“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….” Matthew 6:9a (NIV)
When Jesus instructed His followers to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, He began by teaching us to address the King as Father – “Our Father in heaven….” Intended as a term of endearment, the title, Father, strikes a discord in the hearts of those who never had the affection, support, or love from an earthly father, or worse; felt rejection, abandonment or abuse from him. To imagine God as a father is difficult, even painful for them.
The truth is, we all have flawed fathers, and we all have a father void in our lives that only our Heavenly Father can fill. Some of us try to fill that void with performance to prove our worth so we may feel accepted and loved. Others try to fill it by pleasing everyone. Jesus tells a story in Luke’s gospel that describes these two types in the parable of the prodigal son. The story is really a picture of the perfect father and the unfailing love that He has for all His children. It helps us experience our Father’s love and fill that father void we feel.
If you’ve ever struggled with experiencing a father’s love, you’ll relate to the story that Jesus tells of these two sons in Luke 15 and what it took for them to experience their father’s love. It’s a familiar story to most of us. The younger son decides to embrace “the good life” he sees in the world around him. He demands that his father give him his share of the inheritance before his dad even dies so that he can leave and live it up. What a hurtful rebuke it must have been for his dad to have his youngest son say in essence, “I wish you were dead.” As the story unfolds, the younger son leaves with his share of the inheritance and before he knew it, he had spent all he had. Luke 15:13 says, “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (NIV)
With nowhere to turn, the young man finds himself in a pig pen just to get enough to survive. It was there that he came to his senses. Verse 17 puts it like this: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’” You come to your senses in a pig pen! Pig pens create change! The prodigal son realized how far he had fallen. He had come from the palace to a pig pen! His dad’s hired servants had it better than him now! Picturing this young man in the pig pen reminds me of a proverb in Proverbs 20:30, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (TEV) It could be the pig pen of failure, the pig pen of addiction, the pig pen of burn out, or the pig pen of an affair that brings you to your senses, but, when it does, you’ll take the first step home just like this young man did. If you are going to experience your Heavenly Father’s love, you must stop rebelling and return to your Father’s care.
That led him to another step we read about in verses 18 and 19: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’” What a contrast between verse 19 and verse 12. In verse 12 he tells his father, “Give me my share of the estate.” Now, he returns to ask his father to, “…make me like one of your hired servants.” What rebellion failed to accomplish, guilt and shame almost succeeded. He was still running. Trying to achieve approval by his performance. In all this time, he still failed to understand his father’s character. But something dramatic would happen in verse 20.
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” I love this part of the story! It tells me if I am to experience the Father’s love, like the prodigal son, I must stop running and rest in my Father’s approval. The father in this story didn’t even allow his son to give his rehearsed speech of contrition. In fact, the implication in the story is that the father must have been looking out the window for his son to return. Maybe this will be the day he comes home. And then it happened! When the father saw his son returning “while he was still a long way off…filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” What a picture of grace and mercy! Mercy is not getting what I deserve. Grace is getting what I didn’t deserve! The father gave his son unconditional love! What undeserved approval he must have felt! This is the only time in all of Scripture where we see a picture of God running! Of all the religions of the world, Christianity is the only one that shows a God who runs to welcome us home when we turn to Him!
Have you been running for approval, striving for acceptance, thinking if I just do this or accomplish that, I can feel good about myself and be accepted by others? If you want to experience the Father’s love, stop running and rest in your Father’s approval. Tomorrow we’ll see one more insight into experiencing our Father’s love that impacted both brothers in this story.