Do you ever struggle to feel God’s love for you? If you are like me, many times it’s a battle trying to connect an intellectual acknowledgement of God’s love with a heart-filling acceptance of that love. We had a great sermon today from one of our pastors who is also a new father. He spoke from his heart, about a father’s love and how it helps him to comprehend our Father’s love. He gave us this verse from the Old Testament:
God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you. You saw with your own eyes what he did for you in Egypt; you saw what he did in the wilderness, how God, your God, carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here. ~Deuteronomy 1:29 (MSG)
I think about how God has cradled me in the darkest moments of my own life. I struggle with anxiety which is at times crippling, completely robbing me of the ability to trust my own mind. When I was younger, these “spells” would manifest as acute religious distress. I would spend hours in the dark on my bedroom floor, curled in a ball and sobbing to God for help and comfort. Eventually I would cry myself out and go to sleep, but my anxiety never just magically disappeared. It would seem that God was not answering my prayers. In such a situation, I think many would have turned from God and ceased to believe. In my own way, I did just that. During college, I rarely read the Bible or prayed. I never attended church. I didn’t trust myself around “religion”, and I didn’t trust God. But, through no merit of my own, I never renounced God. Somewhere in the very deepest part of my soul, I knew I needed God and that I would turn back to Him someday. Eventually, when I moved out of state for graduate school, I felt an urgent need to find God again and to reconcile with Him. I was guided to a church full of love where I would make some of the best friends of my life, and I was baptized.
Now that I am older and know better how to manage my anxiety, I look back at the “spells” of my younger days and realize how much God was with me. He cradled me, though I didn’t realize it then, or even several years later. He gave me a supportive mother who recognized my anxiety as a chemical imbalance, rather than a spiritual problem, and who made sure I got help in spite of myself. He gave me a wonderful father who empathized with my distress and helped me stay tough. He gave me the desire deep in my soul to find Him again. And He gave me the gift of patience. He waited for me during those years that I spent away from Him. He welcomed me home at the end of them with open arms.
Yet despite these proofs of God’s love, I still wonder sometimes how He could possibly love me the way He says He does. I can’t fathom why or how. I am such a mess, and I make so many mistakes. I hurt others with my words, I hurt myself with my thoughts, I indulge my pride and my lack of self control. The list could go on and on. The thing is, most people’s list is just as long as mine. We’re people, and people are flawed. God understands that, because He made us. And God is so much greater than our flaws!
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.~Psalm 139:1-4, 13 (ESV)
God knows all my mess, better even than I do, and He LOVES ME ANYWAY! God is so much bigger than I am, and His love is so far beyond me. I can’t wrap my mind around it, but I CAN ACCEPT IT. We read in Romans,
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners…God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.~Romans 5:6, 8 (NLT)
I just have to write this truth on my heart and ask for faith.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.~Romans 10:15 (ESV)
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.~Proverbs 3:3 (NIV)
And when I really just can’t get it, when I can’t reason out God’s love and His role in my life, I can listen to the wise words of the wisest man that ever lived:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes.~Proverbs 3:5-6, 7a
The truth is, even the most righteous person on earth is a sinner. Salvation is something only attainable through Jesus Christ (Romans 3, Hebrews 10:14). My inability to trust in God’s love is a reflection of my unwillingness to take myself out of the salvation equation, to renounce a works-based theology. I hate myself because I should be better, God wants me to be better, I’ve got to be better than I am! Always the pressure, the guilt, the self-loathing. But God knows me, and loves me exactly as I am. He doesn’t expect perfection, He expects a relationship. He’s willing to forgive and even to forget.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.~1 John 1:9 (ESV)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.~Psalm 103:11-14
I want to make a conscious effort to remember God’s love, to focus on it, to read about it, to thank Him for it, to let it fill my heart and permeate my thinking. I want to love God as much as I am able, heart and soul and mind and spirit. And I want to extend that love to everyone around me.
God, I ask this in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.