Recently I attended the New England House Church Conference in Putnam, Connecticut. It started on Friday evening and finished up on Saturday evening, and was well worth the 9 hour drive each way. New friends were made, questions answered, and there was fun had by all. I’m so glad that I went. Not only did I gain a clearer understanding of what God’s intentions are for His body here on earth, but as an incredible bonus, I took a huge leap in my apprehension of God as my Father.
My travelling companions and I have been friends for at least 8 years. God has kindly brought us together to encourage and support each other. They are friends that I can just be myself with, and that is a great blessing. Always when we are together, we laugh a lot. We tease and kid one another, tell really bad jokes, act like fools, and freely express our love for each other. These relationships are so precious to me.
During our drive home, we listened to a tape by Beresford Job, who spoke at the conference. He was describing God as our Father, and explaining that the primary thing that God desired from us, His church, was our love. He wants us to show Him that we love Him. Of course, this love we ought to have for Him involves obedience. But that is not the total definition of it. In Matthew 22, verse 37, Jesus explains the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
As I listened to Beresford quote scripture, and talk about God’s love toward us, His children, it was as though I had a new glimpse of the Father heart of God. Something in me relaxed. Something that had perhaps all my life been held at arm’s length, cowering, afraid to step forward. I dared to view God the Father as a REAL father, and not just as my Father in name only.
I have heard it said many times that we can impose aspects of our relationship with our earthly father onto that with our Heavenly Father. My dad was an alcoholic. Life at my house was interspersed either with outbursts of anger, or tense silences filled with anticipation of those outbursts. Perhaps it was growing up in that atmosphere that has stunted my understanding of actually being the child of a God Who loves unconditionally. Or maybe it was the strict, graceless religion of the teaching I received from the Catholic Church. God was represented for me by that shadowy figure of a priest behind a screen in the dark confession box. I crept in there with fear and trepidation, hoping I had remembered all of my sins, then slunk out to say my “penance”. Any peace of soul was shortlived, as I strove to appease the God of my understanding, who continually observed me from a distance, tracking my every misdemeanor on some great celestial clipboard that He held.
As a Christian, I know that I carried this performance-based attitude with me. Even though I understood the truth that I was saved by grace alone, I still struggled with trying to measure up as a Christian. Leaving the institutional church has alleviated a great deal of that pressure, but still, in my innermost being, I have found it difficult to realize experientially the acceptance that I have with my Father in Heaven in Christ. I choose to believe what Scripture says about Him, but don't often have a true heart realization of these truths. He is not a distant, demanding, critical Father whose love and acceptance comes and goes. He is the father that ran to meet the returning prodigal son. He is not that faceless priest who listens silently while I mumble out a list of sins, and then hands out my “sentence” in a matter of fact way. He is “Abba, Daddy” that I cry out to, and pour out my soul to. He loves me the same way that He loves His Son, since I am included in Christ, accepted in Him.
As we neared the end of our homeward journey from the conference, the night sky was dark, and dotted with brilliant pinpoints of shining stars. Praise music played on the radio, and any conversation was quiet. I laid my head back and gazed out the window, reflecting on the greatness of a God who had hung each star, and knew each by name. It occurred to me that as His children, we were like a bunch of kids who were coming home from a day at the beach, or the fair; all tuckered out, happy to just be together, content after a day of play, food and fun. I imagined Him gazing down at us, delighted in our joy at being together. I had a sense of His pleasure at our pleasure.
John Piper coined the phrase “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” That night I really caught the truth of that thought. Because we were satisfied in Him. All of our joy, fellowship and pleasure was because of Him; His Spirit in us, His love for us, our love for one another. And we knew it. It was an unspoken truth, but one that I know we would all agree on. He has knit us together in love, with each other, and with Him. Our fellowship is IN Him, through His Son. Joint heirs with Jesus, we are His children, loved with a perfect love.