In 1996, Christopher Robin Milne died in England. You may recognize the name. His father was the famed children’s author A. A. Milne, who named the lead human character in his Winnie-the-Pooh books after his son.
According to Christopher Milne’s obituary, his father spent little time with him. He was too busy making other children laugh and smile through his writing to take time for his son. Christopher died in his 70s, hating his world-renowned father because he failed to live the kind of life he depicted in his books.
Like the younger Milne, a lot of us grew up with passive fathers. They appeared distant and rarely got involved in our personal lives. They weren’t very affectionate and rarely showed any emotion.
Today, we live in a fatherless culture. Twenty million children in the United States under 18 live with one parent. Eighty-four percent of children who live with one parent live with their mother. The percentage of children who live with two parents has been declining among all racial and ethnic groups.
Those of us who grew up with fathers who were not actively involved in our lives often have difficulty understanding God as our Father, because we view Him as distant and aloof. Our earthly fathers never expressed their love and affection for us or spent quality time with us. They didn’t seem to notice our joys, our sorrows, our struggles, or our successes. This has led us to believe that God doesn’t care about the details of our lives. We then find ourselves running to Him only in an emergency. Our relationship with Him never deepens or becomes intimate because, in the back of our minds, we fear that God is not really interested in us.
God rejoices over you!
But just the opposite is true! You are special to Him (Psalm 139:13-18). There has never been another human being quite like you, and there never will be. And, He is fascinated by you! Brennan Manning said it best when he wrote:
“It is important to recapture the element of delightin creation. Imagine the ecstasy,…wonder, and delight when God makes a person in His own image—when God made you. The Father gave you as a gift to Himself. You are a response to the vast delight of God. Out of an infinite number of possibilities, God invested you with existence.”
Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as a gift to the Father. Instead, you find yourself balking at the idea that you’re special to Him. You probably think, “Why would the Creator of the universe even bother to think about me? I’m nothing. I have no talent. I really haven’t done anything meaningful in my life. No one will even miss me when I die.”
You may also feel this way because you’re the one who rarely, if ever, gets invited out to eat. You’re the one who goes unnoticed when you’re in a crowd. No one asks your opinion about much of anything. And you find yourself spending countless hours all alone. So, it’s only natural for you to assume that if people treat you this way, then God probably does as well.
But just the opposite is true. When God thinks of you, He breaks out into endearing songs of affection. Does this sound too good to be true? Think again. Zephaniah 3:17 echoes these very sentiments:
“The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.” (AMP).
These words are stunning! While the language of this verse expresses God’s exuberant love for Israel, it also richly conveys the depths of devotion and love that He feels for His children. If there ever was a verse worth dissecting and meditating on, it’s verse 17. “The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]!” Just think of it. He is not only with you, but He is in you. He is right where you are, no matter where that may be. He has lovingly chosen to live with your smells, your hang-ups, your “highs” and your “lows,” and He is extravagantly committed to you!
Notice, God will also “rejoice over you with joy.” There’s an uninhibited exuberance found in these words. Although some of you feel that you have failed Him far too many times for Him to rejoice over you, His love for you never changes. The issue isn’t who you are or what you’ve done, but who He is. He’s determined to joyfully love you, and that’s all that matters!
As you continue your journey through Zephaniah 3:17, look closely at the words that come next in the text. “He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them].” Here we see a love so deeply felt that words are unnecessary.
Silence can often be the result of sheer contentment. I can remember times when I’ve sat in silence in a living room with my sons and just observed them. I have found myself absorbed in who they are, and just being with them has overcome me with feelings that simply can’t be put into words.
But if you think this is hard to absorb, return to Zephaniah 3:17 and notice the unmistakable language of the last phrase. It’s the crowning jewel of the verse. It passionately proclaims that God “will exult over you with singing.” God loves you with such fervency that He leaps for joy, dances, and celebrates your life with singing!
Earlier we discovered that God’s love for us often reduces Him to silent adoration. Yet, He eventually has to shatter the silence with songs of delight! The One who sang the first solo and gave birth to sounds and rhythms can’t hold back His feelings for us! We’re His sons and daughters; we’re the “apple of His eye.” And, He’s happy that we belong to Him!
Singing enables the heart to express deeply felt emotions that mere speaking can’t communicate. Singing can do things that words alone can’t accomplish. This is why Father wants us to know that His love for us is so extravagant that He can’t help but sing over us!
However, there are some theologians who strongly insist that God doesn’t have these kinds of passions and emotions. They’re concerned about God appearing weak or subject to “fickle feelings.” While we need to be sensitive to their concerns, we dare not limit the words of Zephaniah 3:17 to mere figures of speech. Although we can’t fully comprehend the nature and character of God, the Scriptures clearly indicate that He feels—He has emotions, passions, and powerful affections for each of us!
The Extravagant Father
This is nowhere more vividly portrayed than in the parable of the prodigal son or, as it should be called, the story of the extravagant Father. We find it recorded in Luke 15:11-32:
There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me’.
So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned again God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
When he was still 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 you 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. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’(TM).
This parable is really a portrait of our heavenly Father and what He’s actually like. There’s probably not a more passionate, picturesque statement about Him in the entire Bible than what is conveyed in verse 20: When the father saw his wayward son, he “…ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Instead of portraying God as a bookkeeping, divine legalist, Jesus introduces us to a father who dances for sheer joy at the sight of a devastated son who is returning home. He depicts the Father as a divine sprinter, who runs after outcasts and throws parties for those who can’t possibly qualify for His favor. Even “wayward” children are the objects of His intense longings and affections.
Have you met this Father? He wants to dance into your life and celebrate what His grace has accomplished for you. He wants to draw you into His heart and embrace you with His love. Furthermore, He wants to lead you into all that He has destined for you to be!
This article was written by S. J. Hill who is the author of several books including What’s God Really Like?; Enjoying God, Experiencing the Love of Your Heavenly Father; and A Love for the Ages.