What Does God Really Think Of You?

Psalm 5:12: “For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.”

This verse is one of my favorites. I love the image of God’s favor spread over us like a piece of armor. But, like so many verses, it raises the question: what is God’s favor? What does Scripture mean when it says God’s favor is for a lifetime (Psa. 30:5), or when God tells us “In my favor I have had mercy on you” (Isaiah 60:10)?

Rather than a dictionary definition, let me give an illustration. A few weeks ago my wife and I became new parents when our son Elliot was born. Now when I’m away from home during the day, my wife sends me pictures of Elliot’s facial expressions. One of the pictures had the caption: “It’s official. He’s the cutest little boy ever.”

Now I can’t honestly or logically say Elliot is the cutest boy in the history of humankind. I haven’t seen every child ever born, nor is there any way to actually compare “cuteness.” But it doesn’t matter. Because he’s ours, everything about him delights us. That’s the way family love works. Parents don’t put on their art critic hat when their children bring them a scribbled picture of the family, even if a four year-old’s sense of perspective makes Mom and Dad look like the Goodyear blimp. You delight in it simply because they’re your children drawing the picture.

And that’s a picture of the favor of the Lord.

If you’re a Christian, you belong to God as a child belongs to parents. Actually, that’s getting things backwards. A parent’s delight in their child simply because they belong to the family is a faint reflection of the love that has eternally existed in the heart of God the Father for his adopted children in Jesus Christ. Yes, you’re a sinner. Yes, you have weaknesses. Yes, you blow it regularly. But you’re still his child. When God looks at you, he smiles. Not because of your performance and certainly not because of all the good things you do for him. Simply because you’re his.

Zechariah 2:8: “For thus said the LORD of hosts….he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.”

 Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Photo by Eric Lanning

Communion with the Father – Keep it Simple!

A little over a week ago, Mark wrote a post on communion with God that began with these words: “I like keeping things simple.” Consider this post a further toast to simplicity in communion with God.

The Puritan John Owen (not a man known for simplicity!) wrote a book on how Christians have communion with each person of the Trinity. His section on communion with the Father is simply outstanding. Despite taking 43 pages to discuss the topic, Owen’s advice to Christians on how to commune with the Father boils down to this: God the Father loves you. Receive and rest in his love.

“Until the love of the Father be received, we have no communion with him…How, then, is the love of the Father to be received, so as to hold fellowship with him? I answer: by faith. The receiving of it is the believing of it.” (Owen, Communion with the Triune God, p. 111)

My dad recently told me of the advice of a mature believer who had walked with the Lord for decades. This man said that for years he worried and stressed over whether his love for God was deep enough or great enough. But after lengthy struggles with the question, he finally gave up and began to meditate on much God loved him…and his own love for God followed.

Christian, God loves you. God. Loves. You.  Receive his love by simply believing it! Ask for the Spirit to pour out the love of God in your heart (Romans 5:5 – and note: that’s God’s love for you poured into our hearts through the Spirit). Think of the best example of human love you’ve ever received, multiply and magnify it over and over, and realize: that is how our heavenly Father loves you. Consider these words from J.I. Packer:

“God has voluntarily bound up his own final happiness with [ours]…God’s happiness will not be complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble…God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness.” (Knowing God, p. 125)

Keep your communion with the Father simple: meditate and delight in the fact that he loves you. Your own love for God will follow.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1)

The Name I Never Knew Him By

I called him “God.”

I went to church. I believed in him.  

I remember getting into a few highly “enlightened” discussions about his nature when I was in college after several pitchers of beer.  Oh I believed he made everything.  And I believed he had the power to send me to hell.  But I never would have called him by the name Jesus told us to use.  

Christianity involves gigantic, eternity-shaping truth – but this truth is meant to bring us into a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. A family relationship.  For some mysterious reason, rooted deep in God’s eternal love, he adopts believers in Jesus as his children. It’s astounding that God would forgive our multitudes of offenses toward him. That alone would be enough to rejoice in for all eternity. But he makes us part of his family!

God, the infinite one. The galaxy maker. The one with no limits, no bounds. The whole universe is but a speck to him. Less than a speck.  That’s why David was astounded that God would give humans dominion over the earth.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

What are human beings that God would think of them or care for them? As mind-boggling as it is that the infinite one gives specks of dust dominion over the earth, it’s even more mind boggling that he adopts us as his very own children.

Not only is God infinite, but he is the blazing holy, sinless God – so holy angels can’t even gaze on him.  Yet he looked on us foul, sin-riddled scorpions and said I want you as my sons and daughters.  And said, “Call me Father.”

Unbelievers don’t call God Father. Before he saved me, I would occasionally pray but I’d never call God “Father,” except when I would rotely pray the Lord’s prayer.  But it had no meaning for me.  I called him “God” — “God, would you please get me out of this jam. God, would you please give me this.”  I didn’t think of him as my Father. I thought of him as the one who was running the universe.  I mostly thought of him as one who was going to judge me.

Unbelievers don’t call God Father because it takes the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Son to enable us to do this:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Puritan John Bunyan comments:

Naturally the name of God is awe-inspiring to us, especially when He is first introduced to us by those names that express His justice, holiness, power, and glory – but the word Father is a familiar word; instead of frightening the sinner, it persuades the heart to love, to be pleased with the thought of Him. That is why Christ also, when He wanted us to pray with holy assurance, put this word Father into our mouths… knowing…the children of God will find the confidence to pray for and ask great things. I myself have often found that when I can say only this word, Father, it does me more good than when I call Him by any other Scripture name.

Abba is an affectionate term for Father. Very few people in the Old Testament called God Father.  But it was the most common name Jesus used for God.  And it is the name he taught us to address God by.

And what did it cost God to become our Father? His only-begotten Son. The infinite delight of his infinite heart. Betrayed, beaten, scourged, mocked, spit on, nailed, stripped, and forsaken.  How much our Father loves us!

Because God has become our Father, he longs to give us good things.  Even earthly fathers love to give their kids gifts.  I’d give my children anything I could.  As our Father, he cares for us – he’s moved by our suffering.  And our Father protects us. Somebody attacks us, it’s personal. It’s family.  And as a Father, he loves to guide and counsel us.  Kids don’t always listen, but what earthly dad doesn’t want to give his children wise direction for life and spare them making many mistakes?

This week, let’s meditate often on this wonderful name, Father. Let’s talk to our Father often this week. Are we who believe in Jesus the most privileged people on the face of the earth, or what?

How Do You See Your Heavenly Father?

Before he saved me, I thought of God as vast, distant, and too busy running the universe to care about my peewee little needs.

I also saw him as perpetually displeased with me and ready to send me to hell at any time.  When I needed his help big time I’d make deals with him – God, if you feel if you get me out of this jam I’ll quit smoking.  If you just help me this one time I’ll quit drinking forever. Of course I never kept my end of the deal for very long. Which made me feel even more condemned.

And when I did pray I never used the name “Father”.  I would always address him as “God”.

I heard one man say he thought of God was as an angry old man with a beard holding a lightning bolt, waiting to see someone starting to have fun, then hurling the lightning bolt and screaming “Now cut that out!”

Once in a prayer meeting, I sat next to a young man who addressed God in such an intimate way it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’d never heard anyone talk to God like that. I didn’t know that kind of intimacy was possible.

What a wonderful thing to discover as I went on in my faith, that God had adopted me as his son and become my Father.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Galatians 4:6-7

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15

Sometimes  bad experiences with earthly fathers color the way we view our heavenly Father. We must not let our past shape our view of our heavenly Father but form our picture of him from what he tells us in his Word. Be encouraged today by these truths:

Your heavenly Father cares for you deeply.  
Your heavenly Father will provide for you and protect you.
Your heavenly Father hears you and is moved by your suffering.
Your heavenly Father loves to bless you.
Your heavenly Father desires an intimate relationship with you.

Jerry Bridges, in his book Who Am I? says, ”No other religion in the history of the world has ever had a god (or gods) who could be addressed in such intimate terms as Abba. Even the Jews of the Old Testament who worshiped the one true God did not address him as Father. And though there were notable exceptions such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Daniel, the vast majority of Jews did not enjoy an intimate relationship with God.”

“Abba was an Aramaic word, a term of family intimacy, used primarily by Jewish children when addressing their fathers. It implied a sense of child-like dependency but also of expectation that Abba would meet their needs. It was likewise the term Jesus used as he prayed to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.”

If you have trusted in Christ to save you, your heavenly Father loves you in his Son. We can’t possibly fathom the depths of that love.  Knowing the deep love of our Father fills us with confidence and joy.  If you don’t have this ask him for it. He’s waiting with open arms for you to come to him.

The Prodigal’s Suspicion

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.   1 John 3:1

“No doubt, at first, the prodigal boy did not believe what was happening. There was his father, running, throwing his arms around his wayward child, embracing him, ‘filled with compassion for him’ as Jesus says. But the son’s heart was probably still saying: ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ His sin had so burdened him with guilt that he just could not have expected his father’s loving gestures. How could his father still love him?”

