My Journey in Pleasing the Father
Growing up, I had no earthly father to please. However, I was eager to please adult authority figures, especially men. I made a special connection with my high school basketball coach. He recognized both my talent and my problems. He came to my home and told my mother that he wanted me to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference in Henderson Harbor, New York. He believed in me and provided the funds for the trip.
My desire to please Coach Gene Ring drove me to practice hard. He was Catholic, and religion played a significant role in his life. The Henderson Harbor experience didn't work on me because of my resistance to religion at that age. I reacted strongly against the legalism and customs of the Holiness Movement. That is one of the reasons I believe dressing well was so important to me. I made sure through those years that I looked like the other cultural winners in my society.
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I knew, however, that Coach Ring cared about me. He expected a lot from me, and I gave it to him. I faithfully did the drills he gave me. I would play what we called Around the World. I would go around what today is the three-point line until I could hit ten baskets in a row from each position. I would pretend that a defender was in my face and figure out how to get the ball up and away while protecting it. I was not a quick player, so I learned fadeaway shots; I could move to my right or left and maintain my accuracy. I found ways to get open and get my shot off. I played against the best collegiate players in the U.S., and it was rare for them to block one of my shots. I developed a quick release, which made me as a player. I could shoot fast under very difficult pressure and consistently make the shots. My long-term goal was a college scholarship, but my immediate motivation was to please my coach.
When I became a believer, growing up without a father made it difficult for me to relate to God as my Father in heaven, so I wasn't focused on pleasing him. I related better to Jesus. Because he is God in the flesh, it is easier to understand what he is like. But when Dr. Charles Farah, a theological professor at ORU, began to disciple me, I began to develop the kind of close relationship to God that Jesus had with his Father. Dr. Farah took an interest in my roommate and me and offered to spend time with us, teaching us how to study Scripture and memorize Bible verses. He taught us the virtues of a personal devotional life. This was a goal that I could strive toward and use my discipline to accomplish. I excelled at it because it fit my worldview, which thrived on structure. Dr. Farah sometimes had me address his classes and he used me as a good example of how to have quiet time.
However, I confused a disciplined quiet time with a relationship to God. I went through the disciplines of study, prayer, memorization, meditation, journaling, and so on, but when I was done, I didn't feel as though I had spent time alone with a person. It wasn't anything like the relationship Jesus had with his Father—time spent talking and listening. I was drawn to Jesus' words to the church at Laodicea: "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends" (Revelation 3:20). Previously, all my attention around this verse had been focused on the door, yet the last part of the verse says that "we will share a meal together as friends." I hadn't given much thought to what would happen once Jesus sat down for the meal. What would we talk about? In later years I learned that the way someone demonstrated that they had forgiven you was to have a meal with you. This is what Jesus is saying to the ancient world in which he lived, “I have forgiven you, let’s eat.”
As I reflected on Jesus' conversation with his Father in the garden prayer, it seemed that they enjoyed each other's company and neither attempted to fix the other. Isn't that how friendship works? We can't relax and be friends with someone who is always trying to fix us. This dynamic always creates tension and erodes the relationship, between spouses, between parents and their kids, and between friends. I realized that if I was to have a meaningful prayer life, I needed to accept that God wasn't trying to fix me. I needed to believe that what he said about accepting me was true—that he loved me completely and that his Father loved me as much as he loved his own Son. Then I wouldn't spend all my time with God confessing my sin, crying "woe is me." When I am with a friend, we catch up on our lives, talk about mutual interests, laugh about our foibles, and freely share our innermost thoughts, without fear of reprisal. This understanding transformed my conversations with God and changed how I saw him. Consequently I started wanting to please him more.
Nowadays, my favorite way to think of prayer is Jesus and my talking about what we are doing together. In this way I stay connected to the other world, the kingdom not of this world. This enables me to be a leader who is connected to my Leader and sees the world the way he does.
Written by Bill Hull
Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.