A Mental Health Inclusion Strategy for the Church | Influence Podcast


May is Mental Health Month. In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks to Dr. Stephen Grcevich about a mental health inclusion strategy for the local church.

Dr. Grcevich is founder and president of Key Ministry. He is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with over thirty years of clinical experience and extensive research experience evaluating medication prescribed to children and teens for mental health disorders. A past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, he is the author of Mental Health and the Church, published this year by Zondervan. (The link takes you to my review of the book.)

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ESV Archaeology Study Bible | Book Review


The Bible is God’s Word in human words. As God’s Word, it is inspired and inerrant, the final authority for what Christians believe and how they behave. As God’s Word in human words, it reflects the time and place of its original composition. Interpreting Scripture correctly, then, means understanding both its divine message and its human forms.

Archaeology is one of several academic disciplines that help us do the latter. The interpretive fruit of archaeological investigation is evident in the recently published ESV Archaeology Study Bible, edited by John D. Currid and David W. Chapman. Notable features include the following:

  • introductory essays to the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as to the books within each testament;
  • notes on individual biblical passages showing how archaeological studies illuminate their meaning;
  • sidebars about specific people, places and concepts mentioned within the text;
  • photos, maps, diagrams and charts to illustrate places, things and events;
  • articles on topics related to biblical archaeology as a discipline;
  • and a glossary, a bibliography, indexes and a brief concordance.

From the outset, the editors identify three “foundational pillars” that characterize their work: “biblical orthodoxy,” “academic integrity” and “accessibility.” They affirm the historicity of Scripture, but they also note instances where archaeologists disagree on the time, place and meaning of biblical events. Most importantly, they show how archaeology helps readers better understand the biblical text’s original context. Let me offer three examples.

First, covenants. The Bible makes repeated references to covenants. For example, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments, Moses says, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb” (Deuteronomy 5:2, ESV). Archaeologists have discovered a number of second-millennium B.C. Hittite covenants between a suzerain and a vassal. These suzerain-vassal treaties lay out the reciprocal rights and duties each has toward the other, though the relationship is not egalitarian. The suzerain is clearly in charge.

What’s interesting about these Hittite treaties for our purposes is that Deuteronomy is organized roughly like one of them. For example, the treaty between the Hittite King Mursili II and his Amurru subject Duppi-Tessub contains five elements: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations or commandments, witnesses and sanctions, both positive (blessings) and negative (curses). Deuteronomy similarly has a preamble (1:1–5), historical prologue (1:6–4:49), stipulations (5:1–26:19), witnesses (31:19–22; 32:45–47) and sanctions (27:9–30:20).

Obviously, there are differences between Deuteronomy and the Hittite treaties. Moses was a monotheist; Hittites were polytheists. Deuteronomy is a covenant between God and His people, whereas the other treaties were between a human overlord and other human subjects. Still, it is helpful to know that when God revealed himself to the Israelites, He did so in a cultural form that they would understand.

Second, parables. Jesus Christ is famous for His story parables — e.g., the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Interestingly, the only other people to use story parables during this period were Jewish rabbis. They used them to explain Old Testament texts, introducing them with the formula, “To what may the matter be compared?” The Talmud records hundreds of these parables, and all of them are in Hebrew, even though the commentary about them is in Aramaic.

How does this help us understand New Testament parables? For one thing, it helps us understand that when Jesus taught His disciples, He used a well-established Jewish form of teaching — the story parable. For another thing, though the rabbis used parables to elucidate the meaning of the Law, Jesus used them to help His listeners understand the advent of the kingdom of God. Note Luke 13:18,20, for example, where Jesus asked: “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” and “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” (ESV).

Finally, Jesus’ use of story parables may hint at the fact that He taught in Hebrew. New Testament scholars often say that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Holy Land in the first century A.D. That’s true to an extent and is reflected in the Gospels. Jesus uttered words and/or phrases in Aramaic (e.g., Mark 5:41; 15:34), certain place names in Jerusalem were in Aramaic (e.g., John 19:13), and Aramaic phrases even made it into the liturgical language of the Early Church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 16:22). But if Jesus’ use of story parables paralleled the rabbis’ well-established form of teaching, and if the rabbis told parables in Hebrew (even long after the first century A.D.), then it stands to reason that Jesus told His parables in Hebrew, too.

