During this season of Lent the Restoration community is praying the Daily Office, which includes the Lord’s Prayer, the inspiration for our sermon series “Knowing Jesus by Praying his Prayer.” This past Sunday, Kolby spoke about the first part of this prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” This particular translation is from the King James version, which I happen to love. As Kolby was speaking, I was reminded of my struggle many years ago with the Lord’s Prayer and the concept of God being a loving “Father.”
For most people, the word father brings to mind their own father from their family in which they grew up. If asked if they felt deeply loved by their own father, dad, daddy, or pops, the answer would be an unwavering “yes.” There would be stories of how their fathers showered them with unconditional love and encouraged them.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for many others. Some grew up without a father and others have stories of fathers who were not so kind and loving, perhaps even abusive. It would be difficult for these people to accept God as loving and caring or wanting the intimate relationship with us that Kolby spoke about in his sermon.
So just how does one move beyond the example of a father set by our earthly father if it was not a loving one?
For me, it was helpful when I was reminded that we are all human and imperfect–that is why we need Jesus. Forgiving the failings of others offers us freedom from bondage. If we base our sense of who God on human beings, we will set ourselves up for disappointment. Human beings can fail us. They can cause hurt and pain. Personally, I had to let go of any preconceived ideas and expectations of who I thought God was and start anew. I had to look to Scripture to understand God and his characteristics. What I found is that God is love (1 John 4:16) and he exudes that love, as shown by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God loves us so much that he sent his only son to die for us that we may be reconciled with him, and we are promised eternal life (John 3:16-17). That is true love beyond anything I could ever imagine.
God is a father, in fact is he is our father. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:7-15, he began his prayer by saying “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” 1 Corinthians 8:6a says, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist…” God is referred to as “the Father” or “our Father” over and over in the Bible (John 4:23, John 6:27, John 8:41, Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, and 2 Corinthians 1:2).
God is a caring father. Nahum 1:7 says, “the Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” 1 Peter 5:7 says, “…casting all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Jesus’ own words in John 16: 27 says, “ for the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
God is a consistent father. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that He is the same “yesterday, today and forever.” James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Malachi 3:6a says, “For I the Lord do not change…” God is not moody and unpredictable. He is unchanging.
God is a giving father. He is willing and able to provide all that we need. Matthew 6:31-33 says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”Matthew 7: 9-11 says, “Or which one of you, if his son asks 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!”
God is also a father who disciplines. There is wisdom in realizing that discipline is for our good–God’s discipline that is. Deuteronomy 8:5 says, “know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Because God is a good father, he does not give us the freedom to do whatever we want. His guidelines for our lives are for our good and protection. When necessary, He disciplines us out of love.
It is difficult for me to put to words how radically my life changed, many years ago, when I realized that God is good, kind and loving, and only wants the best for me. There is power and freedom in knowing that God is not waiting for an opportunity to continually punish me. He is looking for opportunities to love me and show compassion toward me, and his provisions are enough to take care of my every need. It was only when I came to these realizations that I could pray the Lord’s Prayer with confidence and from my heart.
No matter what your experience with your earthly father has been, you can trust that God is a good Father. And if you have accepted Jesus Christ and what he has done for you, the Holy Spirit is residing within you. Once I came to accept and believe these truths, as Kolby said in his message, I understood what it meant to ache and long for that gap to be closed between the Father and me. And yet I felt so inadequate to come near to the Father. It is the work of the Holy Spirit ‘groaning’ within us, interceding on our behalf, drawing us closer to God, and closing that gap.
Our Father, My Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name!