For most of my life I was afraid that God wanted to punish me. I think a lot of us who grew up with unhealthy examples of parental love go through that at some point. And as much as I loved God and wanted to honor Him, a big part of me also wanted my own way. As long as I was staying away from the “big” sins, I felt OK with that.
But here’s the problem with thinking about God like that. Every time I got myself into a sticky situation that I was totally scared of or felt completely out of control in, I was afraid of what He would do. As if God was waiting for that moment when I was 32,000 feet above air, or on the operating table, or crossing that long and slippery bridge to enact revenge for all of those times I failed to ask what He thought, or knew what He thought and did something differently anyway.
I was only motivated to be all in with Jesus when I was scared of what He would do otherwise. And as soon as the scary situation passed – the plane landed, the recovery went well, the car got to the other side of the bridge – all those promises I’d been frantically praying like, “God, I’ll never date the wrong kind of guy again and I’ll give money to every homeless person I see,” slowly faded away. Maybe not right away but definitely over the next few days or weeks or months.
So my relationship with Him was like every other dysfunctional relationship I’d known throughout my life, and we were on a constant see saw of He loves me, He loves me not.
But when we actually take God up on His word, we find that’s not what He’s like at all. I was selling myself way short on the kind of relationship I could have had with Him. By fearing Him in this way, I was totally missing out on what He wanted for me all along.
Over the years I’ve come to see that God is not only our Father. It might sound like Christianese or the stuff we sing about in Christian pop songs, but it’s also the stuff David wrote about in the Psalms while he hid for his life and tried to out run his pursuers. It’s the stuff Job learned about God as he suffered through years of illness and it’s what Joseph came to realize after over a decade in prison. God is our protector and comforter and forgiver and guide and the lover of our souls. He is the One who is rooting for is even when it feels like no one else is. He healed me of illness and walked alongside me the entire way. He loved me into new life even when I wasn’t deserving of it at all.
As I’m following Him into deeper relationship this year, I’m learning even more about how much God loves me.
And because a few of you may have struggled before with the same fears that used to control me, let me impress on you what God is impressing on me: whatever you might be afraid God is mad at you about has been covered.
So many of us go to church and praise Jesus and claim to know what it’s all about, but somewhere in there we get muddled with the truth of the good news: Jesus has literally paid it all. God is not in some cosmic game of crime and punishment with us, and He is not waiting for our moment of weakness to take revenge.
What He wants more than anything from us is to know we’re loved. Because it’s that deep love that changes us in a way that only love can.
Late last year, I caught myself saying something in prayer that I know I’ve said before. Basically as I was praying I was saying, “God, I know I mess up sometimes, so this is a lot to ask…” As if it might have been an easy request if only I was perfect.
And as I was praying I had that same small voice rise up and whisper something I needed to hear, “I don’t bless you because your behavior is so righteous, I bless you because of what my Son has done and how His righteousness now lives in you.”
It totally shifted my perspective, and it’s a message God has continued to drive home all year long. I am righteous before the cross. I can pray with confidence because of Christ’s righteousness in me.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)
Throughout the New Testament Paul tells us to stay free. To remember that we’ve been saved by grace and adopted into the family of God simply because we say “Yes, Christ, I accept You as my Savior and what You’ve done to wash away my sins.”
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1 (NLT)
If we’re free, we’re called to live with that belief that we’re truly washed clean before God’s eyes. That nothing we can do can make us more or less loved by Him. We’re totally adored. Paul tells us over and over again not to fall back into that old habit of trying to be right with God based on what we do.
Our rightness – righteousness – has already been secured. We can operate from a place of victory if we’ll allow ourselves to stand there and be overcome with gratitude over what He’s done.
My pride will always be a problem. Like British author G.K. Chesterton said, the answer to “What’s wrong with the world today.” will always be “I am.” I will always entertain sinful thoughts, whether it’s ambition or judgement or greed or just a desire to look out for myself instead of looking out for others. But if I let myself fear that God is always disappointed with me, I’ll always be battling those sins by myself. And chances are I won’t see a lot of change.
I will never be “good” enough to be loved as I am.
That’s why Jesus’ sacrifice is such a big deal and why John 3:16 really says it all – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (italics added)
None of us has to live in fear of what God thinks of us. We can live in the freedom of unspeakable love.
“God is unreasonably patient and merciful. He’s there for every urgent need and any sudden spell, but an emergency room relationship with God is not the psalmist’s idea of a firm place to stand. He’s not a drive-thru drugstore. He is not just a temporary fix in an urgent situation, a fast way to get everyone to forgive us, or a good side to get on when we need Him to save our scrawny necks. God can hold your weight – the full emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical poundage of you – … for the rest of your life.” – Beth Moore, Get Out of that Pit
Original photo by mitchlee83 from morguefile.com. Adapted for this blog post by Stephanie Oh.