I remember a time when I thought of God as more of a tyrant king than a Father. I remember a time when I just thought faith was merely about heaven or hell, good and evil. I don’t recall ever doubting God’s existence, but I can surely admit to doubting the depth of His love, and I know that I am not alone.
I got saved at 19 because I didn’t want to go to hell. I wanted “protection”. I wanted to feel “safe”. Again, I don’t recall ever doubting God’s existence. I’ve always been very aware of God, with a tender spot in my heart for God and the Gospel. I just wasn’t aware of his love early on because I didn’t know him. So, at 19 I said the sinners prayer and got saved. I gave up certain sins and prayed the, “ now I lay me down to sleep” prayer each night before bed and thought that was enough. I got the religion part down (somewhat), but I failed at the relationship part big-time. With a focus on legalism rather than God‘s unfailing love, I found myself getting extremely frustrated with the whole “Christian” thing.
I was taught all about the “love of God“, but it took quite a while for it to fully register. I was aware of John 3:16 that explains how God loved the world so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins, but it didn’t click for a while. I thought the whole Christian walk was based on some merit-like system where you get rewarded for being “good“, you know, abstaining from some sins, going to church, reading a scripture or two every now and then, and praying a 30 second prayer before bed at night – of course my prayers were a little longer when I was in trouble and really wanted God to fix the problem.
I remember many many moments (more than what I care to count) of being angry with God. When things weren’t going my way or when I didn’t feel that my prayers were being answered, I felt that God was denying and punishing me. I felt that nothing was ever good enough for God. I felt that he was more interested in punishing me then blessing me. I felt that Unanswered prayers or my desires not being fulfilled translated into God not wanting me to have anything I really wanted. This was long before I learned all about processes, perseverance (James 1:2-4), waiting (Isaiah 40:31), trusting in Him (Proverbs 3:5), etc. During my early days in the Lord, I just thought I was being punished for every little thing. I was too immature to gaze upon the totality of my life, which was, is, and will always be blessed. Had I studied the word and reflected more on truth, I would have been spared from a lot of unnecessary heartache. I would have been able to except and bask in the relentless love of God. I would have known that His heart has always been for me and never against me (Romans 8:31).
When I look over the course of my life, I realize that God’s Love has always been with me – from the day I was born. I am really thankful for my parents’ decision to Christen me as an infant, dedicating me to the Lord. It’s amazing because neither of my parents were serving the Lord when I was born, but they surely knew they wanted His hand on my life. They knew I would need his Divine covering. Growing up, I was pretty hardheaded at times. I made some stupid choices and I did some really really stupid stuff. I don’t even want to count the number of dangerous situations I put myself in. I could have died numerous times. In fact, when I was 17, I had an officer point a gun to my head and threatened to shoot if I didn’t comply before getting arrested (long story for another blog post). I still get chills thinking about it. If I had a dollar for every time God saved my life through His Grace, Mercy, and unfailing love, I’d probably be rich – seriously. God has always showered me with His love. I’m just becoming increasingly aware of it.
When I reflect upon the Love of God, I am driven to my first radical encounter I had with God, which was life-changing. It happened when I was around 23. I was in a period of really seeking God – not what I wanted from Him, just Him for who He is. I was driving back home from Baltimore and I was enjoying Chris Tomlin‘s “And if our God is for Us” album, which had recently come out at that time. I remember jamming to the music, then out of nowhere – Boom! This overwhelming, awesome, incredible love, joy, and peace totally wrecked me. And just like that, there it was. The love of God. The love I always heard about but never really understood. The love they always sang about in church as I yawned in boredom. The love that drove Jesus to the cross for my sins. The love that became real for the first time. That is a night I’ll never forget. It literally felt like God filled my car and wrapped His Almighty, Glorious arms around me, letting me know that He’s there with me and that He’s for me and that He loves me. His warmth penetrated through the thick calluses of legalism and frustration upon my heart. That night, He hooked his heart up to mine. All I could do was cry uncontrollably, pouring out tears of immeasurable joy. God is indescribably wonderful!
So, what’s the heart of God? Love. God is love. That’s why the first and most important commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:37-38). We’ve all probably had John 3:16 DRILLED in our heads, but just knowing it simply isn’t enough. There must be a transfer that moves the Words from mere text on a page to root in our hearts. When the Word takes root in our hearts, it wipes away uncertainty, misconceptions, misunderstanding, etc., bringing liberation. The fact that Jesus died (probably the worst death of all human history) for our sins, because of love totally debunks the lie of God being a tyrant king. I had it so wrong before my eyes were opened.
John 3:17 assures us that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. It can’t be simplified any further. God loves us. God wants us. God is calling the entire human race into relationship through Christ. God pours out His Grace and Mercy. God forgive us. God saves. God redeems. God loves. God is love. He is not a tyrant King. He is a loving father. He’s calling you into His love. Please answer. It’ll change everything. No matter where you are in life or where you’ve been, His love will surely see you through the valley to the mountaintop. I am a living witness.
Cory Asbury sums it all up perfectly.