Our Father…

I have known some excellent fathers– including my own father and my husband. Fathers who do their best to provide for, pray for, protect, and prepare their families. Fathers who show patience, perseverance, wisdom, and selflessness.

But I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have also known some wicked fathers– fathers who are physically, verbally, and mentally abusive toward their wives and children. Fathers who abandon their responsibilities, and leave behind a legacy of need, chaos, anger, and despair.

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Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a Father. Not as a “man”– Jesus took on flesh and became a man– but the Triune God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. God has all the characteristics of a perfect father. God also embodies all the characteristics of a good mother. But there is something about Fatherhood that God particularly wants us to learn and understand.

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When God chose Abram for His special covenant, Abram’s name meant “exalted father.” But Abram was childless. God chose someone whose name had no meaning (or an ironic meaning), and changed it– not a lot–he added an “ah”, so that Abraham’s name meant “father of many” or “father of multitudes.” I don’t think it was any accident that God chose a man named “Abram,” or that He changed his name only slightly. God chose Abraham, not because he was a father, but so that he could become a father– to many! It was as a father (to Isaac, but also to Ishmael and all his other sons and descendants) that Abraham was exalted and revered.

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But Abraham was not a perfect father– far from it! God gave us the story of Abraham, and drew attention to Abraham to help us learn the importance of GOD as our Father. Abraham was willing to give up his heir– the son of God’s promise– because Abraham was a “son” of God before he was a father to Isaac. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=NIV

Even though I have known some excellent fathers, I know of only one who is perfect. And He isn’t someone else’s father, that I should be envious, or discouraged. He isn’t only “my” father, that I should be smug. He isn’t my father by birth, that I should make little of His sacrifices or His promises– they are not given out of duty or a sense of genetic obligation. He is OUR Father– He invites all of us to become His children. He lavishes love and grace, sheds tears and aches, sacrifices and pursues, rejoices and grieves– for and with every soul.

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When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He wasn’t giving them a rote prayer to memorize, but a pattern. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/the-lords-prayer-be-encouraged-and-strengthened.html If you look through the Gospels at Jesus’ other prayers you will see it–He always begins by addressing His Father. For the group of disciples, He began with “Our Father.” Jesus, who could have claimed sole son-ship, made it clear that He (as Son with the Father and Spirit) desires this amazing relationship– more than power, more than honor, more than life! And God the Father is not a man or a mere mortal– He is Holy, Perfect, Eternally Loving and Eternally Sovereign!

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What a wonderful thought for Father’s Day this year– no matter what kind of earthly father(s) we have known!

The Legacy of a Praying Father

My father was a quiet man.  He loved music, and jokes, and animals, and peaceful summer nights listening to crickets and sipping tea on the front porch.  My father was not a man of lengthy, eloquent prayers.  His prayers were often short, and sometimes punctuated with emotional tears.  But my father prayed.  He led our family in prayer and devotions; he prayed in church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.  He spent much time, head bowed, talking silently with his Savior.

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I spoke of a mother’s prayers last month, and they are important.  But fathers play a different role.  My mother’s prayers always seemed to wrap me in a cozy blanket of affection and hope.  My father prayers were more like an umbrella– spreading out over our family to seek God’s protection and grace.  Even if Dad’s voice wavered in prayer, his vocabulary was bold, filled with a rock-solid faith, and a deep sense of God’s power and wisdom ready to be poured out on our family.

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But the most lasting impression I have of my father’s prayers is that of Dad’s reverence for God.  I never, EVER, heard my father take the Lord’s name in vain.  (Not even when his favorite baseball team was losing– again!)  I never heard him express doubt of God’s care, His provision, or His wisdom.  He approached the throne of grace with awe and deep gratitude.  He never lost his sense of wonder at God’s creation, or his sense of awareness of and need for God’s mercy.

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We need men of prayer.  I am so grateful for a husband who prays– regularly, fervently, compassionately, and boldly.  What would happen in our world if more men prayed daily in the quiet of their homes or places of work?  Our society makes fun of men who pray on public platforms, praising themselves as much or more than they praise God.  It denigrates prayer as weakness and hypocrisy, but what if more men of faith led their families in daily prayer?  What if, with trembling voices, more men sought out wisdom and strength to meet the challenges they face, instead of putting on a brave but false face of independence and self-sufficiency?  What if, instead of excusing vulgarity and cursing, more men took the challenge to clean up their language and set better examples.

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If you know men of faith– take some time this weekend to let them know how much their good example means.  Encourage them to finish the race, to keep going, and to leave the kind of legacy that matters most.  And don’t forget to lift them up in prayer!

