“Color with me, Daddy,” my oldest daughter said.
“I prefer to draw a picture, but I don’t what to draw,” I said.
“Just draw a line and keep going,” she said. “That’s what I do, and then I usually figure out what I’m going to draw after that.”
So I picked up a pen and begin to outline a picture of a tree.
“I want to do that,” said my other daughter. And then both of them got their own pieces of paper and started doing their best to follow me.
They actually did a good job even though you could tell little kids had made them. I didn’t care though. They were imitating me, which I thought was sweet, and they even added their own elements, which made me more proud. They were teaching me something about loving and being loved by Father God.
Speaking of God, I’ve always gotten a little stressed out by the idea of imitating him, as we’re called to do (Philippians 2:5). It seems like the whole endeavor is set up for failure. Most of the time, I feel like I’m just playing catch-up with my assignment. God is perfectly loving and good, and then there’s me: the oftentimes impatient dad; the inconsiderate husband; the guy who has to fight to keep the focus on Jesus, rather than himself.
But then I look at my daughter’s coloring sheet and breathe a sigh of relief. If God is a good father, then my honest effort matters. I’m not being graded. I’m not being scrutinized or examined to see if I’m getting is just right. He wants me to join Him in making something beautiful. He wants to take the time just to be together.
Imagine if my daughter said, “Daddy, I’m going to draw this picture, and it’s going to look exactly like yours. I’m doing this so you’ll be proud of me. Please don’t get mad at me if it isn’t perfect.” It would break my heart.
Pastor Justin Fung says the central difference between effort and earning is motivation. “Earning is when we do something in order to try to gain God’s affection; effort is when we do something because we already have God’s affection.” And the only way to secure that affection is through the blood of Jesus. For those of us who rely upon Him to bring us into God’s family, we can rest in that and just be His beloved children (1 John 3:1).
It takes a lot of the pressure off of me to think of it that way — to see God as a good father, not some irritable employer who’s just looking for reasons to fire us. He wants us next to Him. He wants us to imitate Him, and He is pleased by the trusting heart behind our efforts, even when they’re imperfect.
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