Over the course of my lifetime some much needed teaching on intimacy with God has been produced. One of the reasons so much has been written on the subject is that many Christians have had bad experiences with their earthly fathers, which has made it difficult for them not to project those images onto God the Father. This causes a natural tendency to envision God in a variety of ways ranging from passively disinterested to unjustly authoritarian to cruelly abusive. Many great contemporary writers have addressed the issue in powerful ways (Frederick Buechner, Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen are a few of my personal favorites). Even those (like myself) who have or had an incredibly blissful experience in their relationship with their earthly fathers have gleaned much from the rich teachings on the love of the Father, and for that I am grateful.
However, one of the outgrowths of those teachings has spawned an interesting practice. I should qualify what I am about to point out with two caveats. First, I do not believe there is anything wrong with the practice (though I personally find it hard to jive with). Second, this may be a phenomenon that is unique mostly to Pentecostals, Charismatics and other enthusiasts. This is what I am talking about. I have noticed an increasing amount of people who refer to God the Father in a number of informal ways, including things like: Dad, Daddy, Papa, Pop, and Pops.
I am well aware that in Aramaic the word Abba, used three times in Scripture, seems to have been a very intimate, and informal word for father. I am also aware that Jesus addressed the Father with the word (Mark 14:36), Paul stated that we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ by the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15), and that the Holy Spirit cries, ‘Abba, Father’ in our hearts (Gal 4:6). So, if you are one who prays and/or addresses God with a similar term I do not have any problem with it. Furthermore, if it is meaningful for you my assumption is that God loves to hear you say it, and that He would give me a spiritual noogie for saying anything that would hinder you from continuing in your divine address.
However, while I personally struggle to connect with those types of appellations, there is one idea that has captured my imagination for many years. That is, God has friends. I am not referring to spiritual beings that make up a divine counsel in Heaven (though that seemingly exists). Rather, I am referring to human beings “who had natures like ours” (James 5:17), who walked in a sinful world with flesh and blood…just like us. I know that God values all people the same, but there is no denying that there are some among us that He considers to be His close friends, those with whom He reveals Himself and His plans. With those individuals God as proven, as I have stated elsewhere, to be chatty.
In light of my fascination with the idea of God’s human friends, and my desire to be one of them, I have always been taken by a particular verse. It comes in the book of Ezekiel in the context of judgment. This is what it says:
Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel 14:14
A family member mentioned this verse to me recently, and it brought back all of my curiosity, fascination, and desire to understand the nature of, and be counted among, God’s friends. What was it about these three? We know that Abraham was counted as one of God’s friends (James 2:23). We also know that Moses spoke with God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). So, again why these three?
In all three cases Scripture points out their fidelity and faithfulness.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Genesis 6:9
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. Job 1:1
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. Daniel 1:9
I believe the answer to the question of why these three is actually pretty simple. God considers those that are faithful to be His friends. But we are not just talking any type of faithfulness, when it comes to Noah, Job and Daniel. Any of us that have not outright denied our faith might have grounds to argue that we are faithful. But with these three we see something different. It is a faithfulness that remains when it would have been, for most of us, overwhelmingly tempting to give up. Noah looked like a fool building the ark. Job looked like a fool in the midst of his calamity. Daniel looked like a fool as an exile in the courts of a foreign king. None of their situations looked possible. Everything about each one of their situations seemed to scream, “Give up!”
Yet, none of them wavered in their pursuit of God. My problem is this: I am a very reasonable person. I think there are a lot of good aspects of my reasonability. It keeps me from going off the deep end at times, keeps me in balance. There are times when I find myself all worked up about some thing and my mind is racing and everything feels chaotic and I start wondering if I have gotten everything wrong and I start to wonder if I might lose my mind and then….reason kicks in. I think to myself: You need to calm down. Look at this objectively. You’re making too much of yourself and too little of God, who is much bigger than this problem. Look at this from someone else’s perspective.
Most of the time that sort of reasonability is a life line. It rescues me from the waves in my mind that are tossing me about. However, as I read the stories of Noah, Job, and Daniel and try to honestly imagine myself in their situation it occurs to me that the very point at which my reason tends to kick in would have been the very point that I would have rationalized myself out of my duties. In other words, that is the point when it would have become clear to me that I needed to stop building the boat, quit waiting on God to answer my questions, and nourish my body with royal food and wine.
I asked a question on Twitter and Facebook a couple of nights ago. When is it hardest to do the right thing? A lot of great perspective was given. Here is a partial sampling:
- When the right thing conflicts with my personal agenda.
- When other people don’t think it’s the right thing.
- When God feels far away.
- When you simply want to do the wrong thing more.
