Song Blog: Father of Lights
I owe you an apology.
Whenever I share a Bible verse to connect to a song, I always want to make sure I’m accurately communicating the original intent of the scripture. I never want to take Scripture out of context so it can fit into my agenda. In this day and age, there is no excuse for quoting scripture without giving context. It’s so easy to do a quick search for a 5 minute Bible Project video that reliably communicates all the context we need to faithfully interpret God’s Word.
But sometimes I can get lazy. It’s easy to just find the scripture behind the song and throw it up on the screen, read it, and assume the context. This is what I did when we first sang the song “Father of Lights” by Chris Tomlin. I shared the scripture that inspired the song: James 1:17.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
I took this verse to mean we should acknowledge God in simple pleasures and give thanks for our individual blessings. I encouraged you to use this as an opportunity to be thankful for your home, your pets, your cars, good food, etc.
In no way is it wrong to be thankful for these things! However, this is not what James had in mind when he said “good gifts.” Let’s back up and get some context.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. -James 1:2-4
James believes that the trials and hardships of life are to be seen as gifts that can produce endurance and teach us to lean in closer to God. But to get that perspective, we need the gift of God’s wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
God offers this wisdom freely to those who don’t doubt God’s heart for them. In the midst of hardship, we must make a choice between letting our anxiety and stress define us, or trusting that God will sustain and mature us through our difficult circumstances. True wisdom is choosing to believe that God is good in spite of my circumstances.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.
In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. -James 1:9-12
Is there a better or more perfect gift that the Father of Lights could give than the maturity and reliance on God that comes by persevering through hardships? It’s the wisdom to choose to believe that God is good, in spite of what I’m going through.
In light of all this, let’s look at the lyrics to Chris Tomlin’s song.
Every good thing in my life
Comes down from the Father of lights
We now know that “good” can mean anything that draws us closer to God. Can good refer to anything else?
I have good news for you! He has told us what else is good through the prophet Micah:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Any opportunity we have to do one of those three things should be viewed as one of God’s good and perfect gifts.
We can do justice by joining God in his mission to put right the things in the world that have gone horribly wrong as a result of our sin and selfishness (i.e. poverty, prejudice, oppression, violence). We can love kindness by reflecting the compassion of God onto a broken and hurting world. Finally, we can walk humbly with our God by remaining close to Him, and by having a teachable heart as he works to mature us through the Word of God and through our brothers and sisters in Christ.
All the best things in this world
Money just can’t buy
So this song is not about being thankful for your home, your new car, or any other material blessings. It’s about being grateful for the circumstances of your life that have caused you to mature in your walk with God.
In NO way am I saying that you shouldn’t be thankful for those little things, or that material blessings can’t come from God. After all, Jesus tells us to pray for daily bread.. The practice of thankfulness for shelter and food is a great discipline to develop. But there is one sobering truth that we should keep in mind.
If the world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away.
If this is true, then the inverse is also true: “If the world DID give it, the world CAN take it away.” We should be wary of allowing our financial stability, workplace success, or social status to be the thing that we put our trust in. As James warned us, these safety nets can fade away as we go about our business.
Moreover, if we gained any of these possessions, positions, or stability in a way that is not God’s Kingdom way (see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for reference) we should expect that the world is completely within its right to take those away from us. But there is hope!
James will go on to say:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. –James 1:27
John Eldredge says that the “world” refers to systems that humans put into place so that they don’t have to rely on God. These systems are damaging to a creation that is meant to remain connected to and reliant upon God. We can keep ourselves unstained from the world by not participating in those systems and by living out the principles of the Kingdom of God (again, see the Sermon on the Mount for reference).
The orphans and widows James mentions were among the most vulnerable people of the first century. We should identify the most vulnerable people groups in our communities. Then we can use the material things we have to care for them, all while showing them that in God’s Kingdom, the vulnerable are protected, the orphans have a home, and the poor have their needs met. This is one of the greatest ways we can preach the Gospel!
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has this to say:
“When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks; he sends in the meek, the pure in heart, those who weep for the world’s sorrows and ache for its wrongs. And by the time the power-brokers notice what’s going on, Jesus’s followers have set up schools and hospitals; they have fed the hungry and cared for the orphans and the widows. That is what the early church was known for, and that is why they turned the world upside down.”
By taking these truths to heart (and proving so with our actions), we can be relaxed and generous with our earthly possessions and status. We can know (thanks to the prophet Micah) that the true good gift from our Father of Lights is the wisdom to walk humbly with our God, to reflect the loving kindness of God to the broken world, and to join Him in righting wrongs thus making this world look more like His coming Kingdom.