As I sat in the auditorium, I faced the pastor with my eyes fixed on him. My posture suggested I was absorbing everything he was saying. Suddenly I heard everybody laughing and clapping. Surprised, I looked about. The preacher had apparently said something humorous, but I had no clue what it might have been. From all appearances I had been listening carefully, but in reality my mind was far away.
It’s possible to hear what is being said but not listen, to watch but not see, to be present and yet absent. In such a condition, we may miss important messages meant for us.
As Ezra read God’s instructions to the people of Judah, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). Their attention to the explanation produced understanding (v. 8), which resulted in their repentance and revival. In another situation in Samaria, Philip, after persecution of the believers broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), reached out to the Samaritan people. The crowd not only observed the miraculous signs he did, but they also “paid close attention to what he said” (v. 6). “So there was great joy in that city” (v. 8).
The mind can be like a wandering adventurer that misses a lot of excitement close by. Nothing deserves more attention than words that help us discover the joy and wonder of our Father in heaven.
I was only four years old as I lay by my father on a floor mat on a hot summer night. (My mother, with a baby, had her own room at the time.) This was in northern Ghana where the climate is mostly dry. Sweat covered my body and the heat parched my throat. I felt so thirsty I shook my father awake. In the middle of that dry night, he rose up and poured water from a jar for me to quench my thirst. Throughout my life, as he did that night, he exemplified the image of a caring father. He provided what I needed.
Some people may not have a good father figure in their lives. But we all have a Father who is strong and ever-present and who does not disappoint us. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He told us that when our daily needs confront us—food, clothing, shelter, protection (v. 31)—“your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8).
We have a Father who is always there. Night or day, whenever the going gets tough, we can trust that He will never abandon us. He has promised to care for us, and He knows better than we do what we need.
In a field on the English countryside, G. K. Chesterton stood up from where he had been sitting and exploded with laughter. His outburst was so sudden and so loud that the cows could not take their eyes off him.
Just minutes before, the Christian writer and apologist had been miserable. That afternoon he had been wandering the hills, sketching pictures on brown paper using colored chalks. But he was dismayed to discover he had no white chalk, which he considered to be essential to his artwork. Soon, though, he began to laugh when he realized that the ground beneath him was porous limestone—the earth’s equivalent of white chalk. He broke off a piece and resumed drawing.
Like Chesterton, who realized he “was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk,” believers have God’s unlimited spiritual resources within reach at all times. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him” (v. 3).
Maybe you feel you are lacking some important element necessary for godliness such as faith, grace, or wisdom. If you know Christ, you have everything you need and more. Through Jesus, you have access to the Father—the one who graciously provides believers with all things.
When the minister asked one of his elders to lead the congregation in prayer, the man shocked everyone. “I’m sorry, Pastor,” he said, “but I’ve been arguing with my wife all the way to church, and I’m in no condition to pray.” The next moment was awkward. The minister prayed. The service moved on. Later, the pastor vowed never to ask anyone to pray publicly without first asking privately.
That man demonstrated astonishing honesty in a place where hypocrisy would have been easier. But there is a larger lesson about prayer here. God is a loving Father. If I as a husband do not respect and honor my wife—a cherished daughter of God—why would her heavenly Father hear my prayers?
The apostle Peter made an interesting observation about this. He instructed husbands to treat their wives with respect and as equal heirs in Christ “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). The underlying principle is that our relationships affect our prayer life.
What would happen if we exchanged the Sunday smiles and the façade of religiosity for refreshing honesty with our brothers and sisters? What might God do through us when we pray and learn to love each other as we love ourselves?
The scene belonged on a Father’s Day card. As a dad muscled a lawn mower ahead of him with one hand, he expertly towed a child’s wagon behind him with the other. In the wagon sat his three-year-old daughter, delighted at the noisy tour of their yard. This might not be the safest choice, but who says men can’t multitask?
If you had a good dad, a scene like that can invoke fantastic memories. But for many, “Dad” is an incomplete concept. Where are we to turn if our fathers are gone, or if they fail us, or even if they wound us?
King David certainly had his shortcomings as a father, but he understood the paternal nature of God. “A father to the fatherless,” he wrote, “a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5–6). Paul expanded on that idea: “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.” Then, using the Aramaic word for father—a term young children would use for their dad—Paul added, “By him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Rom. 8:15). This is the same word Jesus used when He prayed in anguish to His Father the night He was betrayed (Mark 14:36).
What a privilege to come to God using the same intimate term for “father” that Jesus used! Our Abba Father welcomes into His family anyone who will turn to Him.
For years I thought of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) as a blueprint for human behavior, a standard no one could possibly meet. How could I have missed the true meaning? Jesus spoke these words not to encumber us, but to tell us what God is like.
Why should we love our enemies? Because our merciful Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. Why store up treasures in heaven? Because the Father lives there and will lavishly reward us. Why live without fear and worry? Because the same God who clothes the lilies and the grass of the field has promised to take care of us. Why pray? If an earthly father gives his son bread or fish, how much more will the Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask?
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) not only to explain God’s ideal toward which we should never stop striving but also to show that in this life none of us will ever reach that ideal.
Before God, we all stand on level ground: murderers and tantrum-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.
I don’t know how these people find me, but I keep getting more and more flyers in the mail from folks asking me to show up at their events so they can teach me about retirement benefits. It started several years ago when I began getting invitations to join an organization that works on behalf of retirees. These reminders all serve to say: “You’re getting older. Get ready!”
I have ignored them all along, but soon enough I’m going to have to break down and go to one of their meetings. I really should be taking action on their suggestions.
Sometimes I hear a similar reminder in the wisdom of Scripture. We know that what the passage says is true about us, but we are just not ready to respond. Maybe it’s a passage like Romans 14:13 that says, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Or the reminder in 2 Corinthians 9:6, which tells us, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Or this reminder in Philippians 1: “Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened” (vv. 27-28).
As we read God’s Word, we get vital reminders. Let’s take these seriously as from the heart of the Father who knows what honors Him and is best for us.
When John F. Kennedy was president of the US, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene. Seated around the president’s desk in the Oval Office, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence. Meanwhile, a toddler, the 2-year-old John-John, crawls around and inside the huge presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state. He is simply visiting his daddy.
Beep, beep, beep, beep. The warning sound and flashing lights alerted commuters that the train door was about to close. Yet a few tardy individuals still made a frenzied scramble across the platform and onto the train. The door closed on one of them. Thankfully, it rebounded and the passenger boarded the train safely. I wondered why people took such risks when the next train would arrive in a mere 4 minutes.