To Know God’s Love
Hello Church Family,
What a great week this has been. Northpoint’s Mission Week 2015 has been more successful, better attended, and more inspirational than ever. By God’s grace, people are embracing this global vision of making disciples who make disciples; this is truly an answer to much prayer.
One of my favorite moments of every day—during Mission Week and every other—is tucking my nine-year-old in bed. (My other three kids are teenagers and are essentially self-contained, so they simply tell me they’re going to bed, we hug, and say ‘good-night’; or, if they’re in a bad mood, they just nod at me from behind their headphones as they retreat to their rooms.) But not so with my littlest one: We tell stories, exchange ideas, debrief on the day, and then I listen to her oft-hilarious (and inane?) comments as she prepares to fade off into Dreamland. Just last night she informed me that when I forget to shave in the morning, my whiskers leave a gaping hole in her cheeks when I kiss her, and if it’s alright with me, she said, she’d prefer to keep her cheeks intact. So, “Please shave you face!” she urged me.
After our nighttime conversations, we always pray. And for the longest time, my prayer for my daughter has invariably included something like this, “Father, help Julia to love you more and to cherish you above everything else in life.”
But that prayer changed when I preached through Ephesians, some five years ago.
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with asking God to help us love Him more. Or to enlarge our children’s affection for Him. But making such a request is a little like getting the cart before the horse. Or, in today’s context, pressing on the pedal before filling up with gas. What I’ve learned to pray over recent years is: “Father, enable Julia to understand and know how much you love her.” It’s a subtle difference, but so important. One is a law-based prayer and the other is rooted in the gospel.
Here’s why this matters so much: Only as we begin to realize how much God loves us will our hearts overflow with love for Him. Only as we begin to grasp at the soul-level the depth of God’s unyielding affection for us, in Christ, will we be moved to worship and adore our Redeemer. Only as we start to comprehend the radical nature of God’s gracious sacrifice for us, in sending His Son to die in our place, will we be compelled to return to Him everything: our emotions, our wills, and our sustained obedience.
I just came across this statement by 18th century Scottish theologian, John Colquhoun, that I though was terrific; he says, “When a man is driven to acts of obedience by the dread of God’s wrath revealed in the law and not drawn to them by the belief of his love revealed in the gospel; when he fears God because of his power and justice, and not because of his goodness; when he regards God more as an avenging Judge, than a compassionate Friend and Father; and when he contemplates God rather as terrible in majesty than as infinite in grace and mercy; he shows that he is under the dominion, or at least the prevalence, of a legal spirit.”
It is “the belief of his love,” Colquhoun contends, that moves us at the deepest level. But we don’t often believe that God loves us. In fact, David Ford once wrote, “This is perhaps the hardest truth of any to grasp. Do we wake up every morning amazed that we are loved by God?”
Because of the way our hearts are hard-wired, we are inclined to believe that we are loved by God only when we deserve to be loved. And at the deepest recesses of our being, we know every failure, repeated shortcoming, hidden sin and unfulfilled expectation—as King David lamented, “Our sin is ever before us”—so we tend to think: Why would God love me? But the beauty of the gospel is: While we are unworthy of God’s supreme love, He pours it out on us anyway. Because of who He is, not who we are. Because of His character, not our performance. He is, after all, “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
This is what God says about Himself. Unfortunately, we’re just not inclined to believe it, at least consistently. We need God’s help. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians (in a section that radically changed my prayer life):
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father … that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being … that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”
The love of God is not only counterintuitive; it is beyond knowledge. Even so, paradoxically, Paul prays that believers would indeed know it. Because it’s in the knowledge of that love that we find peace, joy, and rest.
And it’s the recognition thereof that gives us the confidence to face anything we encounter in this life. Together we can say, with Elyse Fitzpatrick, “I’m messed up, God loves me anyway, what’s next?”
Ready for what’s next,