Third, the Erastus Inscription. I recently had the opportunity to travel through Greece, retracing Paul’s steps around the Aegean on his second missionary journey. One of our stops was Corinth, a city whose church Paul founded and in which he spent 18 months of fruitful ministry (Acts 18:1–17). Paul wrote two letters to the church in this city (1 and 2 Corinthians), and it is likely that he wrote his magnum opus, Romans, from this city.

Our guide walked us through an overgrown field of grass until he came to a roped-off pavement. Pointing down, he read what’s left of a mid-first-century A.D. inscription discovered in 1929: “ERASTVS. PRO. AED. S. P. STRAVIT.” That’s an abbreviated Latin sentence. When translated, it says, “Erastus in return for his aedileship paved it at his own expense.” (An aedile was a public official in charge of public buildings and, in Corinth, the famous Isthmian Games.)

Interestingly, in Romans 16:23, Paul sends greetings to the Roman church from one “Erastus, the city treasurer,” using the Greek word oikonomos rather than the Latin word aedile (ESV). It’s not certain, but it is quite possible that the Erastus of the inscription is the Erastus of Scripture, whom other New Testament passages identify as a coworker of Paul’s (Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20).

The value of the Erastus Inscription is not so much that it confirms the existence of a person mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, its value is that it shapes our understanding of the sociology of the Early Church. Sometimes, we think of early Christianity as a movement of poor people with little social influence, which it largely was. But Christ drew converts from all segments of society, including wealthier public officials such as Erastus. This helps us better understand some of the tensions between richer and poorer members that strained the fabric of Corinthian church unity (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). I’m not suggesting that Erastus participated in this division, by the way. I’m only pointing out that there can’t be division between rich and poor in the church if there aren’t both rich and poor within the church in the first place.

In many ways, we live in a golden age of biblical interpretation, at least from the standpoint of what we can know about the world of the Bible. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is an excellent, one-volume reference work that brings to bear the results of archaeological investigation on the necessary responsibility of reading the sacred text in light of its ancient context. Given the amount of useful information the ESV Archaeology Study Bible contains, it is reasonably priced and will repay careful study.

Book Reviewed
ESV Archaeology Study Bible, ed. John D. Currid and David W. Chapman (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

How Churches Can Support Foster Parents | Influence Podcast


May is National Foster Care Month.

In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks with Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert about how churches can support foster care parents and thus solve the twin problems of America’s foster care system: capacity and stability.

Jay Mooney is executive director of COMPACT Family Services, formerly Assemblies of God Family Services Agency. Johan Mostert is director of COMPACARE, one of COMPACT’S initiatives.

To learn more about COMPACT Family Services, go to CompassionateAction.com, or follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 139 Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction to podcast
  • 00:05 TruFire Curriculum sponsor ad
  • 01:17 Introduction of Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert
  • 01:39 The size and nature of America’s foster care problem
  • 05:19 What happens when kids enter foster care
  • 08:36 The twin problems of capacity and stability
  • 13:35 How can churches can help solve the foster care problem
  • 17:15 What church members can do to come alongside foster parents
  • 19:29 How to access the COMPACARE systems manual for your church
  • 22:55 The COMPACARE strategy is low-cost and scalable
  • 28:12 More information about COMPACT Family Services
  • 31:01 Conclusion

Closing the Sanctification Gap | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast (cross-posted with permission), I talk to Christian Miller about how to close the sanctification gap, the distance between who we are and who we ought to be.

Miller is A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University and director of the Character Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and Templeton World Charity. He is also author of The Character Gap: How Good Are We? (Oxford University Press).

The conversation ranges over insights philosophy, theology, and psychology contribute to closing the sanctification gap. Take a listen!

 

Mental Health and the Church | Book Review


In the spring of 1996, I entered an extended season of sadness. Not the kind of sadness where you wistfully wipe a tear from your eye with a Kleenex, by the way. It was the kind where you wake up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably for hours. The sadness lasted for months.

A licensed Christian counselor diagnosed me with clinical depression. Through prayer, Scripture, counseling and the help of family and friends, I made it through that awful season, one of the worst I have experienced in my life. One I don’t ever want to enter again.

