Mike Connell shares his story on finding the Father and being a father, and explains the role of dads today.
Contributed By Dawn Seow
MIKE CONNELL: I first felt the touch of the Father through men of God. I was 39 years old then and had two pastors. Their care and their desire to help me to grow made me aware of the love of Father God. Then a pastor challenged me to remove that blockage that affected my life. I identified that it was a feeling of feeling unloved and rejected, and I spent a period of four weeks meditating on the word of God and His love as revealed through Psalm 23, on God being a father and friend to me.
One day, I encountered Him as a Father suddenly and my heart began to feel the love for the first time. I kept weeping as God’s love poured into my life.
There was an overflow for long time after that. If I were to look at anyone and ask them, “How are you?” they would begin to weep. If I were to sit down with anyone and just pray the Psalm, they would just breakdown and weep. The overflow of my personal encounter with God touched their lives.
Once we have an encounter with God, we can always go back there, remember it and start mediating on it. Every time we remember something, the power of it intensifies and we increase the ability to go back and gain access. That’s why meditation on the Word is very important. For example, if I were in a meeting and meditate on Psalm 23, I would be able to engage God’s love very quickly and it would manifest around me. People would be able to feel it; they would feel what I’m feeling and it’s something that is very tangible and real.
I would also declare Romans 5, which says the love of God has been shared abroad out of our heart by the Holy Ghost. I believe what I experience will flow out of my heart everyday through my eyes, my voice, my touch my connection with people.
How have these experiences shaped your ministry today?
I begin to be much more aware that very often in the church culture, people serve God, do things for God but struggle to know God, feel God and experience Him as a loving Father. They can easily become like the older son (in the parable of the Prodigal Son), serving in the field but not understanding the grace and goodness of God.
I begin to realize that the bible didn’t say that God is power, but God is Love. His power is an expression of His love but His nature is Love. So while I was growing and developing the power ministry, I realized people need to be loved and they need to experience love. 1 Corinthians 13 says love is the major thing; it’s the thing that will last. So I spent some time to open myself to the love of God and search out how people can get blocks out of their life to experience God.
As I looked at the pains in my own heart and realized that in resolving it, I was able to come out with some keys that would help other people. The overflow of dealing with my own pain and encountering God was in developing keys that will help others with the same issue. And I learned that real healing came for me when I was able to look at the pain I’ve been through, put my arms around it and welcome it as part of God forming me and creating a hunger in me to seek His love.
Very often, if we would stop complaining and being bitter and angry about the things we have been afflicted by or have suffered in, if we would forgive and release it, it gives us the way to enter into God, encounter Him and move forward.
The thing is God sets us into families. He set His plans for us before we were formed, so He knew about whatever circumstances we are in. When I looked back to see all the pain and rejections, I can understand how painful it is for people to feel rejected and un-love, to be isolated. (My experience) helped me understand why they seek comfort and fantasy in all kinds of false comfort. Having seen and felt that myself, I understand why people go there. And having been cleared from issues, you see clearly. It says in Matthew 7, “first get the beam out of your own eye then you see clearly”. So the issue is not about judging but to see clearly.
How have these experiences taught you to be a better father?
I found that I was repeating some of the patterns from my family upbringing even though I didn’t want to repeat them. I had to recognize that the moment my heart was free, I had to establish different patterns, primarily the patterns of connecting.
I found that the biggest challenge was connecting heart to heart. My wife’s father was a very good role model in many aspects of building a Christian family, so I learned something from him. We raised six children and each day I would have a date with each of them. Our work will always push ahead of our family unless we learn to prioritize. So what I did was to make appointments. My children would look forward to that because that was their day to have a special hour with Dad and whatever they wanted to do, we would do that.
Some dads spend time with their child but the dad does what he wants to do rather than what the child wants to do and children often want to do very simple things. But when we are willing to do it with them, it will create a meaningful connection and experience for them.
I also structure time in the morning to have a family meal together, read the word of God and pray together. In the evening, we talk about family. As the children grew into teenagers, we went on vacations together during the school holidays. Sometimes the best way to build a connection with our children is to share experiences together. On Friday nights we will have family nights and at that time we had no money, but we created our own fun. We would do acting, play games and make a meal by the fire.
If you don’t make time for family, you’ll never have time and children come to their own conclusion about what that means. Yes you may tell them that you’re busy with this and that and they say it’s ok. But in their heart they come to their own conclusion that in this world, in terms of where they fit, they are of no value to you. So in their head they know “my dad loves me” but in their heart they are of no value to him or anyone.
You don’t need to have the money; it’s your personal involvement that creates the fun. We celebrate every birthday with a party, no exception. Even till now, when I have a birthday, everyone comes around for a party, no one wants to miss anything! It’s not a matter of duty, but desire. Things come and go, but relationships and people, they live forever. So you have to place value on the things that counts.
When they grew older I brought them on mission trips. On mission trips they come out of their own culture and their own familiarity. You can come close together because you’re both in a strange place. You have to count on one another so it bonds you together. We took each one and brought them to different places. For most of them, their lives were changed by the mission trips and experiences. They came back quite different having seen how poor some people are but yet they are often very happy with simple things. You don’t remember things you buy but experiences where you felt love you remember.
