Rain for Roots is a collective of musicians and songwriters who write singable Scripture songs for kids and grown-ups alike. The group’s core members are Flo Paris Oakes, Katy Bowser Hutson, Sandra McCracken, and me (Alice Smith); our albums also feature multiple collaborators and guest musicians. For this special issue of Reformed Worship focusing on children in worship, I’d like to share some resources from our collaborations with renowned children’s author Sally Lloyd-Jones, whose many publications include The Jesus Storybook Bible. We’ve partnered with Lloyd-Jones on two musical projects: Big Stories for Little Ones and The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This, a collection of songs based on Jesus’ parables.
We believe it’s important for songs to be accessible to people of all ages because Jesus is accessible to people of all ages. He seeks and saves the lost, no matter their age. He says, “Let the little children come to me,” and he teaches us to honor our parents and to care for widows. All people begin as little children. The child becomes the adult. We still have that childlike part of ourselves available to nurture, to get to know, and to invite into our current stage. With that child self in mind, we can better remember playfulness, embrace childlike faith, and know the love of our good, good Father.
As musicians and songwriters, we’ve experienced this first hand. From the beginning of Rain for Roots, we all individually counted ourselves among the children of God. When we worked on Big Stories for Little Ones, we felt the songs were for us—mothers, daughters, sisters, wives—though nearly each song addresses a “little one” and we are adults. A key reason the songs spoke to us is that the words, written by Lloyd-Jones, beautifully translate God’s truths into messages that resonate with everyone.
Our second collaboration with Lloyd-Jones, The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This, also has close connections to children. It felt playful and even a bit silly to name the album as we did. Yet little children often take longer to say whatever is on their mind, so it seemed fitting to have a lengthy title. When Jesus began or ended stories with “The kingdom of heaven is like this,” he was speaking the language of children.
These two songs from The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This can be introduced to your congregation any time of year. They are easy to learn and to memorize, and they would work well in just about any worship service. “Come to Me” could serve as an invocation or call to worship, inviting people to spend a few moments in silent reflection as they prepare for worship. It could be particularly meaningful on a Sunday when the congregation is dealing with trauma, such as a death within the church or trouble in the world. These words of promise from Jesus invite and welcome us to worship just as we are. “Open Our Eyes” could be sung before the reading of the Word, but could also be paired with creation texts, as God speaks through both God’s Word and the beauty of creation. The A section would be nice for a children’s choir incorporating simple motions. The B section could be sung by the congregation as a call and response. —RW
We invite worship leaders to use the Rain for Roots songs featured on these pages—“Come to Me” and “Open Our Eyes”—to draw children into worship. Children are capable of so much wonder and so much understanding. Many of our songs ask questions. We want to cultivate in communities of faith the habit of sitting in discomfort and lament and asking the most difficult questions. Children are often the people who come up with those, whether in the midst of trial or during the children’s sermon. Their questions and longings are not only valid, but a doorway into understanding the mysteries of God.
It truly is a mystery to be invited into an understanding of God’s kingdom through tangible things like those that appear in Jesus’ parables (and, by extension, in our songs that were inspired by the parables): dirt, seeds, birds, bread, water, wind, and many more. But even though it is a mystery, it isn’t a surprise. That’s just what Jesus does. Because Jesus “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), he knows how to tell our hearts’ true stories. He does this as we live and work and move in the world among these tangible things. Rain for Roots invites you to listen with ears like those of little children, to speak slowly and sometimes take the less efficient route, to touch, taste, and see that the Lord is good, to be still and know that he is God, and to become like a little child yourself.