approachable Father or Holy King?

The title of my blog is Perpetual Tension. I chose this title because of the many aspects of our faith that followers of Jesus must hold in healthy tension–being in the world but not of the world, trusting that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man, etc. If we allow ourselves to lean one way or the other, we can become ineffective and out of balance.

Recently, I came to the realization of another such area that we must hold in a healthy tension. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled The Father’s Character. It is based on a prayer method that uses The Lord’s Prayer to focus our own prayer time or prayer life. I learned this method as a part of the 3DM discipleship process I am currently a part of. This prayer method is detailed in that blog post so I won’t rehash it here, but it brought to light a tension that likely many believers might have out of balance in one direction or the other.

The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That first sentence is the source of a significant tension between viewing God as Father and God as King.

First, Jesus instructs us to pray to God our Father in heaven. This is by design as it speaks to us of the approachable nature of God. In other passages of Scripture, we are called the sons and daughters of God. We have incredible access to the Holy God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He invites us to come to Him as a child comes to a loving father, to crawl up on His lap and experience His loving embrace.

But, as the sentence continues, we see that God is also a Holy King. He is separate from us, above us. Other passages of Scripture admonish us to fear God. He has a will that we are to abide by and our own wills are at war with His will. We are to align ourselves with His will not fashion God to our own liking.

Herein lies the tension. Yes, God is an approachable, loving Father, but He is also a Holy, Righteous God who is far above us and separate from us. If we lean too far to one side or the other, we have an inaccurate understanding of God. If we err too far to the approachable Father aspect of God’s character, we may not have a healthy fear or respect for God. We might also act or continue in some sort of sinful behavior because “God will forgive me.” When taken to an extreme, we can begin to view God as a benevolent grandfather who loves to have us sit on his lap so he can pat us on the head and give us candy. It’s not just individuals who can fall into this faulty thinking. Churches who are too heavily skewed toward the approachable Father aspect of God’s character can give people the impression that God loves them just the way they are (which is true), and that they can stay just the way they are.

If we err too far to the Holy King aspect of God’s character, we can fall into a performance mindset–that God is primarily concerned about our good behavior, and that He somehow loves us more because of it. We might be riddled with guilt over our sin and feel like He can’t (or shouldn’t) forgive us. At the most extreme, we can begin to view God as distant from us “way up there” and that He is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can hurl a giant lightning bolt to zap us. Again, churches can fall into this type of faulty thinking and begin to preach a message of legalism and adherence to a bunch of rules out of fear of the judgement of God. People in churches who lean heavily in this direction can end up with people who have no intimacy with God–no personal connection with Him. This is, of course, just as dangerous as the opposite scenario.

I grew up in an environment that leaned pretty far toward God as a Holy King. Let’s just say there were a lot of rules and, honestly, I can’t remember anyone speaking of their personal relationship with God. It was more about the things we didn’t or shouldn’t do–even if there wasn’t a verse of Scripture that addressed the issue. It was an environment that emphasized outward performance over inward transformation. As a result, to this day, I am skewed slightly more toward God as a Holy King than as an approachable Father. Sometimes I am uncomfortable around people who lean a little more toward God being an approachable Father and I am tempted to pull out my virtual “list of acceptable behaviors for Christians” from my past. I am learning that this is another area of perpetual tension that I must hold in balance.

What about you? How do you view God–more as an approachable Father or more as a Holy King?

the Father’s character

There are many different “prayer tools” out there to aid us in our prayer lives. I’ve used the ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) acrostic in the past. Truth is, I’ve found that if I don’t use some sort of tool, my mind can easily wander–SQUIRREL!!

A few months ago, I learned a prayer tool based on The Lord’s Prayer, or the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray. It just makes sense. If this is what Jesus taught His disciples, shouldn’t it be a model for us to follow as well?

Here’s the simple format:

The Father’s Character
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name…” (Matthew 6:9)
Let this phrase guide your prayers around the themes of God being a loving and gracious Father. It speaks of our relationship with Him through covenant. But, be sure to balance it with the fact that God is holy, separate from us and He expects us to be holy and set apart as well.

The Father’s Kingdom
“…Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
This is huge! So many things come to my mind when I read this phrase. We have been given the opportunity to represent His kingdom as ambassadors. He has chosen to use us to accomplish His kingdom purposes on this earth. What greater purpose could there be to surrender fully to? It also brings to mind the kingdom values that should begin to be more and more evident as a group of believers live out the counter-cultural ways of Jesus. What about physical healing? We know from Scripture that there is no sickness or disease in God’s kingdom. So, to pray that God’s kingdom and God’s will would come to earth as it is in heaven means we can and should ask for God to bring physical healing.

The Father’s Provision
“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
God is our provider. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “…it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth..” This is an area of growth for most Americans. We have such an independent spirit and we fail to recognize that God is our provider and not we ourselves. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Allow this phrase to guide your prayers for God’s provision for your every need–not just financial.

The Father’s Forgiveness
“And forgive us our debs, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
Lots here to pray over as well! In general, if you’re like me, you over-estimate your own holiness and under-estimate your own sinfulness. As the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” What about broken relationships? Has someone wronged you? Matthew 6:14-15 seems to indicate that if we do not forgive others for the wrongs they have committed against us, then God will not forgive us!

The Father’s Guidance
“And lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13a)
Pray for God’s guidance in your life. What areas do you need God to guide you into truth and away from temptation? 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises us that there is no temptation that can overtake us because God will make a way of escape for us.

The Father’s Protection
“…but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13b)
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we are in a spiritual struggle. Pray for God’s spiritual protection and deliverance in your life. As you examine your life, what weak spots do you have? Our enemy, the evil one, will attack where you are weak. Those are the areas where we especially need the Father’s protection.

I’ve been using this prayer tool for the past couple of months. I am a substitute school bus driver to help supplement my income and I have been on the same route for about 2 months. The bus practically does the route itself by now so I use the 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon for some focused prayer. This tool has been very beneficial in keeping my thoughts corralled.

You can either pray through all 6 categories in one prayer time or spend the whole time on one of the 6 aspects. Doing the latter will enable you to really go deeper in a segment. Another way to use this tool is to evaluate your prayer life. Which segment(s) are you strong in? Which segment(s) are you weak in? For instance, I might have no trouble asking for God’s guidance in my life, but I might struggle recognizing Him as my provider. It’s a great evaluation tool!

What prayer methods have you found helpful?