Being a father of seven children, can you share with us some of your joys of fatherhood?
One of the most joyous experiences I had was being reconciled with my first daughter. Before my wife and I were Christians and before we were married, we had a daughter whom we gave up for adoption. After we came to Christ and got married, there was always a grief in my and Joy’s heart for the loss of that daughter and the law at that time was such that we could never have contact with her again. So I never saw her and we had no contact.
We began to pray for her and prayed that God would somehow change the law. When she was 18, the law suddenly changed and we wrote to her. It came in within a week from a letter from her foster mother asking for information and we were astonished. We started a connection, communicated and sent photos. The Lord put into her heart to come and see us so we paid for her fare.
The day she came to visit us was my birthday. We stood at the airport watching the plane arrive and as I was waiting for her, the Lord reminded me of the prodigal son, the story of how the father yearned for the son to come home. I was standing there with all sorts of feelings in my heart and I felt the Lord say to me, “This is how I feel when people return to me.” It’s amazing how God speaks in the midst of reconciliation in our family.
It has been 21 years now. We later had the joy of leading her to the Lord, baptizing her and I had the joy of walking her down the aisle when she got married.
Why do you think it is important for believers to understand God as our Father?
I realize that believers are called to represent God our Father on this earth. We see in the Bible how God sent many messengers but when He sent His Son, it was to represent what God is like. Jesus says, “When you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” When we look at Jesus’ interaction with people, we need to see the Father. Now when you see Jesus that way, it shapes your image of the Father. Jesus said, “The works that I do, it’s not me who is doing it but the Father that’s doing it.”
When Jesus touched the leper, it was the Father touching the leper because He loves him. When Jesus accepted the woman in adultery, it was the Father accepting her. When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, it was the Father doing it. Seeing that can actually shift our thinking. Sometimes when we think of God as our Father, we think of Him as being far, remote and demanding. But when Jesus came and present Him, we see who He really is. Often we pick up the traits from our own earthly fathers, who have their own good qualities, but don’t fully represent what God is like. Jesus is really the model of what the Father is like.
You only get one turn with your family, especially so with your children because they grow up so quickly and you can’t get the time back. I think many parents live with regrets that they have poured their energy into something else and missed the time with their children. When we minister to younger people we find that so many of them have a deep ache and sorrow in their heart, not because of the lack of things, but a lack of emotions and heart connection with their parents. This is often a driver to the problems they have.
In my course of ministering to others, one of the biggest challenges I face is to help people connect with their heart and to find out what was in their heart, because it is out of the heart that flows the issues of life. It is the structures of our beliefs, the walls, the blocks or whatever areas that oppress us, that drive our behavior. So the challenge for me in praying for others is to engage people’s hearts, to bring restoration to it and renew it according to the Word of God.
The biggest challenge a father faces today is the demand of their work—it tends to isolate them from their families and from meaningful heart connections. Everywhere I go, I see a struggle that men have [in making] a connection with their children. You can have interaction, which is superficial, you can make provision for your family, but to be connected with the heart of the child, to know what is in their world, be a support or guide to them in their life is crucially important.
1 Corinthians 4 says you may have ten thousand instructors but not many fathers. An instructor is just someone who gives instruction; they are not involved in the child’s education and what’s important in their life. A father is concerned about the identity of the child, the calling and gifting on them and what God has shaped them into. A father also has a powerful influence on a child to help them feel confident in life.
I am very mindful of the last words at the end in the Old Testament: “I will turn the hearts of the fathers towards their children and the hearts of the children towards their father.” So clearly God’s intention in these days is the heart connection between fathers and their children.
My observation is the lack of fathering, the lack of connection of men being able to open up and being able to connect and walk their children through issues in life, that leads to many problems. The children have no one to guide them and they go and look for it somewhere else. And they find it in the wrong places.
What is some advice you would give to the fathers of this generation?
My advice would be to form a strong relationship with God, form strong relationships with other men whom you can be open about your life and start to study about relationships. Think about what is important and then re-prioritize your time. Pray for your children, notice where their gifting is and engage in their world even though they might not understand.
I believe that fathers need to form a close and intimate relationship with God. Because intimacy with God means they have to open up their heart to God and as they do that, they can give to their children what they have engaged in. Your personal life example is the most powerful message you can have. Just because your parents never opened up their hearts to you doesn’t give you an excuse not to face the challenge of letting God open up your heart. Some generations have to make that change.
Other than building our relationship with God, men need to connect with other man who can help you and whom you can share with. Ideally we become vulnerable in our marriage, but if that is not possible because of various issues, then we have to be transparent and accountable in our relationship with other men. We need to start somewhere.
I will also encourage men to find what is important in their life and to put emphasis on that. Think about it: when you come to the end of your life, what do you want people, your wife, your children to say about you? Then work out how you can begin to deploy those things in your life at this point. We don’t have to let the world shape our values; we can build a strong family life. If we send our children to childcare or have maids look after them, at what point do we get involved in their life? Those can be support but not a replacement.