“Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9)
“And yet your heavenly Father…” (Matthew 6:26)
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”(Matthew 23:9)
It is easy to take the love of our Father for granted. I believe we can know and love God, yet fail to recognize the significance of calling Him our Father. This was not clear to me until I recently spoke to another man, a man who I respect, a Muslim man. God has placed us near to each other and we’ve come to have wonderful conversations regarding our respective faith’s. I’ve learned much from our discussions and God has used this situation to draw me closer to Him.
Had you asked me several weeks ago about the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, the extent of my answer would have been that the creation of the world and all events were the same until Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son on the altar. Christians believe this son to have been Isaac, Muslims believe this son was Ishmael, and we can now look at the world and see how this difference in belief has shaped and still impacts events on a global scale. Further discussion led me to understand many things, they believe in Jesus as a prophet, not the Son of God. There will be a coming of the Antichrist and Jesus will return in end times. We spend our time together having these kinds of discussions, we never argue, nor attempt to convince, we just share our individual beliefs with each other. It is a truly special thing.
I of course do not agree with much that he shares, nor does he agree with me. It is impossible and against that which we believe. Yet in the end, his faith assumes that I will die and be punished, and my faith says that it is he who will die and be punished. We both understand this and have been able to have our wonderful conversations because we are able to find at least some common ground, particularly in God as the Creator. Another area of common ground is that we both desire to learn more about our Creator and serve Him.
This last point caused me to ponder “how” and “if” we could pray that God, the Creator of all reveal himself to each of us more clearly. I pondered what the prayer might include and how it would begin. I thought that maybe we could just say a simple prayer like, “Oh Father we desire to know you more, reveal yourself to us at a deeper level.” Prior to this particular discussion I shared with him the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. According to the Quran, Elijah was also a prophet, there is however no specific mention of the events that occurred with the prophets of Baal. Nevertheless, in sharing this story we could both agree on how awesome it would be to have been Elijah in this situation and how it would be great to be able to settle our own differences right now in the same way. If you are interested in this story you can find it in 1 Kings 18.
I’ve shared much thus far without addressing my original intent of discussing God as our Father. According to Islamic beliefs, God created man to worship Him and to be a slave for Him. I struggled with this when I first heard it because I view God as our Father. For me to believe that God created us to be a slave for Him is to assume that He has some kind of unmet need, and ego if I may say, that needed to be fed. The topics of “slave vs. servant” and “why” God created us are topics for another time. For now I’ll simply state that I believe we are to be servants and heirs, created because He is Love and wanted us to enjoy all that He has made and “Is.”
There are many other scriptures in addition to those at the beginning of this blog that refer to Him as our Father. It is at the very center of who God is and how we are to perceive him. For those of us that have children we can relate to this at some basic level. As much as we love our children, it falls immeasurably short when compared to the measure of how our Father loves us. Even as I write these words I realize how little I truly understand what this means. Christian Theologian, J. I. Packer once wrote “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he knows of the thought of… having God as his Father.” He goes on to say, “ If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all” (Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, p.182). Ok, I certainly feel the conviction of this at this moment, yet praise Him that I’m now making this effort to both further understand and share the significance of understanding God as our Father. In our efforts to understand this we will examine what it means for a person to be a child of God.
“Behold the manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1) Galatians 4: 6-7 also tells us “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” To be a child of God therefore means that we are an heir through Christ. To quickly address this matter, it means that we are heirs of salvation, eternal life, righteousness, and heirs of the kingdom. How can we apply this now and change our life at this moment? Biblical truths allow us free access to the Father in prayer, training in how to be Christlike, help for every situation we face in life, and a new perspective of hope for this life and eternity. This access to our Father through Christ gives us access to the One who knows what we need before we even ever ask (Matthew 6:8). My own children have full access to speak with me anytime they’d desire. I’d prefer it not be at 3 in the morning, but I’d get up and we could talk about whatever was on their mind. As a child of God, we have this same kind of access to our Father, however time and subject matter are never factors of consideration. Because we are family no appointments are necessary, there is never a line, my clothes are irrelevant, I can just be “me” and be honest, for he knows my innermost thoughts already. He wants us to come to Him, to seek His face, and experience His love for us. For as much as we can try to comprehend this, these are certainly the things we’d all desire from our own children, how much more significant when realizing that God who is Love, desires these very things from each of us.
The truths from the Bible can help us understand that our Father is eagerly anticipating our next visit, longing to hear words of affection, to hear us speak of our struggles, and hear our requests that show the full realization that we depend on Him alone. Proverbs 3:12 reveals to us that “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” As a child of God we are loved so much that He actually takes the time to correct us in order to train us in godliness. It is this training that “…is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore God takes the time to discipline us because He loves us. Our Father’s goal is to make us more like Christ. He does not want to hurt us, rather He wants to better us. Hebrews 12:10-11 tells us that God wants us to be “partakers of His holiness” and to produce “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
Our Father wants to help us in times of need. “”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11). Our Father will never disappoint us, but this does not mean that he will always give us whatever we ask. This is a common misconception among many believers today. The Bible assures us that we can cast all of our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). As His children, He knows our needs and He knows how to meet those needs with wisdom and compassion.
So with all that our Father is capable, willing to do, and has done for us, what does He desire that we do in return. The concept is simple and summed up in the greatest commandment found in Matthew 22:37-39, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In closing may we examine just a few of the qualities our Father desires that we display in our lives as children of God:
We are to love one another. The all encompassing obligation we have to other children of God, just as in our relationship with God, is Love (Rom. 13:8, 1 Cor. 13, 1 Th. 3:12, 4:9, 1 Pet. 3:8. 4:8, 1 Jn. 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11-12, 2 Jn. 1:5)
We are to honor one another through service (Rom. 12:10, Gal. 5:13, 1 Pet. 4:10)
We are to be generous and hospitable (Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet 4:9)
We are to do all we can to build up one another spiritually, not tear each other down (Rom. 14:13)
We are to be truthful (Eph. 4:25, Col. 3:9)
We are to be kind and forgiving (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)
We are to comfort one another in times of need ( 1 Th. 5:11)
We are to challenge one another to live holy lives (Heb. 3:13, 10:24-25)
We are to pray for one another (James. 5:16)
“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become Children of God.” John 1:12
May we not base our perceptions of the Father’s love for us on how we may have viewed our own fathers. Our Father desires to be that to us that nothing else can ever be. We were created out of His goodness, not from necessity. My own desire is to raise my children to understand this and to love their Father more than anything. They were and are His children first, there is nothing else more wonderful than sharing with them the Father’s love.