Intimacy 3/3: The Father-heart of God
Bijgewerkt: 25 nov 2019
Jesus revealed God to us as a Father. He refers to God as His Father, or our Father 65 times in the Gospel. To truly embrace intimacy with God, it is essential that we understand the Father-heart of God. How you see God deeply impacts how you relate to Him. It could be though that you view God as a Father through the brokenness of your relationship with your earthly father. Perhaps, even without realizing it, your view of God as a Father is that He is cold and distant. This makes intimacy with Him very difficult.
My goal is to help you to understand that God is a good and perfect Father. I will show from a well-known story of Jesus how a wrong view of God's Father-heart can have deep consequences in our lives, but also, how our Father longs to restore this.
The term ‘father’ is a loaded term for every person on the planet. We all have a father, and that father was an important figure in our lives. Whether present or absent, loving or angry, emotionally available or unavailable, strong or weak, reliable or unreliable – your father had a huge impact on your life.
I see my role as a father to my daughter, as one of modelling the character of God. It is my duty to model the love, faithfulness and goodness of God. That’s why I believe it is so important that men take their Christian faith seriously and engage wholeheartedly.
One thing is quite sure when it comes to fatherhood: no earthly dad is ever going to be able to perfectly model the Father-heart of God. I’m going to fail my daughter in some areas. Your father failed you in some areas as well. He is (or was) a flawed human being just like all the rest of us, and so what I’m sure He didn’t give to you is the perfect example of what a father is like.
When we talk about God as our Father, it is important to realize that we may perceive God the Father through the brokenness of our relationship with our earthly fathers.
My prayer for you today is that God will break through with His Fatherly love in your life and reveal Himself to you as the perfectly good and loving Father that He is.
We are going to explore a well-known parable that presents God as a father. And this father has two sons. They are very different from each other. They both represent different types of people. Traditionally this story is referred to as the story of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son. Prodigal is a word that means to waste, or to squander – and if you are unfamiliar story you will soon discover why.
But what we’ll discover today is that both sons in the story are equally lost when it comes to the relationship with their father. And both are in desperate need of restoration.
I’ll break down the story into parts, discussing the broken view of fatherhood of both sons and the response of the father to both of them.
Luke 15:11-13 (NLT)
Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.
It’s obvious how this son is far removed from intimacy with the father. He even literally removes himself from the household of his father to pursue the ‘good life’.
The first thing that breaks his intimacy with his father is his selfishness. It is like he only sees his relationship to his father as beneficial in respect to money. His request is a harsh insult, especially in this time and culture. What is the message that he is sending here? “I can’t wait for you to die!” “The only thing you are good for to me is your money!”
Already here in the story, we see the heart of this father. The culturally appropriate response would have been to disown the boy. But instead, he gives him what he asks for. This probably meant selling part of his property to free up money to give to his son. The father values the free choice of his son higher than the insult and shame it brings on him.
The second thing that stands out is how the boy distrust his father. An inheritance is about far more than just money. What the recipient of the inheritance does with it has a lot to do family honour. It is about stewarding the wealth and life the generation before has worked so hard for and living out the destiny they prepared you for.
So, the younger son is not just insulting the father, but also denying sonship and the good life the father has prepared for him. He leaves the intimacy, identity and destiny of his father’s household.
This is what sin really is. It’s not just the immorality of his choices, but much more about the attitude towards the father of distrust and rebellion. At the heart of sin is an attitude of rebellion against God. I do not trust that the life that You have for me is good – I’m going to go figure it out for myself.
Father’s response to the younger son
Luke 1514-24 (NLT)
About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
What a beautiful illustration of the fatherly love of God! After everything that had happened, the father did not grow bitter towards his son, but always had hope that one day he would return.
And when the son returns, ashamed, dirty and smelling of pigs, his father immediately recognizes him, runs out, embraces him, kisses him, doesn’t even let him finish the apology. It’s a beautiful illustration of how we are always welcomed back in God’s presence. When we finally come to our senses to realize that our choices have hurt ourselves and the people around us – there is a way back. There is always a way back to God.
