I think so much of our faith is molded by past experiences, everything from deep tragedies that shape us, to our families of origin, to our cultural contexts. In all honesty, I have struggled through the years with viewing God as a loving Father. Past life experiences have probably affected this view, experiences that have changed so dramatically and beautifully by God’s grace that relaying them here is neither profitable nor edifying. Nevertheless, their imprint remains.
For years I’ve had no problem seeing God as “Lord” and myself as “servant,” a man under commission and given a mission by a great superior. I live to fulfill this mission, and do so well, out of gratitude for all that my Lord has done for me, setting me free by paying a precious cost. I know I’ll be held accountable for how I perform that mission, and so I’m driven to serve Him well. So often, that’s really what makes me tick, this perspective of God as an infinitely good, but expectant boss.
But, God as Father? Or, more importantly, as Abba, as “Daddy?” That’s a hard one for me. My Abba knows this, knows my jaded heart, and every once in a while He jolts me into the realization that His regard for me is so much more intimate, more loving, than I could ever imagine.
Like last Friday. I was coming home from Prague, in the Czech Republic, where I had been mentoring the head of the international school there. It was a great trip, very fulfilling in the way that performing my mission well always is, but I was looking forward to being back home. On Saturday, my wife and I had planned a special surprise for two of our daughters, one we had been planning for weeks. Like you, I love giving to my kids, so I faced Saturday with great anticipation. The night before I left Prague, I was looking over my flight schedule for the next day, and I noticed my layover in London on my way to Dallas was tighter than I would have liked it to be. I felt a sense of apprehension, but I took a deep breath and trusted the Lord with it.
The next morning, my flight out of Prague was delayed due to fog in London (go figure!). By the time we arrived in London, I had 35 minutes until my flight to DFW left. No problem, right? Wrong. Because Heathrow is a mess. My gates were easily a mile or more apart. And, not an easy mile, either. I had to go through immigration control, through security (again!), and negotiate the labyrinth that is Heathrow to even find my gate! There was no way I was going to make that flight. I would be stuck overnight in London, and I would miss this surprise for my daughters; weeks of planning down the drain. I was frustrated, disappointed, and feeling helpless.
I got off my Prague flight, and I took off running. I sprinted down two hallways and around two corners. I ran past a man with an orange vest, holding one of those passenger signs. Something in my mind made me stop and back up. I read the man’s sign: “Prague flight: J. Ferguson.”
I couldn’t believe it. I said, “That’s me.” The man said, “Follow me.” He then walked me down each corridor, showing me the correct path to my gate, turns I would have clearly missed had I been alone. He spoke into a radio he was carrying, and told me he had radioed ahead to my plane, telling them I was coming. He walked me through immigration and security, taking me to the front of very long lines for both. He took me to the correct terminal and turned me loose, explaining to me that my gate was about a quarter mile down the terminal, and that I should run….
…but, before I did, a guy in a cart drove up to me. There were no less than 40 gates in that terminal, with flights going all over the world. And, yet, the guy took one look at me and said, “Going to DFW? Get in.” It’s not like I was wearing boots and a Stetson. There was nothing to indicate Texas is where I was going. He just knew. I hopped it the cart, and he rocketed me to the gate, where I was the last guy on the plane before they closed the door. I never, ever would have made that flight without those guys.
This all happened in a whirlwind for me, yet, once I got on the plane, it hit me: I have no idea where those guys came from. Never in my life has an airline ever sent guys to retrieve me and walk me through security; it just doesn’t happen. Neither my assistant nor my travel agent made any calls. Yet these guys appeared, out of nowhere, and got me to my gate, and on my flight, so I could get home to surprise my girls.
As I caught my breath, it hit me: my Abba had been planning a surprise for me, too. In a subtle, yet spectacular way, God reminded me that He’s not just my Lord and my Master, but He’s also my Dad. He loves me intimately, deeply, and He delights in giving me great gifts when I least expect it, yes, just for the sake of giving, because that’s what loving dads do, but also to remind me of the greatest, most extravagant, costliest gift He ever gave, His Son, to restore me to that love. My Dad pierces the folds of my (mostly?) obedient, dutiful, yet sometimes callous heart, and once again brings me to tears as I consider
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure