Soul Shift #5 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 2

SoulShiftI. INTRO

I used to play a game at home when my children were younger – much younger.  In this game they might have asked for money for their allowance, or we may have been playing a board game, with dice – and I would have what they wanted in my hands –and I would pretend to suddenly fall asleep. They would start giggling and laughing and crawl all over me while attempting to pry what they wanted from my clinched fists.  Those were some beautiful moments of giggles and joyful laughter and mutual longing – they were longing for the things I held in my hands; I was longing for our closeness, our innocence, and wanting those fleeting moments of sheer joy to last forever.

For me this is a picture of the activity of prayer – while we love God sometimes we are focused more on the gifts in God’s hands rather than hand of God Himself (someone described it as seeking the hand of God and not the face of God) – we pray fervently for the new job, or the return of health.  When we gain the prizes we are delighted and, often, our focus turns to the prize — and away form the momentary closeness of the good Giver Himself.

We are in a series on prayer that we are calling “Soul Shift,” where, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a church we are asking God to move us from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer.  What does that mean?

It means that when we speak or teach about prayer in church it’s easy for all of us to instantly feel guilty.  A sermon on prayer can amount to a drive-by guilt-ing.

Is there anyone among us who is satisfied with their prayer life?

So, today, let’s not talk about – or, even think too much about what WE SHOULD DO, but let’s take a few minutes to consider WHAT JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE.

If we can lift the eyes of our hearts to see WHAT JESUS CHRIST has accomplished FOR US it will lift the “eyes of our hearts” (Eph 1:17) in worship, in adoration, in joy, in expectancy, and in delight.  It will draw prayer out of us…

Our goal, our objective is that we would leave here today more fully delighting in the Giver than in the gifts.  (Some people’s prayers go something like this: “God, if You get me out of this mess, I won’t bother You until the next one!”)

In our study of prayer we are looking primarily at what has been called The Lord’s Prayer in Mat 6.  (There is a more compact version of the same prayer in Luke 11.)  This prayer is not meant to be prayed ritualistically, but to be viewed as a pattern for prayer.

Here’s the bottom line: **We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel, by what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf.

We are called to work, love, to worship, and to pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.  That is the gospel in a nutshell – we work, serve, love, and worship FROM a growing understanding that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the heart and ear of God on our behalf.

Hebs 4:16: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We come to God through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to earn the ear of God in prayer – Jesus has earned the ear of God for us, He has won God’s ear and God’s heart for us — so we come to God in prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is best used as a model for prayer –or, we could think of it as template – to launch us out into a place or a perspective of reflection, adoration, and gratitude.

For the next few weeks we will be looking at the individual phrases of this model prayer… learning to delight in the Giver of all good gifts.

What we will learn is 1) the initial focus is upward, with its first three requests having to do with God’s glory and 2) the remaining three requests are for our well-being. God first, humanity second – that is the ideal order of prayer.  His glory before our desires.[1]

II. BODY

Today I would like us to look at the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer:  “Our Father in heaven.”  Simply stated:

  • The word, “Our” — speaks of community. 
  • The word, “Father” speaks of family.
  • The phrase, “in heaven” speaks of majesty, transcendence (time, space, understanding, etc.), and authority. 

Let’s take some time and briefly consider each one…

1. What does the word “Our” tell us about community?

  • We have left the land of “me” and entered the land of “we.” [2]
  • The Lord’s Model Prayer begins with the acknowledgement that we have been invited out of isolation and into both the joy and the challenge of community.
  • Here’s a simple way to say it: Pro 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one [person] sharpens another.”
  • There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:
    1. The need to feel authentically human
    2. The need to belong
    3. The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose
  • It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person. 
  • The first and most important step is through conversion and regeneration, which is the restoration of our individual relationship’s with the living God
  • The next step is through significant relationships with each other
  • Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.
  • Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community.  The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church.  The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is ac­cepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable.  You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.  Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but be­cause God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known (Cheers!), to love and be loved.  There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.
  • With the opening word of the model prayer Jesus is welcoming us into community.

