What a wonderful topic to discuss this month: Knowing how much God loves us! It's amazing to me that we "happen" to be in this particular section of the book at this time, but certainly, it's not by coincidence. The whole reason for the season is God's Love!
Do you know His Love personally? We can be Christians for years and years and still never really personally experience His Love. We can know He loves us in our heads, but completely miss His handprint of Love in our lives.
How do we receive God's Love? God's Love is a gift that we all receive when we are born anew by His Spirit. Therefore, if you have asked Jesus into your heart as your Savior, then not only Jesus is in your heart, but His Love is there also. John 17:26 validates this: "And I have declared...that the Love wherewith Thou [Father] hast loved Me [Jesus] may be in them, and I in them."
In our haste to be "like Jesus," however, many of us have forgotten the first basic step of the Christian life, which is to know the extent and the depth of God's Love for us personally. If we really knew how much God loves us, there would never be any reason to fear what He might allow into our lives. We would just have the confidence and the trust to continually abandon our lives into His care, and know that He will take care of us no matter what occurs.
"When thou passest through the waters [trouble], I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God...[You are] precious in My sight and...I have loved thee." (Isaiah 43:2-4)
Therefore, before we can go any further in our walk with the Lord, we need to know without a shadow of a doubt that we are unconditionally loved, then we'll have the confidence and the trust to lay our wills and our lives down before Him regardless of what happens.
When I first began teaching about "faith choices" in The Way of Agape, my focus was on the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind...and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:37-39)
After several years of hearing the reactions of the women in those first classes, however, I realized that there is no way that they could learn to surrender themselves completely to God and love others until they first personally knew that God loved them. Knowing that God loves us is the foundation of our faith walk. In other words, without first being able to experience His Love and acceptance for ourselves, we're never going to be able to move forward in our Christian life.
God's Love Is Our Foundation
Simply put, it's impossible to lay our lives down to someone if we don't really think that they love us. This principle is true no matter how long we have been Christians, no matter how many people we have led to the Lord, no matter how many Scriptures we know or how many Bible studies we have taught. If we know that God loves us, then we'll have the confidence and the trust to continually relinquish our wills and our lives to Him, and have that daily experience of seeing His Love for us at every turn. As Isaiah 49:16 says, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls [our souls] are continually before Me."
If we doubt His Love, however, then we won't have the confidence to surrender ourselves, which will limit not only our ability to love others, but also our ability to experience His personal touch on our own lives. Now, this doesn't mean that God isn't in our hearts, loving us. He is! It just means that because we have quenched His Spirit by doubting that Love, we won't have that daily, living experience of encountering His handprint at every turn.
If we know He loves us, then we'll have the confidence to make choices we don't feel, because we know He'll be faithful to align our feelings with our choices like He promises, fill us with His Love and perform His will through us. If we're not sure of His Love, then our feelings will continually scream, "Don't do it. I don't want to. I can't. I don't feel like it. I don't love him. How do I know God will be faithful? I'm not sure! I can't."
(If you have trouble believing that God loves you and will be faithful to perform what He has promised to you, I strongly suggest getting The Way of Agape textbook and specifically reading Chapter Seven, "How Do I Know God Loves Me?" You might also go over the Knowing God Loves Me Scriptures in the Appendix and, by faith, choose to believe what God says in those Scriptures.)
How Far Are You Willing to Go?
See, if we know that God loves us, then when the hard times come (and they will), we'll be able to make faith choices - non-feeling choices - to lay our lives down and do His will. If we're not sure that He loves us, when the hard times come, we won't be able to make those faith choices, but will function totally on our own feelings and emotions. Here's an example:
I just got off the phone talking with a young man facing total financial ruin. He has tried everything he can think of to turn the situation around, but nothing has helped. He is now at the very bottom and he said, "Nancy, God must not love me, because I have sought Him every day, but I don't hear a thing back. I'm at the end of my road. I don't know where to turn."
I told him, "Even though you don't see any change or understand what He is doing or feel any different, the answer as to what you are to do is still the very same: Trust Jesus! Make those faith choices, regardless of your emotions, and choose to continue to unconditionally rely upon Him."
Trials often do come upon us suddenly and often without advance warning. If we know as a fact that God loves us, then, even though we're in total confusion at the time, we still will be able to make non-feeling choices to surrender and trust Him. If, however, we don't know His Love personally, we won't have the confidence to relinquish ourselves and, rather than experience His presence, doubt and unbelief will prevail. Nothing will bring us down faster than doubt in God's faithfulness and Love. It affects every choice we make. Thus, it's imperative to understand that God loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that He gave His Life for us. (1 John 3:16) He loves us so much He yearns to show us what His will is for our lives. And, He loves us so much that He wants to implement that will in our lives. Now, of course, only He knows what it will take to implement that will in our lives. In other words, everything He's going to allow in our lives, either good or bad (from our point of view), is to accomplish His perfect will. Thus, all of the circumstances of our lives come only by permission of a loving Father.
In our dark seasons of life (like what the young man above is going through), God doesn't ask us to understand everything that He is doing, but simply to trust and believe in His Love through what He is doing. But, because this young man has begun to doubt God's Love, he has lost the confidence and the trust he needs to continually surrender his life to the Lord. Thus, for the time being, because He has quenched God's Spirit, he has blocked God from personally showing him how much he's loved.
This is how the vicious spiral downward occurs: because we doubt God's Love, we are not able to trust Him enough to relinquish our wills and our lives; thus, we stop making faith choices (non-feeling choices to do His will regardless) and, instead, begin to follow our own feelings and thoughts. At that point, we take our eyes off of the Lord and begin to look at the situation we find ourselves in. And, as a result, we become completely overwhelmed, confused and depressed. And the enemy rejoices. All it takes is a little leaven of "doubt in God's Love and provision" to contaminate the whole lump.
God's Severe Mercy
When I first read the term "severe mercy" in C.S. Lewis's writings many years ago, it really bothered me. It bothered me because I did not understand it. But, since experiencing God's severe mercy in my own life, I now see its importance and its value. God's Love, in the Old Testament, is called chesed in the Hebrew and it means, not only His loving and compassionate Love (His mercy), but also His strict (severe) and discipline Love. In other words, His "severe mercy." Both of these aspects typify God's Love. Just as we, as parents, must (at times) love our children with "tough" love, God often must do the same with us. Now, that doesn't mean that He loves us any less. In fact, most of the time, it means that He loves us more! Listen:
"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, of which all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure, but He for our profit, so that we might be partakers of His holiness." (Hebrews 12:6-10)
Francois Fenelon, one of the great 16th century saints, said, "The more God loves us, the less He spares us." And, boy, I've certainly found this to be true in my own life!
Most of us know in our heads that God loves us, but very few of us really know the extent of God's Love in our everyday lives. And because of this, when trials and troubles occur and we don't see or feel His Love, we become unable to make faith choices to lay our wills and our lives down. And, we die spiritually. Therefore, it's critical that we know that no matter what it looks like to us - no matter how bad things are in our eyes - the Lord will never allow anything to happen to us that is not "Father filtered." He is faithful and He is trustworthy and we must trust Him to work out His purposes in our lives in His perfect way.
Do You Really "Know" God?
Let me ask you another personal question. Do you intimately know God? Now, I don't mean "intellectual knowledge" or "head knowledge" about Him, I mean that moment-by-moment intimacy that only a loving Father and child can experience. Sadly, most Christians know about Jesus, they know facts of His Life and they know what He requires of them, but many are not intimately acquainted with His daily "loving" touch upon their lives. To intimately know God means to have daily living experience of Him.
The Greek word for this kind of knowledge is oida, which comes from the root word eidon, meaning "to see" and "to experience." To intimately know God means to continually see and experience His Life (His Love) in and through us.
1 John 5:13 promises, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know [have living experience] that ye have eternal life." And 1 Corinthians 2:12 declares, " Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know [have living experience of] the things that are freely given to us of God."
Our Only Hope for the Future
When we really begin to know God in this way, we'll never fear the circumstances that He allows into our lives because we'll know that everything is "Father filtered" and will ultimately be used for His purposes and His glory. Remember Job 13:15, which tells us, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." How could Job say this after all the horrendous things that God had allowed in his life? Job said this because he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that God loved Him.
Learning to make faith choices - choices we don't feel or want to make, but know are God's will - not only will allow us to experience more of God's Love for others, but also will allow us to experience His personal Love in a much greater degree. And seeing His handprint at every turn will give us that hope for the future - that hope that leads to more faith and belief and the ability to trust Him in all things.
Jeremiah 31:3 validates how much He loves us. "...Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting Love [which means an eternal, never-ending, timeless, infinite, absolute, ever-living, indestructible, changeless and immutable Love]; therefore, with loving-kindness have I drawn thee."
Hope in God's Love is what will help us endure, persevere and hang on through our trials, our pain and our suffering; hope in God's Love is what will give us the faith to go against the tide of emotion and choose His will regardless of what we see or understand. Hope in His Love is what will help us look beyond the near term, beyond the current situation and beyond the horrendous problems, to Christ for our final victory. If we know without a doubt that we are loved by the Father, then there will always be hope for the future! The greatest gift in all the world is knowing that the Creator of the Universe loves us personally! Merry Christmas!
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To be continued next month: "Emotional Choices." This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book Against the Tide .