Prayer and the Righteous Father

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man.  And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wears me out.” ‘ ” (Lk 18:1-5).

Then Jesus draws this contrast, “You just heard what the unrighteous judge said.  But God, on the other hand, delights to bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night.  And will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8).

I used to read this parable thinking of God as the judge in the story.  As a result, it seemed to me that our approach to prayer was to badger God into an answer.  As I studied the New Testament, my emerging view of God as the good Father, the giver of good gifts did not fit the unrighteous judge in this story.

Then it hit me.  God is not the mean judge at all.  In fact, the point of the parable is that God is just the opposite.  God stands in contrast to the judge, not as a similarity.  Look at the opening lines of the parable.  Many of Christ’s parables start with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  But this story does not have that common opening line.

Because this judge is not like our God.  This judge is not like the good Father.  No, the point of the story is that God is the opposite of the unrighteous judge.  God is looking to provide relief and answer to His children “speedily”; the opposite of the judge in the story.

But there is a part for us to play.  The opening verse tells us that Jesus told the parable to illustrate the necessity of persistent prayer.  Our persistent prayer is an act of faith, not an attempt to loosen the purse strings of a reluctant father.  Our persistent prayer demonstrates our faith that God will answer.  The necessity of faith in our practice of prayer is driven home in the last statement in the passage (vs 8).  Will Christ find this kind of persistent faith on the earth?  Will Christ see this kind of faith in His people?

So take heart.  Let your prayers be bathed in faith.  Infuse your prayers in the faith that your good Father “knows all that you need” (Mt 6:32).  Do not grow weary of coming to the Father with your requests.  You are not trying to pry some breadcrumbs from an unwilling father.  No, you are entering the holy presence of the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

The Father of Light

The contrast of light and darkness is a prominent theme in Scripture.  “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Is 9:2).  This well-known verse opens Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the coming Messiah.  The darkness that covered the land prior to Christ’s coming will be swept aside by the light of His glory.  The “great light” is the glory of the coming Messiah.

In the New Testament, the apostle John announced the coming of the Messiah in similar light and darkness language.  “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn 1:4-5).  Jesus would later say of Himself, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

The theme of light continues in the epistles.  “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (Js 1:17).  The context of this verse is James’ earlier explanation that God does not tempt us to evil because there is no evil within Him.  God is not the author or purveyor of evil.  Rather, according to this verse, God is the good Father; the giver of good gifts.  And the promise that God is good, all the time, will never vary or change or shift.

Have you ever noticed that a flame does not cast a shadow?  Try it with a match or your Scripto lighter.  I was a skeptic when I first saw a picture of this phenomenon.  So I took my lighter into Rhonda’s study and she shined a flashlight my way while I fired it up.  Sure enough, the lighter (and my prominent nose) cast a shadow, but the flame did not.  I thought it was a neat illustration of our heavenly Father, the Father of lights in whom there is no shadow.

God is illumined by His own light such that we can see and comprehend His perfect character, His essence of love, and His constant care over us.  He is totally open in His relationship with us.  There is no shadow.  God has no hidden agenda.  He is not lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.  God is not hiding, playing hard to get.  The thought that His ways and character are beyond our understanding is an Old Covenant concept that faded away when we were infused with the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:13) and the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9).

Rather than lurking in the shadows, God’s light is shining like a laser beam right into your heart, right now.  “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6).  We see and experience the glory of God in the face of Christ.  And that glory is lighting up your new heart; that clean soft shiny new heart you received at your salvation.

So run to the Light.  Embrace the Light.  Celebrate the Light.  And come expecting to be received by the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

Abba! Father!

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the good Father; the Father who answers when we ask, can be found when we seek Him, and opens the door when we knock.  The picture that comes to my mind in this description of God, the good Father, is this:  God is not a father who is parked in his study, doing his God work while we remain locked out in the hall seeing only the glow of the study light coming out from under the closed door.  No.  No.  No.  As children of God, we have every right to fling the door open, run inside, and like an excited four-year-old, leap into God’s lap.  Is this picture wishful thinking?  Can it really be true?

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God (i.e. all believers), these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba!  Father!’ ” (Rom 8:14-15).  Did you hear that?  We cry out, “Daddy!  Papa!”  And it is these words of tender relationship that inform my four-year-old in the lap picture.

“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place (God’s personal study in my word picture) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22).  We have the right to enter God’s study, God’s holy place, God’s personal space by the blood of Jesus.  We have the right to “draw near” by the blood of Jesus.  When we embrace the gospel message, we become adopted, and through Christ, we have direct access to the Father.  And by faith, I believe that when I leap into the air like a child, God’s loving arms will catch me and draw me onto His lap.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me” (Rev 3:20).  When we see the light from God’s study and dash down the hall toward it, we do not run into a locked door.  No, we find an open welcome.  When we rush inside, we see God waiting for us and are invited in for tea and watercress sandwiches or a Thanksgiving buffet; whatever fits the need of the moment.  There is a tender relationship in dining together.

