“Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light.” (Luke 12:3) So, why wait? There are truly no secrets when we come to the light (Jesus). Maybe admission of my struggle will be cathartic for me and liberating for readers. OK, here it is – I’ve never understood how God could love a wretch like me.
Follow the logic carefully, because it’s twisted. If I haven’t trusted in God’s love for me, which is a prerequisite for loving Him with my whole heart, soul, and mind, then how could He love me? In that case, I’m in violation of the Lord’s greatest commandment – what matters most to Him. Yes, I obey the letter of the law (sins of commission) and I feel like my motive for obedience is love of God and my “neighbors”, but if I don’t fully grasp God’s love for me (which is the sole source of unconditional, Agape love) then I must be sinning by omission (of love), right? If so, wasn’t that what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing? They were presumably confident in their love for the Lord, but Jesus said the love of God wasn’t dwelling inside of them. Even though I’ve devoted my life for over two decades to compassion ministry, can Agape be my exclusive impetus if my communion with love’s Originator is deficient (as is any relationship where one questions the other’s love)? My work for the Lord should be an outpouring of His love through me to others but according to 1 John 4:19 I must be serving with at least some selfish intent if I’m not assured of the starting point for authentic love – “We love because He first loved us”.
I know intellectually that God loves me and He’s shown me repeatedly, but I still don’t understand how it’s possible. If God can love me, He can love anybody. No one has given God more reasons to walk away because I can’t imagine anyone being provided with more evidence and confirmation, yet still not thoroughly convinced, of God’s love:
- to capture all the “God-incidents”, not “coincidents”, occurring since founding Meet The Need 22 years ago, I had to start a journal I call, “God Throwing Me a Bone” (an apt title for someone struggling to accept my status as His child)
- countless other interventions in my life that I didn’t realize at the time were actually remarkable revelations of God’s love, presence, and mercy
- looking back now at my life story, I realize it was “His-story”, with every step orchestrated in ways only an omniscient Father could have foreseen – like my focus in management consulting being the key to reform of the Church today and a childhood without loving parents stopping me in my tracks at the height of worldly “success” to care for neglected children
- eternal thoughts that kept me up at night as a small child, lying in bed wondering what life was really about and what happens when it’s over
- after three years of passionate repentance, all my prayers and dreams for a ministry and family coming to pass, except well beyond my wildest imagination
- every obstacle in Meet The Need’s path miraculously overcome, removing my right to take any credit for its success because I would have given up many times if the Lord hadn’t stepped in the day or week something had to happen (or else)
- most devotionals that pop up in my inbox lately are about God’s love and I’m surrounded by people who speak about nothing else
Yet for some reason, when pastors say, “Christ died for you” or a Christian says, “Jesus gave His life for me”, I bristle. I always feel compelled to add, “and everyone else too”. It’s not hard to believe that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, but uncomfortable to think He loved ME so much that He gave His life for ME. In Scripture, where that wording is found is preceded by the clearest command to be crucified with Christ and “die” to self – the latter resonates with me better than the former. I also don’t react well to other seemingly self-centered “Christianese” phrases like “Jesus is going to heal me”, “I heard from the Lord”, or “God blessed me” and words like “prosperity”, “victory”, or “favor”. Much of contemporary Christian messaging and music sounds a little too self-absorbed. However, there is one phrase that sounds selfish on the surface but (unlike the others) is always true – “God loves ME”. Yet knowing that truth doesn’t end my struggle to see how it could apply to me.
Suffice it to say, as you’ve already surmised, I give others the benefit of the doubt but am constantly questioning, monitoring, and mistrusting my own heart. I wonder, what if the reason I don’t commit “sins” is not my love for God but to protect my ministries, which took decades to build, but would only take a few minutes (of sin) to destroy? And what if I’m clinging to good things now like I’ve tended to cling to bad things in the past? Even work with eternal impact can be done with a mindset of prioritizing the temporal over the eternal. And what if I’m working to please my Father in Heaven because much of what I did prior to starting Meet The Need was to please my dad? Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and University of Chicago MBA weren’t successful in winning my dad’s love but maybe in some dark recess of my mind I’m hoping ministry achievements will make my heavenly Father love me more. I don’t believe that’s the case, but if there’s any vestige of works-based mentality in me, it’s yet another dark secret that will be exposed one day in the light of Christ. The only way to know I genuinely love others and am not selfishly seeking their love, is to find absolute contentment and security in God’s love. That’s living FROM love, not FOR love.
