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.

Thanksgiving and the New You

I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  When the Bible talks about God’s commands as not burdensome or His yoke as light, I want to know how this happens.  Because, quite frankly, I have felt the weight and burden of Christ’s commands and it was not always pleasant.  And I do not think I am alone in that feeling.

What lifted the burden for me was an understanding of all that changed at my new birth.  And one of the changes was an infusion of a new nature – an infusion of the righteousness of Christ – such that obeying Christ’s commands is now my new normal.  I am not saying my new normal is always easy, but following Christ’s commands has become my second nature and yours too.

When we recognize that Christ is literally living His life through us, that He is in the yoke with us (after all Jesus calls it “His yoke” and I fully expect Him to be in there with me), it lifts the burden.  On the other hand, when we fail to embrace or believe or expect that Christ is living His life through us, we become worn down, oppressed, and yes, burdened by all that He requires.  Our Christian life turns sour and gratefulness is the furthest thing from our minds.

But when we recognize that the gospel message is not only about our initial salvation, but also informs our new power to live the life now, a thankful heart is our natural response.  We can not add anything to what Christ has done for us.  We cannot live the life He wants to live through us by will power and shutting Him out.  We cannot lift ourselves up to righteousness by our bootstraps and true grit.  No, we live the life by accepting all that Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

In the book of Colossians, Paul explains that legalism – working our way to righteousness – is not only foolish, but has no value in defeating the flesh.  He goes on to explain that we live the life, defeat the flesh, and experience victory over sin by living into our new nature; by putting on the new self.  And this new self is infused with thanksgiving.

Gratefulness is so much a part of our new life that Paul comes back to it for three verses in a row as He concludes his treatise on the new self.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:15-17).

In your unity and peace, give thanks.  In Christ’s word dwelling within you, give thanks.  In your singing, give thanks.  And then it is as if Paul looks up and says, “You know the more I think about it, just go ahead and give thanks in everything you do” (vs 17).  Thanksgiving and a grateful heart are that important.

May I encourage you this thanksgiving to thank the Lord for His goodness.  To thank the Lord for the friends and family in your life.  To thank the Lord for His material blessings.  But don’t forget to thank Him for making you a new creation; a new you with a soft and grateful heart.

A Tribute to My Friend

Last week our friend, Greg Miller, passed away due to cancer.  The rapid progression of the disease was a shock.  In five short months, Greg went from initial diagnosis of multiple myeloma to death’s door and through to the presence of the Lord.

Greg was a man of faith.  Greg believed and we believed and we all prayed for his instantaneous healing.  Last Wednesday, Greg was completely healed.  But to be honest, it was not in the fashion we had hoped and prayed.

Our friendship with Greg and Dee Dee started when our children shared some homeschooling classes together.  As we got to know them, their warmth and commitment to Christ drew us together.  Greg and I coached little league teams together.  We camped together as families (which always included a baseball game).  Our daughters recorded a beautiful Christmas CD together.  And don’t forget the carpooling.  In Houston, friends show their love by driving each other’s kids around.

Our youngest son, Joe, was a regular at the Miller’s dinner table as was Grant Miller at ours.  When Joe and Grant headed off to Texas A&M, we not only felt the emotional loss of the house turning quiet, but on a practical level, we lost our yard crew.  It was a big yard.

Our children were in each other’s weddings.  We truly have a family connection.  And we will miss Greg very much.

Our prayers now turn to Dee Dee and Kari and James and Xander and Eric and Grant and Scott and Rob.  We pray for God’s comfort, encouragement, and faith to face the future.  Greg is safely home.  But the pain and loss for us and more intensely for Greg’s family is great.  Dee Dee, we are praying for you.

Greg’s journey also brings into focus our own thoughts of someday being truly home; home in the place God has prepared for us to enjoy His presence forever.  But the path to find our way home is different for each of us.  Greg’s path touched many lives.  His influence in his family and friends and coworkers and missionaries will continue long after the journey’s end.  And it is a good and lasting influence.

“Enjoy the reward of heaven, my friend!”