2. What does the word “Father” tell us about family?

  • With the words, “Our Father,” Jesus is welcoming us into the family of God and identifying Himself as our older brother.
  • The Aramaic word for Father is ABBA.
  • Last week we spoke about the “Abba” Cry/Longing
    • Romans 8:15“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
    • Galatians 4:6“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

3. What do the words, “In heaven” tell us about authority?

  • It may be helpful to view heaven as a perspective and not a physical place, like a zip code.  God is omnipresent (always present everywhere).
  • God’s omnipresence reminds us of His transcendent nature.  Transcendence is a theological term referring to the relation of God to creation.
  • And so “our Father Who is in heaven” is “other” or beyond His creation.
  • God is independent and different from His creatures: Isa 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • Being beyond His creation and not limited by it or to it. This simple understanding of transcendence makes our privilege of approaching Him intimately like a son or daughter would their earthly father, all the more humbling and praiseworthy.
  • Our transcendent God is also the omnipresent God and is never farther than a prayer away!

III. CONCLUSION

  • Pastor and theologian Arthur Pink, in his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, says, that in these four words: “Our Father in Heaven,”there is a “blessed balance.”[3]
  • The first two words: “Our Father” teach us about the nearness and dearness of God’s relationship to us through Jesus Christ – and they inspire us to confidence and love for God.
  • The second two words: “in heaven,” Pink says, should fill us with humility and awe.
  • He says the first two words (“Our Father”) without the second tends toward an “unholy familiarity.”  And the second two words (“in heaven”) without the first two produces “coldness and dread.”
  • **When we combine these two lofty concepts for the purpose of adoration and prayer we see a marriage of God’s unfathomable love with His immeasurable holiness.
  • In the coming week will you consider giving the best five minutes of your day to God?  Before moving to quickly to petitionary prayer, will you take 3-5 minutes of worship and adoration?  Will you worship God and ask God to open your heart afresh to the wonder, to the reality of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
  • Begin by thinking of it this way:
    1. No one has ever been so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ.  He left the richness, the perfect love, and perfect communion within the Trinity of heaven.  He condescended to become a man and live a perfect, sinless life so that you and I could enjoy confidant access to a holy and righteous God.
    2. No one has ever been so poor and become so rich as those who’s hearts are awakened to the reality of what Jesus Christ has done – on our behalf.  Has your heat been awakened to that gift?
  • We said at the start that we want to focus more on what Jesus Christ HAS DONE than on what we SHOULD DO.  I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation…you and I don’t have to work to earn God’s favor.  The perfect, sinless life of Jesus has already accomplished that.  We own our own sin, we repent (surrender), and we believe that we have been made righteous and perfectly acceptable in the presence of a holy God…

[1] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books.

[2] Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals: 18.

[3] Baker Books 1982:80-81.

Soul Shift #4 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 1: Healing the Father Wound

SoulShift

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…” –Matthew 6:9a

This morning we want to take aim at the concept of the father wound…

As we lean into this season of prayer — and seek to (by God’s grace, mercy, and power) move from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer we must first acknowledge that we tend to view God through the lens of our earthly fathers.  And many people have had difficult relationships with their earthly fathers and, consequently, have great difficulty transitioning to viewing God as a good and loving Father.

If you did not feel safe, protected, affirmed, and secure in your father’s presence, you may spend your entire life looking for a place of comfort and rest.  And some people grow-up without a father in the home – for a variety of reasons.

The National Fatherhood Initiative informs us that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes.  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.

Children’s first impressions about men come from their early experiences with their father – or the lack thereof.

The Father/Daughter Relationship forms the daughter’s opinions of what men are — or should be, how they should act, especially towards her, and how she should be with them. The father’s behavior towards women shapes the way she learns to relate to men. If the father withdrew his affection at the time she entered puberty, the wound only goes deeper.

The father is to model how to give and receive affection and tenderness while demonstrating the proper use of strength and power.

Part of the father’s responsibility is to lovingly prepare his daughter for the major shifts that take place as she moves from child to adolescent to young woman and beyond. Unfortunately, many father’s, themselves, had trouble adjusting and many others just weren’t available to teach her to venture out from the protected realm of the home to deal with each new phase and its physical and social adjustments.

The Father/Son Relationship forms the son’s opinions of how he is supposed to act and how he should treat women. Too often, however, the father wasn’t around to present a healthy model for his son. (Remember the Cats In the Cradle lyrics?  It’s a very sad song…)

From Strength in Weakness by Andrew Comiskey — a book about sexual and relational healing…

“Though the [heavenly] Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives. This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers.

The first half of the 20th century really messed up fatherhood – and has impacted succeeding generations.

A Perception of the 20th Century

  • WW I gave way to the “Roaring Twenties” a season of subdued hedonism. (Subdued in comparison to our current hedonistic culture!)
  • The Great Depression followed the Roaring Twenties… 
  • And then WW II followed the Great Depression.
  • If your father or grandfather grew up in the Great Depression it means they never had a chance to have a childhood.
  • Tom Brokaw wrote in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.”  That’s the upside.  There also a downside — an emotional passivity.  The Depression and WW II had inflicted some severe emotional (and spiritual) woundedness.
  • And for those of us who were born after WW II there was an economic and baby boom — and consequently our fathers tended to give us ‘things’ but not themselves.  We must keep in mind our fathers and not been fathered well either.
  • And then there was the ‘60’s and 70’s.  We had legitimate longs and desires, but looked for them in the wrong places.
  • Those first 60-70 years of the 20th century has greatly affected several generations of men – and fatherhood.

I share these things to provide us with some perspective.  You may not have received what you needed from your father – but consider that he probably didn’t either.

So, here we are in the 21st century.  And the whole concept of what constitutes a family, let alone fatherhood has become very twisted and confused.

Men today face the confusing challenge of learning to balance power with sensitivity, strength with feeling, and mind with heart — sometimes all on our own.

Some of us encounter significant difficulty here because we get stuck viewing our heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly fathers.

For some the transition is easy and instantaneous for others it becomes a very difficult and arduous journey.

Regardless of parental devotion, no parent can fulfill all of the child’s wants, needs, or desires.

While these wounds can be inflicted with intent, many are unintentional yet still affect the child throughout life.

Consider Malachi 4 – The Final Chapter of the OT

4:1-6: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

As the Old Testament closes, God makes known that He is not by any means finished with His plan for the world. There is a great day of victory coming and there will be preparations for it so that the people of God will be ready.

That is what we would expect at the end of the Old Testament—a bridge between old and new—a look back at the faithful work of God in the past and a look forward to the final victory.

The Malachi text is the final passage in the Old Covenant.  It is quite significant in that its promise — and warning, frame the very doorway to the New Covenant, the threshold to the coming Messiah.

In verse 6 we see one of the effects of God’s mercy—and an unexpected one at that.

When Elijah preaches, and cries out for people to get ready to meet on the great and terrible day of the Lord, what happens?

Verse 6:

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

It implies that the brokenness in this world between children and fathers reflects the brokenness between humanity and God. That is, restoring relationship with the Father is, in fact, the very focus of God’s saving power in this world.

Thus, Jesus came to reconcile humanity to the Father (John 14:8-13). Nowhere in this world is the incentive for that reconciliation more keenly felt than in relationship with our earthly fathers.

The father-wound portrayed in the Malachi text is the difference between what your father has given you (or not given you) and what our heavenly Father God wants to give you. Thus, every person on the planet bears some form of a father wound.

No pain strikes more deeply into a person’s heart than being abandoned emotionally and/or physically by Dad. No pain, therefore, more directly beckons the saving power of God the Father.

A full 400 years after Malachi wrote those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant dawns with the announcement of the birth of the Messiah

In Luke 1:13-17:

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John…. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

There is evidence in other parts of the NT that John the Baptist is not the final, or only, “spirit and power of Elijah”…

John the Baptist may be a forerunner to an “Elijah Company,” and Elijah ‘task-force,’ if you will — of men being raised up to walk in and to impart the Father’s love to a generation that is longing for significance and purpose in life.

The pattern of distant unavailable father’s has been repeated throughout the 20th century.

It’s not about trying to BE their fathers or mothers, it’s about being able to introduce them to “our Father in heaven” (and heaven, by the way is more of a perspective than a zip-code – more about that next week).

