Hearing the Father’s Pleasure in You
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 or Genesis 15:1-6, Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or Psalm 33:12-22, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40
When you read this Gospel passage, which phrase continues to ring in your ears as you walk away from it? “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into,” or “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”? An awful lot turns on the answer to that question. If you’re honest, the choice will tell you a lot about the God you believe in. Most Christians I know say they believe in a loving God, one whose grace and forgiveness defines Him. And yet, when I hear them talk, they talk as though there were still things about this God to fear. They talk about Grace, but somewhere in the conversation, they remind me that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!” (Psalm 111:10)
These same people, hearing today’s Gospel will likely find their attention captured by the statement that the Son of Man comes at an unexpected hour, that we “had better be” prepared for His coming. All of a sudden Jesus’ words of comfort and encouragement are transformed into a warning about a capricious Lord who might show up at any moment.
But go back. Why do we insist on cramming two contradictory images of God up against one another? Why is it that we cannot hear beyond our own fear? Some will say that allowing one set of words to set the tone for the others isn’t faithful to the Word of God present in the Bible. To that I will say that reading this text and letting the scarier image of God survive is to let that image set the tone for the other. In fact, those folks are doing the same thing that I’m doing, but they’re choosing the angry image of God as their fundamental image and glossing it over with words of grace. In that way, both they and I are right. God is either a God whose love triumphs over everything, or He is not. Jesus gives us this interesting teaching about the Son’s return as a way of allowing us to discover which we have chosen.
When we begin with Jesus’ words of comfort, and then read the whole text as a passage of comfort, it still makes sense. It can be read as a whole. I don’t think the same can be said of the other way of reading. There is a “change of gears” as we struggle to reassert the scariness of God in the face of Jesus’ words, “Don’t be afraid, little flock!”
So, let’s see how this reads when we allow Jesus to define the tone by His first words. I’ll do a bit of a paraphrase here, rather than a commentary…
My friends, don’t let your lives be consumed by anxiety. Don’t let every day be a day in which you struggle to avoid those things of which you are afraid. Don’t go running after your food and what you’ll wear. God cares more for you than for the ravens, and yet they eat! The flowers are clothed with beauty, but they’re here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you think your Father in heaven will do more for you than for them?
(This is where today’s reading really begins…)
Oh, my dear little ones, you need not be afraid. It gives your Father great pleasure to give you His entire kingdom! You have everything, so don’t cling to your “stuff” as though you needed it. Go ahead and sell it so that you can see how much your Father desires to do for you! There is much more “treasure” in the knowledge of your Father’s care than there is in any money bag! And no thief can steal His love from you! Let your heart be set on Him, on your Father!
Oh, look at you, with that frightened look on your faces! Don’t look to the Father’s coming as those who fear their master’s arrival! Receive him like those slaves whose master is going to be coming home full of joy, as though He’d just come from a huge wedding feast! They dance around the house with uncontainable excitement, looking for something to do to prepare even better for His arrival because they know that they will share in His joy when He comes! Not knowing just when it may be, they stay up the whole night if they must in order to greet Him on His arrival. Who could sleep? And that master, when he comes home and discovers that His slaves have been waiting for Him with such joy will do much more than praise them, He’ll switch places, become their servant!
Remember who your Father in Heaven is! If you are like the one who fears His coming, who doesn’t know Him and His joy, you will surely fall asleep. Fear will wear you out in no time. Only joy will keep you awake and alert for His arrival, since you cannot know when He’ll really be coming. Live your life in joyful anticipation, because of who He is.
I was one of those children whose father traveled a lot on business in the early part of my life, and I remember looking forward to the little surprises he’d bring home each time He returned. Not because they were valuable, because we couldn’t afford much, but because they were a symbol that he had been thinking of me while he was away. It is that kind of childlike joy and anticipation that I think Jesus commends to us here. Not that we be working constantly in hopes of being awake when He comes, but to be so filled with joy in the knowledge of Who it is that is coming to us that we can’t sleep, can’t sit still or contain our excitement!
My spiritual director likes to say that fear is my “default response.” It’s true that when something unexpected pops up, my first emotion is usually fear. I grew up scared of just about everything. Of course, I learned to cover that over with other things. I figured out that I could use my intellect to put others on the defensive, or my anger to fight them off. But the basic response is fear.
And so when I hear this pairing of parables my first response is to be afraid. In order to believe in the God whom Jesus knew as Father, the one who delights to give me the Kingdom, I have to wade through my first response and by an act of will decide to believe in the other. I cannot follow my feelings as a sure guide to God. Some may be able to I suppose, but I think that most of us cannot.