If this image of God sounds too tender, too grandfatherly to you, please heed this warning.  Do not let your Old Testament view of God put up a wall between you and your access to the good Father described in the New Testament.  Right there in our Hebrews passage, it emphasizes that Jesus “inaugurated a new and living way” to enter the Father’s presence.  I cannot say this loud enough.  Our access to the Father is a brand new way of relating to God, all made possible by the blood of Jesus.  The Old Testament way, the Old Testament arrangement, the Old Covenant method had been put on the shelf;  literally “made obsolete” (Heb 8:13) by the blood of Jesus.

Can I encourage you?  Do not approach the Father in a way that is obsolete and out dated.  Instead, enter His holy place.  Climb up beside your heavenly Father and find out what He is working on.  Find out what is going on in that God world of His.  And join Him in the work.  Working alongside the tender Father who loves you and welcomes you in.

The Giver of Good Gifts

As we continue exploring our New Covenant relationship with God our Father, we come to Matthew chapter 7.  “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:7-11).

Over and over again, I am drawn to the word “Father” when I read these New Testament passages.  I think we often just gloss over this title for God, maybe because have heard or read it so often.  But stop and think about it for a minute.  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God is your Father!  The Sovereign of the Universe; the Almighty; the Omniscient and Omnipotent; God Himself is your Father!  It truly is incredible.

And one of the hallmarks of this fatherly care is that God is the giver of good gifts.  My hope for you is that you had a father who gave you good gifts, though sadly, I recognize that we do not all share this experience.  The “how much more” in verse 11 teaches us that God’s gifts are far superior to even the good gifts of our earthly fathers.

To receive these gifts, our role is to ask, seek, and knock.  There is a role for us to play in this transaction.  God’s promise, God’s side of the equation is to give, to be found, and to open the door.  And the foundation on which that promise stands is His identity as our Father.  We can trust God to come through on our behalf based on one simple fact.  God is our Father and He is a good Father.

Do you need God’s intervention in your life?  Ask.  Do you desire a closer walk with Jesus?  Seek.  Do you need a door blown open?  Knock.  Do you lack resources of some kind?  Ask.  Do you need direction for a pending decision?  Seek.  Do you sense the next step God has for you and your family, but are unsure how to proceed?  Knock.

God is waiting.  This passage starts with ask, seek, and knock, and ends with the assurance that our good Father will bring it about.  The ask, seek, and knock and good things will happen is not just thrown out as a maybe or a wish for or a hope so.  The promise is based on the character of the heavenly Father who is behind the promise.  And the Father-child relationship you share is the guarantee that “in asking, you will receive; in seeking, you will find; and in knocking, the door will be opened.”

Taking the Wind Out of Our Worry

One of the beauties of the commandments of Christ is that they are never tossed out in a vacuum.  That is, Jesus never expresses Himself as “just go do this because.”  Jesus, in His graciousness toward us, always gives the underlying reason for His commands.

For example, when Jesus speaks against divorce in Matthew chapter 19, he doesn’t just prohibit it and say that’s it.  Rather, He explains that divorce violates the first principles of marriage.  God designed marriage as a lifelong partnership.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:6).

Likewise, in our current topic of our Father’s care (Mt 6:25-33), Jesus instructs us not to worry; not to be anxious.  But Jesus doesn’t stop with just the instruction.  He tells us the why of “do not worry”.  Jesus demonstrates His compassion toward us by explaining the why.

Jesus says that you do not need to worry because your Father knows everything you need.  Your Father knows everything about you.  Your Father’s care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are just a small picture of His infinite and intimate care for you.  Jesus takes the wind out of our need to worry by not just prohibiting it, but by assuring us of our Father’s knowledge, care, and provision.

Following the example of Jesus in taking the wind out of our worry is something I needed to learn in leading our family.  Rhonda and I were married and started our family while still in college.  The combination of children (learning to parent when newly married) and college (having no money) led to plenty of anxiety.

My response to Rhonda’s anxiousness was a flippant, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”  It was a, “Stop worrying.  After all, the Bible says not to worry.”  This was my early approach to spiritual leadership in our marriage.  I did not recognize at the time that Rhonda’s gift for seeing the road ahead made her more aware of the dangers in front of us and the resulting worry that went along with that.  I was seeing life through my more naïve and phlegmatic nature which led to less worry on my part.  I needed to learn to ease her worries by my actions, not just words.  What did this look like in practice?

I discovered many areas of family life where I could ease Rhonda’s worries by taking action.  If Rhonda was worried about our finances and saw no clear path to pay for our next car need that was just around the corner, I learned to lead in planning together how we could save for that purchase instead of just saying, “Don’t worry about it.”  If Rhonda was worried that our homeschooling was going off the rails, I jumped into the planning with her rather than just telling her not to worry while I sat idly by.  If one of our children became disinterested in learning or their chores or connecting with our family goals, I stepped in with a plan to get us on the same page.  Do you see the pattern?

Jesus’ teaching assures us of the “why” to not worry.  In a similar way, those of us in a leadership position can often mitigate the worry around us by not only explaining and living into Jesus’ assurance, but by taking leadership action as well.  It is called leading by understanding and serving the needs of our family.