There is a crisis of fatherlessness in America today. 27 million kids are growing up without fathers in their homes. That is in no way intended to stir up guilt or demean the great sacrifices made by single moms. It’s simply to recognize the vital discipline and stability a good father provides his family. Consider the ever-increasing prison population in our country. Did you know that 85% of the men in our correctional facilities are from fatherless homes? Of course, having a dad in the home doesn’t guarantee he’ll be loving and consistent. Think back to your own dad. Was he involved and encouraging? Or was he negative and neglectful? No one can turn back the hands of time and recover what he never had. But what you can and must do, if your father was distant or absent, is recognize your need of a father today and look to your Heavenly Father to fill that hole, for He is more than able to heal your hurts and meet the needs of your heart.
Psalm 103 blesses the Lord for His goodness: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” Two things to notice here: first, the slowness of God’s anger. We human parents tend to jump to conclusions and discipline our children out of fear and frustration rather than love. When we’re rested and well-fed, we’re gentle and patient. But when we’re tired and under stress, we’re tempted to react harshly, rashly, and even abusively. Thank God, He never reacts like that! We never have to fear a sudden outburst of rage on His part. Verse 8 assures us: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.”
Furthermore, verse 13 adds: “As a father pities His children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” You and I often have unrealistic expectations of our children. For example, have you ever heard yourself say, “How could you do that? You know better than that!” I remember saying that to my children many times. But the fact is they didn’t know better! Children don’t come loaded with software enabling them to distinguish wisdom from foolishness. That’s something we have to teach them. Consequently, if you find yourself yelling at your kids because they don’t know any better, remember! That’s an indication of your failure, not theirs. For we, not they, are the ones who ought to know better, and it’s our job to pass that onto them with patience and love. This is David’s point in verse 13. Rather than expecting superhuman performance from us, our Heavenly Father treats us with pity. And why? “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
That truth has been precious to me over the years, not only as a father, but also as a pastor, because the wisdom needed for shepherding others is often learned in the crucible of failure. As I look back on my many failures in ministry—missed opportunities to witness for Christ, missteps in leading a building program, and mismanaged conflicts with others—I could be very discouraged and tempted to give up on myself. But as I’ve meditated upon this passage, what have I found? One of the simplest and most blessed truths in the Bible! My Heavenly Father doesn’t expect me to know today what He intends to teach me tomorrow. Nor does He expect me to know tomorrow what He plans to teach me next week or next year. Yes, He does expect me to put into practice what He’s taught me to date. But no one, not even the most seasoned saint, has learned all that there is to know. And that includes you, my flawed and faulty friend! It’s His amazing grace “hath brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.
Therefore, in light of His fatherly patience and love, how should we live? First, we should be incredibly grateful and live not according to our own perfectionistic standards, but according to His pity and grace. For living by grace is what the walk of faith is all about. Second, we should learn to show the same kind of pity and patience toward others. After all, if God is willing to give us time we need to grow, who are we to expect instant maturity from others?
In his book, Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis recalls a simple yet poignant event that shaped much of his thinking. “I recall the morning I found a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was preparing to come out. I waited a while but it was slow in appearing and I was impatient. I bent over and breathed on it to warm it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes. The case opened and the butterfly started slowly crawling out. But I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled. The butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain. It needed to be hatched patiently. The unfolding of its wings must be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath forced the butterfly to appear before its time. It struggled valiantly and a few seconds later died in the palm of my hand. That little body is a great weight on my conscience today. Now I realize that it is a mortal sin to rush the laws of nature. We must not hurry. We must patiently obey the eternal rhythm. If only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show me the way.”
I share that because I believe it’s one of our greatest sins. Instead of pitying each other’s weaknesses, as our Heavenly Father does, we become impatient with one other demanding rapid if not instant growth. What we need to remember is that God is at work in their lives too, even in the life of the most annoying person you know, not expecting her to know today what He plans to teach her tomorrow, but gently and persistently nudging her to become like Christ. This is the reason for Paul’s warning in Romans 14: “Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” For 2 Corinthians 5:18 goes on to promise, “We all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Let me leave you with this beautiful reminder from 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter: “Love suffers long and is kind…love is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
(Next time: “God’s Patience as Our Judge”)