One of the dominant images of God in Scripture is that of Father. I have known this for many years, but my appreciation and understanding of this divine picture has been enhanced exponentially since I became an earthly father in 2008. The love I have for my son has helped me know better the love that God has for me. The responsibility that I feel towards my son can be overwhelming at times, when I consider what he needs and what I want to provide for him, and then compare that to my human limitations. Yet, this feeling of personal inadequacy causes me to revel all the more in the strength of my Heavenly Father, for He has no deficiencies in His wisdom or resource for me. Time does not allow for me to speak about all the lessons my son has, unbeknownst to him, taught me about God. So, for now I’ll focus on gleaning some fatherly lessons from one specific passage.
Our Father Who Art In Heaven…This is the phrase that begins what we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13). This line expresses the truth that believers know Who their Father is and they know where He’s at. Two seemingly simple things I know (perhaps you were expecting some greater revelation or insight), however my experiences in the pastorate, in jail ministry, and as a middle school math instructor have taught me that these two basic facts cannot be taken for granted anymore. Many of our societal ills would be “miraculously” cured if our children simply knew who their father was, knew where he was, and had a close relationship with him. Children need the roots, the foundation that God has ordained for fathers to provide. They need to know that their dad is always coming home, that he cares for them, and that, though he be imperfect, he is committed to the family unit and will be there to stick it through no matter what.
Hallowed Be Thy Name…Our Heavenly Father is holy. There is none like unto Him. He is worthy of, and desirous of, honor and respect…I remember having parent conferences with students displaying behavioral problems. I was astounded at the disrespect that they exhibited towards me as their teacher in the classroom and was looking forward to sharing my concerns with their parents in hopes of finding some sort of remedy. To my chagrin, oft times I discovered that the student actually treated me pretty well compared to how they treated their parents. I was amazed to see middle schoolers talking over their parents and disagreeing with them openly in front of their teachers. (If I would have ever disrespected my teachers, the school would have been the least of my worries. And if I had ever talked over my parents, especially in public, I would have not seen the light of day and would have lived off of bread and water slipped under my bedroom door!) Please take what I’m about to say in the right tone of voice; dads, you do your children no favors when you let them be disrespectful to you, to their mother, or to others in authority. Better for kids to learn respect from a loving father when they are young and you actually have some control over them, than to learn it from a harder, less loving outside means of authority when they are older and you can’t determine the consequences.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done…Our Heavenly Father always knows best. Far from being a weak prayer, to request for God’s will to be done is a strong heart’s cry when we realize that His wisdom is above our wisdom, His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts. To submit to His plans and will are the proper response of a child of God…Earthly fathers used to be portrayed on television as figures of knowledge and virtue, worthy of the admiration of their families and communities. I remember Ben Cartwright of Bonanza. He had some strong willed sons but his wisdom and direction were sought after and obeyed. Who could forget Charles Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie? Though making mistakes at times, his humor, wit, work ethic, and commitment to family and friends were an example to all. I could go on and on speaking of the nostalgic tv characters of yesteryear like Ward Cleaver, Chuck Connors, and the like; but I’ll stop with those listed and simply ask you to compare that with the characterization of father figures on the television these days. If a dad is in a television show at all, he’s usually portrayed as some know nothing, lazy, bumbling buffoon who usually has more than a few vices. (We haven’t watched any network shows in years, but the commercials we see before we can change the channel while watching the local news at night are enough to disgust you). Men, don’t fall for the modern day version of a “father”. Strive to model the wisdom, love, commitment, and stature of your Heavenly Father. Your family, your church, your community, your nation, your world needs you to be a trustworthy and knowledgeable man of virtue.
Give Us Our Daily Bread…This is the first part of the Lord’s Prayer that contains a request. Jesus is telling His disciples that it’s okay to ask our Father God for the provision of our daily materials needs. The allusion to bread brings us back to the wilderness wanderings of Israel in the Old Testament. They had just been delivered from Egyptian bondage and needed food in the desert as they were on what ended up to be a 40 year trek to their new homeland. God provided manna (bread) for His people on a daily basis. He met their needs…The Lord knows our needs before we even ask Him and He cares about even the smallest of them. Jesus taught that if earthly fathers, who are evil compared to the Almighty, know how to give good gifts unto their children, how much more would our Heavenly Father provide for us?! (Matthew 7:11)…Dads are called to be providers. I don’t say that to be old fashioned, but because I believe it to be a biblical truth and an inherent desire of the masculine heart. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are times when ill health make providing financially for a family hard if not impossible. I realize that there are single moms who have to work to provide and that there are married moms who want to work at a career/job outside of the home. Additionally there are times, especially tough times, when it takes two working parents to make ends meet. (That being said, I also know that there are many instances where couples needlessly make the ends farther apart for things of far less importance than the health of their family.) However, these caveats being considered, I want to encourage ladies not to fall into the cultural lie that the labor of caring for children and the home makes you less of a woman and encourage men not to be anything less than diligent in working hard to provide for your family. Fathers, your labors, both earthly and heavenly, are not in vain.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil…Psalm 23 famously declares that the Lord, our Shepherd, leads us, His sheep, in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. In Old Testament times, the sheep would literally follow in the footsteps of the shepherd. Obviously, if the Lord is our shepherd and we are following in His footsteps, there is no destination for us except for righteousness. Now, no earthly father is perfect. But, that having been said, it should be our sincere desire and diligent pursuit to set an example for our children to follow. Let us not just send our kids to church, but let us take them there. Let us not just ask our kids to do what we say, but may what we do be worthy of them following our example. If our kids follow in our footsteps (and, by the way, mostly they do), may our footsteps lead them in paths of righteousness, far away from the snares of the evil one.
Forgive Us As We Forgive…We are all sinners who stand in need of God’s forgiveness. The Almighty, being a righteous judge, must hold us accountable for sin. However, the Judge who holds us accountable also made a way for our sin debt to be paid. He gave us His Son, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life (John 3:16). If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). His cleansing is such that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)…Dads, we fail, in all areas of life including our families. When we do fail, let us not give up or turn away from God, but rather let us turn to our Heavenly Father and ask for His forgiveness for the past and for strength for the future. And, after we’ve experienced that heavenly forgiveness, may we do what all who truly experience grace desire to do, extend it to others in our lives. God grant that our fatherly leadership lead to homes where high standards are held, but where grace flows freely to forgive the past and give strength and hope for the future.