For this special service for Fathers’ Day, I was going to begin by asking you to share some words that you would use to describe your father. I recognise that for some people, thinking about that might help deepen your understanding of who God is, what he is like as our heavenly father, how he relates to us and how we might relate to him. But for other people who may have had negative and very destructive experiences of fathering, it can be all too easy to develop an image and understanding of God as Father who is threatening and somewhat fearsome.
Negative experiences of fathering and fatherhood can make it incredibly difficult to know the father heart of God and fully enable us to let go of an authority above us who has power over us and would use it according to his will, as if we perceive him as a strict headmaster type figure. Our capacity to know the father heart of God can so easily be limited by our fear of God’s power, even if we yearn to know that intimacy and closeness. Where people have a distorted view of God as Father, they often live in fear of becoming subject to God’s revenge and punishment which can paralyse the mental and emotional lives of many people, independently of their age, religion, or life-style. Not knowing the father heart of God is one of life’s biggest tragedies. So, I wanted to talk to you this morning about the father heart of God, to share some insights into his character and what his heart is like with I hope that fears might be dispelled, and strivings might cease.
When I think about my own experiences, one of the hardest I have ever had was losing a child when she was only 11 days old. It is an experience I will never forget. I remember my anguish, the terror and anxiety that I had to endure and all the stages of shock and grief that I went through. The night she passed away in my arms I realised something; I loved her so much I would willingly have exchanged places if her life could have been spared; it was something I even prayed for. I guess in some ways I was trying to make a deal with God. I have thought about this a great deal over the years. I realised that God did precisely what I wanted to do but could not. God reminded me “I lost a child too.” Such was his compassion that he sent of himself, his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to take our place, to bind up sin and brokenness and to conquer sin and death once and for all.
I want you to know the Heavenly Father that I know; the God of the Bible, the Heavenly Father who Jesus called Abba, or daddy, the God with a father heart who keeps track of all our sorrows, who has collected all our tears in a bottle and recorded each one in his book (Psalm 56:8), a God who has “loved us with an everlasting love; and drawn us with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3b). A God who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”, who “will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:8-14)
I want you to know the father heart of God that yearns for us to be in fellowship with him, always calling, always inviting. A God who says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.” What is your heart’s desire today? What would you like to ask God, a God who wants to bless us with good gifts and protect us from harm?
I want you to know God as a loving father who may give us instruction and commands, but not to control and limit us, because he loves immeasurably. It is in the following of those commands that we are assured, “When we walk, they will guide us; when we sleep, they will watch over us; when we awake, they will speak to us.” What voice do you hear today? Do you hear the voice that arises from the father heart of God, a heart that Jesus reveals to us?
As you think about the words I have shared with you this morning, I would like to invite you to close your eyes as we listen to a piece of music. If you would like to come closer to the father heart of God and know God more intimately as your Heavenly Father, simply raise your hand. Everyone will have their eyes closed, so there is no need to feel self-conscious. I won’t mention anyone by name, but when the song finishes, I will pray for everyone who raises their hand.
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father:give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God;through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.