Monday, February 18, 2008

Striving for Goodness

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to try to be good? Have you noticed how hard it is to try to be faithful? Have you noticed how hard it is to try to believe?

There is a reason that striving for these things is so hard.

Luther’s explanation to the Introduction to the “Our Father” is truly a delightful help in this matter.

Our Father who art in heaven.

What does this mean?

God would by these words tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may with all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

This explanation is truly in keeping with what our Lord Jesus wants us to learn as we pray this prayer. This explanation brings true delight to the person who hears what the Spirit says in this prayer.

God wants us to know ourselves as He knows us. He wants us to know ourselves as His dear children.

If this is how we know ourselves, what will we expect from our dear Father? What will our lives demonstrate in this relationship that our Father has brought into being for us?

When Daddy gives instructions to His dear little children, does He give them instructions that are difficult to understand and difficult to perform?

Even with our earthly fathers we do not experience this. Certainly some of us have had unloving and tyrannical fathers. Yet even such a father does not ask a little toddler to climb up a ladder to repair the roof on the house.

Particularly where the father is a loving and caring father, the children know themselves as beloved children. They look to Daddy for their every need in life, especially in times of trouble. For example, if a little child is being chased by a stray dog, the child does not have to strive to know what to do. The child simply takes off running towards Daddy, screaming for help. No child in such a situation would first wonder what must be done to win Daddy’s favor. Such a reaction is only the response held toward a stranger.

The Lord our God is perfect in every way and He loves us with the perfect love of our Father who art in heaven. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever present. There is nothing that He cannot do for us, nothing that we need that He does not know, and noplace where He is not present for us. His mercy and goodness toward us are without limit.

Even our unwillingness to trust Him is something that He has taken care of for us. Trusting Him is not something that we must strive to do. Such striving is the opposite of faith. Faith is trusting Him, and this He brings to life in us by the power of the Gospel.

When He says “I love you,” He makes this what we know by washing us with water that is filled with His Word and completely wraps us in the person of Jesus. With the white robe of Jesus covering us, we know that God looks upon us with favor. For Jesus is His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. When He says that He is with us always, He calls us home to be gathered with Him in His family, to hear His gracious promises and to share in His Holy Communion and to eat and drink at His Supper of forgiveness and life, where He is truly present for us in His body and blood.

Yet even hearing and receiving all this, still we imagine that we must strive to be good and to find a way to be the children that He has already declared us to be. Of course, this is the way of the older children, who think too much about their own abilities. The little ones do not worry about such things, but simply hear the voice of their loving God and take comfort in knowing that His voice is the voice of Love itself.

This is why Jesus tells us that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven that we must do so as little children, converted again, turned from our own thoughts and efforts, to the blessed Word through which God comes to us and makes Himself truly known to us.

The sum of faith is in realizing that faith is not about us and what we do as God’s children. Faith is about God and what He does for us as His children. When this is what we hear from God, the obedience of faith is the easiest thing in the world. When this is what we hear from God, what can possibly prevent the faith that causes us to trust Him and to follow Him?

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