Feeling loved?

“How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?” – Philip Yancey

Do you remember the feeling of euphoria when you first fell in love?

I think being in love is a picture of what God feels about us every day. He loves us just as we are, not just on our good days, but every single day. He loved us before we were born and will never stop.

The prophet Daniel, a Judean captive serving the Babylonian king, was praying for his people, pleading for God act on their behalf. While he prayed, the angel Gabriel appeared telling Daniel he had come to give him insight into the things he was praying about. And he gave the reason: “. . . I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (Daniel 9:23a). Can you imagine an angel saying to you that he showed up because you were greatly loved – by God?

Maybe we don’t hear it from an angel, but, if I’m reading my Bible correctly, we are as greatly loved as Daniel was. John tells how Jesus loved his disciples. Jesus declares his love for them, too, and for the whole world. Even before Jesus’ time, God said many times how much he loves his own people.

So why don’t we feel the “in love” euphoria every day? Maybe because we don’t really believe it. Think about that. The one who says he loves us is the eternal truth, the God who loved us into being. We can trust him. We can love him back. He will never turn us away. Never.

 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”. – 1 John 4:16a

Now’s a good time to pray.

“A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Do you have any soul hunger going on? Wanting to know God better. Wanting to feel his presence. It’s likely he is the one putting that desire in your heart. When it comes, respond. How? By praying. When we pray, we reach out to connect, knowing he’s already reaching out to us.

Why the urgency to pray now? If you’re busy, it seems OK to wait until later to pray, right? Or if you are distressed about something, it’s hard to focus on prayer. God must surely understand that!

Here’s what David says to God in Psalm 32 “ . . . let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (verse 6). Personally, I don’t think God will go into hiding if I don’t pray right away. That would not be consistent with everything else we read about him in the Bible. Instead, I think the danger of not “finding” him when we pray may lie with us as the pray-ers.

Maybe we need to pray before we get distracted with the the things around us and forget to get back to him. Or before we make decisions without his guidance and find ourselves not wanting to reach out for help. Or before we get accustomed to moving through life without him. God doesn’t want that to happen to us and neither do we. So, the antidote to “losing” God through distraction, stress, mistakes, or just hard heartedness is to pray now. Now, while our hearts are drawn toward him.

Got a minute? How about using it to talk to God?

“Pray all the time.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

Staying lost?

Prodigal Son (New Your Public Library), Public Domain

“I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind, with my own psychological insights. I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I had a dog years ago who liked to explore the world, and sometimes he got lost. One of two things happened when we realized Luey had taken off again: Either we’d go looking for him, calling his name, checking his favorite haunts, or he would get hungry and find his way home. The end result was the same either way: The lost dog didn’t stay lost.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lostness. The first was the lost sheep. The shepherd knew the wanderer would never find his way back to the flock on his own, so he secured the 99 sheep and set out to find the one who was lost.

The second was about a woman who lost a valuable coin. She searched until she found it and then called her neighbors in to celebrate. What was lost had been found.

The third is familiar to all of us. It is about a lost son, the one who declared independence from his father, took his inheritance early and set off to a far country where he lived an irresponsible life until his money ran out, a famine hit, and there was no one to turn to but Dad who welcomed him home with a great feast.

The point of these stories? That which is lost can be found.

If you’re feeling lost today, God knows where you are. He will help you find your way back home. You don’t have to stay lost!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Hearts’ Desires

“. . . it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis

What is the most important thing to you? What does your heart desire? Some of us have given in to desires that now control us: Food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, approval, unhealthy relationships, senseless accumulation. We really want to change, but every time we try, we fall back to old habits. Could it be that our desire to be freed from those controls is not as great as our desire to keep things just as they are?

This is where God steps in if we let him. He wants to give us what truly satisfies, not just the immediate comforts we reach for. He can actually change what we want. He can give us new desires. It happens in marriages when a troubled couple falls in love all over again. It happens in other areas, too.

