This past weekend was our women’s retreat where I presented a small group presentation. The topic of the weekend was “Called to Love.” The below is my presentation on “Loving God.”
I’ve really been struggling with this topic. I keep having to remind myself that I’m not talking about “God’s Love for Us” but MY love for God. God’s love for us is amazing to talk about – it’s awesome, enormous, unconditional, mind-blowing—any superlative you can think of. But my love for God—that’s harder to talk about and to define. What does it look like? Does it even exist—my love for him, I mean? Sometimes I wonder. As I looked into and thought about this topic over the past several months, I realized the impossibility of this task. I know you all came in here expecting definitive answers and knowing that I above all am the one to provide them (HA!!!) The topic “Loving God” is beyond enormous and it can be approached from so many different ways – it’s like the tale of the Blind Men and the Elephant:
Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a snake; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a spear.
A sighted man explains to them:
All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.
So it is with loving God; each of us has hold of a different part of it, based on our own experiences, background and where we’re at in our growth. That’s what so exciting about retreats and gatherings like this – it’s amazing to see all kinds of women come together and sharing their experiences and ideas in such a warm environment. So please keep in mind that there’s little likelihood that what I have to say about Loving God will fall in exactly with the way that you love God. So I hope that most of this time will be spent in discussion, sharing ideas with each other. My thoughts on my part of the elephant: The Romance of Grace A friend of a friend wrote a book called “The Romance of Grace.” In it, he talks about the difference between legalism and grace which he describes as being in love.
“Picture God as a man who is ravaged by love for a woman. Such a man’s first thought is not, ‘How can I get this woman to be more practical and virtuous?’ His main thought is, “How can I get this woman to fall in love with me?’ God doesn’t primarily want our morals; He wants us to fall in love with Him. Love for God, is, after all, the main commandment in which all the others find their roots. Morals were important enough to send Jesus to the cross, but we are the joy for which He endured the shame….His deepest objective isn’t to make us more moral [make us follow the rules and behave ourselves]; it is to get us to love Him back. Virtue is the fruit, not the root.”
Under grace, we fall in love with the Lord. We do the things that we know please him because we want to, and we want to because we love Him. But if we slip up, make a mistake, fall down hard, struggle to get back up – he doesn’t reject us. He doesn’t send us away. He doesn’t even ground us. He actually leans down and picks us up and helps us get back on our feet like the children we are. If your child fell, would you punish him or her for falling? Or would you go to them, reach out for them, and lift them up? Even if they were all muddy and disgusting? Of course you would. Legalism says the opposite. Legalism says that we have to follow the rules in order to show God we love Him. Legalism says I’m so afraid of losing the One who loves me and whom I love that I have to be on my best behavior at all times so I don’t drive Him away. I have to follow the rules (and then, when I don’t find enough—ten isn’t many really and after all, some of them aren’t that hard to keep on a day-to-day basis, on the literal level at least—murder, adultery; so then I’ll invent new ones of my own: waist length hair, floor length skirts, no television, no internet, no Facebook, no movies, no nothing on Sundays, etc. But unless it truly, truly brings us joy to not do those things, and unless we’re truly, truly doing those works for the Lord—all we’re doing is trying to make ourselves feel better, to try to curry His favor.
I’ve heard too many women and girls living in fear in their relationship; they do nice things for their spouse/boyfriend because they’re afraid of losing him if they don’t do those things, whether it’s laundry, dinner or sex. But there is no fear in love: 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.” So I think I’ve satisfied myself, in my own mind at least, that “loving God” is not the same as “following the rules.” So what does loving God look like?
Knowing God – the prerequisite
Before you can love someone, you have to know them. I have a friend who likes to say that salvation is like meeting someone in person after reading about them in a book. You might have an enormous book about me telling all about my life, my, friends, family, etc. But until you meet me, you’ll never actually know me. A book doesn’t contain the multitude of nuances, of personality, of humanity that people are. Then when you meet me, only then can you say “Oh, yes, I know Melody.” When I met the Lord at the time of salvation, I shook His hand, then dodged back and tried to stay out of sight. I was shy; I didn’t know how to “BE” around Him. I didn’t get a clear picture of Him from reading about Him or from hearing about Him and I was afraid. I knew I’d broken the rules, I knew I didn’t have a desire to keep the rules, and I just didn’t know how to act. It’s like going to the home of someone you don’t know very well. Are you supposed to take your shoes off? Is it OK to put your elbows on the table here? I grew up with an image of God who was a God of fear – very Old Testament, vengeful and capricious, who went around smiting people (ZAP! KAPOW! ZOT!) when they broke the rules.
