Know The Father, Know Yourself
KNOW THE FATHER,
John Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformed branch of Christianity, once said, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Until we know the character of the one who made us we cannot know what we were made for. Until we know the character of the one we pray to we will not know how to pray.
In this day and age, we have a bit of smorgasbord mentality when it comes to religion. God is thought of as a mystery, which He is, but mystery is thought to mean we cannot ultimately know God’s character, so it is fine for people to define God in any way that they wish. This is not the biblical perspective. In fact, the character of God, the name of God is so important, Jesus makes it the beginning of our prayers, the very foundation of them.
Calling God Father, while not unprecedented in the Old Testament, was rare, and was not the norm in Jesus’ day. In a sense, God is the Father of all people since God created all things. But since creation is estranged from God, the Scriptures tell us that we have to come to the Father through Jesus Christ. That God is first Jesus’ Father and, by our belief in Jesus, God becomes our Father through adoption. The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 calls this the Spirit of Adoption. It is the Holy Spirit witnessing within us that we are sons and daughters of God. We are both sinners and saints. Our righteousness is wretched rags but we are granted a glorious inheritance. Most scholars think the Greek Patre in this verse is equivalent to the Aramaic Abba. This is a term that a child would use to refer to his or her father, but it is also a broader term of respect and endearment that adults used for their fathers. A lot of modern translators would say that Jesus wants us to call God “Daddy,” but this doesn’t convey the respect that the term Abba portrays. And yet our term Father, especially in an era when so many are fatherless or estranged from their fathers, misses the intimacy that the term portrays. By saying “our Father in Heaven,” Jesus is saying that God is both transcendent and intimate. That God is both beyond our understanding yet as easy to know as a wise and respected Dad. Unlike a Mother, there is not the natural connection that comes from bearing a child in the womb. There is a separation. But the Father reaches out beyond the distance created by Sin, through His Son, and says I am calling you to come home. The Father chooses us. He pours his love on the righteous and the unrighteous. His Grace is extravagant. And his Judgment is Just.
We see God’s self-revelation advance throughout the Scriptures. We see the fullness of this revelation in the doctrine of the Trinity, that our God can best be understood in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Often people think of the doctrine of the Trinity as abstract. I once did. But I have come to see that it is one of the most practical doctrines in all of Scriptures. It not only shows us how to see God, it helps us see ourselves, and it helps us pray. As N. Graham Standish points out in his book Becoming a Blessed Church, each member of the Trinity relates to us in different ways, specifically as Purpose, Presence, and Power. Often the Father is described as knowing every hair on our head, providing for our every need, guiding us in wisdom and in purpose. Often Christ is described as Emmanuel, God with us. Often the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the agent by which God’s people are empowered to do God’s work. In the Christian Faith, I believe there is much focus on Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but much confusion about the Father. Evangelicals traditionally focus on the saving act of Jesus. Charismatics and Pentecostals generally focus on the more spectacular gifts of the Spirit. And Catholic and mainline Christians do talk a lot about God as Creator. But often God is thought of as a distance clock maker God, or as more or less nature itself. God as the supernatural power and love of the Father is lost to many mainline Christians. Our hearts have been wounded by a plague of fatherlessness as men have forgotten what it means to cover their families with a spiritual strength. We know that Jesus loves us, some of us think the Holy Spirit is a little weird, but we don’t want much to do with the Father. But in Matthew 11:27, Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” When we look at Jesus we see the Father. But I think Jesus says there is a deeper knowledge of the Father he is willing to give us if we would only ask him to reveal the Father to us. The Father knows every hair on our head. Our Father knows our prayers before we pray them. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And until we know the Father, we can’t know ourselves. We can’t know how to minister; we can’t know how to pray.
Recently, I went to see the new Peanuts movie with Kari, my girlfriend, and her daughter Emmalee. Kari is a fan of Charlie Brown, but I was never a big fan of the comic strip and didn’t understand the appeal. The entire movie is about Charlie Brown’s attempts to win the affections of the new cute red head girl in class (which is understandable since we red heads are naturally more attractive than the average person). He tries to do this in several ways. He signs up for the talent show, he learns how to dance, and he does a book report for her on the epic novel War and Peace. Of course, the thing about Charlie Brown is he is known for being nervous, clumsy, and unlucky at times. His good intentions often lead to unforeseen consequences. This is symbolized by his constant attempts to fly a kite, only to get dozens of kites caught in a tree. But for some reason, even with his mistakes, things work out, because he is a boy of compassion with a good heart. And often it is when he isn’t even trying that Charlie Brown succeeds. In the last scene, Charlie Brown is teaching another kid in the park how to fly a kite. He warns the kid how hard it will be. But, of course, the kite instantly takes off for that kid. Somehow Charlie Brown gets tangled up in the kite and as the kite is blown by the wind, it leads him to his red head love who is about to depart for summer camp. Charlie Brown asks her why she had decided to be his pen pal, even though he had seemingly failed to impress her throughout the movie. And the red headed girl replied, through his acts of compassion throughout the movie, she had seen his heart.
To be frank, I have a short attention span. If a movie doesn’t have explosions in it, it is hard for me to pay attention. But as I thought about the movie afterwards, I came to shocking revelation.
“I am Charlie Brown!” And then I thought.
At first, I was a little saddened by this revelation. How can I be the successful pastor I have always dreamed of being if I am Charlie Brown? A friend of mine once said I was like the disciple Nathaniel in the Gospel of John, a man without deceit. One would think that being an honest man wouldn’t be a problem. But as my mom, who is here today would put it, I can lack tact at times, sort of like Charlie Brown. I wondered why Charles Shultz, the creator of the Peanuts Comic strip, would create such a strange character. A character filled with so many flaws. A character who is not a natural optimist, can be uninspiring at times, a character that is sometimes not taken seriously. And I saw it was because in his weakness, Charlie Brown is strong. There is a sense of triumph in Charlie Brown. Not when Charlie Brown tries to be something he is not, but when he lets go and embraces who he is, when he gets carried away by the wind, when he is who Shultz made him to be, he triumphs, even in spite of himself. He triumphs not on his own. But with the help of his friends who know the genuineness of his heart and rally around him to support him.
“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Do you know the Father? Have you cried out deep crying out to deep Abba, Father? Have you asked Jesus to reveal the Father to you, and has the Father shown you the glories of his riches as grace? I like to joke that being a solo Pastor is like one of those choose your own adventure books. Thing is, I hate choose your own adventure books. I don’t want to choose my own adventure. I rather the future be defined. A plan be in place. The team already assembled. I may have the knowledge, I may have the edumacation (purposely misspelled), but I lack the wisdom, which is basically how to apply knowledge to a particular place and time. But what does Paul pray for the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 1:16-19? “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of Wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”
Do you see the power of your prayers to the Father, in Jesus’ name, praying in the Spirit at all times? Do you see how deep the Father’s love is for us? Such an inheritance has been given to us, we are broken Jars of Clay, that we may not hoard our inheritance but give it away. Powerful prayer starts with identity. Our Father’s and our own.
In the name of the Father, So,n and Holy Spirit. Amen.