One of the fondest memories from my childhood was being carried in my father’s arms. I can remember times when we pulled into the driveway and I feigned being asleep, just to feel his strong arms under me, carrying me to my room and laying me in my bed.
“… in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.” – Deuteronomy 1:31
When I was a kid the orthopedic specialist determined that I had a tight Achilles tendon that would prevent me from ever running. He recommended a simple exercise that my father began applying conscientiously. He cradled my foot in his ample hand and pushed the top of my foot back to stretch the tendon at the lower end of the leg, where the foot connects at the heel. He did that night after night. And guess what? I became an all-star baseball player – after the doctor said I wouldn’t run. I owe that to my father’s love put into patient action.
I was blessed with a dad who truly cared. Not everyone grows up with such a father. Just as Esau cried out for his father Isaac’s blessing, many have the same cry stifled within.
“When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry … ‘Bless me – me also, O my father'” (Genesis 27:34).
The influence of fathers (and mothers) on their children is incalculable. It can literally make the difference between a saint and a “satan.” Hitler’s father instilled in him the fear of losing status in society. This fed the appetite of rejection to “show the world” that he would not be belittled. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln credited the mental agility of his natural mother and the supportive loving friendship of his step-mother as major factors in his history-altering leadership.
God’s truth is incarnational. He became a man in order to convey to us who He is. God appointed fathers and mothers to embody His own fatherhood in a tangible way – the first encounter each new child has with a “greater power.”
We need examples. Learning takes place at greater depth through demonstration than lecture. I have been blessed beyond measure to have fathers in the faith who nurtured my spiritual growth and imparted a security regarding the call of God on my life. This foundation of godly confidence releases boldness with humility – a kingdom combination that can bear a lifetime of good fruit.
Regarding David, the future king, we read that “The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart …” (1 Samuel 13:14). But what is God’s heart? What is He like as a father?
I want to suggest but four of the many qualities we could attribute to God’s father heart. He is the bestower of BLESSING, FORGIVENESS, IDENTITY, and INSTRUCTION.
We begin with the patriarchs. Abraham, after receiving the original blessing from God, passed the blessing on to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to his twelve sons (Genesis 48:14-16). This is the father’s place – to bless his children, to grant them whatever resources he has – in character, in faith, in material goods – to launch them into a fruitful life.
Here, a book written by Gary Smalley and Greg Trent, The Blessing, can be helpful. They list five ways blessing is conveyed, emphasizing the immense impact of affirmation upon growing children (and yes grown ones, too), as well as the life-long damage caused by constant criticism. Blessing is conveyed by touch, words, communicating high value, pointing to a special future, and long term commitment to “the blessing” being fulfilled.
Rembrandt’s painting of the “Return of the Prodigal” vividly portrays the father’s forgiveness of his wayward, willful, profligate son (Luke 15:18-21). Rembrandt’s masterful image of the father’s hands placed on a kneeling son, barely clothed in rags, touches the depth of undeserved forgiveness each of us desperately needs. What a foundation for a robust life of the soul – to be received back into the loving arms of a father against whom we have rebelled!
As the story of the prodigal unfolds, his father calls for a robe, a ring, sandals, and a fatted calf. Each of these items symbolizes new, favored identity. The father not only forgave his son, he changed his garment, restored lost authority, empowered him, and created a memorable and lavish celebration. What a picture of God restoring our “Garden of Eden” inheritance, lost through sin! We have returned to His house, to become chosen and favored sons and daughters – after trashing what He first gave us.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out ‘Abba, Father'” (Romans 8:15).
Again and again the Book of Proverbs initiates “discussions” of how to live, with the words “My son …”
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Proverbs 23:26). King Solomon understood that one of a father’s chief duties is to instruct his children – both by precept and by living example. Loving discipline is an indispensable element of instruction. “If you endure discipline, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7)
These manifestations of the Father’s heart give us two bedrock ingredients. First, they enable us to comprehend the love of God, and how He wants to bless us, purify us, give us unwavering identity and train us in His way of life. Secondly, they equip us to be mothers and fathers in both natural and spiritual capacities. I have never met someone who doesn’t need affirmation – the blessing of a father or mother figure. What I have been rewarded to see is young men and women emerging from a devastating lack of blessing, to become true children of the Father – radiating joy and secure in their life’s purpose.
*This message developed out of a recent “fathers and sons” evening at Tents of Mercy Congregation.
This article originally appeared in Oasis Newsletter by Tents of Mercy, December 2016, and reposted with permission.