Our brother Jesus teaches us about his Father so we can be better fathers.
The other day, someone told me one of the saddest stories ever. A little boy has a mother who doesn’t want him. She has a new boyfriend. His dad is not part of the picture. His last memory is not of a loving father but of the new boyfriend chasing him away from his mother’s house.
The world is not big enough to contain that sorrow. Everybody needs a dad. At least one. Even better, many. And a mom too, obviously, but that’s not what this article is about.
My father’s rich bequest
When I was a young missionary in Zambia, a friend of mine once said to me, “Mulichete bazyali bavubi!—you have rich parents!” He didn’t mean they were rich in material things. He meant they had a wealth of wisdom and grace to pass onto their children.
A father is a model for the child and the child, as the old saying goes, is father to the man. Security, values, and a sense of self-worth are largely the bequests parents pass down to their children. What the child’s father was is seen in the child when he grows up. People have told me that they see my father in me even though I am not consciously imitating him. And so it goes, down through the generations.
I had a wonderful father. A great deal of what I know of God’s grace came through him. His preaching I’ll always remember. But it was more than words. He loved me. He spent time with me, busy though he was. Wisdom, patience, integrity, honesty, and careful speech—all these were virtues I saw in him and learned to value from him. As I consider my own life, I must confess, sadly, I have not done as well as he.
I remember once I was in a stormy passion about something. I burst into his office and said things. Hard things. Things calculated to hurt. A tsunami of words. He heard me out. Like a rock in the middle of an ocean storm he let my waves pound him relentlessly. When the storm was spent, he looked at me, unperturbed, and with a shrug and a smile said, “Well, maybe someday you’ll feel differently.”
My other fathers
Everybody needs a dad. At least one. As many as you can get.
I’ve had many fathers. Older men who simply took note of me and took the time to give me a hand. At a funeral recently I said good-bye to R. G. Cox, my former “bishop” in Zambia. He had supervised me during my vicar training year there. One time, after looking over a sermon I had written, he gave it back to me and said, “Paul, you have a lot of good ideas here, but they’re scattered around like buckshot.” I’ll never forget that line. “Like buckshot!” It was funny. It was true. I needed to hear it. Thanks, Dad! See you in heaven!
And on and on these older “dads” live in me as I remember them. I can hear their words. I can see their faces—concern, compassion, and kindness radiating from them all. I think of them, and no matter where I am, I feel I’m safe at home again.
Of course, Father’s Day always brings with it a deep sense of my own failures and shortcomings in the dad department. The times I spoke when I should have listened. Times I stormed and raged over people much more vulnerable than my father. Times I overreacted and scattered my words around like buckshot. Times I just wasn’t there when my children needed me.
Everybody needs a father. For sure a heavenly one. Earthly ones too.
That’s why I’m so glad I have another Father. The one from whom all fatherhood is known. A kind, wise, heavenly Father, who is not as uncertain as an earthly father can sometimes be. He is never in a position where he cannot help or does not want to help. As a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on us (cf. Psalm 103:13). He does not withhold his very own Son, but freely gives him up for us all. And with him, he gives us all things. Forgiveness. Life. Hope in the hard days of despair. Courage in the ages of anxiety. Strength when ours is gone. Security when everything else is falling down. My brother Jesus told me about him. And he wouldn’t lie. He says, “When you pray, say, ‘Father’ ” (cf. Luke 11:2).
Being a father
Everybody needs a father. For sure a heavenly one. Earthly ones too. You really can’t have too many. I could show you the statistics and the studies, but they won’t tell you any more or say it any better than common sense and what the Scriptures amply affirm.
The sad fact is, we have baby daddies aplenty. We have men who oh-so-casually preside over the destruction of their marriages, thinking that a few days of court ordered quality time with their children can make up for the heat and burden of quantity time. And of course, I know some suffer divorce rather than seek it. I do not say these things to heap guilt on tragedy.
God sees. God knows. And God has a few things to say about the widow and the fatherless. About his compassion for them when no one else seems to care. He cares. And our Father wants us to care. Our Father wants us to notice. Our Father wants us to step up. Could it be that God has blessed us with a wealth of parents so that we could be, in turn, a blessing to others?
In fact, it seems to me the best way to honor your father is not necessarily to send him a card or a mug with “Best Dad in the World” emblazoned on it. That’s fine, of course, and we dads appreciate it. But better still: Look to be a father yourself—that is, be a principled, compassionate man of integrity. And be that for children who need it, wherever you might find them.
Everybody needs a father. At least one. Better many.
And if you’re hurting because you’ve not been the best father in the world or because you’ve never known the compassion and interest of an earthly father, let our brother Jesus introduce you to your Father again. He knows. He cares. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on us. He will delight over you with his love. He will comfort you with his everlasting kindness. And even if he has millions of children, he always has time for you. You are the apple of his eye! Go talk to him. And when you do, call him Father.
In his house, you are “no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.”
Author: Paul O. Wendland
Volume 107, Number 6
Issue: June 2020