Sitting here at my desk, it just occurred to me that I am fatherless.
This past Sunday was the first Father’s Day on which I did not phone to wish my dad well and to tell him that I love him. But, in fact, on this past Father’s Day my dad was very well. He was in the physical presence of Jesus. Whether he heard me preach, I don’t know. If he did, perhaps he leaned on the Saviour’s breast and said, “He’s always been a bit of a slow learner, but I am sure he’ll do better next week!”
Yet, as much as I miss my dad, I am grateful that I only became fatherless at 54 rather than at fifteen, or at five, or at five months, or at birth, or, as in many cases, even before birth. My heart breaks that this is the experience of so many in our society.
Having just recognised Father’s Day, this is a timely reminder to think about those who had no father to celebrate. Many in our society do not even know who their father is. And some of these attend our church. Spare a thought. Show and share much love to them. I am grateful that many are. I am encouraged by the number of our members who are taking to heart the opportunity to care, in many different ways, for the fatherless (James 1:27).
The fear of the Lord is a biblically warranted motivation for how we behave. God is not to be trifled with. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know God as all-consuming love; and we also know Him as all-consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). We love what He loves and hate what He hates. He loves the fatherless. He hates their oppression. We should be careful; we should be very careful.
Sometimes people ask, does God have favourites? In fact, in a very special way He does. The Scriptures inform us over and over that God loves the “fatherless” and “widows.” Psalm 10:14 reads, “You [God] are the Helper of the fatherless.” And Psalm 68:5 says, “A Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God.” There are forty references to the fatherless and widows in the Old Testament, and the vast majority of these are with reference to the importance of caring for them, of treating them justly. Yes, God has His “favourites,” including those who are fatherless and widows. And we at Brackenhurst Baptist Church are blessed to have many of God’s favourites gather regularly with us.
For a relatively small church, we are blessed to have a large number of widows who worship with us. God loves them in a unique way. We also have several fatherless people in our midst, some who are worshippers of God now, and others whom we pray will one day become worshippers. This should be our goal; and toward this end we must love and labour—with longsuffering.
I am grateful that I was raised by both a mother and father who loved the Lord. I am grateful that they took me to church on Sundays. They took me to Sunday school and expected me to obey my teachers. If I misbehaved, then they helped me to learn selective Proverbs, many which left an indelible impression, not only on my mind, but particularly on a certain part of my body. In fact, at such educational times I would quickly remember the lesson whenever I would sit on a hard chair. The lessons were memorably impressive. The same, by the way, could be said when it came to my sitting in “big church” with the congregation. My parents taught me boundaries. They taught me that there were times I was to open my mouth, such as when we were singing the selected hymns. But they also taught me when to keep my mouth shut, especially when the preacher was doing the talking. If I failed to heed, then I was corrected. Sometimes I would get “the look” (most of us know what I am talking about), sometimes a firm grasp of my shoulder, and sometimes there were delayed and yet inevitable consequences once we got home. Looking back on those experiences I am grateful. My parents, and my father particularly, lovingly taught me how to behave in church. You see, ultimately he wanted me to become a worshipper. Therefore, my dad taught me to listen. For so many reasons, and most importantly because of my salvation, I am grateful that I was not fatherless.
Some of the fatherless who attend our services have not been taught how to sit and listen during a service. (For that matter, neither have some who have both mother and father.) We can help them to learn.
Let me appeal for patient and kind instruction. I love the older word for patience: longsuffering. Yes, there may be times in Family Bible Hour and during the services when we will need to “suffer long” at the sound of rustling papers and whispering (and not-so-whispering!) voices while they fill out their children’s sermon notes. Apparently, we recently had a bit of a mini-concert in the balcony when an aspiring drummer took his cue from Stephen in the worship team. But that’s okay. We can handle it. At least we should.
Yes, some of the children may confuse running with walking and so we will need to correct them. But let us correct them as we would want others to correct our children: with kindness.
My dad, as mentioned, used to give me “the look” to get my attention in order to produce correction. And though it could be quite intimidating, nevertheless it was coming from a man who I knew loved me. The fatherless in our midst will no doubt need some firm verbal correction. But they need it from those with a fatherly (or motherly) heart of love. What they don’t need is a headmaster. (No intended offence to any educators reading this.) I think you get my point.
There is an awful lot that needs to be said about this matter, but my desire is that this article will provide food for thought and grist for the mill as we work through how best to minister to these precious children.
The Lord Jesus promised the disciples that, upon His ascension, He would not leave them as “orphans” (John 14:18). Literally, Jesus said that He would not leave them fatherless (see James 1:27, where it is so translated in the KJV). He was promising them the Holy Spirit, who would come to earth to indwell them. The Holy Spirit would teach them how to live for Christ. He would teach them how to “behave,” not only “in church,” but everywhere. This is our goal: to help these children to learn to listen to the gospel so that they might be born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and then live to the glory of God—to the glory of the God whom they will forever call Father.