The Father You’ve Been Looking For
It may have passed you by completely. It has nowhere near the profile of Mothers’ Day. And even if we’re gradually easing out of it, we’ve all been in lockdown for three months. It may have passed you by, but today is Fathers’ Day – a day intended for the celebration of dads and fatherhood.
This day can be quite an emotional one for some of us. It can evoke happy, sad or even painful feelings. Some of you may have lost a father, had an absent father, or had a bad relationship with your father – even maybe an abusive one. We may have failed to live up to our father’s expectations and live with this sense of guilt and a lack of affirmation.
Some men may long to be father and have not had that opportunity. Others may be struggling with the challenges of being a father. Still others may have been denied the opportunity to care for their children and share in their upbringing, or have been restricted to only a limited role.
There are those who know the deep pain of the loss of a child, or may have a child who either doesn’t want to know them or who has gone badly astray, and those whose fathers or children live at a great distance.
So whatever our experiences of fathers or fatherhood – good, bad or a mix – what ideally makes a good father? What qualities does a really good Dad have? You might think of loving, providing, protecting, giving good advice, availability, approachability, being fair, strong, tender and supportive, a good listener, a role model, disciplining appropriately.
I’m only too aware that I have many shortcomings and inconsistencies. I love my sons deeply but I get tired and irritable, am at various times probably too harsh or too soft, or I’m lacking energy or patience. I know that I am a flawed father.
But when we really want to answer this question, there is one place we should look – to God. If you are looking for a true Father, look to God. He is good, faithful, true and trustworthy. He’s generous and just. He’s father to the fatherless.
God shows he has a high view of parents by using the language of parenting about himself. Though he’s described as a Father in the Bible and by Jesus, God actually has the best of all parental qualities – male and female – both paternal and maternal descriptions and expressions are used by God about himself and by those describing him.
So on one occasion, he is lamenting over the future of Jerusalem and how the city would reject the reconciliation from God that he was bringing. The way he describes his feelings about this are that he feels like a hen longing to gather her chicks under her wings – more of a maternal picture.
Jesus spoke a lot to his followers about God being his Father. So on one occasion, one of them asked him to show them the Father. And Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ Jesus came to show us the Father and tell us about the Father’s love. So if we want to know what God is really like, we should see take time to look at Jesus and be with him – what was he like – what is he like?
Sadly, people may sometimes reject Christianity because they have a picture of God that equates to a bad experience of their own father. They may view God as hard, cold and distant, he may possibly have created the universe but now he’s like an absent father, who has left us to get on with it on our own, an egomaniac who demands hard work and service and expects us to worship him.
But he’s not a God who’s cold, hard and distant, His love is not based on performance – it’s unconditional. He wants you to receive his love and know that you are a special person to him. He delights in your uniqueness. This is the God who created each of us in a special and unique way and longs for relationship with us.
Yes, he is powerful and holy and pure, not a father who just lets anything go – *‘The Lord corrects those he loves, just as a Father corrects a child in whom he delights’ (Proverbs 3:12).
God is utterly consistent and fair, gracious and generous because he loves you, and is for you, and wants the best for you.
God is everything a parent should be. What Jesus showed us and told us about God is this – not that God says that if you try really, really hard you might just do enough good things to outweigh all the bad things he sees about you. But rather that God so loved you that he was willing to send me not to condemn us but to give us eternal life – not based on our performance but based simply on accepting his sacrifice on the cross on our behalf.
*Reading – **Matthew 7:7-11
Jesus is talking about prayer. He’s dealing with our natural fears in approaching a transcendent God, Lord of the cosmos. Confidence in prayer is not rooted in our ability to pray, but in the loving nature of our Father who delights to give from his goodness.
He’s also talking about our need for God, our dependence on him – the importance of seeking him – seeking to know him – with persistence and perseverance.
Bread and fish were the most common foods around the Sea of Galilee. And it’s possible that a round limestone might look like a loaf of bread – they have the same shape and colour. And the eel-like catfish of the Sea of Galilee might look like a snake. But no earthly father would be so cruel as to give his children stones instead of bread or snakes instead of fish. So it’s crazy to imagine that God would give us anything harmful – he’s committed to giving us good things. He’s concerned with our ultimate well-being.
We might think that it’d be fantastic if we could pray knowing that God would give us exactly what we want. Wouldn’t that give us confidence? But there’s a phrase, ‘Be careful what you wish for’. It would be terrible if God always gave us what we ask for. In fact, we wouldn’t be able to pray with confidence at all, because we’d always be afraid of making a terrible mistake in what we’re asking for. God knows better than we do. Jesus says, ‘Your Father knows what you need before you ask him’.
