truth of Jesus Christ to a whole generation of people experiencing many of the troubles of life and fears that we do today, even more so in many ways. His text for this particular sermon was Matthew 18:3: “Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
How can we become like ‘little children?’
I have four young granddaughters and two young grandsons. My wife and I have raised four of our own children. And I’m thinking, “how does Jesus expect us to become like little children?” Let’s think about this.
Traits to avoid
If you’ve personally been around little kids much, and especially if you’ve been a mother yourself, you can think of a bunch of behavior patterns that Jesus can’t possibly be referring to. How long do you have to witness even a baby before you realize that they don’t have to be taught how to be naughty. And once they start walking and talking, isn’t it challenging for every parent to figure out how to correct bad behavior in our children?
Think of the ways kids seem to be the very opposite of what you would think qualifies them for the “kingdom of heaven.”
- Self centeredness
In short, everything you could list is the very reason God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.
So what is Jesus intending us to understand in this process of “conversion” and becoming “like little children?”
The ‘cornerstone’ quality of child-likeness?
You could probably be perfectly right to suggest things like: innocence, gentleness, joyfulness, and lots more, but considering the innate curiosity of every child to discover the world around him, could it be that the most important child-like quality that is inherent in every truly “converted” human being is a teachable spirit?
The life of a believer – of a disciple of the Master – should be in many ways similar to the life of every person who desires to grow more knowledgeable and effective at living a life of productivity, healthiness, and contributing to the needs of others around him. The difference is that a child of God is born of His Spirit as a fresh new life that is alive in God and hungry for God’s input in his life. Just as a child is hungry physically, wouldn’t you expect the child of God should naturally be hungry for his heavenly Father’s input?
As babies thrive and grow on mother’s milk…
What is the source of growing maturity for a Child of God? Where does a follower of Christ, a believer who truly lives as an ambassador on earth for his master, Jesus Christ get his convictions? Recall what the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:2. “As newborn babies, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
And what does the word do that results in growing? It transforms us. How?
Well, for starters, the Word enlightens us to avoid the traps of life.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.”
2 Peter 1:19
And, of course, the Word is the seed that produces Faith in our hearts and lives.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
But hearing the word and responding to the word are clearly two different things, aren’t they?
“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
So we have a choice to have confidence in God’s Word and follow Him in faith or to stubbornly resist his counsel and follow the counsel of our own humanistic hearts that are easily deceived by the misguided influences of Satan’s emissaries.
I read a verse in the Psalms that gave me a whole new slant on a word that I didn’t really understand very well.
“The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.”
Could it be that meekness includes a big dose of “teachability?”
Who was the meekest man who ever lived? The Bible tells us in Numbers 12:3 that “… the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” After 40 years in the wilderness Moses was called to leadership at the age of 80 to learn a whole lot about the ways of God, wasn’t he?
Think of the powerful importance of meekness as a quality that is growing in your life. Like Paul tells us in Romans, you’re being ‘transformed’ by the renewing of your mind… you’re being teachable as you hear a few verses on the meek.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek…”
And then I discovered that the Biblical word for meek is derived from the same word as Humility. For example… It appears in:
“The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.”
“By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor and life.”
And then I found this interesting insight in Zephaniah 2:3.
“seek the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger.”
If meekness and humility are defining terms of those who are teachable, coachable and willing to change their misguided preconceptions, does it make better sense than ever when you hear …
“But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”
So, whatever we may have had in our concept of meekness, do you think it might be a good idea to realize that meekness includes an open-minded, open-hearted attitude of child-like teachability? After all, no matter how gentle, or loving, or thoughtful you are in your relationships with people, you still have to give yourself to learning new things if you’re going to achieve the results we’ve been reading about in God’s Word – like riches and honor and vitality (life) and inheritance and abundant peace.
If you think about the Biblical personalities that God used in magnificent ways to carry out His destiny and to influence others, who do you think about that must have been receptive to instruction and willing to use the skills they learned to accomplish their tasks? Certainly Joseph was meek in learning humility as a slave so that he could fill the role of leadership in Egypt that God uniquely orchestrated. How about Nehemiah? His leadership skills to assemble and oversee the builders of the restored walls of Jerusalem are not something he was born with, were they? He had to humbly learn many things to accomplish the special destiny God had for him in history.
