Being a dad is a huge learning curve, especially in our relationship with God. I’m a very proud father of an amazing 2-year old son named Landon. He’s survived two open-heart surgeries with a third on the way. Landon’s a fighter, and his evolving personality proves that emphatically. The other day my wife Joy walked into the house from a grocery store run with Landon right behind her. As soon as Landon saw me – he smiled, let out a toddler-esque shriek of excitement, and ran over to me as fast as he could.
Normally this would be the part of the story where I tell you that’s the greatest feeling in the world (which it was), until Joy gave the backstory. She said, “So as we were pulling in the driveway, I asked Landon: ‘Do you want to see Daddy?’
He shook his head ‘NO.’ I asked again, and he kept shaking his head ‘NO.’ Then we walked through the door, saw you eating a salad, and that’s why he smiled, shrieked with excitement, and ran over to you.”
Great… just what every dad wants to hear!
See, Landon loves croutons and cheese. I can’t enjoy a salad anymore these days when he’s around. He’s literally taken the croutons and cheese off of other people’s plates at banquets (true story).
The truth is though – I love to give Landon what he likes. I love to see Landon enjoy his life, and I love to give him things that make him happy. But here’s the tough question that I’ve wrestled with…
If I don’t give Landon things that he wants, will he still love me?
Probably every parent has asked this before, but some of us might not have considered the spiritual implications at play here. See most of us (if we’re honest with ourselves) love God because of what he gives us. The same is true in many of our marriages.
We might love what our husband or wife gives us more than we love them just for being them. The same can be true with our kids; do we love them for who they are rather than what they give us? While this is definitely convicting on a human level, it’s symptomatic of our spiritual relationship with God.
Satan made this accusation about Job: “Satan replied to the Lord, ‘Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!’” (Job 1:9-11).
Throughout the book of Job we see him imperfectly wrestle with the same questions, fears, doubts, and struggles with God that we all have. Thankfully, he came out on the other end as a faithful example of strong faith – refusing to abandon God despite intense suffering. But the Bible is clear that God loves to bless us!
James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights…” Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “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!”
While the prosperity gospel is false and ridiculous, it is still true that God loves to bless us. At the same time – God also allows us to experience very real & terrible trials in this life. Just look at Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, the disciples, & Paul. They suffered immensely, but God loved them intensely! The key is that these biblical characters loved God for who he was, not what he gave them.
Ask yourself this question: What would it take for you to turn your back on God?
As a dad, I’m going to do everything I can to parent Landon God’s way. That means a lot of the time I will go out of my way to be generous with my time, sacrifice for him financially, be his free taxi-cab service for many years, feed him, protect him, and support him any way that I can. But there will also be times where I need to let him fail forward, appropriately discipline, and withhold things from him.
Awhile back Landon got super mad at me because I wouldn’t let him climb the stairs by himself. He threw a fit because he wanted to climb the stairs, but as his father I knew he wasn’t ready for that. There was a lot of danger in that climb, so I kept him from what he wanted for his own good.
When God does that with us, do we stop loving him?
Over the course of time, I pray that Landon and I will form a healthy, mature friendship where we love each other for who we are – not what we give each other. I’m hoping that my relationship with God grows that way too. I’ve been following Jesus for more than two decades, but I still recognize corners of my heart where I’m not loving God for who he is.
Thankfully, the gospel reminds us that the security of our relationship is in God’s initial, unconditional love for us. “This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1st John 4:10).