“Many Christians go through much of their life with the prodigal’s suspicion. Their concentration is upon their sin and failure; all their thoughts are introspective. That is why (in the Greek text) John’s statement about the Father’s love begins with a word calling us to lift up our eyes from ourselves and take a long look at what God has done: Behold! – look and see – the love the Father has lavished upon us!” – Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God

I confess, I too am guilty of the prodigal’s suspicion. My concentration is upon my sin and failure, my thoughts are introspective. The result? I doubt the Father’s love.

I want to look up, to behold, to lift my eyes and see the glorious love of my Father.

+photo by yonpol

What about you? Do find yourself struggling with the prodigal’s suspicion?

How Well Do You Understand Christianity?

Father and Son

Did you ever come across one of those quotes that made your draw drop? You know the kind I’m talking about. You read it, and read it again, and then realize that drool is leaking from the corner of your mouth because you’re staring and your mouth is hanging open. I recently had one of those moments when reading J.I. Packer’s classic book, Knowing God. Packer writes:

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

Does the thought of God as my Father control my whole outlook on life? Do I see every circumstance, every trial, every joy, and every sorrow through the lens of God as my father? No, I don’t.

I often worry about my little girl, Charis. Will she be healthy? Is she developing properly? Will she live a long life? How would all these fears and worries change if the thought of God as my loving, caring father controlled my outlook on life? If I was regularly aware that the God of the universe calls me ‘son’, what would happen to my worries? Most of them would probably evaporate.

I’m often a legalist. When my spiritual ‘performance’ suffers, and I miss devotional times and pray weak, half-hearted prayers, I feel distant from God. If I was keenly aware of God’s intense, fatherly love for me, demonstrated most clearly on the cross, what would happen to my legalism? Legalism would be replaced by joy.

Aren’t you glad that God is your father? The God who made you calls you ‘son’ or ‘daughter’, and we call him ‘Father’. I want to see life through the prism of God as Father.

What about you? Does the thought of God as Father control your outlook on life?

+photo by *Solar ikon*

Somebody call the Waaaaambulance

When my friend Steve’s boys were younger and got hurt, they’d come running to their dad wailing, tears streaming down their cheeks. Steve would never baby them, but would joke around with them and try to make them laugh. A skinned knee would elicit something like, “Did you get any blood on your pants? Oh no, your leg’s falling off. I think we might have to amputate.” Most of the time, after a few minutes, they’d start laughing and get distracted from the pain they were experiencing as their leg actually was falling off. I’d usually wince a bit when he “comforted” his boys like this, but they grew up fine. They limp and twitch some, but they’re probably tougher than my kids.When you’re suffering, how do you think God responds to you? Do you imagine him saying something like:

* “Hey buck up. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
* “Somebody call the Waaaaambulance”
* “Come on, you big baby, shake it off. Get over it.”

Our heavenly Father is filled with compassion for his blood-bought children. He has more sympathy than any human parent. Our God is not stoic and unaffected, but is touched by our afflictions. And we who have trusted in Christ can come to our Father and unburden our hearts to him. He longs for us to do this and he’s eager to help.

When David suffered he said things to God like, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps 6:6), and “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Ps 13.1-2).

How audacious these prayers sound to my timid ears. Yet we believers can come boldly to our Father and tell it like it is. God knows exactly what we’re going through. We’re not going to surprise him. Listen to how Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher from the 1800s, describes how he appealed to his heavenly Father’s compassion:

“I have found it a blessed thing, in my own experience, to plead before God that I am his child. When, some months ago, I was wracked with pain to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, “Thou art my Father, and I am Thy child; and Thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as Thou makest me suffer; and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt Thou hide Thy face from me, my Father? Wilt Thou still lay on me Thy heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Thy countenance?” I talked to the Lord as Luther would have done, and pleaded his Fatherhood in real earnest. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” If He be a Father, let Him show Himself a Father — so I pleaded; and I venture to say, when they came back who watched me, “I shall never have such agony again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.” I bless God that ease came, and the wracking pain never returned.” — Charles Spurgeon, The Full Harvest, 197

Spurgeon’s prayer provokes me. I want to pray with more boldness, fervency and faith in my Father’s tender compassion. I want to pour out my heart to my Father like Spurgeon did. I pray that Spurgeon’s example will provoke you to plead God’s Fatherhood as well.