And what is so beautiful here is that the father in this case does not grant his request, but completely restores him. He welcomes the boy with a kiss, a robe and a ring.
With the kiss, he restores the intimacy that was broken. With the robe and the sandals, he restores him to sonship - giving the boy the clothing that only a son in the house would wear. With the seal ring carrying the authority of the father, he restores him to his destiny.
With God, you don't sneak in through the back door, but you are welcomed in through the front door.
The story is not over. Jesus began telling this story in response to questions of the religious elite why He was hanging out with the prostitutes and the tax collectors. Jesus uses the story to explain the deep compassion His father feels for those people, but the story continues and is about to teach them a lesson about their lives as well!
Luke 15:25-32 (NLT)
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
The older son, though less obviously is equally lost in the sense that he is far removed from the heart of his father. Let’s investigate.
As the younger son is, so the older son is self-focused. Somehow, he makes the return of his younger brother all about him! He is filled with envy and anger. There is a lot of resentment and entitlement coming out – like the father should have rewarded him more for his faithful labour, especially in contrast to the brother.
He interprets his life in the household of his father as working tirelessly and never being rewarded. His service to his father is cold and mechanical. You could say that also he is just in it for the money. Because through faithful labour he knows he will inherit all that’s left of his father’s possessions.
He sees his privilege of being a son in his father’s house, enjoying the security and prosperity of his father, as earned and not given, and even as the lesser option than wasting it like the younger son. “If I knew that this was an option, I would’ve done the same thing!”
He fails to see the brokenness in his younger brother, because he is too focused on the squandering and his own self-righteousness.
This man, just like his younger brother, was far removed from the heart of the father. Not only in the sense that he doesn’t respond to the return of his brother in the same way resembling the heart of his father – but certainly also in the sense that he didn’t seem to understand the father’s heart for him!
The older brother says: “You’ve never even given me a young goat to throw a party with my friends”, while the heart of his father is: “everything I have is yours”. You don’t have to beg me for a young goat. It’s yours already! The father is not withholding anything from his children. But the older brother doesn’t seem to understand what sonship truly is.
The Father’s response to the older brother
But look at the father’s response to the older brother. As he went out to the younger brother, so he goes out to the older brother in the field. And listen to the kindness and clarity in his answers to the angry comments of his older son.
In response to the boy saying “I’ve slaved away for you and you’ve never given me anything” the father simply replies: “everything I have is yours”. Do you think that your work is just for me? What is mine is yours. We are both working on something here that is ultimately for your benefit, not mine. You are taking the attitude of a hired worker, but you are my son. And when his older son talks about his younger son as “that son of yours” he kindly corrects him saying: “this brother of yours”. He is patient and kind with his son, even though he out for a family feud.
Come Back Home
Let’s bring this back to our personal lives and how we relate to God. A distorted view of the Father’s heart may drive to a life far from Him. But there will come a moment when you realize that this road ends in a pigsty. A life without God ends in the mud.
If this is you, then Jesus is telling you that the Father is still on the lookout for you. And when you return – dirty and smelly as you may consider yourself to be – all He sees is his son or daughter returning back home.
There is nothing you could ever do to make Him stop seeing you as His child.
A distorted view of the father’s heart can also lead you to a life where you are in seemingly close proximity to God, doing all the Christian stuff, but with a heart far removed from Him. In time, you will build up entitlement and resentment towards the Father, ready to cause a family feud.
If this is you, Jesus is telling you that you as well need to come back to the heart of the father. When you see God as cold, distant and demanding instead of warm, loving and generous you will not be able to enjoy intimacy with Him.
And viewing God this way will also lead to a failure of living out your identity as a son or daughter and a failure in living out your destiny to reflect his character to the people around you. Whichever son you may be, the message is the same. It is time to come back home to the Father.