Psalm 68:5 says “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows-this is God, whose dwelling is holy.” “Father to the Fatherless”… what does that even mean? I’ve struggled with this concept most of my adult life. I spent a majority of my first 20 years of life chasing after what it takes to “become a man” and the last 19 trying to sort out what God expects out of my masculinity versus what the world expects out of it. At 39, I now stand back and think I have a better grasp on what it means to have a need to be fathered by God and an understanding of His willingness to father me.
You see, my Dad failed, by and large, in his job of mentoring me and initiating me into masculinity. When I read stories of great men in the Bible I’m often left with a deep yearning and longing to see their attributes and fruit in my own life. I read about David and his battle against the Philistine’s dread champion, Goliath, and I am puzzled by what kind of courage it takes for a teenaged shepherd to decide he wants to fight anyone with the title “dread champion.” It seems so foreign to me because for a majority of my life I’ve felt incapable of conquering just little things. What did his Dad do differently than mine?
Now, before I give anyone the wrong picture of my Dad, let me first say that he is an honorable and hardworking man that did his best. His father was an orphan and I’m sure he needed to be fathered by my grandfather just as much as I needed to be fathered by him. Unfortunately, you can’t give away what you were never given. My Dad’s experience, or lack thereof, became my own. My Dad did everything he could to perform his duties as the head of our house and to him that mostly meant work hard, work long hours, and make sure there was plenty in the bank to afford necessities as well as some neat stuff for us kids and my mother. Deep down, all I wanted was to hear that I was his prized son and that I was good enough. I wanted to hear him encourage me to tell me that I was doing great and could achieve greatness. I wanted him to want to spend time with me teaching me how to use his tools and teaching me about electronics and how things worked. I wanted him to come out and shoot baskets with me in the driveway or break out his mitt to have a catch with me. I saw these things happening with my friends around my neighborhood and it hurt me to see them happening everywhere except for at my house. But again, none of these things were ever done for him.
Unfortunately, you can’t give away what you were never given.
So, where does this sort of lack of initiation leave a young man struggling to become something he knows to be better but has little or no experience with? For me, it led to many years of immaturity, insecurity, and self-doubt. I began to rely on my perseverance, sense of humor, and drive to try to find my way to manhood hoping to figure it out by simply gutting it out. As some of you know, this is rarely a great formula for anything outside of a good comedy film. Nevertheless, I worked hard in an attempt to “earn” my masculinity not realizing that God had long ago not only created my masculinity but also had a desire to reveal it in and through me. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was in my 30’s that He was just waiting for me to see my own need and to ask Him to fill it.
This begs the question, how does God really see me? To answer this question I return to David, a man after God’s own heart, as he defined in Acts 13:22. We gain keen insight into how God sees us by reading about how God sees David’s brother in 1 Samuel 16:7 when God says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In short, God really sees both David and his brother, Eliab, and despite his brother having the appearance of a King, God reveals that David has the heart of one. If God really sees who both David and Eliab really are then we can conclude that He also really sees me. We gain further insight from David into what God sees in Palsm 139 where we read Psalm 139 (NLT):
1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
After reading this it should be obvious that God not only sees me, but he also cares deeply about me. So, my original question about David was, “What did his Dad do differently than mine?” That’s simple. His earthy Dad probably made the same mistakes mine did, but David was being fathered by God. I read Psalm 139 and what I see is not only that God sees David, but more importantly David’s awareness that God sees him and is interested in him. The only way for David to know this is from a lifetime of seeking the Father and seeing the results of the Father’s love and faithfulness in his own life. In other words, he was being fathered by God.
Where does this leave me? I still want the courage to face a “dread champion” and develop a masculinity like David had: a man after God’s own heart. Well, where it leaves me is in a perfect position to be fathered by God into who and what He created me to be. After all, I know He really sees me and it’s obvious that He really loves and cares about me. Knowing this makes it a little easier to know that God has my back. Jeremiah 20:11 (NASB) says “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.” I smile when I read this because now I see that Jeremiah was leaning on the Father much the same way that David did. Like Jeremiah, David trusted that God would be with him as a stronger “dread champion” than Goliath could ever hope to be. David’s confidence that his Father was there and ready to fight for him was certain and this gave him the confidence to fight and beat a “dread champion.”
I’ve continued to discover the missing masculine approval of me as I allow God to fill the gaps left by my own Dad. As He fathers me I now am able to look back at my life and see where He was nodding with approval when my Dad was less than present. I can see that He saw me make the honor roll in high school and He was proud of it. I can see that He saw me play volleyball in high school and was metaphorically in the stands cheering me on. I can see that He saw me get beat up by Allen when I was 11 and He hurt for me. Now, as a man readying to become a father for the very first time myself, I can see the Father looking at me and saying, “Son, I’ve trained you for this. You’re ready to lead and you have what it takes. Don’t worry, Son, I’ll be right here watching and ready to help you at a moment’s notice because that’s what a Father does.”
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John Keener has known Jesus since the age of five. He’s served in various ministries and is currently taking the Community Group Leader Training class with his wife Christine; they are prayerfully searching out what group God will have them lead. He loves Jesus, hockey, and the great outdoors. He and Christine are expecting their first child, a daughter, in April 2015. You can find John at the Lewis campus on Sunday mornings.