I have found this second lockdown more difficult in some ways than the first last year. For a few reasons. This "Delta" variant being more contagious and thus creating higher risk awareness generally. The sudden and constant flow of restrictions, getting more and more constricting. Last week I started being able to ride 10kms from home and by weeks end I could only go up to 5kms from home. A reason for adjustments to my exercise circuits.
In some ways, my last example seems rather trivial. Don't get me wrong - I am deeply thankful for our Governments and leaders doing their jobs under the most trying of circumstances. But at another level, as someone who likes to freely roam and usually has no reason to think twice about it in our city, I have found the increased curtailment of this freedom emotionally asphyxiating.
I don't think I'm alone. For some us, we've had increasing numbers of people we cannot physically see and be in the same room as. We've had work projects put on hold or deferred (again!). We've had our work cancelled even. We've had holidays put off or cancelled. We've had events, parties, or otherwise, abruptly halted. And we've been restricted, or felt constrained, to the four walls that make up our street address.
Emotionally asphyxiating may be a bit strong, but the "emotional pipes" have certainly been tightened over this last lockdown. Which makes praying and practicing the Lord's prayer all the more inspiring and encouraging at this time.
"Our Father..." [Matthew 6:9a]
I already started with this phrase last week, but I've got a good reason to continue today. You see, calling God "Our Father" has a rich and storied history in the Bible, taking us all the way back to the Exodus of Israel, out of slavery, and into the freedom of being the Kingdom of priests for the sake of the nations of the world (Read the book of Exodus - it's a fascinating read).
In short - calling upon God as our Father, means we're calling upon God to be our freedom fighter, liberator, and the one who fulfils His promise to make us a free and restored people. A people free to serve Him, and free to serve the peoples of the world in His name.
Exodus (Chapter 4)
The first occurrence in the Old Testament of the idea of God as our Father comes when Moses marches in boldly to stand before Pharaoh, and says:
"...say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” [Ex 4:22–23]
For Israel to call God ‘Father’, then, was to hold on to the hope of liberty. The slaves were called to be sons and daughters.
For you and I, calling upon God as our Father means we are calling out in the sure and certain hope of God's promise of liberty. Not just the liberty of freedom from social restrictions, nor even the freedom from worry and uncertainty created by a virus. No, we're talking the freedom to bear a fundamental identity at the core of our lives, that transforms how we see ourselves, our world, and our freedom of purpose within it. And that fundamental identity at the core of our lives - is being God's freed sons and daughters!
How does this help us?
Well, the Exodus event didn't happen overnight. Israel were slaves for a very long time. Then there were all types of miracles and power games between God and the Pharaoh of Egypt, with God coming out victorious and getting the people freed from their slavery. And then there were the years of not simply working out how to be sons, rather than slaves. The Israelites had to work slavery out of their community mindset and identity and way of relating to God, each other, and the world around them.
In other words, freedom took time, involved struggle, but God remained true to His word and fulfilled what He promised. Jesus, teaching on the theme of being sons and daughters of God in the New Testament, says this:
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." [John 8:34–36]
So freedom is ours, by nature of God's promise, made sure through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But freedom is a process, and freedom is as much getting old habits of slavery out of ourselves, as it is about getting out of slavery in any more literal sense of the word.
What I'm not saying, to be clear, is that we're in slavery to our Governments, or that these restrictions we're under are like being enslaved. But the yearning to be free that we are all experiencing at present - to walk and roam freely with a clear and unrestricted sense of purpose in our step - is being evoked very strongly in these current circumstances. And this yearning is part of the way God has made us, but not to taunt us without any ability to help us, but rather to point us to His promised true and lasting freedom.
What can we do to access this help?
Freedom is found in a person, not in a set of circumstances. Note again what Jesus says above:
"...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
You know what this means? If we have access to the person who gives us freedom, and we get His freedom within us, we can approach whatever set of circumstances we face free. Free already. In the ways that matter to the core of who we are.
You can let these circumstances lock you down. Or you can approach these circumstances, by praying, "Our Father", knowing that this is a prayer that deeply connects you to His promise of freedom, power to free you, and wisdom to teach you His ways of freedom. In order that you can live them out, no matter where you find yourself, and no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. You can be locked up in gaol, and still free (like the Apostle Paul, check it out). You can be locked in with a den of lions, or thrown into a fiery furnace, and still be free (check out Daniel and his mates here).
I need to remember this right now. I'm guessing you might, too. As we pray, "Our Father", we take note of who God is, what God is up to, and we partner with Him in His works. God is not bound. God is not locked down. God is working freely in His world, and freely in and amongst us. But we've got to choose to stop, approach Him, seek Him as the Father of our Freedom, and discern His freedom ways for our lives and current circumstances.
Remember - you may not be able to be physically in the room, but you've got a phone. You may not be able to take the groceries to someone - but you can click and collect for them. You may not be able to push that project forward - but you can build solid relationships of care and trust with your team, ready for the project push that will come. You may not have work right now - but you can serve God in lots of different ways, small and great alike.
Freedom, under "our Father's" watchful care and empowering grace, becomes not so much about our circumstances, but the spirit, the faith, the assurance we have in the face of any and every set of circumstances. That we are free, as God's sons and daughters, and we're free to serve this world in love and boldness and with great effect - because we're partnering up with the Father of our Freedom. Both for now, and on into eternity. And this gives me great strength and new, bold hope.
Because my freedom can't actually be taken from me. It was purchased for me, and is received by me, through my Saviours Cross. Hallelujah!
Laying hold of this freedom more with you this week!
Written by Ps. Rob Waugh