What we think about God is important because our thoughts shape our behavior. How we picture God not only shapes how we respond to God, but it also shapes how we interact with others. For example, if we think of God as harsh, we will resist God. Why come close to a God who only wants to be demanding and difficult? Why allow ourselves to get close to anyone if all we think will happen is that we will get hurt? And if we see God as judgmental, always trying to catch us and punish us for doing something wrong, then we will live in fear. And if we only see God as someone who takes, takes away fun, joy, life, and laughter, then we are going to resist God, and we are going to resist the fullness of life that God wants to share with us.
How we think of God shapes our behaviors and our lives, which is why it is important for us to see God, and think about God, in ways that are in keeping with who God truly is. This month we have been learning, or remembering, the truth about God’s character so that we can make wise and faithful decisions so that we never have to look back and say, What Was I Thinking?
We learned that while the world often sees God has weak, God is actually powerful, and we can pray to God for that power to be experienced in our lives. Last week we learned that while the world often sees God as distant, and at times we feel isolated and alone, God is present with us always, and we can lean into God’s presence to find what we need. Today we want to explore another one of the characters of God that often goes against the conventional wisdom of the world.
The world often sees God as harsh, and unfortunately many churches also talk about God in ways that are severe. When the focus is on sin, judgment, and the fires of hell, we begin to picture God has a judge just waiting to catch us in our sin and condemn us. While God is holy, and David is going to talk about that next week, God is not harsh, quite the opposite, God IS loving. In fact, what we need to remember and hold on to is this truth – God IS Love.
God is not love, and his actions are not loving, the way we might define it, as conditional upon our good behavior, God Himself defines love, and when we see God’s unconditional love, and when we are able to receive that love, it can forever change our lives, our families, our communities, and our world.
Through this series we have been looking at the life of King Asa. Asa was the king of Judah, and when he was a young man, he trusted God to be powerful, and he knew God was present in his life. In fact, God’s presence and power were experienced by Asa for 35 years, and his love for God helped bring peace. This is what it says about Asa’s heart. 2 Chronicles 15:12, 15, 17b.
Asa wholeheartedly loved God. He was able to commit himself to God completely, and worship God only, because he knew God’s love, and had received it. But slowly, over time, Asa began to doubt that love. Later in his life, Asa failed to trust God wholeheartedly. He turned away from God’s presence, and power, and he failed to live in the knowledge of God’s love, and because of this, Asa made a very poor decision that cost him everything. Asa stopped trusting in God’s presence, power, and love, and turned to the super power of his day to find an ally. Asa formed a coalition with another king to help him fight his enemy instead of trusting in God, and that decision cost Asa the victory.
At some point, Asa reflected on that poor decision and must have said, what was I thinking? God was always powerful and he could have helped me if I had prayed. God was always with us and we could have leaned into that presence for strength. And God always loved us, and if I had remembered and received that love, if I had loved God wholeheartedly, I would have made a better decision. If we can remember and receive God’s love, if we can love God wholeheartedly, we will make better decisions.
No matter what we may think today, or what we hear in the world around, or what we may have learned growing up, God IS love. God defines for us what love looks like, and God loves us. Completely. Unconditionally. Eternally. God loves us, and if we will receive that love, our lives will be transformed, and we will live with purpose, power, and peace.
From Genesis to Revelation, what God has tried to make clear to us, and what God still wants us to remember today, is that He loves us. In fact, if there is one verse that might sum up what it is that God wants for us, it would be this, Ephesians 3:17-18.
We read this as Paul’s prayer for the people of Ephesus, but this is really God’s prayer for us. More than anything God wants us to know that his love for us is wide, and long, and high, and deep, and eternal. God wants us to know that his love is
- wide enough to cover our fear,
- long enough to reach and redeem our past.
- high enough to support our dreams,
- deep enough to touch insecurities.
God loves us so much that he was not content to just tell us about his love in a book, God had to come to us in person. God came to show us just how wide and long and high and deep his love for us really is. Jesus is the fullness of God’s love revealed to us. Jesus shows us that God’s love is wide enough to touch every person, it is long enough to reach into our past to forgive us, it is high enough to reach up into heaven and open a door for us and it is deep enough to set a firm foundation on which we can build our lives.
If we can receive God’s love through Jesus, our lives will change, we will be transformed. Not everything will be easy, not every problem will be erased, but we will have strength and power to make it through. Let me share 2 ways that God’s love transforms us all.
1. Insecure to Secure. God’s love moves us from being insecure to being secure, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, we are all insecure. I used to think that I was the only one who was insecure in life and that everyone else had it all together, but by listening to the stories of many other people, I have come to realize that we are all insecure, and we can deal with our insecurity in 2 ways, we can power up or we can power down.
We power up when we try and lift ourselves up, make our own decisions, and do what we can to make ourselves look good. Asa powered up when he made a treaty with the King of Aram to fight his enemy. Asa was feeling insecure when he looked at his enemy. He didn’t trust what he had in himself to fight against them, so he did what he could to lift himself up. Asa made himself look good, and strong, by forming an alliance with a more powerful nation. He powered up, and many of us try to power up in life when we feel insecure, and that can lead us to all kinds of bad decisions.