The first time I mentioned this episode in a sermon, I was surprised by the grateful response I received from a few members of the congregation. Though their words varied, their responses repeated a theme: “I’m glad to know that I’m not the only Christian who struggles with this.” After that sermon, I began to reference my depression if it was appropriate to the content and context of my message. I want people in the Church who struggle with mental health to know they are not alone.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. Summarizing statistics about the incidence of mental illness among U.S. children and adults, Dr. Stephen Grcevich writes, “more than fifty million Americans today experience at least one diagnosable mental health disorder on any given day” (emphasis in original). These disorders can be episodic or persistent, and they can vary in intensity and effect. Many churches have begun excellent “special needs” and “disability” ministries, but these ministries tend to focus on obvious, physical problems. By contrast, mental health disorders are a “hidden disability.”

Mental health disorders keep people away from church, unfortunately. Grcevich writes: “Whether we realize it or not, our expectations at church for social interaction and conduct, when combined with the physical properties and functional demands of our ministry environments, represent significant barriers to church involvement for children and adults with common mental health conditions and for their families. Church can feel like hostile territory for families impacted by mental illness.” The twin goals of Mental Health and the Church are to identify those barriers and to outline a “mental health inclusion strategy” for overcoming them.

The barriers include stigma, anxiety, executive functioning, sensory processing, social communication, social isolation and negative experiences of church. Stigma arises because churches mistakenly interpret mental health disorders as moral disorders. A child with ADHD lacks self-control in certain environments, for example. Self-control is a moral virtue. Ergo, the child has a moral problem. Right?

It’s not that simple. An ADHD child can exercise some degree of self-control, but certain environments stimulate the child’s hyperactivity and inability to focus. Too often, churches blame the child, not realizing that the way the environment of the Sunday school classroom (brightly colored walls with lots of decorations) or the nature of the activities (hyperkinetic worship followed immediately by sitting and listening for long periods) can work against ADHD children’s ability to control themselves.

The next three barriers — anxiety and other mood disorders, executive functioning weaknesses, and sensory processing disorders — describe how mental illness itself creates barriers to participation in church activities. Consider sensory processing disorders. Today, many churches darken the auditorium and light up the stage for the song component of their Sunday service. They crank up the volume and often use flashing lights in a well-produced, high-energy set of worship music. Many people love this. People with sensory processing disorders don’t. It’s overstimulating and distracting. Indeed, it literally can be painful to them.

The final three barriers pertain to the barriers that result from the clash between the first four barriers and church participation. People with mental health disorders find it difficult to communicate in what most of us take to be a normal church situation. They became socially isolated. And because churches don’t always treat people with mental health disorders well — including children — they and their families develop a bank of negative church experiences.

Grcevich believes churches can and must do better at ministry to people with mental health disorders. For each of the seven barriers just identified, he proposes a strategy for overcoming it. “Mental health inclusion is best understood as a mind-set for doing ministry rather than a ‘program’ for ministry,” he writes. He uses the acronym TEACHER to outline that strategy:

T: Assemble your inclusion TEAM.
E: Create welcoming ministry ENVIRONMENTS.
A: Focus on ministry ACTIVITIES most essential for spiritual growth.
C: COMMUNICATE effectively.
H: HELP families with their most heartfelt needs.
E: Offer EDUCATION and support.
R: Empower your people to assume RESPONSIBILITY for ministry.

Grcevich provides helpful suggestions and examples under each of these seven headings, but for purposes of this review, I think it will suffice simply to name the elements of the strategy.

Too many people in America suffer mental illness silently and alone. The church, an institution founded on the good news of Jesus Christ, should be a place of hope and help for them. Mental Health and the Church is an excellent resource for pastors and other church leaders, showing them how to do this. It is based on sound conservative theology, but it also is attuned to the best in contemporary, evidence-based psychology. I recommend it enthusiastically.

Book Reviewed
Stephen Grcevich, M.D., Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. This review is cross-posted with permission from InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Magnolia Table | Book Review by My Wife


My wife wrote a review of this cookbook on Facebook, and I received permission to share it here:

Here’s an honest 3-recipe review of the new Joanna Gaines’ cookbook, Magnolia Table. I cooked a breakfast and dinner casserole, along with a dessert. It’s fairly scathing until you get to the end. Please bear with me.

In the order my family enjoyed them:

1) Chocolate Cola Cake, with Chocolate Cola Buttercream (pg. 295): George said it was “phenomenal.” I liked the icing, not the denser cake. I prefer all my cakes to be light and moist. I will make the icing again, not the cake.

