By: Joe Stowell, Strength For The Journey
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15
Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis has a beautiful, stately auditorium. I’ll never forget the time I preached there. I was taken with the beauty of it all—the chimes of the carillon, the poetry of the liturgy, and even the majestic robes that the pastor Dr. Sandy Willson and I were wearing. It was all very ornate and regal.
I was soaking in the experience as I climbed the steps up to the platform, when I noticed something surprising—something that seemed strangely out of place. Perched on Dr. Willson’s robed lap was his four-year-old daughter! In the midst of all this majesty, my friend had welcomed his little girl to sit on the platform with him, right there in public. Incredible!
That wonderful picture is still etched in my mind.
I think about it when I read through our passage in Romans 8: 1-15. The apostle Paul has just reminded us that we are free from condemnation—that sin and death no longer have a claim on us if we have surrendered to Jesus (Rom. 8:1-2). Our minds are no longer held captive by sin and we are free to set them on what God desires (Rom. 8:5-8). And with the Holy Spirit now living within us, we are truly alive, able to live a life that better reflects Christ (Rom. 8:9-11). Then we get to the picture Paul paints in Rom. 8:15.
We no longer have to be slaves to fear, Paul says. Look at your world. People all around us are gripped by fear—fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of the future, and the fear of death. But in Jesus it’s all gone. Paul says that the Holy Spirit, living within the followers of Jesus, sets us free from our bondage to that fear.
And if that weren’t good enough, there’s more.
Paul then makes the staggering claim that we have the “Spirit of sonship.” We’ve been adopted into the family of God! He makes the claim explicit by giving us permission to call God—the Creator of the Universe—“Abba, Father.” In the language of Paul’s day, “Abba” was really the equivalent of “Daddy.” Imagine that! God says to you and to me, “You know what? Now that you’re my son (or daughter), I want you to call me Daddy!” Or, if you want a slightly more masculine metaphor, picture a father affectionately calling his son over and saying, “Give me a high five!” It’s intimate, close access with the Father because you’re a privileged child. He loves to be close to you. His own Son, Jesus, died to give you the privilege of being able to call the most important Person in the universe “Abba, Father”!
That’s why the picture of Dr. Willson with his daughter on his lap was so moving to me. Dr. Willson’s position hadn’t changed. He had a position of authority, of respect, and of honor. Nothing about that moment changed his position. But this little girl had immediate access to her father, and she felt safe with him. She was welcomed to his lap, and he was proud to be her daddy.
God’s position doesn’t change when we obey Scripture and call him our “Dad.” He is the ultimate authority, infinitely worthy of our honor and our respect. That never changes. But it makes the privilege of intimacy with the Father all the more incredible and all the more wonderful. Don’t waste another minute sensing that you are too small and insignificant to merit a special relationship with God. Jesus died to make you God’s child. Climb up on His lap and feel safe with Him.
Dare to call Him “Dad”!
“Karen, your dad has taken a downturn.” This message from my husband was waiting for me when I checked into a hotel after a trip to the mountains.
Suddenly my joyful mood turned somber. I could sense the end was near. My father had been suffering for a long time and his decline over the past few months was apparent. I decided on the spot to go directly to the nursing home.
I zipped down the freeway, preoccupied with thoughts of all the ups and downs our relationship had undergone over the years. I was filled with memories — of the time he and I sang a duet at a Girl Scout father/daughter dinner! Of the time we rode horses together at a dude ranch in Arizona. Of the time he stopped talking to me for six months because we had some fundamental disagreements about religion. Of the time he and I prayed together for God’s forgiveness. Of the time he held his first grandchild and then his first great-grandchild with the same tenderness.
I arrived at 1:30 that afternoon and my sister June and her husband Harry rushed in a couple of hours later. We joined our mother at Dad’s bedside. He had slipped into a coma and could no longer squeeze my hand when I reached for his.
The head nurse entered the room, then told us quietly at the doorway that our father was in the final moments of his life.
I could barely stand to watch my father struggle so. Each breath was labored. Dear God, release him, I prayed. He has waited so long for the touch of your healing hand. I give him back to you, O Lord.
Suddenly a passage from Scripture came to mind. Quickly, I flipped to the Concordance in the back of my Bible and there I found the keyword that took me to the verse I wanted.
In that moment, I had an entirely new understanding of what was occurring in front of my eyes. I read the passage aloud:
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14 (NIV)
Dad was pressing on towards the goal! He was in the final sprint of the race of his life. Of course he couldn’t squeeze my hand. Of course he couldn’t turn and acknowledge our presence. Of course he was preoccupied with what was happening to him. And of course he was breathing hard and fast. That’s what runners do — especially when they are coming down to the line. They press on towards that goal.
It was a private moment between the Lord and my father. And I had the privilege of observing it. My somber mood began to lift. Little tendrils of peace — even bits of joy — crept to the surface. I couldn’t explain it. My father was about to die and I was feeling happy!
My sister and I kissed our mother and father good-night at 9:00, intending to return at 7:00 the next morning. Later that evening the phone rang. It was the nurse.
“Your father is gone,” she said.
Reality. Finality. Dad had died.
He had crossed the finish line — and now he was in full possession of the prize for which he ran so long and hard — the call of God from above. What a moment — for us both. Praise the God who comforts us in grief by turning our mourning into joy!
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)
Devotions for Father’s Day
What comes to mind when you hear the term Father’s Day? Maybe you think about stereotypical gifts like neckties or #1 Dad t-shirts. Perhaps you have memories of the sights and smells of grilling together. Or maybe—like many people—the holiday provides an opportunity for you to celebrate your Father in heaven.
Whatever the case may be, we wanted to provide a Father’s Day gift for you: 5 devotionals for Father’s Day.
- Honoring Parents by Henry Kranenburg. This devotion answers two key questions: 1) is there an age when we’re no longer required to honor our parents? and 2) how are honoring our parents and honoring God connected?
- Learning from Examples by George Vink. The apostle Paul famously tells others to follow his example. Especially on Father’s Day, consider what kind of example you’re providing for others.
- The Runaway Son by Art Schoonveld. The story of the Prodigal Son speaks just as clearly today as it did 2,000 years ago. God’s fatherly love is a reassurance for us, whether we know a runaway or are one.
- A Holy Hug by David Den Haan. Recalling the dramatic reunion between a father and his estranged daughter, the author encourages us to embrace hurting people.
- Coming Home by Bob Heerspink. Take the opportunity to remember that—like a loving, patient father—God welcomes us home to him when we’ve wandered away.
On Father’s Day—and every day—we pray that your spirit would be refreshed, refocused, and renewed as you “see what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).