“The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:22-23
Struggles in life are common. Everyone has their kryptonite when it comes to having a consistent and fruitful relationship with the living God. In my adolescent days pornography was the temptation and stumbling block that I had to overcome. In my adult years, the green rock that drains all hope and strength from my heart and soul is anxiety. A few years ago it was common for me to lie in bed breaking into a hot sweat, anxious about any gamut of things life can make one anxious about. At times I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Tossing and turning trying to calm down my fears. My problem fed a psychosis of fear that I thought would never break. It got so bad that even with nothing to fear I would fear sleep itself. I was a afraid I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and if I missed a night of sleep I’d worry that I would miss the next night of sleep then the next, ultimately ending in death. I know sounds absolutely absurd, and it is, but fear has the all inclusive ability to overtake one’s entire thoughts and emotions. For me this is what fear did, it took away my dignity and convinced me that I was a lesser man then I was.
I figured spiritual discipline was the answer to my problem. I filled my time reading books like St. John of the Cross’ “Dark night of the Soul” and St. Bonaventure’s “The life of St. Francis”. Now don’t get me wrong, I love spiritual disciplines and I love some of the Old Catholic Saints even if some of their conclusions would be best thrown out, but I feel the same way about Luther and Calvin. I would pace in my bed room with my Bible open praying in the Spirit, asking forgiveness for every sin I had ever committed. I would break off curses, bind the enemy, and chastise myself for feeling so anxious. Then once I had finished repenting I concluded that God still wasn’t pleased with my attempt at devotion because I still had anxiety lingering. I rescheduled my time so I spent 12 hours a day in prayer, studied theology during my none prayer time, and worked out in order to “buffet my body”. These times were not innately fruitless; I got in shape, got a handle on scripture like never before, and probably read about 3 large theological books a week. As far as discipline goes it was a good schedule. As far as my heart and understanding of God goes, there was much to be desired.
This season of my life culminated into a single weekend that ultimately changed my heart and outlook on God forever. It was obvious to my friends and fellow workers in ministry that I needed some sort of break. I had been on this rigorous schedule for about a year and the pleasantness I had once carried had faded. I was becoming depressed, and anxiety was growing not weakening. I decided to take a three day break at a retreat center up in the woods. Staying in the vein of discipline I decided not to take anything but my Bible, Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, and a notepad. I figured I’d do some hiking, do some writing, and meet God in any way I possibly could. Instead of my time being relaxing, my time was tormenting. I spent all three days weeping over my inability to connect with God. I wrote pages and pages detailing all the way I was failing God in my life. I made a list of all the things I wanted to change about my life. I wanted to spend money better. I wanted to cut out any and all entertainment out of my life figuring I didn’t deserve to have fun when millions in the world are dying without the knowledge of God. I wanted to never sin so God would never be displeased with me. The last day of the weekend as I was driving back to Kansas City completely dejected at the lack fruit my weekend produced. It was then I heard the Lord say to me: “I delight in you”. It was a line that struck me in the gut. I pulled over to the side of the highway with tears streaming down my face as I hung my head. Then he spoke to me again, “lift up your head, my son you have been loved and are loved.” I got out of my truck and walked over to a bridge just off the highway overshadowing a small trickle of water. I leaned on the railing and wept thanking Him for actually speaking to me.
I had spent the better part of a year, trying to earn something that was already mine. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists trying so desperately to earn the affection of my creator and savior that he had already endowed me with. I don’t regret that year of my life I spent seeking God with everything I had and in every way possible. To this day I pray I’m always pursuing God with everything I possibly can; I just also pray I do it in the grace of Christ. The problem I was facing was confidence. I was not confident in His love for me, I was insecure in it. When he spoke to me that day after my retreat it woke me up. I realized that the answer to my anxiety, and desire to encounter God wasn’t found in my ability to strive but in my ability to rest. Rest in the grace he has provided in the cross. Rest in the love he expresses daily. Rest in the provision we has given me. It produced in my heart Gratefulness, and gratefulness slowly melted away the anxiety and fear that had plagued my soul. It lead me to intimacy.
Last week we looked at how God has loved us. Looking at three of the primary expressions of His love for us in history, today we will look at three ways God loves us. Three ways that he expresses His love for us daily. Again the goal of the first three posts on Intimacy is first to get an understanding of God’s love for us, so we can then know how to live our life in a way that best loves and glorifies Him.