Defining the Father’s Love

The four Greek words for ‘love’…

  • STORGE – family (instinctual) love
  • PHILEO – brotherly/sisterly (friendship) love (tender affection)
  • EROS – Romantic or erotic love
  • AGAPE – Unconditional or sacrificial love

“But God demonstrates his own love [AGAPE] for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 (NIV)

We generally focus on AGAPE when defining the Father’s love in a theological sense.

His unconditional love and on the cross concern for us is demonstrated in Christ’s death for us (Rom. 5:8).

This foundational truth is assumed to be common knowledge among most Christians but that is not the primary focus today…

Let’s now consider God’s PHILEO love:

John 5:20: “For the Father loves [PHILEO] the Son and shows Him all he does.”

In attempting to define the Father’s love in a more experiential sense we can focus on His PHILEO – His demonstrated tender affection for us.  The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described above in John 5:20.

The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of His Father’s PHILEO love.  Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense His Father’s presence and hear His Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing.

John 16:27: (Jesus) “…The Father himself loves [PHILEO] you because you have loved [PHILEO] me and believed that I came from God.” (NIV)

The PHILEO love of the Father for believers is described in John 16:27 (see above).  Our communication with God apparently is to flow out of our continual experience of our Father’s PHILEO for us.

Whereas AGAPE focuses on a truth about God, PHILEO seems to focus more on the touch from God.  This touch of love is missing from many Christian’s lives.

The “Abba” Cry/Longing

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.'”

  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

The chief activity of the Holy Spirit is to:

  • Draw us into a vital relationship with the Father.  Our “Abba Father” is not only the source of everything in both creation and redemption, He is also the goal of everything.
  • Prompt in us the “Abba” cry/longing; which is first and foremost the basis of our worship.

Luke 15:11-31 – This parable of the prodigal sons confronts our false assumptions about what pleases God.

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

Healing the Father Wound 

1.  Surrender to the Father’s initiating love.

    • The father moves toward both sons… in order to express his love and bring them in.
    • It’s not repentance that causes the father’s love – but the reverse.  It’s surrendering to the father’s love that brings about repentance.

2.  Refuse to be emotionally passive.  (This was primarily the sin of the older brother, but the traveling prodigal was also willing to resign himself to this.)

    • Emotional Passivity is repressed, self-imposed oppression of emotions based on an unmet longing for acceptance – usually from our fathers.  This repression, or self-imposed oppression, generates anger that if allowed to turn inward will eventually express itself as either chronic depression, or passive-aggressive behavior.
    • Awakening the passive soul begins with confessing the sin of deadening our soul and making conscious choices to (go ahead and) feel the sadness, the grief, the sorrow — and ultimately the joy. (We have learned some of the principles of healthy grief and loss as we have sought to integrate emotional health into our discipleship process.)
      • Sadness opens the heart to what was meant to be and is not. 
      • Grief opens the heart to what was not meant to be and is. 
      • Sorrow breaks the heart as it exposes the damage we’ve done to others as a result of our unwillingness to wildly pursue God’s grace and truth.

3.  Refuse to mistrust.

    • Reengages the God-given desire to be concerned about the temporal and eternal destiny of those who have harmed us.  This transfers trust to God and releases us to care, to be kind, and to authentically comfort others.
    • It is not being gullible or stupid – “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16).
    • To care is to use all that we are for the good of others while not walling off the deep parts of our soul.
    • The process towards deep caring begins with admitting there is sadness.
    • Grief admits there are scars that can be removed only in heaven.
    • Godly sorrow begins to develop when we begin to see that our demand for God to prove He cares is a mockery of the Cross (which sufficient proof of His trustworthiness).

4.  Refuse to deny holy passion.

    • Passion can be defined as the deep response of the soul to life:  the freedom to rejoice and the freedom to weep.
    • A refusal to deny, or despise, passion embraces both pain and pleasure.
    • A fear of passion makes it nearly impossible to be fully present with other people.
    • It’s refusing to flee back into the numbing – whatever that is
    • It is admitting that while I may be a mess, I AM ALIVE — and there is hope!