When I lost my father in 1997, I thought my little world might crash around me. Even as I think about it now, my heart begins to pound and my eyes well up with tears. I was 19 years old at the time and I don’t know if there’s anything more precious to a little girl (or a young woman in my case) than her father.* It was a great loss. I wasn’t a Christian at the time of his death so I couldn’t have ever predicted how much the Lord would use my father’s death to reveal His great love for me.
When I became a Christian at 22, one of the first things I began to understand was that I was no longer fatherless. God is indeed the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). When God saves us we are not only justified, we are also adopted. We are brought into a new family. We are given the right to call the Holy One, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6; Rom 8:15). And he looks at us as his children (Gal 3:26). It is remarkable to think through all of the implications of this sweet doctrine, the doctrine of adoption. For someone who no longer had an earthly father, it affected everything about how I related to and continue to relate to God.
There are three ways I’ve been profoundly impacted as I reflect on how we can relate to God as our Father:
Rightly Fearing Our Father
When my dad walked in the room, all eyes were on him. He had a gentleness that could be sensed and yet a command that couldn’t be ignored. When he spoke, I looked him in his eyes and listened. In many ways, I revered him. The honor I showed my dad falls woefully short in comparison to the reverence, honor, obedience, and worship that we should reserve for our Heavenly Father. He is to be feared and worshipped. And as our Holy Father, we must recognize that He alone is God.
Receiving His Grace
I remember when I had to share some grievous sin with my earthly father. Even as a non-Christian, it was quite difficult for me to confess. I remember it well. I went to him, and without hesitation he thanked me for sharing and he forgave me. I couldn’t believe his graciousness. As believers, it can be difficult to imagine that we are fully forgiven for all of our sin (Psalm 130:12; Isaiah 43: 25-26; Eph 1:7; 1 John 2:2). Jesus paid it all! And God tells us in His word that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us (1 John 1:9). Jesus has made a way for us to approach our Father who is holy. We can come freely as His children and receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Receiving His Discipline
When we think of discipline, we often go straight to pain or punishment. As a mother, I know that my desire to discipline my children stems from a heart that loves them and hopes to protect them, but my attempts also fall short. I can be angry and selfish – my sin can affect how I discipline. God’s discipline, however, is not like ours (Heb. 12:9-10). God does not want us to grow weary or fainthearted in our fight for faith (Heb. 12:3). We will be trained, tested, and strained but as we walk by faith and not by sight, we walk knowing that God is treating us like His children who He loves dearly (Heb. 12: 7-8). And His discipline yields sweet rewards (Heb. 12:11). We can rest assured that there is a great purpose in all he does and nothing can separate us from His love and His goodness. He acts for our good (Heb. 12:10).
This short piece only scratches the surface of the riches and blessings that come with being a child of God. Let’s join Paul in Ephesians in thanking and praising our Father who chose us to be His:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:3-6).
*I realize that many of my readers may not share or relate to my experience. Memories and thoughts of your father may leave you hurt, confused, and angry. My hope and prayer for you is that you, too, would be encouraged by the reality of God as your Father. There’s no one like our God–not even the best of earthly fathers compare.
A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine.