By Nathan Peterson

Wonder—Rediscovering Childlike Faith

Are we there yet? I’m not touching you. Stop hitting yourself; stop hitting yourself.

When Jesus calls us to “become like little children,” I don’t think the near-legendary backseat squabbling of young siblings was quite what he had in mind (Mt 18:3). So what did he mean?

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about a concept that too often I haven’t connected with my faith: wonder. And the more I think about it, the more it makes me ask myself, What if we had more childlike wonder in our lives? How would our interactions with God be different? How would we interact with family and professors and classmates differently? What would we talk and dream about?

No Wonder

It’s probably weird that some of my most vivid memories of childhood were all the imaginary stories I lived out in my mind. During the bus ride home, I never knew who—or what—would come busting through the woods by the road: stormtroopers and orcs and TIE Fighters, oh my! But no matter how many times it happened, our bright yellow “troop transport” always managed to make it back to “base.”

I see now that as a kid I had a gift for transforming the mundane into something cool and exciting. I had the gift of wonder.

But the older I got, it just started to fade. Who had time to stare out the window when you had to read Great Expectations? Who had time for daydreaming with mid-terms the next day? In all honesty, it felt like my sense of wonder just shriveled up and died for many years.

Unfortunately, that carried over into my faith too. Christmas and other holidays were tired old routines. Prayer morphed into just listing requests and treating Jesus like my “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Reading the Word felt like just another part of my regenerating to-do list.

Rediscovery

Thankfully, I’m not the same person I was. Thankfully, Jesus has begun reviving my sense of wonder. And thankfully, my relationship with him has grown far richer as a result.

Sharing how exactly this came about could be its own blog post. It ultimately felt like a journey, where Jesus brought up many things that weren’t even on my radar.

It began when I started meeting with a friend for Bible study and accountability. Week by week, I began catching a glimpse of something different in his walk with Christ. It was rich, conversational, and intimate. Everything that mine wasn’t. And I longed for that to change.

This ultimately led me to actually confront a conviction that I’d been trying to dodge for a while. Some of the ways I was going about my faith—seeing time spent in prayer and Scripture as just part of a checklist—wasn’t cutting it. I knew God was calling me to change. Instead of cramming prayer and reading the Word in before work, I started closing each day with a much longer, more relaxed time with Jesus.

As I did this, I started rediscovering how good it is to spend time with him. I wasn’t just intellectually agreeing with David’s words in Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” I was experiencing it myself. That’s when my sense of wonder in God and in his amazing gifts started to revive.

This, in turn, led me to start searching for other places where it felt like there was a disconnect between what I knew in my head and what had taken deep root in my heart. I started doing things like returning to classic Bible stories. I actually tried imagining what it’d be like walking along, just doing my job, when a bush bursts into flames and starts talking to me (Ex 3). Or what it’d be like to hear the voice of God making an outrageous promise to turn me into the father of many nations (Gen 17).

I also started digging deeper into the implications of passages I’d read dozens of times. How should my life look different if I really am a temple of God (1 Cor 3:16)? What does it mean to be ”born of water and the Spirit,” and how do I function differently compared to when I was only born of the flesh (Jn 3:5–8)?

The Why behind Wonder

In keeping with the idea of becoming like little kids, I must ask why. Why does all this stuff matter? What if we really did have more childlike wonder in our lives?

For one thing, I think those of us prone to workaholism would have more joy. We can either keep trudging through life up to our elbows in to-do lists and homework (or diversions from them), or we can take time to pause, look out the window, see the one-of-a-kind sunset God just crafted, and delight in him.

We’d also long more for the things of God. When we take passages like Psalm 63 to heart, when we truly can say, “[God], I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,” that will change us (v. 1). Forever. When we realize that one day, we’ll get to see Jesus—our King and Savior, our Protector and Closest Friend—in the flesh, what can compare to that? Will snagging the latest and greatest 10G iPhone or seeing the newest episode of fill-in-the-blank really satisfy us?

And finally, I think wonder can affect our witness. When we experience Jesus daily renewing us, when we have a full, robust picture of the new heaven and earth, when we taste and see God’s goodness, how can we not want to tell others about it? Sharing Jesus with people would go from something close to an obligation to something we just naturally do. After all, when we’re excited about something, we tell people, right? God’s joy and hope and life would just kinda ooze out of us, a light for all to see on campus and in our communities (Mt 5:15).

An Invitation to Wonder

Don’t get the wrong idea. I haven’t mastered childlike wonder by any means. Too often I get caught up in just getting the next thing done. I’m still too much of a “grown-up” sometimes. But as we journey together seeking to become like little children, I invite you to do a couple things:

  • Ask Jesus to give you fresh eyes. Ask him to give you moments where you truly can taste and see that he is good, where his Word comes alive in ways you never imagined.
  • Ask Jesus for deep spiritual friendships. Actively seek them out. Don’t settle for 30-second “Hi, how are ya?” conversations. No, go deep, way deep into the things of God. Build trust and share vulnerably with the members of your small group or your campus minister. These kinds of friendships won’t happen overnight but stick with it.
  • Dig deeper into Scripture. Don’t just read it because that’s what “good Christians” are supposed to do. But ask God to direct you in your Bible reading. Then read and reread the passage till it sinks past “head knowledge” and into your heart, till it changes you. Doing manuscript Bible study with other members of your chapter can help give you a fresh perspective as well.

I pray that we all take Jesus’ exhortation to heart:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3)

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Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. You can support his ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21293. 

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