I spent the first half of my life after salvation following not so much the Lord Himself as the Church. I did what my parents said, I did what the Church said (with occasional flashes of rebellion). I appeared maybe to be following Jesus, but in reality, I was just going where other people told me to go. It wasn’t until years later when events occurred that forced me to strip away all image, pretense and bare my soul before Him that I really got to know God, that I was able to come into his living room and put my feet up on the coffee table that I could even begin to think about actively loving Him. I started actually liking Him!
Ways of loving God/Showing our love to Him
God hasn’t asked a whole lot of us. These are some of the things He has asked:
That we follow Him
Matt 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said…at once they left their nets and followed him. That we worship him Matt 4:9 “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” John 4:23-24 “Worship in Spirit and in Truth” Oswald Chambers says “Worship is giving God the best He has given you.” We’re to give to God the first and the best of everything we do.
That we listen to him
Matthew 17:5 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Women (maybe more than men) really want to be heard. Part of feeling loved is when your someone takes the time to listen to you, to hear your words, and to really try to understand what you’re feeling. All too often, it’s in a conversation that the other person is just waiting for their turn to speak instead of actually listening. Worse still is the person who waits their turn to speak and then opens with “That’s nothing, one time I…” and then proceeds with a tale of their exploits to which you’re expected to listen. Either way, they didn’t listen to you; they didn’t hear—really, really HEAR you. You leave those conversations feeling devalued and unloved. When we talk to God through prayer, we have to leave time for Him to answer. There has to be quietness at some point so He can talk back to us. Also, we need to become familiar enough with his voice so e can recognize it (and not fall for false prophets, lying communications).
That we serve and obey Him
Joshua 24:14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Matthew 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Serve Him by obeying His commandments in His word
1 John 5:3-4 “…this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” And what are God’s commandments? Mark 12:28 – 31 answers that question: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV) God gave us these commands in scripture, but he doesn’t tell us how to fulfill them – that, he leaves up to us (he did say “with all your mind” after all).
[this blog has a good discussion of the heart/soul/mind/strength distinctions (scroll partway down page to get to the blog posts for each)]
Serve Him by obeying His personal commandments
So He’s given us certain commands as a group in his word; do you think He also gives us certain special commands, just for us? I’ve recently become convinced that when I have a recurring thought or desire to do something, I should pay attention because it’s probably the Lord. The Lord speaks to each of us differently; one of the ways He speaks to me is by nudging or leaning on me – it’s as though I feel a physical pressure pushing me in a certain direction. For much of my life I’ve talked myself out of these nudges – they seemed too outside the box; I just didn’t have experience responding and I gave in to the fear. I think what many of us call a “personal conviction” is one of these private commands from the Lord. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17. Note it says a sin “for them.” Not for me, nor for you, but for the person to whom the conviction to do good has been given. Serve Him by exercising the gifts and natural talents He’s given you 1 Peter 4:20 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
“The believer’s ministry is being Christ’s person right where he or she is, in the marketplace or in the home, every minute of every day. This is part of the everyday business of holiness. This is the very nature of loving God.” (Chuck Colson, Loving God)
Whether you have an amazing opportunity to serve in a mission, or whether you just have the opportunity to go to work every day and be someone’s parent, friend, or neighbor, you have a skill, a talent, and a heart that God gave you to use in life.
Discussion and Reflection:
Take 10 – 15 minutes to think about and answer the following questions. Can you share your answers to a couple of them?
1. List some ways we can worship God.
2. List some ways we can listen to God:
3. Which is harder for you, listening to God, or talking to Him?
4. List some ways we can serve God:
5. “Love the Lord your God with all your ____________ and with all your ____________ and with all your ____________ and with all your ______________.” Mark 12:30
What does this mean to you? How can you go about living out this verse?
6. Has God given you any personal convictions? Have you had to try to obey them while dealing with other people not understanding your conviction?
7. “Virtue Is the root, not the fruit.” What does this mean to you?
8. List some of your gifts and natural talents. How can you love God with those?
9. Describe a time when you were awe-struck by God’s glory.
10. Do you remember when you first “got it?” When you first realized you loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind? 11. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Annie Dillard. What am I doing or what can I be doing with my hours and minutes to glorify God as I’m at work, shopping, eating, playing, hiking, watching TV, drinking coffee, etc?
12. What kind of baggage do you carry around with you in your life? What hinders you from receiving God’s love and from loving others? (things from your past, the way you were raised, criticism, etc).
13. “How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ – the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own family with whom I can’t seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed?” How would you answer that question?
14. What part of the “Loving God” elephant do you have a good grasp of? (that is, how is it easiest for you to express love for Him? Do you feel like you need to “work on” other ways?