You know how you can be skipping along through life and one day realize you never fully understood something you thought you had figured out a long time ago? That happened to me the other night. I was praying, asking God to help me through a struggle I am experiencing. As is my habit, my prayer consisted of expressing my trust that He will work it out for good while questioning what I needed to do to correct the situation and asking Him to forgive me for getting in His way. My prayer brought on more frustration than peace.
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God”
Then God’s still, small voice came to me and I felt His presence. It was as if God was physically beside me, cradling me in His arms as He whispered into my ear “My child, you do not yet understand my love for you.” It literally took my breath away. I started to respond but immediately understood that this was a time to listen; to be still. I lay there thinking about what I have experienced and what I have learned over the past four years, and what I know to be true about God. He brought to my mind how I keep struggling to insure I live up to the love He has for me, even though I know in my mind He requires nothing from me. I recalled how I constantly try not to disappoint Him and He reminded me that even when I do it doesn’t change His love for me one bit.
Psalm 139: 7-10: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me”
I am not good at relationships. Too often in my family people handled conflicts with others by putting them out of their lives. I’ve done the same thing over and over in my life. Ending a relationship was easier than changing my behavior or an attitude, easier than admitting I’m wrong or putting forth extra effort to show love when I wasn’t feeling it. We tend to manage our relationship with God the same way we handle our relationships with people and I realized that’s what I was doing. I was constantly struggling to make sure I held up my end of the relationship but I had no idea how to do that. I feared I would mess up or quit trying out of frustration. God is literally a part of me, He dwells in me, and walking away from this relationship is not an option!
Hosea 14:4 – “…I will love them freely.”
I knew God’s grace is free; it’s not possible to pay my debt so, in my mind, God came up with a plan to save us but that didn’t mean He necessarily had to love us (clear as mud, huh?). Somehow I separated His grace from His love. Love in this world is work and we are taught explicitly and implicitly that we must earn it. It’s hard to change our thinking about that because that’s the only kind of love we have ever experienced. But we have to get past that and truly accept that His love is different, it really is free. God is not waiting for me to do certain things to “earn” it.
Funny, but my granddaughter just happened to be spending the night with me the night of my prayer and was asleep in the bed next to me (God’s timing is impeccable!). As I looked at her I thought about how much I love her and how much my love for her surprises me sometimes – the depth of it, the tenderness of it; there is nothing she does that makes my love for her grow stronger each day, yet it does. There is nothing she can do that would diminish my love for her; nothing she can do that would make me not want to be around her; I would do anything to protect her. Even when she does things that I don’t like, my love for her isn’t diminished at all. God showed me in that moment that while I can compare His love to what I feel for my granddaughter, His is greater. It finally sunk in and I wept.
Psalm 103:11 “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;”
I walked an aisle and accepted Jesus’s gift of salvation when I was about 11 years old. But I gave in to worldly pressures and lived my life apart from God for the next 10 or 11 years. I returned to Him after my daughter was born but again yielded to the temptations of the world after about 6 years. I lived the following 24 years much like Solomon, running after every desire I had: money, men, material possessions, worldly “wisdom.” Granted, I did not have near the resources Solomon did to satisfy his desires, but I acquired what I could with the little I had by any (legal!) means I could manage. In 2009 the burden of my sinful life became too much to bear and I begged God to take over. Over the past four years I’ve come to know Him. As I looked back at the 39 years since I first accepted what Jesus did for me on that cross, I saw all that He had done for me even as I lived in total disobedience. It was God who had taken care of me. He had never allowed anything in my life that I couldn’t handle. He had, in fact, kept every promise He makes to us in His Word. The night of my prayer I saw how He has cared for me, how patient He has been. I have done so many things that no doubt grieve Him mightily and in spite of it all, He took me back.
Isaiah 41:13: “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
As I lay there that night I realized I am the prodigal Jesus talks about in His parable in the 15th chapter of Luke:
Luke 15:17-24 – “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
It is nothing short of amazing that God welcomed me back with open arms. He doesn’t hold anything back. He doesn’t treat those of us who go astray any differently from those who have been obedient to Him. Now, get this: each time one of His wayward children come back, there is great rejoicing in heaven. He rejoiced when I came back!
Luke 15:10 – “…I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
That night I finally gave control of my heart to God. Knowing the truth about God’s love fills me with a desperate desire to please Him in everything I do. It’s no longer a struggle of my will. As I deal with the situation I prayed about that night, I have a new peace and love towards the people involved. Since that night, I see others through God’s eyes – the ones that watched as I did things that broke His heart. Through it all, He watched with unwavering love for me, knowing I would return. I must pass His love on and I now have the power and the understanding to do it. I can do no less.
Jeremiah 31:3 – “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”