People ask me for things every day. They want my time, my ideas, my permission, my money, my connections, my help, my endorsement, and at times even my forgiveness. There are more voices asking for things than I have time to provide. Therefore, I have to judge carefully and make decisions about who I hear and who I decline. I am careful about who I invest in with my time and energy.
My son is different. He has direct access to me at all times. When he walks into my office, he gets to stay as long as he wants. When we’re at home, I pay attention to everything he brings to my attention (usually the colors of his trains and trucks, the letters or numbers on the TV, or a list of what he ate today). I treat my son differently than I treat anyone else calling out for my attention. I focus my attention on him, and my entire family for that matter, so much that other voices will have to wait to receive the attention they seek.
As my son has matured, he has transitioned from merely requesting (or demanding) goods and services, and now asks me legit questions about the world around him. “What’s that?” he will ask and point to an item, and then do his best to repeat my response. Soon he no longer asks about the object, and will instead declare it to others with a high degree of charisma and authority. Within moments of learning the answer to his question, he will now point it out to everyone in the room (including myself). “Chair!” he will say while looking me sternly in the eye and touching the chair. “Truck!” he will say while holding up one of his toys. He calls out, I answer, and he learns.
Prayer is like this in some ways. No matter what is going on in the world, I hear my son’s voice. He may not always understand my response, and I get it: he’s about two years old! But when he speaks I listen and treasure what I’m seeing. This is my own boy, calling out directly to me, copying me as he goes through life. What I say, he says. What I do, he tries his best to do. When I scream during a football game, he mimics me, complete with volume, hand motions, and at times noticeable disgust or jubilation. He is watching me, copying me, learning from me, and of course he still asks me for things.
Our relationship with our dad forever colors our understanding and approach to God. If our father was approachable, God can seem more approachable. If our father was overbearing, God may seem overbearing in His expectations. If our father was vengeful, abusive, violent, or simply absent, then God is going to appear to be just as flawed and indifferent to His own children.
Jesus used the term “Abba” when crying out to God the Father. This was in the New Testament era a term of endearment, much like when my son smiles at me and says “da-da!” It was not a reference in any way to a lame Scandinavian pop band. When we come to God, we must clear our vision to see Him as our loving father, who always clears the room so we can speak with Him. We must see Him as that perfect father, regardless of how our own life experiences have influenced our perception from our childhood. Jesus brings this understanding of who the Father is as He answers a question asked from one of His followers. The question was “Lord, teach us to pray.” The answer is discussed in the next blog post…
The above entry has been reposted and edited, and is part of a four part series called “Elemental: The Elements of Spiritual Life.” It is a reflection of what I have learned over time as necessary components to a growing Christian life. It is not an all inclusive formula of three steps that when followed will lead to a measurable and intended result. It is simply an observation of three elements told in four abridged segments that are always present in the lives of Christians that are growing closer to the Lord, and always absent from those who describe their lives as “not growing” spiritually. The intended audience is clearly people who identify themselves as Christian people, though not limited to them.