And we cannot even perform that act of will in our own strength. We aren’t that strong. Sin has its talons too deeply embedded in our flesh.
Today, I ask you to decide. Which God do you want to believe in? The one who delights in you, or the one of whom you should be afraid? If you choose the latter, I can’t do much for you but pray. If you choose the former, then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I am not able to choose You over the frightening gods of this world. Please give me Your Holy Spirit to guide me, to turn my will so that I can choose You.
In Jesus’ Name,
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
It has taken me years to get to the point of being able (with God’s help) to do that little thing. The Psalm doesn’t say that those who trust in God will never be afraid, but rather that those who trust in God will intentionally put that trust in Him when things happen that make them afraid.
For me, learning to hear the Father’s voice meant acknowledging that I was more attuned to other voices than to His. It then meant developing a new habit. It took a long time, but I finally have learned to recognize my first response, and how to choose another response. as I said in yesterday’s piece. I don’t do that in my own strength, I can’t. But I don’t waste time (at least not a lot) berating myself for being afraid, I just see what’s going on, and then do differently than I used to.
I hear the accusing voices that make me afraid.
And then I listen for His, “You are my beloved child. In you I take great pleasure.”
Today, make it a point to notice one time when you are afraid (or angry – we often use anger to cover over our fear). Just one time, but be really intentional about that one. Listen to the voice of accusation and fear, then turn your attention from that one and listen for your Father’s voice, praying something like this:
Heavenly Father, I want so much to hear You speaking, to know Your voice in my ear, to know Your presence. Please, speak into my life now.
In Jesus’ Name,
One of my daily prayers is one that is fashioned on part of Ephesians 6. You know the passage, the one about putting on the whole armor of God.
There’s one phrase in there that I’d like to talk about for a moment. It’s verse 15. “And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace…” (NKJV) Part of my preparation for each day is spending time each morning in the “gospel of peace.” That is, I listen (literally, by way of an audio Bible) to my Father’s Word to me, listen to the “gospel of peace” for long enough that I can more easily distinguish between His voice and the counterfeits I’ll encounter during the day.
Time spent in His Presence at the beginning of each day is irreplaceable. No one is too busy for this. It doesn’t have to be an audio Bible. You can just spend time in the Word, or just listening to Psalms, but I would recommend that you give time to Bible texts themselves, not just worship music. Worship music is our response to the gospel of peace, but it isn’t the Gospel.
Today (or maybe tomorrow morning?) take some time to cover your feet with this preparation of the “gospel of peace.” Get to know the sound of His voice as He speaks His love over you through His Word. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I only ask one thing today. Let me remember how You sound to me right now, so that I can tell when I’m not listening to You and turn my heart and my ears back to You.
In Jesus’ Name,
How different those words sound, depending on the situation. “Stay awake, fool!” says the (foolish) new lieutenant to the sergeant on guard duty.
“Stay awake, honey, we’re almost home, and you’ll see Daddy!” says momma after a long drive home from camp with a homesick child.
Commands aren’t always a reason to worry. Sometimes they’re an invitation to intimacy. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Even the trainer’s exhortations in the gym are driven by our good, “Come on! Gimme five more reps, just five more. Come on!”
“Stay awake! Stay alert!” The master of the house is indeed just around the corner, waiting to be revealed. To me, “Stay awake!” just means “Keep your eyes open and you’ll see Him!”
Today, try to stay alert, eager for His revelation. Keep peeking out the window for Him, looking around the corner, listening for His approaching step. Let that expectation brighten each moment with hope, and pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, when my attention drifts, and it will, sound an alarm, please. I want to be alert to Your Son’s presence.
In Jesus’ Name,
“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!”
I think I want to end this week with this good word to you and to me. As I listen to these words, I hear the Father of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. “My son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours!” This same Father who gave half his holdings to the younger son earlier. He seems intent on impoverishing Himself for His children’s sake.
But this poverty is His good pleasure. His heart bursts with joy as He releases the riches of His Kingdom into our lives. This is the voice of your Father. The one that shakes the heavens with His laughter as He pours out His blessings on us.
Today, be determined to hear this voice suffused with pleasure. Be determined (with His help) to hear Him above and below all the other noises of your day. And pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, open my ears to hear You speaking joy into my life today, and let that joy echo in my own voice as I speak into the lives of others.
In Jesus’ Name,
If you’d like easier access to Hearing His Voice than looking it up on a webpage, it is now available as both paperback and Kindle book. (But it will always be free here.)