Last Sunday, as we sat in the living room of our small group hosts, the talk was about “laying a good foundation for our faith.” Though many in the room were long time Christians, we were still brought back to what seems to be the #1 struggle for Christian people, that is knowing on a gut level that “God loves me.” That assertion has to be our foundation. But, for many, really apprehending God’s love is elusive.
One of the men said, “So many times, I get ready to do something, and rather than asking God about it, or for His help, I just plunge ahead and do it on my own.” That, to me, is a sure sign of a “fatherless child.” We don’t really know and trust God if we forge ahead without Him, and too many of us are “in that boat.”
I said to the group, pointing to a young mom among us, who was holding her newborn baby, “God wants us to be like the little baby girl she is holding, absolutely secure in His arms, and certain that He is the Source for every single one of our needs. He wants us to live and breathe the concept, ‘God is love and God loves me,’ with no doubt in regard to it.”
Everything must rest on “God loves me”
I know many people of faith have concern today. They say, “We talk too much about God’s love and therefore, people are too relaxed towards God. They think they can do anything, get away with anything. God will not mind or act.” They say, “We need to hear, once again, about His wrath, judgment, and about hell!”
I hear their concern and there’s certainly a need for balance in our messages. I look around at our society and also see all the lawlessness, sloppiness, and the lack of knowing God, and I feel concern too. But, I know, as a pastor, that at the heart of the problem, for so many, is a lack of feeling loved. Loved, accepted and valued people act appropriately and with calm.
Let me share two things with you – one a picture of my life as a grandma, and two, a story of a little boy transformed by love.
My grandchildren know I love them.
I have five grandchildren. They KNOW I love them. The evidence has been in for them since they were tiny babies and I gave them bottles. When they enter my house, first thing it’s, “Nana! Grandma!” (half of them from one family call me nana, the other half, grandma) They KNOW I’ll play with them, get on the floor, hug them, laugh with them, and give them plenty of good things to eat.
There is no doubt in their minds so they clamor to be close to me and talk. Over and over and over again, I hear my name lifted up. “Nana! Grandma!” This is how it should also look with God. Adoring love passed back and forth without restraint.
Yesterday, I went to drive my 10 year old granddaughter to gymnastics class with her friend. I stopped and got them McFlurry ice cream with M&M’s from McDonald’s. When I gave these to my granddaughter at her house, she tossed aside the snack she already had, and with the biggest of smiles and joy in her voice she said, “Grandma, you’re the best!!” I was almost taken aback by the level of her gratitude and love. It was just a small thing!
But this is how I know so many of us need to encounter God’s love more fully so we can love Him back more fully. Our relationships with God so often do NOT look like this!
Love’s calming effect on one little boy
And a second story. I’ve told this before but it is such a powerful example of what can happen to us when we feel valued and seen.
I went to the gym a year or more after my first child, my son, was born. I thought he was ready to be in the nursery. Unfortunately, the moment I stepped out on the gym floor, the nursery called me to come back for my crying son. While there, I decided to just stay and sit on the floor and play with my son.
The caregiver pointed out a much older boy and called him a big troublemaker. Very soon, however, the “troublemaker” and other children gathered around us and this boy began to tell me about himself. He loved soccer he said and was very good. I listened and asked him questions, praising his success in soccer. He was calm, peaceful, and a delight.
When someone feels loved and valued, their behavior vastly improves. Knowing deep in our spirits, “God loves me,” has that effect on people.
The way many relate to God is with fear
The Bible says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. Whoever fears is not perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 MEV)
Many of us are relating to God dogged with fears and other hindrances. In an article about the things that prevent us from hearing God, Charles Stanley describes some things that block us in our relationship with Him.
What does Stanley mention as hindrances? Our own love relationships, guilt, legalism, and a misinterpretation of divine discipline. You can read the article by clicking on the link above, but what he is saying is that we have a view of love shaped by our earthly relationships. It could be a very good view, but for many it is not. The way their father, mother, or some other meaningful caregiver treated them was not good. That view can be transferred and overlaid on God.
We may have a lot of generalized guilt, perhaps because we have not learned to confess sin, or because we’ve just been raised to feel constantly guilty. Sometimes, we mistakenly think that’s what God desires from us, guilt and self-loathing. But nothing could be further from the truth. So you see, these things are fear based – fear that God is like a relative, fear that we’re unworthy, and fear that we do not please God.
Many people know nothing of the Holy Spirit
Many Christians have never been led to understand or know the Holy Spirit. They may have been formed in rigid, ruled based environments. Perhaps they have been taught that they must work for God’s approval. Worst of all, many may not know the Gospel, and that, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)
This is the heart of the Gospel – that it is a gift – God doing for man. We cannot do for God or earn God’s love. It is pure gift and the high point of it is that He took on flesh and died for us on the cross, removing our sins from us, absorbing them into Himself. He was our substitution. He took our place and paid the just penalty for our sins.
God prevented us from paying the price
God prevented us from having to pay the price. And not only that, Jesus pours His resurrected life into us as we believe Him and willingly receive what He has done for us.
The Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)
The cost of not knowing “God loves me.”
When we don’t understand God’s deep, profound, unconditional, everlasting love for us, there is fall out. It comes in the form of prayerlessness, works righteousness (trying to do for God), no intimacy, and no power.
Why would you pray to Someone that you think doesn’t like you or is more interested in others than you? Well, you wouldn’t and you don’t, if that’s how you feel.
If you think that God isn’t particularly pleased with you, what’s your course of action? Well, you keep trying to please Him. If I just do this and this and this, God will love me, perhaps He will make me more effective in ministry.
If you feel God is distant and doesn’t love you, there is no intimacy, no sense of being with Him, the two of you. Do you know the old song, “In the Garden?” The chorus says, “And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own?” You can’t hear that if you feel unloved. Not because God isn’t saying it, but because, you can’t hear in a state of mind that says, “I am unloved.”
And finally, what causes power in ministry? You working it up? No, when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, ministry flows out, pours out because of the river of love flowing through you, acknowledged by you.
There is a remedy to feeling unloved
If you recognize yourself in any of the above – not feeling moved to pray or read the Bible, feeling powerless, unable to hear God’s voice, yet, working, working, working to try to please God, you may need a love infusion.
Perhaps searching the Bible may help. Our small group mentioned above is doing a book study from Dr. Neil T. Anderson’s Freedom in Christ Ministries. It is called “Freedom in Christ.” In it are some affirming statements about who we are in Christ under these 3 headings, “I am Accepted, I am Secure, and I am Significant.” Each statement has a scripture reference connected to it.
Some resources for growing in God’s love
If you would like to print out a free download that is similar to this, go here and there is a free pdf of “Who I Am in Christ.” These words should help you enormously if you say them and read them regularly. They are from the Freedom in Christ ministry.
And from Cory Asbury, Reckless Love: A 40 Day Journey into the Overwhelming, Never-Ending Love of God. This journal helps you to discover how you never can exhaust God’s love. It helps you to move from guilt to grace and so much more.
I hope these things will help. When we have God’s great love for us settled in our hearts, everything else gets into place. And He loves you so much.
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