Do you believe that God loves you? Do you know and live like God loves you?
The words rang out through the room as I was sitting there.
In all honesty, I believed it. I knew it. I didn’t live like it, though.
In talking with people and reading books, very few people live as if they believe and know God loves them. We read it in the Bible but do not live like those words are true.
In his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey shares this story: David Ford, a professor at Cambridge, asked a Catholic priest the most common problem he encountered in twenty years of hearing confession. With no hesitation the priest replied, “God.” Very few parishioners he meets in confession behave as if God is a God of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and compassion. They see God as someone to cower before, not as someone like Jesus, worthy of our trust. Ford comments, “This is perhaps the hardest truth of any to grasp. Do we wake up every morning amazed that we are loved by God?…Do we allow our day to be shaped by God’s desire to relate to us?”
The problem for many of us is that we read verses about God’s love for the world and us (John 3:16), that Jesus loves us (John 15:9), that God predestined us in love (Ephesians 1:4 – 5), that God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17), that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), that God draws us to himself (John 6:44). We read Paul saying over 160 times that as a follower of Jesus, we are “in Christ”, and yet we live each and every day as if God is disappointed in us, indifferent towards us, mildly happy with us or just “likes” us.
We’ll say things like, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Or, “Yes, God loves me, but I can’t love myself.”
When we say those things, we have made love and forgiveness something it is not. We have based that on our own definitions and life.
Read those verses that are listed above. Put them on your phone, your computer wall paper, tape them to your mirror. When you pray, you are praying to a God that knows everything about you and still listens and still loves you.
This is a daily battle we fight to remind ourselves that God loves us.
What is amazing to me in those verses is that God’s love towards us all happened and was promised before we were born, before we were on the radar of our parents’ minds.
Still struggling to believe it?
Jesus tells an amazing story in Luke 15. We meet a family, a father and his two sons.
The younger son comes and asks his father for his inheritance. In this culture, the younger sons were often seen as the rebellious, carefree ones. The older sons were the responsible ones. The oldest son received 2/3 of what the father had when the father died. Notice, the father isn’t dead. The remaining children received what was left after that. This son says, “I want mine now, before you are dead.” He is telling his father, “I wish you were dead.”
The father at this point would’ve had every right to beat and disown the son in this culture. Instead, the father gives it to him, which means he would’ve had to sell land. In this culture that is focused on the father, the people hearing this story would’ve been blown away by the audacity of the son.
The younger son leaves, takes his money, lives it up and spends it all. Then a famine comes to the land he is in. He is at the bottom, so hungry that he is wanting to eat the food pigs are eating.
The younger brother says, “I don’t believe in God and will define right and wrong for myself.” In the younger brother, Jesus gives us a depiction of sin that anyone would recognize. The young man humiliates his family and lives a self-indulgent, self-centered life. He is totally out of control. He is alienated from the father, who represents God in the story. Anyone who lives like that would be cut off from God, as all the listeners to the parable would have agreed.
There is another kind of mess that Jesus doesn’t want us to miss, and that is the mess the older son is in. The Pharisees, the ones who are religious in this culture, are like the older brother. The older son said to the father, “I have never disobeyed you.” But he doesn’t want the father either. The older son thinks what will save him is his obedience, his morality, and his good deeds. The older son believed his father should bless him because of all that he did. For the older son, Jesus is a helper but he doesn’t need a Savior; he can save himself. The older son obeys God to get things. God owes you answered prayers because of how you live. Older sons may do good to others, but not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. They are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor; they are feeding and clothing themselves. They serve on a serving team because that’s what you do, not because God has gifted them to do it.
Why is the older son angry at the father? The father has reinstated the younger brother. When the father says to the older son, “Everything I have is yours”, he isn’t lying. The oldest son gets 2/3 of the inheritance, and the other part was already given to the younger son. So, the father is spending the oldest son’s inheritance now on a son who is wasteful.
Both sons missed the father, and we often do the same.
This is often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The word prodigal means “reckless, extravagant, having spent everything.”
Jesus is trying to tell us this is what God our Father is like.
When the son returns and starts his speech, before he gets it out of his mouth, his father runs to him and throws his arms around him. In this culture, a father did not run. Certainly not to a son who rejected him like his did.
Not only does he welcome his son, but he throws a party. He gets a robe, the father’s robe. He reinstates the son.
Do you believe God loves you like that? That he would run to you and throw his arms around you?
Tim Keller said, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
That is the love God has for us.
The question we wrestle with is, will I wake up tomorrow and live like my Father in heaven has extravagant and reckless love and affection for me?