This was a project - just finished! - for Thrive junior ministry. This is a backdrop, 2.5m wide and 2m high! It's just about the biggest thing I've painted!!
My teenager stood in front of me, squinted eyes fixed hard on me, head to one side. She broke the short silence. 'How did you know I was going to do that?' she asked.
'I'm your mum.'
Head down, she muttered something incomprehensible, turned and sloped off.
Those of you reading this who've had the privilege (?) of raising teenagers will identify with this moment! Personally, as my daughter was growing up, I found it incredible just how much about her I did 'know', even though right from the start she was always very much her own person! Call it intuition or a mother's sixth sense, but I was always surprised at the deep sense of just 'knowing' that simply couldn't be explained.
About 1000 years before Jesus, King David wrote this with the same sense of surprise about God:
'God........I'm an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I'm never out of your sight.
You know everything I'm going to say
before I start the first sentence........
Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit
to be out of your sight? (Psalm 139:1-4,7 the Message)
His surprise continued:
'Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.......
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.......
all the stages of my life were spread out before you
The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.' (Psalm 139:13,15-16 The Message)
What an awesome insight King David had - this Creator God shaping him physically from day one and being bothered about the details of his future life! Suddenly this warrior leader must have felt very small. Small enough to ask, 'What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?' (Psalm 8:4 NIV) This is a question I've asked myself lots of times! Why should God want to know about me? It's ridiculous!
To help my understanding, I went rooting around to find out how the ancients used the word 'know' and quickly discovered how limited our word 'know' is in its meaning and scope. When we think of 'knowing' for the most part it simply means obtaining head knowledge. For the ancients, it meant a great deal more involving all the senses. Look at these words describing 'to know' - to understand, experience, perceive, notice, discover, learn, pay attention to, and my favourite, to cherish. 'Knowing' was an all encompassing, whole life experience.
So God doesn't want head knowledge about me. He wants to embrace my whole life experience. But why?
I guess we fast forward to Jesus for the answer.
Jesus was a fantastic story teller - perhaps the best ever!- and told several stories about His Father God. Perhaps His most famous story is one about a lost son, dubbed 'the prodigal son'. We'll look at part of the story - you'll have to read the rest for yourselves! It's found in Dr. Luke's Gospel, chapter 15.
Jesus told the story of two sons. One day, the younger son demanded his inheritance from his father. So, his father divided his property and the young son left home with his inheritance. He travelled far from home, wasted his inheritance on wild living until he had nothing left. Then a famine hit the land he was in, so he got a job as a farmhand on a pig farm. By now he was really hungry, but he was given no food. That was when reality struck and he remembered how well the farmhands were treated back home. He decided to return, offering his repentance to his father for the way he'd treated him and giving himself to work as a farmhand for his father. He honestly felt he didn't deserve anything. But look at what happened next:
'When the son was a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him and kissed him. The son started his speech, 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you. I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.' But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him.....Then get a heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! ....My son is here - given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' (Luke 15: 20-24 The Message)
Radically, Jesus taught the disciples to view God through a different lens - that of Father, a loving Father waiting for his reckless young son to return home. In the story, despite the fact his son had insulted and rejected him, the father still loved him. There was no rejection or retaliation by the father to his son - just sheer love and delight when he returned home. In fact, the father got the best party ever going for his son! That's crazy!
This is an amazing God. He wants to know me and have a relationship with me simply because He loves - and loves and loves! He waits for me to return, reaching into my very 'lostness', however far away I might think that is. Why? He loves. Just like the son had been prodigal with his inheritance - extravagant and reckless - so our God is prodigal with His grace and love - hopelessly extravagant and reckless! True - such love is ridiculous, especially when we know we don't deserve it, but that's the nature of our Father God.