I heard of the testimony of a young woman with an addiction. Soon after giving her life to Christ, she said she no longer had a taste for what she had craved uncontrollably just weeks earlier. God had taken away her old desires and replaced them with new. That’s what he does! For her, it was immediate. For many, it happens over time. But our short-sighted desires are eventually replaced with better ones.

God knows our true needs. So, he helps us want the right things. Then he fulfills the desires he plants within us. Result? Freedom from enslavements. Empathy for others. Love for God. Please, Lord, change our hearts!

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

Where did he go?

“No soul can be really at rest until it has given up all dependence on everything else and has been forced to depend on the Lord alone. As long as our expectation is from other things, nothing but disappointment awaits us.” – Hannah Whitall Smith

God doesn’t impose himself on us. At times, the people of Israel rejected him and turned to idol worship. God repeatedly called them back, but they wouldn’t listen. So he said, “I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face and, in their distress, earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). We might paraphrase it this way: “I’m going back home until you understand how much you need me.”

Sometimes God seems far away even when we go to church, sing the songs, and take communion. Hosea says something about that, too: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The people of Israel were doing many right things like going to the temple and offering sacrifices. But outward actions didn’t change their hearts or keep them from following other “gods”.

God’s greatest desire is for us to know and love him – above everything and anyone else. Our true devotion is more important to him than ceremonial actions. I’ve found that if I am missing a sense of God’s presence in my life, I soften my heart and ask him to come back. With that invitation, he usually begins to work with me and makes himself known again.

Does he seem far away right now? Tell him you miss him. You love him. You want to sense his presence. He’ll come.

For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” – 2 Chronicles 30:9b

Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

New

“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” ~ Philip Yancey

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

Plan C

True faith does not so much attempt to manipulate God to do our will as it does to position us to do his will.” – Philip Yancey

My daughters and I had planned a trip to walk 100 km of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. But that was 2020, Covid loomed, and our plans were put on hold. Late in 2020, one daughter faced a health crisis, and we realized walking 12 to 18 miles a day wouldn’t be possible for her (maybe not for me either!). So we decided that, instead of being pilgrims on the Camino, we would be tourists visiting Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. Just days before our planned departure, Spain changed its entrance requirements and we had to cancel our plans

We scouted the internet to see what we could sign up for at the last minute and found a great resort in Mexico. We made the trek to spend a week together under the sun and along the sea. It was wonderful! When we came home, I told my husband about the trip: relaxed pace, beautiful surroundings, good food, and great conversations. His response? “It sounds like your Plan C was God’s Plan A.”

Has that ever happened to you? You thought you knew what you wanted, but ran up against obstacle after obstacle. Then God surprised you with a new plan, and you realize his was much better than yours. When we yield ourselves to him, he sometimes has gifts for us we never would have dreamed of on our own. So, even when we’re frustrated, let’s trust him to have the best plan!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory . . . – Ephesians 3:20-21

Practice on Humans

“. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20b)

We can’t see God. Or sit across the table with him. Yet we are told that the greatest commandment is to love him and the second is to love our neighbors. I wonder if it has to be in that order.

Praying about loving God one morning, a thought came that I believe was from him: “Practice on humans.”

Maybe it is easier to love someone we can look in the eye, or touch, or hear. And maybe loving humans better will help us love God better, too.

We can start with those who are easy to love – babies and small children. Right? Then other family members, people at work or in the neighborhood. The next step is when God asks us to love someone who is dirty, angry, clingy, selfish, or arrogant. We start with those we can love easily, and then God moves us on to bigger love challenges. When we accept those challenges, allowing God’s love to flow through us, we become better lovers and, as we do, we find our love for God and love for human beings are closely intertwined.

Mother Teresa was ministering to lepers one day when a visiting American businessman saw her put her arms around a sick and very dirty man. Cringing, the American visitor commented to the person with him, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.”

Overhearing him, Mother Teresa responded, “Neither would I. But I would do it to show him the love of Jesus.” She had mastered the love lessons. Let’s find someone to love today!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa