Your Father's Voice
A four-year old girl was overheard whispering into her newborn baby brother's ear. "Baby," she whispers, "tell me wha tGod sounds like. I am starting to forget." -Quoted in Robert Bensen, Between the Dream and the Coming True, p. 55
Read Galatians 4:1-7 & 5:1-4
When we‘re newborn baby Christians we love to listen to our Heavenly Father’s voice as he sings us grace-songs. But as we grow older in our faith we sometimes forget what He really sounds like. I know I did.
As a child I was delighted to accept God’s free gift of salvation, because, like most little kids, there really wasn’t a lot I could do for myself — in any way. I needed a boost to reach the water fountain, so I sure wasn’t going to think twice when told I needed a boost to reach heaven. So how did I spiral down from there to the point that my religiosity was crippling my spirit?
There were many contributing factors, among them the OCD I already mentioned. But another was even more insidious: I really enjoyed achieving excellence. I was an honor student who liked working hard, and I enjoyed the rewards of hard work. Slowly, without even realizing it, I allowed that to subtly change the emphasis of my faith from grace to works. I figured that since God was perfect, He appreciated excellence, and the more excellent I was, the more He’d appreciate me. Specifically, if I were excellent at keeping religious rules (even those imposed by human leaders) and religious restrictions (such as resting on the Sabbath), I would really be loved! I’d heard lots of messages condemning “lukewarm faith” so I determined I would burn hot for God — as evidenced by my hard work for Him (Except for on the Sabbath! When I would rest hard for Him!).
But in today’s passage, Paul says this kind of thinking is “slavery.” He even says you can become “alienated from Christ” by your hard religious work! That was me: Rather than enjoying my Father, I began to imagine Him as a hard-to-please employer. I thought I heard mostly condemnation from Him; I was never really at peace; I felt like I ought to do more, could do more, should do more… And instead of asking whether I was in theological error, I began to resent Him just like an under-appreciated employee! I even would go “off the reservation” into my own personal Mardi Gras of indulgence once in a while because my whole life felt like one long Lenten fast. Then I’d crawl back feeling guiltier than ever.
But listen to the real voice of God again: “…you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:7) I still remember how, when I read that passage the night of my “re-rebirth,” I wept. No longer a slave, but a son! There’s a big difference: A slave is always worried he’ll displease his master; a child is secure in the love of his family.
My friend Mike Yaconelli once led a one-day church retreat where attenders read different Scriptures and wrote down what they thought God might say to them today. When they were asked to read their compositions aloud, the adults found it difficult, so Janie, a 17-year-old high school girl, volunteered to read hers first. Here is her dialogue with God as recorded in Mike’s book Dangerous Wonder, starting with her voice, followed by what she imagines God would say, based on Scripture:
i feel awkward
because it’s been so long since i’ve been near you
i’ve missed you too;
i think about you every day.
But i’ve messed up;
i’ve done a lot of things that i regret
it’s okay, child;
i forgive you.
i don’t understand
i turn away, i ignore you…
i’m still here
right beside you.
i try to live without you
even though i know deep inside that you’re still a part of me
you don’t have to make yourself lovable;
i love you how you are.
even after everything i’ve done, and after everything that has happened;
would it offend you if i called you bizarre?
i am bizarre;
more so than you’ll ever know.
this may seem strange but
could i please ask you to hold me, for a little while?
my child, i’ve been waiting for you
with outstretched arms.
Mike says that after Janie read her dialogue there wasn’t a dry eye in the place, and all the adults said, “I’m not reading mine.”
Christianity really isn’t so complicated. You can learn once again to hear the grace-filled whisper of God.
Do you tend to think of yourself as God’s slave, God’s child, or some combination?
Read Galatians 4:5–7 out loud, but personalize it, saying your name at each pronoun.
Today, pray the prayer from Dr. Seamands’ book: ”Father, dear Father, I am your child, and I’m going to live and feel like one!”