We could think about Moses… who “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” (Acts 7:22) God took 40 years plus to re-educate him.
Solomon learned empowering wisdom that allowed his kingdom to flourish as an example of God’s favor. That’s why we should all work to cultivate the fruits of the wisdom taught to us in the Proverbs that God led Solomon to write for edification.
Today, let’s think about our own futures. Regardless of the number of days remaining for each of us, are there things we have yet to learn in order to leave the legacy God envisions for us? Even our past mistakes can help us engage with new successes as we humbly and meekly open our minds to God’s wisdom, right?
You have more potential than you can imagine.
God forbid that we should waste a day and not grow in our knowledge and abilities to accomplish all that we were created to achieve. And how much is that? Whatever it is, isn’t it fair to say that it’s going to be more than what we have experienced so far?
I like what Jim Rohn said about your potential. ““You can have more than you’ve got because you can become more than you are.”
When you look at the Bible’s view of your potential, it’s almost overwhelming to realize that “you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you” And “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
Jesus said in Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Are you ready to learn more new things that can equip you to be more influential and leave a better legacy? Do you need to learn more about taking better care of your health? Do you want to learn more about improving your economics? Do you want to discover what God has put inside you to bring out the passion and the sense of mission that will motivate you from within so you don’t need to be pushed from without?
Small children have a natural fascination with everything around them. So how hard is it to dust off that quality in yourself? Why not express it by being fascinated with people, intrigued with their experiences, curious about the things they do? Why not let the natural desire inside you bubble up with fascination about the interesting things that confront us every day… even the challenging things?
So, what are some ways to enjoy the journey of childlike teachability even if you’re older? It has to start with working on our natural inclination to be curious, don’t you think?
List some things that are interesting to you? Put them in categories like: spiritual things, nature, skills, people, places or whatever you think of.
What will it take to equip you to be more than you are?
Many have observed the truth that we are today, living the results of spending time with the people we’ve chosen to receive input from over the last five years or so. And where does that put us in the next five years? Do you think we need to make adjustments in who we’re spending time with? Remember that there are primarily two influences on our lives! The people we spend time with and the books that we read. If your main inputs in life are watching TV and following balls on a playing field or reading negative gossip in tabloids and romance novels, you essentially can expect almost nothing from your life except emotional instability, fear and decreasing productivity. On the other hand, knowing that the happiest people on earth are those who are using their time to be productive, to be learning how to provide something of value to other human beings and, most importantly, to please God by serving other people… why not re-evaluate your priorities? Why not clear off at least some of your calendar and look for new circles of people to teach you, inspire you and equip you to be more than you are?
And even if you are the kind of person who is totally satisfied with your life, your use of your time and the people you associate with, it’s not a bad idea to get together with your closest positive friends and talk about the future. What changes are in store for you as you look at your own world and situation? What do you need to learn or what do you need to consider doing differently to face those changes in a way where you can feel best about the outcomes you can expect?
There are many books and websites we can all access to learn the things we need for the life that lies before us. Perhaps you could invite someone you really admire and respect to join you for dinner or lunch sometime just to get their advice on something. They would probably be very honored to see your humble inquisitiveness. If you’re honest and correctable – meek and child-like – you can probably be hopeful that your life will be greatly enhanced through the experience. I suggest you don’t wait another day to take some action to follow up on this. Are you ready for an adventure? Yes, there will be some ‘pruning’ but the fruitful productivity of your own outcome will be so fulfilling that you’ll likely wonder why you waited so long to chose this new path.
Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. There is much more that you can receive from this little statement, but we’ve covered enough today to get started. Why not make the choice to write down some priorities and act on them?
So, if you’ve been teachable – meek – childlike – and you want to have a good influence on others, how do you tactfully help other people change their minds?
Think about it! Have you ever changed your mind? Have you experienced the challenging process of truly admitting you were wrong about something, maybe even deceived by something you trusted to be true?