“Hallowed Be Thy Name…”

Christians have a lot of confusing “jargon”.  If you grew up in the church, there are certain words and phrases that are supposed to be intuitively understood.  If you didn’t grew up in the Bible Belt, or in an old-time church, you may feel like you’ve been dropped into a parallel universe where people speak the King’s English– but it’s King James’ English!  Words that would fit neatly into a Shakespearean monologue are flung at you:  “Thou shalt not,” “graven images”, “begat”, “beseecheth”, “whosoever believeth,” “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

As a child, I used to think the phrase was “hollow-ed be thy name”– it was confusing.  Why would God want his name emptied and hollow?  Why would I do that?  Of course, it was explained to me that “hallowed” meant holy, or honored, or revered.  That made more sense, but I think in some ways we have done more “hollow-ing” and less “hallow-ing” of God’s name in our churches lately.

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And it’s not just the argument I hear a lot about actual language usage.  I hear some people complain about those who pray to “Daddy God” or “Papa God” or those who use “OMG” when they text, or “Jeesh!”  To me, these are “splinter” arguments (another Christian jargon term, referring to Jesus’ example of someone trying to pick a splinter out of someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own!).  The real trend I see is that we are losing our attitude of AWE in God’s presence.  We use words, and carry attitudes that devalue the one who is most worthy of our absolute best.  Or, we try to put ourselves, our own efforts, and our own attitudes in His place.

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God wants a relationship with us; he loves us with an extravagant, boundless, and everlasting love.  He doesn’t want us to run from him in fear or hide from him behind big, empty, but important-sounding words.  In fact, in his time on Earth, Jesus walked side by side with his disciples, he ate with people, embraced his friends and family, danced, burped, wiped his nose,  held children on his lap, laughed, and lived among us.  But he is eternally GOD.  Yahweh– the LORD–I AM.  Almighty, all-powerful, omniscient and completely HOLY.  And his Name is to be revered.

When we say that we follow Christ;  when we call ourselves Christians, we bear that name– we take on that name–we strive to be ambassadors and representatives of that name which is above all names.  This isn’t just about saying his name, “Jesus”, “Father”, “Savior”, “Heavenly Father” in a less-than-honorable fashion.  It’s about how we represent His Name as his ambassadors.

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We’re not perfect; we will not always live up to the Name we carry– that’s part of the Gospel message–Jesus came to show us how we ought to live, and to give us victory over the reality that we can’t do it in our own flawed state.  But in praying “Hallowed be thy Name,” we are not asking for God’s name to become more honorable.  We are asking God to give us the wisdom, the power, and the desire to bring him the honor and worship he so rightly deserves.  And that only happens when we live transparently, humbly, and in a manner worthy of His Name.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…”

Great Expectations

Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William  and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child.  As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery.  Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”.  As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.

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Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations.   We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols.  There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome.  Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.

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When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline.  This is not the same as having faith.  Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy.  It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy.  His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting.  When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why.  When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God.  Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.

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Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways.  We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort.  Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss!  We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point.  Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away!  We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!

Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace).  We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer.  But this is a wrong view of God.  God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have.  Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.

Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams!  Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen.  Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!

 

Trust and Obey

It’s a song I sang as a child in Sunday School–

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

It bothered me as a child, the part about “No other way.”  It seemed narrow-minded and harsh.  Surely, I could be happy in Jesus just doing my own good things and singing his praises.  Besides, I did trust him, I followed the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Rule, and I was a nice person.  So why did I feel that I was missing something?

In all the years I’ve been a follower of Christ, I have learned the importance of trust and obedience.  I can’t truly follow someone I don’t trust.  I can learn from them, admire them, even try to act like them, but eventually, I will try to take the lead, or let go and walk down a different path.  Similarly, I can’t say that I trust someone if I won’t obey them.  If they ask me to do something, and I ignore their request, or re-interpret it, or come up with excuses why I won’t do it, it really boils down to one thing: I don’t trust that their request has any merit.

In a broken world, filled with sin and pride and selfishness, there are many reasons NOT to trust or obey certain people.  Abusers, users, sadists and sociopaths abound.  Such people may suggest that there is “no other way to be happy..” than to trust them and obey them implicitly.  So when God asks us to put our trust in an invisible Godhead, it seems terrible, final, and harsh.  Is God demanding abject humiliation and mindless adherence to his law?  Will we lose ourselves in drudgery and joyless obedience to a harsh taskmaster on the whimsical hope of a happy afterlife?

