“Okay, Jon, now try it on your own.” I’ve heard that encouragement as I learned to ride a bike, catch a fish, read a book, paint a room, or any other one of the hundreds of tasks and skills and bits of knowledge that I’ve tried to master over the course of my life. I’ve heard that encouragement from teachers, coaches, and parents. I’ve offered that same encouragement to my students, players, and younger siblings (in a world before YouTube, how else did you learn to beat the last level of Super Mario Bros. unless someone else showed you first?) We need to be shown how to do most things in life. We need to be taught. We need instruction and guidance. We need support and encouragement so we can eventually have the ability and strength and confidence to do it on our own. Independence. That thing most children and teenagers crave as they grow. The thing our country craved and now celebrates every 4th of July. Oh the sweet sense of freedom that word evokes. What about its opposite? What feelings arise when you hear it? Dependence. Weakness? Immaturity? Unhealthy? As with most things, there are beautiful exceptions when we stop and think of them (a healthy marriage, a nursing baby), but isn’t your initial response to the word “dependence” a bit…negative? We’ve been taught to seek the one (independence) and avoid – or at least quickly outgrow – the other (dependence), and it feels right. Personally, dependence felt like a shackle that I couldn’t wait to break free from. Sometime around the age of 10 or 11, I demanded that my mother teach me to do laundry so I could be free from the oppression of sorting through a mixed basket of clothes. Oh the sweet freedom of clean clothes that were all mine. I’m hoping you’re laughing along with me right now, but haven’t most of us sought independence like that in most parts of our lives? Earning enough to not have to ask for help. Moving out of your parent’s house and living under your own roof…and under your own rules. For some, wasn’t that partly the reason you started your own business? To not have to be dependent on another’s authority? But what happens when we apply that pursuit of independence to our relationship with God? I believe Scooby Doo said it best – “Ruh roh.” Until very recently, I believed God was encouraging me to “grow up” in the same way that my parents and teachers and coaches had…to be able to do things on my own. Now before we go any farther, I knew (head knowledge) that wasn’t true, but in the depths of my heart, I secretly believed that God was waiting for me to figure things out so He wouldn’t have to take care of me all the time. I felt I was supposed to keep working hard and building up enough financial security so I wouldn’t have to rely on Him at the end of each month. I felt that I had to make the right decisions, figure out what the best path was, so He wouldn’t have to swoop in and save me when I made the wrong choice. I felt I was supposed to grow my faith (and knowledge of faith) so He could more easily work in my life. I thought I was supposed to do it on my own, and that continuing to be dependent on Him…continuing to ask for help…was a sign of a lack of maturity and growth on my part. What He’s taught me in the last couple of years is this…God never tires of being my Father. He delights in it. He relishes each and every opportunity to father me. He loves it when I learn to depend more on Him. He is pleased when I accept my role as son instead of trying to be the one with all of the answers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t necessarily the experience most of us had with our earthly fathers, and that can make it even more difficult to believe that this is the kind of heavenly Father we’ve been blessed with all this time. All of us, save Jesus, had less-than-perfect fathers, and our fathers, for better or worse, have colored our heart’s perception of who God is and how He would like to interact with us. We project their brokenness, their shortcomings, their harshness or passivity onto the One who has no flaws, and the result is a fear of being fathered by the One who is actually incapable of doing us harm. We must learn to be sons and daughters again and to entrust to Him the heart of the still-wounded boy or girl inside of us. We must learn to trust our Father anew. But what does that look like? I heard a beautiful illustration of this from Morgan Snyder who works for Ransomed Heart ministries. It went something like this. When a dad asks his little boy if he wants to go for a ride in the truck, the son lights up and races out the door, beating dad to the truck by several steps in his eagerness to let the adventure begin. The son doesn’t know where the two are going, how they’re going to get there, whether or not dad has enough money or enough gas in the truck, or when the last time the oil had been changed. He jumps in the truck and goes wherever his father leads him because he knows it’s going to be good. Hmm…He goes wherever his Father leads him… …because he knows it’s going to be good. Sound like anyone we know? Yep, Jesus was the consummate Son. He went wherever the Spirit led, said whatever His Father told Him to say (John 12:49), and did only what He saw His Father do (John 5:19-20). He was absolutely dependent and child-like in His faith that His Father would come through…and would want to come through…again and again and again. When He raised Lazarus, He confessed that faith moments before doing what the onlookers would have considered impossible. “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me…” (John 11:41-42, NLT). Jesus reiterated this point to His disciples at the beginning of Matthew 18. “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus called a little child to Him and put the child among them. Then He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven’” (Matthew 18:1-3, NLT). He was not saying this to the pagans or even to the Pharisees back in Jerusalem. He was telling this to His disciples, the men who were literally at the moment walking in an intimate and personal relationship with God in the flesh. Become child-like in your faith. Let God truly father you. It will be good. And lo and behold, we find Jesus, the perfect example of dependence and sonship, is placed exactly where He said those that became childlike would be placed… “[the Father] raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21, NLT). We need to be fathered. By our Heavenly Father. All of the time. For the rest of our lives. This is true regardless of age. You are never too old to begin allowing God to father you, and you are never too old to stop. You have never gone so far away from God that He can’t meet you where you are and begin fathering you. That was the whole point of the story of the prodigal son…to demonstrate the lengths to which the father would run out to where his son was, even though the son was “a long way off,” and show him what it truly meant to be his son. Neither your faith nor your knowledge of faith will ever grow so much that you no longer need God to father you. Jesus, the Son of God, never needed to stop depending on Father. Paul, perhaps the next most notable figure in the New Testament, confessed that “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:13, NLT), but not before describing that the secret to that kind of faith was “don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT). Jesus needed to be fathered. Paul needed to be fathered. I need to be fathered. So do you. So what does it mean to be fathered by God? It means instruction – allowing Him to remove the lies we’ve believed and receive His truth in each and every aspect of our lives (John 16:12-14). It means correction and discipline – asking Him to show us the parts of our brokenness that need to be confessed, repented of, and healed (Hebrews 12:6-11). It means receiving good gifts from the One who loves us more than words could ever possibly describe (Matthew 7:11). How do we do that? Ask Him. Ask your Heavenly Father to father you. Confess your need for it (believe me, He already knows). Ask Him to shine His light into the dark corners where you’ve sought independence and separation, whether you knew it or not. Ask Him for the lies you’ve believed and for His truth. Let Him speak to your heart. Let Him be Father to you and cradle you in His arms. It does not mean that everything will be easy. It doesn’t mean a life free of pain. Oh, my friends, how I wish it did. But it does mean freedom! It means being able to become the sons and daughters we were intended to become, being able to receive instruction and the good that He would give us, and basking in the sweet freedom of complete and total dependence on the One who longs to do nothing less than be the perfect Father to His children. Let Him give you that freedom. It’s even better than doing your own laundry. Prayer: Father, I confess that I have tried - deliberately or not - to do much of this life on my own. I confess that I have valued independence instead of seeking to be ever more dependent on You. Thank you for forgiving me for that sin, Father. I receive your grace. Father, how have I learned You wrongly from my earthly father? What do I need to forgive him for? I choose to forgive him, though forgiving does not change the sad fact that it happened and I was hurt, and I repent of holding on to that unforgiveness for so long. Please cleanse me of the effects of my sin and show me what You’re restoring. What lies have I believed about You as Father? I repent of those falsehoods and ask that You show me Your true nature. Father, what lies have I believed about independence? Help me to break my agreements with those lies and receive Your truth. What lies have I believed about being dependent on You? Again, Lord, help me to break those agreements and hear what You say. What’s the first area of independence in my life that you want to address today? Lord, I choose to become more childlike…please show me how. What do You want me to do? What do I need to let go of? Father, what good gift do You have for me today? Help me to receive it, especially if I feel undeserving. Help me to see You as my loving Father who gives good gifts out of love and not because I deserve it. Thank you Lord, for fathering me. Please help me to continue to seek it for the rest of my days.