• Simon Jones

Daddy Loves it When We Play


Jesus said we need to become like little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3)


Have we ever thought that this means that we need to become students of little children to find out how to live as sons and daughters of God?

It fits with a topsy-turvy kingdom that adults should end up learning from children!


I wonder how many people have thought that this means that we need to learn how to play?


I read a quote in a friends book on child psychology recently that said, 'A child's work is his play', and the moment I read that it summed up for me something that God had been trying to teach me for some years.


A big part of our spiritual journey is learning how to play.

As in the way children grow, so in our growth as sons and daughters of God. So much of our learning happens through play.


Look at young children - playing with blocks, playing with cuddly toys, all sorts of objects, playing with mummy and daddy, building things, making up imaginary stories... and then into 7,8,9 years old and on into teenage years the play just changes a bit - fascination with nature, love of computer games, love of sports.


So much of what they learn about the world is learnt through play.


When I watch my 11 month old enjoying himself and loving his play - whether that's with me, or whether that's just playing on his own, I love to see him play and enjoy himself.


God is a perfect Father! He must love for His children to play and enjoy themselves - enjoy their lives.


I'm not sure we could say that this has been a focus in Christianity, but I wonder if that is because we have struggled with our image of God.

We have struggled to see him as a fun-loving person, the most relaxed and patient and forgiving person we could imagine and more than.

Now this is something that we struggle to see.


Even when we have talked about His love, sometimes our fear has prevented us from seeing this playful side of His nature.

So often we have focused on serving Him and working for Him that we have forgotten that He wants to play with us!

Or we have focused on a deep inner spirituality - which is wonderful and intimate and much needed, but still lacks something in the area of play.


I'm sure it's because we have missed a part of His nature.


How would I feel if my son felt I only wanted him to serve me or work for me? I'd be heartbroken. For one I am called to represent the servant Father to him, and as well my desire is for him to enjoy his life.


Even if he felt that I only wanted to be close emotionally to him, but didn't pick him up and play with him, or want him to go off and have fun and play on his own - for one it would be suffocating, but it would also really miss something.


Play is in Gods heart…

He simply loves to play with us…

And He loves us to go off and spend time playing.



 


The very fact that this is how children grow and develop tells us something about God and His nature in creating us. A child’s interests, hobbies, giftings, calling and ultimately his work grow out of and from play.


A happy childhood is often remembered by time playing in the outdoors and indoors.

The best children’s novels depict this, and you hear many writers, who wrote some of these great children’s novels saying, ‘I had such a happy childhood – we were given such freedom to play outside and we spent long hours playing’.


Conversely, a broken and traumatic childhood may well stunt play and ability to truly play, and, therefore, that inability to be at rest in play, will also stunt growth into interests, hobbies, giftings, calling and work – those things remain there, but the lack of play stunts development in them, and creativity of approach to them. A part of emotional healing is recovering that ability to play.


 


For me, the foundational thing God taught me as He taught me about His love and Grace was learning that all I need to do is to receive His love, and the rest will sort itself out! Through this I learnt much about contemplative prayer, and learning to rest and be silent with Him. We can only give what we receive, and I learnt that just as a baby comes into the world with that foundational need to receive love – both a physical being cared for (fed, cleaned and given sleep); but also an emotional receiving of nurture - so with this I learnt my own need to sit for hours in His presence and receive. And indeed psychologists would affirm that the need for attachment is the primary need we all have, and other needs for development come as a result of and on top of attachment – receiving love.


But about 5 years ago, I began to see another need in me that needed restoring, and that was the need for play. I found that I wasn’t finding it as easy to sit in prayer for hours on end just receiving as I had done for the previous 12 years – I needed to go out, be outside, do things I loved and pursue interests. And I started having dreams and thoughts of all sorts of playful and holiday type images – camper vans, desires to do long distance walks, and just finding all the things I enjoy in life. At first this felt really ‘unspiritual’, but over time I began to realise that what was happening was that God was teaching me to not just pray, but also to play. This is also a part of receiving His love for us, and also something which helps us grow. And looking to the development of children, they start with simply a need to be nurtured, but very soon as the nurture is pouring in, they start also to develop this need to play and find and express themselves through play. They do not skip straight from being well nurtured, to a suit and tie and a career!! There are many many years of play and exploring in between for them to engage with the world and find out who they are.