Let’s face it! Whenever we are confronted by a different opinion than our own we tend to get defensive. We feel shaken from our “comfort zone.” It’s not easy to admit we have been mislead or deceived. It takes courage to be willing to convert our willing allegiance to different ideas. Doing so can tend to make us feel like we’re betraying those whom we trusted for our own personal development. It’s emotionally upsetting to even think that the information we relied on for direction might be wrong or inferior to more enlightened explanations. If our sources of information were personal relationships like relatives or trusted friends or authority figures, it is even more distressing for us to even entertain the idea that they could be wrong.
We’re all human. So realizing that we share the tendency to resist change should cause all of us to be understanding and patient with others as we work through these challenges to shift our points of view—to shift our paradigm.
Changing our mind is really a healthy and inevitable part of growing up… of maturing. When it comes to shaping our core values and ideas about the world and principles we live by, it doesn’t take long to realize there are many topics that often stir heated debate. We can choose to get defensive or we can choose to have an open mind. We should dig deeper to establish our personal convictions but better yet, we should also realize that new information could lead us to adjust those convictions. For many of us the choice is somewhat directed by what we have seen modeled by those we look up to. If we’ve lived with people who were calm and considerate we will tend to be less reactive than those who have been surrounded by volatile and prejudiced personalities.
Most of us don’t really like getting into an argument. That’s why we would rather avoid discussing something controversial if there’s a possibility we might have to defend our position with someone who has a different opinion. So, how do you know if it is even appropriate to open a conversation with someone about a topic that you fear could provoke an uneasy controversy?
First, examine your deep personal inner motive. Are you bent on proving you’re right or do you sincerely care about the person you’re addressing enough to consider their own concerns and perspectives. Let them know you can humbly identify with them. Put yourself in their place. Tell them you understand their feelings. Admit that maybe you were even in their position or at least that you know others you respect and admire who held the same position they hold. Then humbly give them a simple statement that you discovered something else that transformed your thinking about the matter. They may have some curiosity about your own story. That’s when you can help them discover your own unique journey. If you treat it like a story they’re more likely to want to hear about it. It’s just human nature.
You may have heard that attitude is everything. When it comes to making progress or expanding our understanding of reality there is nothing more important than having a positive and humble attitude. It’s not easy to diffuse negativity and arrogance. If a few probing questions don’t raise some open curiosity, it might be better to wait for a better opportunity. After all, it’s not our job to convert everyone we run into. Serve water to those who are thirsty. Help whoever you can to create a sense of thirst, but trying to convince someone who is dead set against what you have to say is simply asking for a conflict… and maybe more trouble than you are prepared to handle.
We must patiently prepare the way for friendly persuasion
How important is it to have the right environment to change our mind? We can’t very well eat certain kinds of food unless it’s prepared properly, right? Raw meat and unbaked bread dough are rarely attractive to anybody are they? Neither can you expect people to swallow some advanced information if they haven’t even heard the basics. That’s why we must always be sensitive to the fact that we grow incrementally. If we’ve been deceived over time, how likely is it that it happened incrementally? It may take some time and several “chapters” of convincing before we build a strong enough case to persuade other people to change their paradigm.
Appetite may be the best “sauce” to help people swallow their food, but let’s not miss the influence of a good presentation. Just as an attractive table setting and colorful platter embellishment invites us to enjoy a good meal, the “packaging” of our information is also likely to influence whether or not others will investigate it. A positively presented message with enhancements that stimulate the senses is much more likely to gain a listening ear than one that is negative and dreary.
I learned the first step toward any change is awareness of something you didn’t know. You can only change your mind when you’re AWARE that something needs to be changed and can be changed.
Isn’t this the key to all change? If you want to help someone change their mind, look for opportunities where you can gently lead them to the awareness of something that you learned. Do it as a learner yourself. That will tend to win their trust in you.
Can you make a conscious change in your own understanding? So where does your “way of thinking” originate? Can you honestly admit that your own understanding was created by your own exposure to ideas and concepts that came from outside of you?
Think about it. Is there a thought or belief in you that was ever formed by anything other than something outside of yourself? It might have been at home or at school. It could have come from the radio, TV or from books. But, if we’re honest, we weren’t born with a preprogrammed ‘chip’ of insight and understanding. Haven’t all of our insights and ideas about things been formulated because of inputs from the constant bombardment of the opinions of others? Do you think that admitting this – being aware of this – just might help us be more influential in helping others to have a healthy desire to question some of what they do and believe?