- When it could hurt those you love, or causing someone else pain.
- When it feels like the wrong time.
- When we lose our passion and sense of purpose for the right thing.
- When we are tired and it appears too much work.
- When the other person is doing the wrong thing.
- When no one is watching.
- When it calls your sanity into question.
- When the right thing is unclear.
- When it will leave you unpopular.
- When the cost appears to be too great.
When I look at that list and think about Noah, Daniel and Job I am amazed that they remained faithful. They did not just remain faithful in the minimal sense of the word. They remained completely faithful when confronted with all of the objections that make it hard to do the right thing. If they were reasonable men like me, I suspect they would have never made it to the end of their assignment.
So, today I’m tired of being reasonable. I realize that when we step into our reward there probably won’t be a group of us that gets this commendation: Well done, my reasonable servants! You always did the thing that made the most sense!
I want to hear what was promised in Matthew 25:21: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!
Today I want to be faithful. I want to be one of God’s friends. Don’t you?
When is it hardest to do the right thing? How do we find the balance between faithfulness and reasonability?
That has been on my heart the past few days…being a friend of God. I love the way you put it! Especially the spiritual noogie part. lol
I refer to God as God, Father, Holy One…I haven’t gotten to the level of Papa or any of that…but I love how sweet it sounds, so personable.
Thanks, Gina. I have had more than spiritual noogie in my life.
lol you & me both!
“When is it hardest to do the right thing?”
ALWAYS…because of our human nature, we don’t want to do the right thing. We can do the right thing “not by [our] might and not by [our] power but by [His] Spirit.”
And to honor the well-respected apostle Paul and give proper credit to God the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration, I quote,
Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Law Cannot Save from Sin
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:4-25)
Thanks, JD. Romans 7 is such a key passage in understanding the battle within us, and the role of the Holy Spirit in that battle. Thanks for the reminder.
Wow- that is your best blog ever out of the ones it has been my priviledge to read. AND – just five days ago I stood in front of a group and said,”I am not sure what it means to be a friend of God’s” We have a worship song that repeats over and over “I am a friend of God’s. I am a friend of God’s. I am a friend of God’s, He calls me friend.” It is always hard for me to sing because I want to know more about what that means. I don’t want to lie while I am singing.
A man once told of his experience at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. A small Jewish boy – about two years of age – became separated from his father. The boy ran around the crowd frantically saying over and over, “Abba, Abba.” When the boy finally found the father he continued with a different reflection in his voice, “Abba, Abba.” The man said that when he experienced that, he finally understood the intimate term that the scriptures were talking about.
I have used that term sparingly in my life. It is at the time of deep hurts and pain that that name is the only one I can utter.
When is it the hardest to the right thing? When doing what is right will cost me something.
Wow, thank you for that very nice compliment. And I love the story of the boy at the Wailing Wall. And agree with you, when it costs us something we will always be tempted to look for a easier way out. Thanks for sharing.
I want to be His friend, too. What a powerful and amazing and beautiful and overwhelming idea to meditate on…and to walk in.
Funny, I would think that any believer would want to be His friend. And I know that we already have acceptance through grace and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, there seems to be something about this idea of friendship with God that resonates with all of us. I guess it as simple as a desire in all of us to draw close to Him. But it is interesting to watch it resonate with people. Thanks for sharing, Emily.
As Paul shared with us his struggle with the flesh, he also gave us the Spirit-directed answer on how to live out “doing the right thing” when is it or isn’t the hardest…..this one hits home so strongly….Gal. 2:19-21~
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
JD, absolutely! I think that Gal 2:20 is a watershed verse and spiritual destination from which we finally find ourselves able to do the right thing!
It’s always incredible to me when God speaks on the same topic to different members of His body, shedding light on different sides of it through each one. I just posted on being God’s friends, and what that means, and it both ties in and goes a different direction from your post here. I loved reading it. I wanted to link to an older post of yours, but I can’t remember what it was called, but perhaps if you read mine you will remember which one I’m thinking of based on the content. Anyway, loved what you had to say.
Karsten, I love that too–when the Spirit moves through the body and shows you that you’re part of the stream. I’m going to check out your post in just a minute, and if I remember the post that correlates I’ll add it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by, bro!
Powerful post and strong closing! Very convicting…
“So, today I’m tired of being reasonable. I realize that when we step into our reward there probably won’t be a group of us that gets this commendation: Well done, my reasonable servants! You always did the thing that made the most sense!
I want to hear what was promised in Matthew 25:21: Well done, good and faithful servant! “
God is Father to all who believe in him. God is a rigorous, fair and a loving father. I am glad that God is not only my friend but especially my father. It is wonderful to be in the hands of God.