Grace. “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright, and Godly lives in the present age. Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:11-14 Grace is one of the first and clearest ways He expresses His love to us. In our day, grace is a message that has been misunderstood. Grace for many is a license to do as you please. It’s a message that has been preached defining our sin as superfluous because His grace simply covers our sin. Promoting the idea that we need not worry about how we act. However in the misapplication of grace we have cheapened this beautiful gift that is renewed to us every day.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jn. 14:15
As I talked about last week we are image bearers of God that have been broken in the image we bear by sin. Since the fall of man, sin has been the cause of much corruption. Sickness, disease, poverty, fear, depression, sexual immorality, lust, greed, pride, murder, etc. have kept humanity imprisoned in a sinful cycle un able to live in the peace we were created to live, and have kept us as objects of His wrath. The grace of God appeared placing the wrath of God we deserved on the son, and covered our sins so we could live in peace. However that was not the complete work of grace. Grace appears daily. Grace is the power of God to keep us from falling into the sin, and thus separating us from him. It does indeed cover our sin, but it also trains us to love him by keeping His commandments.
Grace takes depraved human beings, incapable of real love, joy, and peace and gives them the strength to overcome fear, sin and shame. Grace is the daily mercy of the Lord guiding us, and training us to live holy and righteous; transcendent from the effects of the fall. Grace is Jesus perfecting our faith daily. Lovingly keeping us from stumbling (Jude 24) and sustaining us until the day of our Blessed hope, Jesus Christ returns and completes our salvation by glorifying us with Him. Grace is one of the greatest acts of love God daily gives us.
Intercession. “But if anyone does sin, We have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I Jn. 2:1; “He forever lives to make intercession for them” (us) Heb. 7:25
The second way He Loves us is through Intercession.
Jesus is our great high priest. He has voluntarily taken the position of intercession before the Father for you and me. Every passing day Jesus is our faithful witness (Rev.1:5) standing before the Father pleading our case. He atones for our sins, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal His love, His jealousy, his glory, his wisdom to us on the Earth. Jesus forever mentions your name, my name before the Father.
Often Jesus feels far off. When we pray, go to work, go to school, live our lives we feel like we are distant at best, of no importance at worst. This is where building our understanding of God’s love purely on how we feel can lead us to a misconception of His love. Instead we can rest and have confidence in the truth; You are on the Mind of God! (Psalm 139:17-18 “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand.”)The ministry of Jesus as our Great High Priest guarantees that we are not only on His mind, but that his thoughts toward us the redeemed or not of condemnation but of great compassion. This allows us to live life with confidence. We have a God in Heaven fighting for us, thinking about us, loving us amidst every trial, pain, fear, or accusation.
Holy Spirit; Revelation “But the helper Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, will teach you all things.” Jn 14:26
One of the greatest daily expressions of God’s love is how He reveals to us himself through the Holy Spirit. Just as I reveal my heart in vulnerable way with my close friends, God has opened up His heart to us through the Holy Spirit so that we may know Him better. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has in store of those who love Him, These things God has Revealed through His Spirit, the Spirit that searched the deep things of the father’s heart… (We have received) The Spirit that is from God, that we may understand the things freely given us by God.” (ICor2:9-12) Catch that? The deep things of the Father’s heart.
God has not abandoned us to our own defenses, Jesus has not left us as orphans, but he has left with us the divine imprint of His nature to dwell within us. Paul speaks of this to the church in Colossi. He tells them not to be ignorant of the mystery of Christ living within us; our hope for Glory. (Col. 1:27) The Holy Spirit gives us direct access to God’s heart, and testifies the truth of Jesus to our hearts.
The Holy Spirit’s activity manifests in a vast number of ways. First, through the Bible. The Word is living and active. When we read it our Spirit comes alive with real power as we touch the truth of who we are and who God is. Second, through Prophecy. We can hear the voice of the Living God, whether in the Word, in our Spirit’s, or in another. Prophecy is often one of the most dynamic ways the Spirit moves. Whether to warn us, convict us, comfort us, or edify us; it’s how Jesus express His heart to us. Third, through Conviction. When we falter in our quest for righteousness or stray from the truth the Holy Spirit is faithful to lovingly convict, and discipline us so we stay in the way of salvation. Finally through special revelation. Dreams, visions, audible hearings of God’s voice, words of wisdom, words of knowledge etc, are all ways he reveals His love, His intention, and His purpose to us who abide in Him.
All three of these expressions of God’s love should cause us to fall into wonder at who He is, and who He is toward us. I have practicals that we will go over in time concerning “How to” have intimacy with Jesus, but to be clear there is no formula. There is no amount of spiritual discipline, no amount of striving, no amount of righteousness you can gain on your own accord that will cause you to enter into a deep relationship with Jesus. We only enter in through His grace and intercession as stay attentive to the Holy Spirit as He teaches us more about this blessed God we so deeply desire to meet.