A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).

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Prayer Pauses.

But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. – Luke 5:15-16 ESV

We live busy, non-stop, distraction-filled lives. We fill every second of every day with activity, much of it good, necessary and, to a certain degree, unavoidable. But the problem is that we tend to crowd out prayer. We leave little time for one of the greatest necessities of life – communication with God. Because of our busy schedules and crowded agendas, we end up giving God the dregs of our day. We attempt to pray as we fall asleep at night, exhausted and brain weary. Or we lift up a quick prayer in the morning between our third cup of coffee and checking our email. Busyness can end up being one of the greatest detriments to a healthy prayer life. So what are we to do? We can’t just eliminate all our commitments. We can’t quit our jobs, abandon our children, renege on our responsibilities or love to a monastery.

But we could follow Jesus’ example. He was busy. He knew what it was like to have a full agenda and the pull of a busy schedule. Yet He always found time to get alone with His Father. Luke says he “often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” The Greek word Luke used means “to retire quietly, to go back.” Jesus would get away from the pressure, the noise, and the demands on his life. He would “go back” or return to what He needed: time alone with His heavenly Father. I like to think of it as Jesus stopping His activity in order to recharge His battery. He went back to the source of power and energy for His life. He stopped giving long enough to get what He so desperately needed: the comfort, guidance, love and soul-satisfying presence of God. Jesus spent virtually every waking moment of every day giving Himself away to people. He taught, healed, discipled, debated, and ministered to countless people. He walked great distances. He answered countless questions from His disciples. He fended off accusations from the Pharisees. He felt stress. He grew tired. He knew what it was like to reach the end of the day and to feel like He had nothing left to give. So He got away. He returned to the one place where He could what He so desperately needed. He went to His Father’s side in prayer.

Prayer for Jesus was not a ritual to be performed or a spiritual discipline to be mastered. It was a non-negotiable necessity for living life as a human being on this planet. It was a joy and a welcome respite from the pressures of everyday life. He longed to get away in prayer. He looked forward to it. It was not something He squeezed into His crowded schedule reluctantly or begrudgingly. Prayer wasn’t a hassle to Jesus. It was the highlight of His day. Which is why He often spent all night in prayer. Like a visit with a long-lost friend, Jesus lost track of time when He talked with His Father. Their conversations would go well into the night and when the sun came up, it would find them still going strong. In his gospel account, John gives us a glimpse into what those conversations were like. In chapter 17 he records the prayer Jesus prayed just hours before His betrayal, arrest and trials. It reveals the intimacy and intensity that characterized Jesus’ prayer life. His prayers were passionate and personal. They were anything but ritualistic, repetitive, and rote. His prayers came from His heart and illustrate His deep love for and dependence upon His Father. Jesus got alone to pray because He knew that what He needed was unavailable anywhere else. He needed His Father to hear Him, guide Him, encourage Him, strengthen Him, love Him, and reassure Him of the unshakable nature of His divine plan. Prayer for Jesus was like the calm before the storm. He knew what was coming. He also knew He needed time alone with His Father if He was going to accomplish what was required of Him in the hours ahead. For Jesus, prayer was the pause that refreshes. It recharged, renewed, and reinvigorated His commitment to His Father’s will for His life. Prayer was a way of returning to the reality of who He was and the purpose for His presence on earth.

Sometimes we can lose sight of why we’re on this planet. We can begin to believe our busyness defines who we are and dictates our very purpose for living. But time alone with God will refocus our attention on the eternal instead of the temporal. It is in prayer that we are reminded that there is more to this life than meetings, car pools, appointments, accomplishments and energy-draining activities. We are eternal creatures created to have a relationship with God. We have souls that require sustenance that can’t be found anywhere but in time spent with God. Sleep may restore our bodies, but our souls need the spiritual recharging available only from our heavenly Father. Like Jesus, we need to set aside time to get alone with God. We need to reconnect, recharge and reestablish our relationship with the one who made us and who alone can sustain us. So why not take time today for a prayer pause? You won’t regret it.