However much you may be earnest about what you think you need now, you might very well regret it if God answered it in the manner you wanted. You might well later be profoundly grateful that he hasn’t answered your prayer exactly as you desired – he has a better way.
God won’t mock our prayers. He won’t give us what will harm us. That’s why he’ll often answer our prayers differently from what we ask. We don’t always truly know what’s good for us, indeed what’s best for us. He does – he is a good, good Father. And his goodness doesn’t mean that if we only ask hard enough and believe passionately enough it will turn out as we ask. What we’re promised is that it will turn out for our ultimate good – and his greater glory and purposes.
Jesus used the word Aramaic word Abba when he spoke to God. It was a word that the Jews regarded as being disrespectful to use in prayer. It was only used in family circles, because it expressed the most intimate of relationships. It was totally inconceivable to address such a holy and awesome God like this. But for Jesus it’s an expression of intimacy with his Father, as well as his confidence in his nearness and loving care.
Even in the moment of his greatest mental anguish, he uses this name as he pleads with his heavenly Father to escape the horrific suffering he knew he was about to go through. Might there be another way? He’s so desperate for that, and yet still clings to God’s love and goodness, because there is such love and trust.
Jesus tells us that there is purpose to life – to live in a relationship with God. It’s easy to forget that. God assures his people he has plans to prosper them and not to harm them *he promises, ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29:13). God loves us, and love never forces itself. But knowledge of God is promised to those who seek him with all their heart.
‘Give us today our daily bread’ – Reflecting on his experiences in life, *one African bishop has said, ‘I never knew Christ was all I needed until Christ was all I had’. I believe Corrie Ten Boom – the Christian who was taken to a WW2 concentration camp because she was protecting Jews has been attributed with the same words. We may be passing through times of hardship and maybe need to hear and experience the truth of these words.
In Exodus chapter 16, we find that Moses and Aaron had led the people of Israel out of the oppression of Egyptian slavery, thanks to the amazing miracle God did for them. It was what they had always dreamed of. But now – well now, they were saying, ‘we don’t have anything to eat’. Now they see only desert and scarcity. Because far from having reached the promised land of milk and honey, they’re in a wilderness, a place of hardship and testing. So now they falsely remember the good old days in Egypt, when they had great BBQ’s and vegetables.
Sometimes we may be like that. Doesn’t Jesus promise me life and fullness? And yet now I feel like I’m in this desert place. We begin to imagine that God is anti-life, when the truth is that Egypt was anti-life. Often the way to glory is through the wilderness – a time of hardship and testing.
Now I’m not trying to take lightly the very real dark and difficult times we may go through as believers, when really tough times come into our lives – times when God may seem to us as distant and uncaring. As I said a couple of weeks ago, sometimes we’re served horrible things because we live in a fallen world, and there’s stuff we have to wade through. But those are the times to lean on the promises of God and seek him with all our hearts.
At the end of Psalm 73, which I read earlier, a psalm which starts off by affirming that God is good, and is then full of lament, the composer Asaph says, as his final words, *‘Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My heart may fail, and my spirit grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever’ (Psalm 73:25-26). And then *‘But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do’ (Psalm 73:28).
Perhaps Asaph remembers that the Bible says God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. He’s a God of justice and is always close to the broken-hearted. He desires relationship with us and calls us into intimacy with himself – in good times and bad.
And he gives us what we need – when we need it. For the Israelites in the wilderness, God rains down manna – bread from heaven. Grace for grumblers, I’ve heard it called! It even tastes a little of honey – it’s a small foretaste of a future gushing with honey – a little pledge of the life to come. They’re not to hoard it – just wait for the daily provision each day. In the same way, Jesus taught us to pray not, ‘give us our daily bread next year’ – but today! We depend on our heavenly Father for today and leave tomorrow in his hands.
Much later, Jesus will say ‘I am the bread’. He doesn’t just provide – he is the provision – the true provision we need every day. Jesus was given to the world like bread for the hungry – grace for grumblers.
You may or not be marking Father’s Day in your home today, but if we celebrate nothing else, celebrate this. Celebrate that even though sin has fractured our relationship with God, that God’s passionate father heart meant that he wasn’t willing to let that be the end of the story. So he sent Jesus to make it possible for us to be brought back to God, that those who place their trust in Christ will be renewed and enjoy eternity with him where the brokenness will be healed, justice will be fully established.
Jeremiah expresses God’s lament – *‘I thought to myself, “I would love to treat you as my own children!” I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land – the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father’, and I wanted you never to turn from me’ (Jeremiah 3:19). That’s God’s father heart towards you. Whatever your experiences of an earthly father, God is a good, good Father and he wants you to allow him to be yours and to trust his goodness – completely. He’s the father you’re looking for.