Barry Bonds, outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, passed Babe Ruth in 2006 for his record of career home runs. Because of his alleged steroid use, however, Bonds is heckled and booed by angry fans whenever he’s on the road. It’s only in his home stadium in San Francisco that Bonds is warmly received.
Like fans loyal to their team, God’s affection for His people doesn’t waver, even when our guilt is obvious. The book of Malachi opens with God declaring His love for His people (v. 2). When we understand that the people of Israel have just recently returned from the Babylonian exile, and the familiar problems of sin and rebellion return with them, one wonders why their Father’s first words aren’t more in line with, “I’m disappointed.” God does give voice to His disappointment (v. 10), but not without first affirming His unconditional love for His people.
Though their guilt is clear, God doesn’t renege on His covenant love. In fact, the story of Jacob and Esau, which Malachi references, demonstrates clearly that being loved by God is never an expression of our own worthiness. It had everything to do with His mercy (cf. Rom. 9:16). In fact, the whole biblical story highlights how God loves the most unlikely people (consider David the adulterer, Peter the traitor, and Paul the persecutor). And if we, too, like David and Peter and Paul and the Israelites, chronically fail to deserve God’s love, yet He continues to offer it, we discover something about the faithfulness of the God whom we call, Father.
“Our Father” is the confidence we need to pray, especially when we feel defeated by our personal failures. Prayer stands on the grace of God and the faithfulness of God. Because our conversations with God are absolutely shaped by what we believe about Him, we cannot pray unless we begin to grasp this unimaginable, eternal love God has for His people, a love that expresses itself even in the moments that we least deserve it.