Scripture reminds us time and time again that we are God’s children and he is our Father. Psalm 103:13 tells us, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” In 2 Corinthians 6:18, God promises, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” What does this mean for us, as we live out our lives, going to work, hanging out with friends, trying to follow God, and navigating the unpredictable future? Let’s take a closer look because the parent-child relationship between God and us is one that brings courage, joy, peace, safety, and freedom, no matter where you are in life.
Believing as Children
When you are a child, you often don’t understand the reasons behind certain rules and commands. You’re told not to touch a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven—but why? You’re told to not cross the street without holding an adult’s hand—but why? You’re told to not eat too much candy, to wash your hands before eating, to say please and thank you, and to eat your vegetables.
Why? Why? Why?
As children—in the very beginning, at least—we just don’t know the whys. We don’t know that the cookie sheet will burn our hand, that we need guidance to safely cross traffic, that neglecting to wash hands can make us sick, or that consuming vegetables makes our bodies healthier—but we are to obey anyway (though, of course, we fail or only obey with great protests and tantrums).
Even when we grow into teens and young adults, much of this is still true while we live as adopted children of God and receive commands from him to change directions in our life or act in certain ways–when he speaks to us through the Bible, another person, or prayer. Here are two examples.
1. A door closes in your life. You lose your job, go through a break-up, or don’t get into the school you wanted. We worship a God of redemption, meaning God takes the broken and failures of the world then uses them for good (Romans 8:28). We know God doesn’t waste these moments. Yet when we’re in the midst of a trial, like children, we can’t see beyond the corner. We can’t see the job we’re meant to have, the person we’re meant to be with, or the school we were meant to be at all along. We can’t see that the bitter disappointment we’ve endured may someday empower us to encourage and inspire someone going through the same trial. Fortunately, God can see it all. He knows our past, present, and future. And so even when a door slams in our faces, we can still have hope. Like a child trusting her parents’ instructions, we step forward with expectation that God will bring good out of any dusty, dirty failures or dead ends in our lives. And God not only orchestrates the future—he also walks beside us in the present as a comforter, as a parent comforts a child in times of disappointment or frustration.
2. We know what we should do (or not do). Yet we start justifying our actions because our sinful nature makes us fail to see the consequences of stepping outside of God’s plan and the indescribable freedom of following him wholeheartedly. A person wronged you and spread negative rumors about you—it seems right to do the same to them! You’ve worked really hard on a team project and have a chance to take all the credit—it seems right to take that opportunity! You and your significant other want to move too far physically before marriage—it seems right that you should do so, because you love each other! In these situations—and countless others—our human nature does a good job of making the wrong decision look like the right one. In those moments, it’s more important than ever to act as God’s children and trust the guidelines he sets out for our lives in the Bible, even when they don’t make sense to us. When we make that choice, though it might be long and difficult days, weeks, months, or even years, God promises us the hope of an abundant life (John 10:10). Even when it seems hardest, God’s way is always best.
Wondering as Children
It does not take children long to get excited about things. The sky, that tree, the swings, a bike, crayons, or a pinecone. Each of these things is often enough to send a child over the moon with joy and excitement. The best way to describe this might be with the word wonder. Everything is new for children. Especially in the first few years of their life, every day is filled with an entirely new experience. In their eyes, the world is filled with wonder.
I think part of coming to God as a child means coming to God with wonder. Look at this world he has created! Look at the trees, the sky, the ground, the mountains, the animals. Look how many things there are to taste and smell and see! Look at the people he created, each one so different, yet each so full of value.
Most of all, look at how much God loves us. Look at what the Bible tells us God did for us: He created us in his image, giving us life and immense value and the ability to create and have a parent-child relationship with him. Even when we disobeyed him, constantly turning to sin and deserving death, God pursued us and ultimately sent his Son Jesus to die for us. If you really think about it, this doesn’t quite make sense to our limited human logic. Why would you sacrifice yourself to save something you created that had rejected you? God did just that because he loved us—and that is something to think, talk, and pray about like a child thinking, talking, or praying about the sky, ocean, tall trees, or the best cookie they ever had—with absolute wonder.
God as our Parent
In Luke 15:11-22, Jesus tells a story about a father who has two sons. One day, the younger son comes to him and demands his part of the inheritance right away. Normally, that money would be given to the sons after their father’s death. By asking for it now, the son is basically expressing he doesn’t care if his father is alive or dead—he wants his money. He takes his inheritance, leaves, and immediately wastes it all on an extravagant life, filled with parties and rich clothes and all-around bad choices. In just a short amount of time, he has spent all his money, making him so poor that he considers eating the leftovers from some pigs’ meal just to survive. That’s when he returns to his father, begging him to take him back as a servant. Fortunately, the father won’t hear of it. Instead, as soon as the father sees his son returning, he runs to him with outstretched arms and holds him close. His son—the son who rejected him, wished him dead, and left for a wild life—had returned. And he did not welcome him back with anger, or even pity—but with joy and love, restoring him to his position as his son.
The younger son wanted control of his life. He thought that a life of luxury without the authority of his father would bring freedom and happiness. But instead, he became a slave to his selfishness and greed. Letting go of control in our lives is hard sometimes. Choosing to call God “Father” and obey him seems like the opposite of choosing freedom. But in reality, making that choice is the only route to true freedom. When we obey God’s commandments like “Love the Lord your God” (Mark 12:30), “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16), and “Do not covet” (Exodus 20:17), we are saying “no” to our sinful desires, but even more importantly than that—we are saying “yes” to a life of peace and joy, free from the anxieties that come from focusing on ourselves and grasping tightly to living life our way.
John 1:12-13 reads, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
This is the God we worship. This is the God whom we call Father, and who calls us sons and daughters.