Discovering God as Father
by Manfred Lanz, Pastor and Teacher
We know the Lord’s Prayer, but do we know the Father?
Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and to show us the way to him. 176 times Jesus spoke of His Father, 112 times in John’s Gospel alone. Two examples: “Whoever sees me sees the Father” John 14:9; “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” Jn. 14:6. In all of Jesus’ statements about his Father, it is clear that Jesus’ central concern was that we come to know the Father in his true nature and grow into the same heart relationship that he himself had with his Father. But why should we necessarily discover God as Father? And, why, do perhaps sorrowful experiences with our human fathers, which we unconsciously transfer to God, hinder us?
It was like this for me. I experienced my biological father as very dominant, demanding and intimidating. Accordingly, my image of God was very performance-oriented and marked by fear. When I came to faith at the age of 19, I initially focused my Christianity strongly on Jesus and the Holy Spirit; I had little access to God, as Father, for many years. That only changed in a severe life crisis. To actually recognize God, as Father, turned out to be a process that is still not complete. I am grateful for encounters with people whose nature and lifestyle reflect something of the essence of Heavenly Father; for pastoral and therapeutic conversations that helped me to reflect on my false image of Father, and to clear blockages from my heart. I am also grateful for books that brought me closer to God’s heart, as Father, and for all the revelation that God himself gives me in his Word and in my encounters with him.
Three aspects have become important to me along the way.
1. True Identity
Every person needs identity and something that gives them value and meaning. I sought my identity primarily in achievement and success, in the prestige of people, and in my position as a leader of various ministries and works. But, the deep longing of my heart for love, acceptance, and affirmation was not fulfilled by this. It was only through the encounter with the Father heart of God that the journey to my true identity began.
What was it like with Jesus? Jesus did not want to be anything other than a son. His identity did not consist of possessions, achievement, or recognition from people. He lived from the promise, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11 For a long time I thought this word applied exclusively to Jesus. He was, after all, the perfect Son. Gradually, however, the delightful truth conquered my heart: I, too, am His beloved Son. I am just as beloved as Jesus (see John 17:23). Jesus’ work of redemption includes, in addition to the forgiveness of sins, my new position as a son.
Paul writes in Romans 8:15, “For we have not received the spirit of bondage, again to fear, but we have received the spirit of adoption, in which we cry out: Abba, Father!” As a child, I may rest in the acceptance and security of the loving Father. From this identity, I no longer have to bend myself to please others, but can stand by myself and be who I really am, with strengths and weaknesses. Henri Nouwen puts it this way, “He who understands that he is the beloved of God no longer needs to run around begging for approval.”
2. Heart Relationship
God cares more about our heart relationship with Him than our service to Him. He first wants to saturate our hearts with His love so that we can then, filled and strengthened, serve Him and others.
In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the older brother complains to the father that he had never disobeyed him, had always worked for him, and yet had received no reward like the younger son. To this the father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (verse 31). Here we see what was really important to the father. He wanted to be with his son, to spend time with him. And he showed him that he already had access, through his sonship, to all that the Father wanted to give him.
This aspect of heart relationship has become especially important to me in my prayer life. In the past, my “quiet time” was often laborious and performance-oriented. Am I praying enough? Am I reading enough in the Bible? How long is enough? The turning point came when I realized through an encounter with the Father Heart of God: I don’t have to bring God something, but He wants to give me something! Praying is not a chore. Rather, it is a beautiful way to enjoy His nearness and to let my heart be saturated with His love. The more I understand prayer as intimate contact with the loving Father and His Son, the more it draws me further into His presence.
3. Access To My Feelings
With the journey to the Father Heart of God also began a journey to my own heart. In the past, I was not used to dealing with myself and constructively dealing with my deeper feelings. Already in my family upbringing, I had “learned” to suppress feelings like anger, sadness, and fear to a large extent. Through the imprint of the church where I later came to Jesus, this tendency intensified. Without realizing it, I split off an essential part of myself more and more. This part came out even more violently in the crisis of a burnout, especially in the form of fears and depressions. Only in the encounter with God’s fatherly heart, connected with deep pastoral processes, did my heart come to rest. I increasingly recognized: before God, everything is allowed to be. He loves me holistically. I may spread out the whole palette of my emotional world before him, just as David did in the Psalms. Everything has its place before God, in the relationship with him. That is healthy spirituality for me.
Since then, I have learned to be more aware of my feelings. Again and again, I experience how God even uses my feelings to make me aware of something. For example, I was once quite angry with a person. Before, I could never admit being angry. Now, I was on the new path of holding all my feelings out to God and listening inwardly to see if He wanted to tell me something through them. I discovered that in the past I had spent a lot of energy trying to please this person that angered me. Now I felt hurt and taken advantage of. I realized that in the end I was not angry at this person but at myself because I had gone beyond my limits. God, thus showed me the importance of healthy boundaries from false claims.
In summary, what has become important to me on my journey with the Father can be summed up in three sentences:
I am loved unconditionally!
My heart is more important to God than my actions!
I am allowed to be who I am!
Manfred Lanz, pastor and teacher, was active for many years as a church pastor in various churches. For several years, he has accompanied leaders and held seminars to deepen spiritual life. Manfred has three children from his first marriage. After the passing of his first wife, he married again, and now lives with his wife Antje near Hannover.
Books for Deepening by Manfred Lanz (German):
- Leben in der Liebe des Vaters – Eine Entdeckungsreise zum Vaterherzen Gottes, SCM Brockhaus
- Tiefer in der Liebe des Vaters – Geistlich wachsen am Herzen Gottes, SCM Brockhaus