Father God

My son just turned 25 years old . He still lives at home and is still kind of struggling to find his way. I love him with all my heart, but I am ready for him to gain some independence. It is every parent’s goal to raise children who become men and women who can manage their own lives with minimal assistance from mom and dad.

But God is not your typical parent. His goal is not to make us independent, but to draw us into deeper dependence on Him. I have read the Bible through many times, and I find no place where God says, “You’re too dependent on me – get out there and make your own way.” But I find many, many times where He chastised His people for thinking they can do their own thing their own way without His help. Why do you think Jesus tells us to pray for “daily bread”? And why do you think He said we must become like little children? A mature Christian isn’t one who has become so strong they only need God for the big stuff. A mature Christian is one who recognizes their desperate need for Him in every big – and little – thing.


Beloved of God, what are you struggling to manage on your own today? Take it to your Father and tell Him that you need His help. He delights in your dependence on and trust in Him. You are sure to bring a smile to His face and a blessings to your life.

In my Prison of Fear

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

 

God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.

Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.

But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.

But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.

God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.

I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.

God, I need you.  Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.

Childlike Joy

“Their children will see it and be joyful; theirs hearts will rejoice in the Lord.”  Zechariah 10:7

There is no better combination than children and Christmas.  Their sweet smiles, joyous laughter and excitement are contagious.  A child’s heart is wide open, and his wonder and delight will warm even the coldest Scrooge’s heart.  Children have an enormous capacity for joy, a trait that we tend to lose as we “mature” into adults. Sure, it’s fine for children to be giddy over the sights and sounds of Christmas, but we are grown-ups and must behave in a more dignified manner.  Oh yeah – who says?

When was the last time you were so overcome with joy and delight that you thought your heart would nearly explode?  How did you react to that exuberance?  When my son was small, and he would get excited, he would do what I called his “seal clap of joy,” clapping his little hands together in fast repetitions.  It always made me laugh, not just his clapping, but the excitement and delight that bubbled out of him.  This week, someone did a very simple and kind favor for me, and it made me so joyful I did my own a seal clap of joy.  Me – at my age!  But I have decided that I’m done being so “adult” all the time – and when joy and delight wash over me, I’m going to let it have its way.

Some of the greats of the Bible didn’t hide their joy in the Lord.  David was king over the nation of Israel, a leader and the country’s sovereign, but he gave himself over to moments of great joy.  In 2 Samuel 6, David is leading a processional that is bringing the Ark of the Lord back to its rightful place in Jerusalem, after it had been captured by Israel’s enemy.  The Ark was the symbol of God’s presence with His people, and it stayed in the most Holy place in the Tabernacle, where only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people.   But the Israelites faced a mighty enemy, and so they brought the Ark to the battle, believing they were bringing the presence and power of the Lord to insure their victory.  But in this battle, the Israelites fell and the Ark was captured, because of the sin of their present king, Saul.  Now the Ark was being returned to the Israelites.  Verse 14 describes David’s reaction as the ark made its way back into the city of Jerusalem.  “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.”  This great dignified king danced with joy down the streets of the city.  David found great joy and delight in the return of the presence of God among His people.  And rather than appearing childish and immature to the people, his exuberant dance of joy to the Lord endeared him all the more to his subjects.  Except for one person, his wife Michal who thought him “vulgar” and undignified.  David did not accept her chiding, because he knew that he danced before the Lord.

David leaves us two important lessons about joy: first, don’t try to squelch those joyful feelings, but give in to them.  Dance, sing, jump, rejoice – let joy fill you to the brim and overflow onto everyone around you. Secondly, there will always be people who don’t appreciate your joy – there will always be Scrooges and Grinches who will “bah humbug” over your delight.  Be joyful anyway – maybe it will bring a smile to their faces as well.

Let this Christmas bring a childlike joy to your heart – a joy that shows on your face and spreads out all around.  Share some Christmas joy this season, it’s a gift you can give to others that always gives back to you.

Holy Father, fill my heart with the joy that comes only from, let if overflow and spill out on everyone I meet today.  I want to be a joy-giver, and let the world know the joy I’ve found in You. Amen.