That is a view that is often peddled, and ridiculed.  But I think a closer look at the Bible gives us a different picture.  Yes, God is harsh and wrathful against sin and sinners–but so am I!   I find myself getting furious over injustices and pain caused by sin in the world–I can only imagine how angry God must be to see the way we lie and cheat and abuse each other, and the untold painful consequences he has witnessed through the years.  The only thing holding him back is the power of his Mercy.  His anger is swallowed up in patient and unfathomable love that is ready to forgive even the worst offenders.   And God’s wrath is pure, unlike mine, which is selective against those who have hurt me, but wants to smooth over my own sins.  His love is even more pure– he loves even the worst sinner, and even the most unloveable people (in my flawed estimation).  He is unwilling that ANYONE stay lost and enslaved by their sinful past.

Think about it– Jesus, who knew God best (being part of the Godhead himself) never painted his Father as a brute who demanded people to become “useful idiots” just to stroke his ego.  He didn’t talk about a harsh and unforgiving God who “hated” sinners.  Instead, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and spoke to sinners and outcasts as though they were more important than the religious elite…because that was his heart!  But more than that, Jesus showed us what it meant to “Trust and Obey”–he didn’t seek fame or fortune for himself, he never owned a home, or sought public office, and he never ran arouns worrying and fretting that God would leave him in the lurch.  Even under the worst circumstances leading up to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus only spent one hour worrying about what was to come, and in that hour of prayer, he found the peace and strength to say, “not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).  In his ministry, he humbly walked the byways and taught those who willingly followed him.  He healed and encouraged and saved those who came to him; those who trusted him as he trusted his Father.  He did not pat on the back those who claimed to follow his Father, but wouldn’t trust him.  Nor did he reward those who claimed to obey God, but hated their neighbors, justified their own self-righteousness, and changed God’s laws to feather their own lifestyles.

Does “Trust and Obey” mean that we might lose our status, our wealth, our comfort, and our lives?  Not necessarily, but there is no promise that we will be richer, or healthier, or more popular for following Jesus.  He didn’t come to make us comfortable or “better than” someone else.  In fact, he warned us that while we are in this world, we will have troubles and sorrows (with or without our faith!)  So how can we be “happy in Jesus” if we end up homeless, hated, or sick?  How can we talk about being happy in Jesus under awful circumstances?  Is this just some brainwashing tactic to make us forget how miserable we are?  What’s the “payoff” of Trust and Obey?

The answer involves a choice–Do I trust Jesus when he says that he came to give us, not just life, not even just eternal life, but abundant life?  If Jesus isn’t trustworthy; if I am not sure that he can or will make my life MORE than I ever dreamed, MORE than I imagine–even in the midst of otherwise difficult circumstances–then I will never be happy in Jesus.  But if I DO trust Jesus, then I can be happy, not because of my circumstances, but because I can trust all that he says about them, and that his grace is more than sufficient to see me through.  And I know that whatever trials I may be going through can be turned to good because I trust his power and his goodness.

And true obedience can only follow true trust.  If I say that God’s rules aren’t important, or don’t apply to me, then I’m really saying I don’t trust him to know what’s best, or that I don’t trust that He is really Good.  The temporary happiness that comes from following my way (even if I think I’m doing it for the right reasons) will give way to resentment against God.  How dare he stop me from that one thing that brings me joy– how dare he question my “needs” or call my actions “wrong”.  How dare he suggest that His way could be better or more abundant than what I know–even if I suspect that what I know and experience isn’t always the best it could be.

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No– the longer I follow Jesus, the more that old song rings true, and not harsh or condemning, but full of wisdom and promise.  It is with the faith of a child (not stupid or simplistic, but hopeful and eager), and humble (not abject or reluctant) obedience that we find happiness in Jesus, peace for our souls, and strength to face the trying circumstances of this life.

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Bargain Basement Praying

I have a very bad habit (one among many).  I tend to be competitive, and a bit of a perfectionist when I work at something.  I’m never satisfied with “good enough” when I think I can do a little better.  This includes shopping for bargains.  I will go to great lengths to stretch a dollar; to save a few cents–outlet and discount stores, sale shelves, bargain basements–I’ve haunted them all.

But prayer shouldn’t be a “bargain basement” encounter.  God is not in the business of selling.  He’s in the business of redeeming.  God is lavish in his Grace, and sufficient– even abundant– in his blessings.

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Don’t misunderstand– God has not promised us wealth and ease and constant comfort.  And God is not a vending machine or a genii, that I should tell him what I want and expect that he will grant my every whim.  But I tend to come to God as if I had to earn his approval, or pay for his gifts.  I ask for the bare minimum– “just help me get through this meeting”, “you know what bills are outstanding– just help us catch up”– and then I am surprised when that’s what I get.

It’s not that I am asking for bad things or wrong things, or that I should be asking for so much more.  But what does my attitude say about God?  I say that God is Love, I say that he is Good.  I say that he can do anything, and that he is gracious and merciful.  But my prayer life says otherwise.

It’s time that I ask God for “my daily bread”, without expecting day-old leftovers.  And, when he choose to give me Manna, it’s time for me to see that provision for the miracle and the blessing that it is.

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Surprise!

The world is full of surprises– some good, some bad.  Open your mailbox on any given day, or walk down the street…you are bound to see something unexpected.  You may get a bill you forgot about, or run into an old friend.  There are surprises in the weather patterns, in traffic patterns, in relationships, in jobs, all around our houses and neighborhoods, in world events.  Some are shocking, some delightful, and any of them can change our days or even our lives.

We like pleasant surprises; we fear the unpleasant ones.  But most of us don’t pray for them.  We pray for miracles–healing and rescue and transformation–pleasant outcomes that we hope for or imagine.  We pray for ease and comfort, or wisdom and strength to face the bad times.  But we don’t ask God to surprise us.

Why don’t I ask God to awe me?  Dazzle me?  Surprise me?  Sometimes I fear that he might surprise me with what my past actions deserve.  More often, I simply want to stay in the comfort and simplicity of what I already know.  I don’t want to be delighted; I just want to be entertained.

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One thing I know, but I need to be reminded:  God does not give bad surprises.  He does not send ANYTHING into my life that can’t be used for my good and his glory.  The world will send tragedy and I will have to face the consequences of Sin– mine and others’.  I may be unfairly treated at work; I may be struck by a drunk driver and paralyzed.  I may face difficult losses, and inexplicable circumstances.  And the mistake is to see these as “surprises” from God.  God never promised a pain-free, problem-free life in this world, but he surprises us with the kind of gifts that overcome and even confound our tragic circumstances– the power to forgive, to be joyful, to have peace, and share love.

John 16:33 English Standard Version (ESV)

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Matthew 7:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The road ahead is full of surprises–that’s a great reason to pray.  God loves to surprise us with good things– that’s another great reason to pray for them!

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Our Father

Dad.  Daddy.  Pops.  Papi.  Da.  Father.

During my youngest years, I called my father “Daddy.”  Daddy was someone to hold me when I was tired, or frightened, or just in need of a hug.  Daddy had all the answers; he could turn my tears into giggles, my pouts into apologies.  His stern word could melt away rebellion; his smile could fill my heart to bursting.

As I grew older, he became “Dad.”  Dad was wise.  Dad gave good advise– even when I didn’t always take it.  Dad listened and showed interest in what I said.  Dad challenged me to do better, think deeper, try harder, and work smarter.  Dad didn’t pick me up and carry me, but he was there beside me when I needed someone to lean on or lend a hand.  Dad was my coach and advocate.

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As an adult, Dad sometimes became “Pa.”  Pa was someone who had “been there”.  He had experience, and wisdom.  He had patience and compassion.  But his days of coaching and propping me up were fewer; his days of sharing his own faults, his unfulfilled dreams, his regrets–commiserating rather than commanding– grew more and became more precious to me.  He was still my father, but he was also my friend– a fellow traveler on this road; one I knew well and loved dearly.  One I respected and trusted, even though he was not perfect.

I was blessed to have a father who was good and kind; a man of integrity and humor; a man who loved his family more than life, loved his neighbors, his community, music, nature, animals, and good food.  Most of all, he loved God.  Not with fire and brimstone fanaticism, but with humble astonishment that God would send his son to die for him.  He lived in the wonder of that truth– that “whosoever believeth (in him) should not perish, but have eternal life” included him.

I say all this, not just to honor my earthly father, or to thank my heavenly father for that relationship, but to point out how prayer is often a reflection of how we view fatherhood.  Some people have a difficult time praying and trusting God because they have never known an earthly father; or they’ve only known earthly fathers who were distant, unapproachable, or abusive.  If this is the case for you, may I encourage you to ask God to reveal himself in a fresh way, with a name and vision that is personal and distinct from the earthly father you have known.  Some people view God as “Daddy”–someone who fixes everything, holds us close, and keeps us safe.  And he is all those things.  But he is also “Dad” who wants to challenge us and coach us to grow and develop our character.  He is “Abba”, and “Senor”, “Lord,” and “Father” and “Papa”.  He is not “Pa” in the sense I knew my father, in that we are not his peers when we reach adulthood.  He has no faults to share, no regrets.  But he wants to share that precious intimacy that comes with time and familiarity–he wants us to develop trust and love as we get to know him better, however we call him.

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There is one clear difference between God and any of our earthly parents– God is GOD– he is the creator and ruler of galaxies, and of microcosms,  omnipotent and omniscient, omnipresent and eternal, holy and sovereign.

And when I pray, I pray to him– almighty King of Kings– and my Father!

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