Like the prodigal son upon his return, my natural inclination is to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” It’s difficult to internalize the response of the dad in the prodigal parable – picturing the Lord running out to welcome me home with open arms. The prodigal was guilty of chasing women, money, and parties – and I didn’t doubt the Lord forgave me for that lascivious lifestyle in my 20s when I repented in my early 30s (Jesus’ ministry years). It was harder to imagine God loving and forgiving me after still not sensing His love following my transition into full-time ministry. In other words, I had wandered pretty far down the street in my 20s but still knew my way home. I could envision the Father looking forward to my return – because I never left His family. After repenting and starting Meet The Need, I assumed that entailed moving into the house “next door” to God. I’d immediately understand His love more deeply and my doubts would dissipate. Yet when those doubts persisted, I began to wonder how God could welcome me “home” when I had no excuse for feeling distant after taking up residence right “next door”. That’s not to say I ever thought it was possible to lose my salvation, but how could l still be a valued member of my Father’s family when I was an entirely different kind of “prodigal”? In this case, I more closely resembled his older brother in the story, who didn’t run off to carouse, but was busy doing the Lord’s work. We’re not told whether the older brother repented (of not trusting enough in his dad’s love and not loving His brother), but if I repent (of questioning God’s love for me) would He, like the prodigal’s dad, place the proverbial signet ring back on my finger (reassuring me of my identity and authority as His child)?
By God’s grace, to help me fathom the depth of His love, He gave me two tremendous gifts – a wonderful son and father-in-law. We have close, loving relationships that I never found with my dad. Having now experienced Agape love as a parent I realize I would never shun my son from my family, even if he didn’t grasp my love for him. If he were in doubt, I would do my best to prove to him once again that my love is unconditional, as our heavenly Father has done so many times to reassure me of His feelings. Jamie is 16 now but his love for me is still childlike, as mine should be with my eternal Father. My love can’t begin to approach the Lord’s, but He knew I needed deeply personal points of reference. Thank God for yet another chance to learn about His love. He could have given up on me long ago, and I wouldn’t have faulted Him for doing so. But now I know I would never give up on my son, so my heavenly Father won’t give up on me (His child).
So my journey for the past three years has been pursuing God’s love with everything I have. That must be my obsession because love is God’s obsession and the foundation of His character. Seeking God is seeking His love, because God is love. Psalms 63:1 says, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Extreme hunger and thirst at the point of starvation or dehydration is all-consuming – making it virtually impossible to think of anything else. That individual’s only objective is to find food and water – fast! How do we translate the urgency of our most core, compelling cravings into a voracious hunger and thirst of God? Does starving or dying of thirst characterize my pursuit?
If not, I need to repent because I know in my soul that believing unreservedly in God’s love is the key to everything! Not trusting enough in the love of God is why I spend any time worrying about finances or health. It’s why I put on airs sometimes when I should be seeking Christ’s righteousness. It’s why I concern myself with fleeting, frivolous pleasures and possessions rather than simply abiding in the eternal Vine.
In other words, I’m often settling for lesser loves and searching for love elsewhere. All humans need to receive and give love but unless I’ve surrendered all to Jesus and died to “self”, then I’m finding love somewhere other than in the Father. The calling of discipleship is costly. It’s only when we come to grips with God’s immense love displayed on the cross and in countless ways every day, that we’ll loosen our grip on other loves. I’m just not sure I’m there yet. My security and identity is not in Christ alone. There’s still a barrier erected by parents who withheld love and by unmet expectations that going into ministry would cure doubts about my Father’s love – but those aren’t legitimate excuses. Until the Holy Spirit solves that love dilemma, I’ll go on questioning whether love is my motive for doing all the “good” I do. Again, how could it be if I don’t fully grasp God’s love for me and Scripture says His love (for us) is the basis for our love for others?
I believe I’ll know when I’m fully bought in that God loves me unconditionally:
- My prayers are answered because my will and prayers are aligned with God’s will
- Being more excited to spend time with God because I’m sitting in my “Dad’s” lap
- Hearing the Lord’s voice more clearly and often in quiet moments
- Experiencing more peace and joy knowing the Father has my back now and forever
- Greater humility, accepting no credit for what Jesus does through me
- Not wondering how God could accept someone like me because He’s accepted Jesus in my place
- Not trying to do better or be better to earn God’s love but in thankfulness for it
- Looking forward to going home to see my Father, face-to-face with Him
- Doing more now of what I’ll be doing eternally (praising, thanking, and worshipping) and less of what I won’t be doing eternally (worrying and achieving)
- Being willing to step away from anything, even ministry, if that’s what He wants
- Knowing even though no one has given God more reason not to love me, I’m not an “exception to acceptance”, exempt from God’s love
- Realizing that not feeling God’s love means I’m not drawing close enough to Him because God is love – it’s all about relationship and I need to be a better son
Until then, my struggle and pursuit continue. Like David throughout Psalms, I’ll keep crying out and the Lord will hopefully keep reaching out. Maybe that’s the journey on this side of heaven – to seek and search, receive and give, the love of God until all fears and doubts are dispelled.
It’s Your Turn…
Am I walking this path alone or do you ever wonder how God could love you? Are you resting in the Father’s love or chasing other loves? Human relationships require investment to love and be loved, but are you confident God’s love exists and persists whether you pursue it or not?