2) Sausage and Hashbrown Casserole (pg. 33): My family all liked it, including my non egg-eating son. I felt like it had the texture of dog food. Alas, a breakfast casserole is born. It needs crunch, or something. (So I gnawed on the well-done edges.) But, as a side to a brunch, it’s good enough and would feed a crowd. (My Yorkie really enjoyed it, as evidenced by the teeth marks left on the edges, since my son didn’t clean off the table as instructed. There is that. Bob [the Yorkie] loved it: ✔)

3) Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas (pg. 193) Come now, Lord Jesus, and fix this mess, I pray. I couldn’t eat it. Think can of cream of chicken soup meets a flour tortilla. Literally. George claims it’s a regional preference, since we grew up on red and green sauce on our enchiladas. I say cloying sauce by any other name, still ain’t a decent bechamel.

I’m also curious about her recipe writers and tasters. The enchiladas called for 10, 10 inch tortillas. Figure that in a 9×13 pan. It’s like some man from Epicurean magazine, twice removed from the average home cook, let this one slide. Any self-respecting recipe reader would immediately question how 10, 10-inch tortillas would fit in the pan, let alone rolled up with chicken inside. They didn’t. Only 7, 6 inch tortillas did. Someone fell asleep at the wheel on this one.

And, it’s the little things. The breakfast casserole called for a “container” of frozen hashbrowns. They must do things different in Texas. I’ve only seen and used “bags” of frozen hashbrowns. (See Epicurean note above.)

With that being said, I like this cookbook. I love its soul. It’s how I want my family to feel when I serve them my food. I want to create the food memories she elegantly describes throughout the recipes.

I just need to keep trying more of them. My trust meter is just not that strong, right off the bat. And, that’s disappointing because I wanted to like it so bad simply because the book itself has soul.

~Tiffany (George says I’m a “taste bud dilettante.” If I actually knew what that meant, I’d probably agree. So, take my review with a grain of kosher salt.🙄)

Book Reviewed
Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering (New York: William Morrow, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

“Our Father in Heaven”: How God’s Character Motivates and Directs Our Prayers


Today is the U.S. National Day of Prayer. When Jesus’ disciples asked for a lesson in how to pray, Jesus laid out a model prayer that starts like this, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…”

Whom You Pray to Matters
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) consists of six petitions. When we pray, we ask God that

  • His name be hallowed,
  • His kingdom come,
  • His will be done,
  • our needs be met,
  • our sins forgiven,
  • and our souls protected.

Notice the order of these requests. First, we direct our attention to God and His concerns; then — and only then — we direct God’s attention to us and our concerns. When we prioritize God, we receive His blessing: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Notice also what Jesus assumes about God. The Lord’s Prayer tells us what to pray for, but it assumes certain things about God’s character and power. It assumes He is worthy of our requests and able to grant them.

These assumptions find expression in the name Jesus uses to address God: “our Father in heaven.” We are so accustomed to referring to God as our Father that we forget what a radical idea and innovative practice it was in Jesus’ own day. New Testament scholars believe that Jesus invented the habit of calling God, “Father.” He did so because He was conscious of His unique relationship with God. In John 20:17, for example, He distinguished His way of relating to God from ours: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But His relationship with God is not a zero-sum game. We too can become God’s sons and daughters because Jesus is God’s Son par excellence: “In love,” Paul writes, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4–5). When we call God “Father,” we say something important about His character: He loves us, and it is His pleasure and will to welcome us into His presence.

When we call God “Father,” we say something important about His character: He loves us, and it is His pleasure and will to welcome us into His presence.

When we call God “our Father in heaven,” we say something equally important about His power. In the Bible, heaven is God’s dwelling place, the throne room from which He rules the universe. It connotes divine majesty and absolute power. Revelation 4:1–11 records John’s vision of heaven. It is a place of unimaginable beauty. All day long, angels and human beings worship God to the fullest extent of their abilities. They sing,

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they were created and have their being.

In light of this song, stop and reflect for a moment on the meaning of the words, “our Father in heaven.” The God who created and sustains the universe is pleased to be a Father to you and me. How can we not rest assured, then, that our prayers will be answered when we pray to such a God?

Who you pray to matters, it turns out, as much as — if not more than — what you pray for.

Responding to an Objection
Many people find it difficult to pray to God as their Father in heaven. Their earthly fathers were so bad that they cannot conceive of a heavenly Father in anything but negative terms. Additionally, some object that since God is neither male nor female, it is inappropriate to think of Him in masculine terms. They argue that either we should stop thinking of God in terms of sex, or we should start balancing masculine terms with feminine ones, praying to God as both “Father” and “Mother.”

Both points of view share a mistake. They assume that our God-talk is the result of projection rather than revelation. For them, the flow of imagery is upward: We conceive of God in our own image. According to the Bible, however, the flow is downward: He reveals himself through our language. Consequently, we should not see our heavenly Father through the distorting prism of earthly fatherhood — with its sinfulness and limitation. Instead, we should view earthly fatherhood in the light of heaven — with all its boundless perfection. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:15, it is from our heavenly Father that “every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” (The Greek word rendered “family” is patria, literally, “fatherhood.”)

Calling God “our Father in heaven” implies both contrast from and comparison to our earthly fathers.

When we pray, then, we must remember the contrast between our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers. By the same token, however, we must remember that Jesus chose the image of fatherhood to describe God for a reason: We learn about what we do not know by means of what we do know. When, therefore, our earthly fathers act as God created them to, we see through their examples glimpses of how our heavenly Father treats us. Calling God “our Father in heaven” implies both contrast from and comparison to our earthly fathers, in other words.

A little parable in Matthew 7:7–11 makes this point clearly. Jesus asks, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Jesus admits that some earthly fathers are “evil,” in strong contrast to our morally perfect heavenly Father. This is a point of contrast. But even bad dads know how to give “good gifts.” So, a great dad — our heavenly Father — must know how to give really excellent gifts. This is a point of comparison.

Precisely because our heavenly Father gives great gifts, then, Jesus tells us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Our good heavenly Father will see that we get what we need, “and quickly”; so let us “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1,8).

The Father as God
Why did Jesus call God Father? And what difference does it make for our prayers? The New Testament suggests three answers to the first question and one to the second. We call God Father because:

  • as God, He is the Father of Jesus Christ,
  • as Savior, He is the Father of all believers,
  • and as Creator, He is the Father of the entire world.

Because our heavenly Father is God, Savior and Creator, we can be confident that He loves us and gives us what we need. This is the difference God’s Fatherhood makes to our prayers.

When we examine the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, two things become apparent: (1) Jesus related to God uniquely, and (2) that uniqueness arose from the fact of His divinity. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows Jesus’ unique relationship with God. John 20:17 is a prime example: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus is not referring to two gods but to two ways of relating to God: His and ours.

The best explanation for this unique relationship is Jesus’ own divinity. Notice what He said in John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John tells us that this angered Jesus’ religious opponents because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (verse 18).

If the Father loves us so greatly that He gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer?

We are wading in very deep theological waters when we affirm Jesus’ divinity. If there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), how can two persons — Father and Son — be God? (Or three persons, if we add the Holy Spirit?) And how can a man born in a stable be God? Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has developed the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation to answer these questions. The Trinity teaches that one God eternally exists as three persons — Father, Son, and Spirit. The Incarnation teaches that the Son has two complete natures — human and divine. I do not fully comprehend these doctrines — they are mysterious! — so I will not attempt to explain them to you here. Nevertheless, I believe both are based on the Bible and do not contain any obvious logical contradictions. They conform, in other words, to revelation and reason.

What I will point out is this: Both doctrines give us a powerful reason to pray. Paul writes in Romans 8:31–32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If the Father loves us so greatly that He gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer? Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

So, let us pray to God, the Father of Jesus Christ!

The Father as Savior
The first reason we call God Father is because He is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The second reason is that He is the Father of all believers. Jesus has a unique relationship with God, but we can have a relationship with Him too, although in a different way.

That difference can be expressed as the difference between a natural-born and an adopted child: Jesus is God’s natural Son, but we are God’s adopted sons and daughters. As a natural Son, Jesus shares the Father’s DNA. He is divine by nature. We, on the other hand, do not share the Father’s DNA — we are not divine — but He invites us to enter a relationship with Him, a relationship of His choosing.

Please do not stretch this analogy too far. It is only a metaphor. God does not actually have DNA. But by the same token, do not ignore the analogy’s power! It is rooted in the biblical language of salvation. Consider Ephesians 1:4–5, “In love, [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

If you think about it, the adoption analogy is a vivid picture of the gospel. Because of sin, we are orphans. Precisely because we are orphans, however, God has no parental duties toward us. We are someone else’s children, someone else’s problem. But God chooses to adopt us anyway. It is His “pleasure and will” to do so. Like all adoptions, the cost to the would-be parent is exorbitant. We become God’s sons and daughters “through Jesus Christ,” that is, by means of His death and resurrection. But God is willing to pay the cost because He loves us.

