A friend of mine and I are working our way through The Good and Beautiful God, a wonderful book by James Bryan Smith. It is framed around the premise that we have many false narratives about God, His character, and His nature that need to be replaced by the way Jesus saw and knew His Father. In essence, we need to renew our minds. Its subtitle is: “Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knew.” I highly recommend it.
We are on Chapter 4: God is Generous. At the end of each chapter is some homework: a “Soul Training Exercise.” The exercise for this chapter is to memorize the already familiar Psalm 23 and recite it as many times as possible throughout the week (two weeks in this case, since my friend and I meet every two weeks).
So here it is from memory:
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I’ve meditated on those verses, on each phrase, and in most cases, on each word. I have mental pictures of each verse or phrase, such as “green pastures” and “still waters.” Those word-pictures are easy to envision. However, as I meditate on “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies,” I have trouble with that imagery.
As I conjure up an image in my mind, it is one of confident defiance of any enemy, or of the Enemy of my soul. It is a confidence of knowing that I am a child of God, with Christ dwelling within me, and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. There is nothing that the Enemy can do to ULTIMATELY defeat me. God is mine, and most importantly, I am His. No matter what lies ahead, even in the darkest valley, God is with me.
How is it that the Lamb of God, who died for me and you and who takes away the sins of the world, now is the Good Shepherd!?! My mind almost cannot comprehend that kind of love!
I can truly rest in that generous love. He DOES make me lie down in green pastures. I CAN rest beside still waters.
I recently saw this photo posted on Facebook and as I read the words and thought about it, the more and more I disagreed with those words. Although I am so thankful for my Savior and the work done on the Cross, and know that I did nothing to deserve it, my disagreement with those words stem from how I now think of God.
You see, I spent years and years thinking that the more I did for God, the more pleased He would be with me. I think I projected what I thought about my earthly father upon my Heavenly Father. Achievement was highly valued in my family. I discovered this growing up, especially when I fell short of expectations or failed. I felt the displeasure when I failed and I felt the comparisons to the achievements of my older brothers. Even as a young boy, I grew to fear the anger and wrath of my father. Don’t get me wrong: He was an excellent provider for my family and taught a work ethic that seems to be lost on later generations. My point is: I projected these feelings upon my Heavenly Father; I felt the same way toward God. The more I prayed, studied my Bible, served others, and worked for God, the more pleasing I thought I was to God. I would suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.
If you or I feel that God could give up on us, based on what we’ve done (or not done), then we must not have faith that what God – through Christ – accomplished on the Cross was sufficient or that His grace is enough. If you or I feel that God could give up on us, then it says volumes about how we view God.
I (recently) discovered that God’s love IN NO WAY depends on me. His love was a “one-way” transaction, resulting in my salvation, deliverance, healing, and wholeness. That heart-knowledge has brought me tremendous freedom. That is what the Gospel does.
Now I am deeply rooted in God’s love, knowing that nothing can separate me from that love (Romans 8:38-39) and knowing that no one or nothing can snatch me from His hand (John 10:1-18; 27-30). There is nothing I can do to make God love me any less than He does right now or did when Jesus hung on the Cross. God delights in me, not because of what I do or don’t do, but simply because of who He is and the fact that now, by faith, I am His. I didn’t do anything to earn His love or delight, nor can I do anything to make him shun me. He loves me, not as I love, but as He is, because He is love.
He won’t give up on me (or you, Christian) because that is not His nature or character. His love is eternal. His love is unfailing. His love is enduring. His love never fails. (1 Cor 13:8)
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied,” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-37)
There it is: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t come naturally for me. I suspect that it doesn’t come naturally for most. Since it doesn’t come naturally, I guess I’ll just be obedient and muster up some love for God because that’s what I’m supposed to do.
No. That’s not it at all. We can’t just muster up love… for God, for our spouse, or for our enemies (as Jesus tells us to do as well). No, we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We can respond with love for God when we realize how much He loves us and delights in us.
“What if God… responds to us with absolute delight regardless of how we look or feel, or what we have or have not done? The only possible response would be to feel ‘absolute delight’ in return. If God is delighted in me — regardless of my performance -— then my immediate response is to feel love in return. And in so doing, I fulfill the greatest commandment.”
So many Christians are taught that God responds to us by how we respond to God. That is, many of us are taught that God will be more pleased with us if we would pray more, read our Bibles more, and serve more. Throw in a little fasting on the side, and you’ll have the favor of God.
But that is not the generous, giving, gracious God that Jesus tells us about. Remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-15) No matter when they were hired, they received the standard wage. It didn’t depend on how long or hard they worked; they all received the same wage from their generous employer. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God operates the same way.
Smith goes on to say:
“Two of the most important verses in the Bible, in my opinion, are 1 John 4:10-11. They are the verses that began my own transformation by the renewing of my mind: ‘This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.’ These verses became the bedrock of my dominant narrative about God. Our love for God does not determine God’s attitude toward us. God loves us first, and we see that clearly in God’s Son offering his life in order to reconcile us to God. And that love propels me to love God and others in return.”