 


But I think we struggle to believe that this playful aspect of life is really within God. Christians have not always had a reputation for being the most fun loving and playful people around – but perhaps that’s because we need to know who we are following a little bit more.


Bruce Marchiano, an American actor who played Jesus in a version of Matthews gospel released as a film about 20 years ago, said that in playing the role he discovered a Jesus of Joy. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would take over the process and he would find himself playing the role of Jesus in a much more playful way than he had expected, such as when talking about taking the log out of your own eye before removing the spec in your brothers.[1] In the way this passage was played, Jesus playfully picks up a plank to show the silliness of having to take a plank out of your own eye. We can read the scriptures in such a serious way that we miss the playful God who is behind them.


He is our example in how to be a little child and how to play. I expect most of us haven’t thought of the fact that Jesus, our example, saw Himself as a little child too!

‘At that time Jesus, full of joy though the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” ’ (Matt 10:21).


He is talking about the disciples as little children, but also referencing Himself, as all the way through the gospels He is talking about 'my Father and your Father' – introducing them to the relationship He has with the Father. If they are to be like little children, it suggests that is also how He saw himself.


He continues…. ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Matt 10:22).


I think if we discover the true Jesus, we will discover someone who knew how to play. Just as Francis of Assisi, one of the most Christ-like men in history, was a very playful man – standing on his head, preaching to the birds, and much much more - so too, in my opinion, was Jesus. And I think those truly touched by God have a very playful spirit. Jesus surely had His play and His hobbies, fishing surely being one of them.



 


It’s perhaps hard for us to see this as so many of us live with a ‘work, work, work’ mentality. And we live in a society that often values productivity and efficiency over play and creativity. But I see a crack in these values over recent years, and that people all over are searching for and discovering an alternative way, and not just Christians. Magazines are full of articles about different ways of life, and different values to the ‘work, work, work’ mentality that has been so prevalent for so many years. People want to relearn to play.


I hear also this change in the church over the last 25 years. People are learning to play again… Christians are learning to play again. In his book about the Holy Spirit, ‘Flame of Love’, theologian Clark Pinnock said that he thought that one of the things he most noticed from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Toronto was a recovery of play amongst God’s people.[2] Not only were people and whole congregations laughing in the spirit, but people were acting in all sorts of ‘silly’ ways that could only really be described as God’s children playing in his river of Love. Dutch Sheets a writer on intercessory prayer, had a vision where he was in a river with Jesus, and what really struck him in this vision was how incredibly playful Jesus was, splashing water on him and playing. He thought that God was much more serious than that![3] And many others have had visions of Jesus that have been extremely playful too.


I have seen it too – I remember this really lovely and yet quite serious church pastor who, when he was in a meeting where the Holy Spirit was moving, would be saying things like ‘yabba dabba doo’ and the like – this wasn’t a particular manifestation of the spirit, neither was it of the enemy! It was simply him being himself and being released to have fun in God, and play like a little child, even though he was meant to be a big grown up church pastor and praying for people.


But I think the spirit/matter split we have been influenced by (from all the Greek thinking that has affected the church) means that we may then still struggle, even if we've been touched by the lightness of God, to make the connection and link to our daily lives. We may find it hard to realise that God loves all of our play – our hobbies, our interests, our pastimes. All those things that bring us joy really matter to him and He wants us to pursue them. He wants us to go into all the world and play within his creation that He made for His sons and daughters.


He loves your heart. He loves your interests. He loves you… He loves the YOU in you. He loves all that you are. Not just the ‘spiritual’ bits!


Surely He loves us to play. If He is really our Father and we are really His kids, His sons and daughters, his little boys and girls... then surely it is ok to play!!



[1] Bruce Marchiano, In the footsteps of Jesus (Cassettes).

The Gospel According to Matthew, DVD (NPN Videos).


[2] Clark H Pinnock, Flame of Love (US: IVP, 1996).


[3] Dutch Sheets, The River of God (Ventura, California, USA: Regal Books, 1998), p22-30.






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