As God’s children and heirs, we can joyfully ask Him for anything we need. He chose to love us in the first place. Will He not also care for us on an ongoing basis?

How does our adoptive Father treat us? Are we merely wards of the state of heaven? Are we second-class members of God’s household? Are we like Cinderella — begrudged by the natural-born children and made to do slavish tasks? No! No! No! Listen to Galatians 4:6–7: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

What difference does this change in status from slavery to sonship make for our prayer life? Listen to Romans 8:15–17: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” As God’s children and heirs, we can joyfully ask Him for anything we need. He chose to love us in the first place. Will He not also care for us on an ongoing basis?

So, let us pray to God, the Father of all believers!

The Father as Creator
A third and final reason we call God Father is that He is the Creator of and Provider for the entire world. James describes him as “the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). Paul writes, “there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6). No wonder, then, he writes, “every family [literally, all fatherhood] in heaven and on earth derives its name” from the heavenly Father (Ephesians 3:15). Or that, quoting a Greek poet, he remarks: “We are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). God created and provides for us; therefore, He is our Father.

As Creator and Provider, the Father dispenses His blessings with impartiality and expects us to do the same. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44–45). When it comes to the blessings of salvation and an eternal life with Him, God requires faith of us. With creature comforts and temporal goods, however, God is an equal-opportunity giver.

As Creator and Provider, the Father dispenses His blessings with impartiality and expects us to do the same.

God’s creatorship makes a tremendous difference in our prayer life, as Jesus himself pointed out. We spend our lives working hard to get stuff, some of which is good and necessary, some not. But often, we develop acquisition anxiety. We worry about acquiring what we need as well as what we simply want. To paraphrase the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25–34, we worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink; and we worry about our bodies, what we will wear. We shouldn’t. To see why, we should pay attention to three questions Jesus asks us.

First, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” When we pray, God reminds us of our priorities and helps us see the difference between our needs and our wants.

Second, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” When we pray, God reminds us of our value in His eyes and assures us that He will meet our needs.

Third, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” When we pray, God administers a dose of reality medicine. Anxiety does not prolong life. Medically speaking, it shortens it. So do not worry; God will provide. Only the pagans run after all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.]; our “heavenly Father knows that [we] need them.”

God is the Father of the entire world. He created us; He also will provide for us. So, let us pray to Him!

Fatherhood, Feelings, Facts and Faith
God is our heavenly Father. He created us, saved us and provides for our needs. So, when we pray, we ought to remember and give thanks for His powerful love.

Unfortunately, we do not always feel God’s love. Sometimes, we feel that God is ignoring or neglecting us. When we are anxious about our material needs or disconsolate about our spiritual condition, we want to feel God’s reassuring hand and hear His soothing voice. But we don’t.

What should we do?

First, we should remember that feelings are not reliable guides to reality. In high school, I competed in a speech meet that I felt I had won. I spoke flawlessly. My only real competitor, however, jumbled the opening lines of her speech and started over. I was sure the trophy was mine, but the judges pronounced my competitor the winner. My feelings had led me astray, as feelings often do.

When life is going well and our emotions are all positive ones, it is easy to believe in God and do His will. But take those crutches away, and will any faith in Him remain?

Second, in light of the unreliability of our emotions, we should let facts determine our feelings. God’s Word is the most reliable source of information we have about Him, so what it says about Him should determine how we feel about Him, especially when we go through difficult circumstances. In Matthew 6:25–27, Jesus noted two facts: (1) God cares for you more than birds, whose needs are always met; and (2) anxiety is unhelpful. Jesus let those facts shape His emotional life, and He encouraged His followers to do the same.

Third, and finally, we should walk by faith. St. John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul,” when we do not feel God’s presence or comfort at all. Interestingly, he considered such nights a gift from God. When life is going well and our emotions are all positive ones, it is easy to believe in God and do His will. But take those crutches away, and will any faith in Him remain? Are we fair-weather friends to God? Do we love God for God, or selfishly?

Faith is not a leap in the dark. It is not a belief in the bizarre or absurd. It is the simple trust that God can be taken at His word. God loves you powerfully. That is a fact whether you feel it or not. Have faith, and one day — if not today — the facts and your feelings will meet, and you will see God “face to face” (1 Corinthians13:12).

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.