When I first started as a student at Michigan State University, I was as insecure as it came, so I tried to power up. I tried to make myself look good and I did what I could to fit in among my peers. I went to the orientation meetings for all the fraternities thinking that was one way I could make myself look better. It didn’t work. I couldn’t keep up that image, so I then took the other road when we struggle with insecurities, I powered down.
When we power down, we talk ourselves down. This isn’t being humble, it is feeling hopeless. We give in to the thinking that we are crushed and defeated. We tell ourselves we can’t do anything and that there is no hope. After my first few weeks at MSU, I had gone from trying to power up to powering down. I was ready to quit. I was ready to pack my bags and head home, my insecurities were getting the best of me. But then something happened.
God directed me to a group of people who in their own insecurities neither powered up nor down, they looked to Jesus. I started attending a campus group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and through large group gatherings, times of fellowship, and a small group Bible study, I learned that God loved me just the way I was. In time, God’s love filled my insecurity, and gave me a peace that allowed me to find a renewed sense of purpose and life.
God’s love slowly started to transform my insecurities and I began to understand more fully who I was as a child of God. By receiving God’s love, by acknowledging that we are valuable, gifted, children of God, we move from being insecure to being secure, not secure in ourselves, but secure in the God who loves us and gives us life.
2. Striving For to Resting In. The second thing God’s love does is that it moves from striving for acceptance, meaning, and the fullness of life and allows us to rest in these things. Here is the most difficult thing we often have to accept about God’s love, there is nothing we can do to earn it. God’s love is just NOT conditional. If we are better – it doesn’t mean God loves us more. If we fail – it doesn’t mean God loves us less. God’s love is never changing, all powerful, and ever present, and when we receive that love we stop trying to earn it and simply live in it.
This is a hard concept for us to understand because in our world everything seems to be conditional. If we make the right decisions, say the right things, and behave the right way, we are loved, respected, and honored. But if we slip up just once, all that love is gone. All around us we see this played out on a daily basis. As long as people in the public eye say and do the right thing, we support them, but if we find one flaw, one mistake, one misstep from today or yesterday, we toss them aside. This way of “loving others” shapes us. When love and acceptance are conditional and we have to strive to always make the right choice in every thought, word, and deed, we will be miserable and live in fear of our own mistakes coming to tear us down, but when we can receive God’s unconditional love, we can stop striving for acceptance and rest secure in God’s grace and peace.
That first year at MSU, I struggled with this whole concept. I read in John 14 that we need to abide in God, so I asked a friend, how do I do this? He kind of laughed and said you don’t do it, you rest in it, you trust it, you accept it. I said, right, how do I do that? I kept missing the point. I kept asking what I had to do to rest in God’s love, instead of simply resting in God’s love. I was striving for and not resting in, and I still find myself striving for and not resting in.
God’s love is this amazing gift that we don’t deserve, and can never repay. It is a gift that touches the totality of our lives. It is a love that is wide and long and high and deep. When we receive this love, when we simply open our hearts and accept God’s love, in time we learn how to just rest, and feel secure. I have learned it doesn’t come quickly, it doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m not sure we every truly come to terms with it, but the more we simply accept God’s love, the more God’s love transforms us.
God is loving, and his love can transform our lives, so let me close with 2 final thoughts.
1. God’s love is available today. In this moment, we don’t have to do anything to receive God’s love other than open our hands and our hearts and our lives and ask God to fill us with his love. For each one of us today, God’s love is available. It is here to assure us we are accepted and valued. It is here to quiet our anxiety and give us peace. It is here to guide us into good decisions and a better life. It is here to be received, today and every day, it is available.
2. God’s love is to be shared. In John 15, Jesus went on to say, when you keep my commands you will remain in my love. And then he gave us just one command to follow. Love one another. And the amazing thing about the love of God is that when we release it to others, it comes back to us 100 fold. The more we release, or share, God’s love, the more we receive God’s love. The more we tell others about God’s love, the more we experience God’s love. The more we love others, the more we experience the love of God in our own lives. God’s love is not just be received but shared and when we share it we receive more in return.
So today, receive God’s love. Stop powering up and trying to do it all on your own, stop powering down thinking you aren’t worthy of God’s love, and simply receive the love of God and allow that love to shape your life, allow God’s love to lead you into the fullness of life and faith and watch God’s love truly transform your life.
What Was I Thinking? – God IS Loving
1. This past week was Valentine’s Day.
- How were you able to receive the love of God?
- How were you able to release (share) the love of God?
2. Read Ephesians 3:17-18. This is not Paul’s prayer for the church but God’s desire for each of us. In what ways is God’s love:
- wide enough to cover our fear
- long enough to reach (and redeem) our past
- high enough to support our dreams
- deep enough to transform our insecurities
3. How have you experienced God’s love in each of the situations above? Write down these circumstances to remind you of God’s love when you need it in the future.
4. We are all insecure in life. In what ways do you power-up (lift yourself up in life) and power-down (beat yourself down in life)? Ask God to transform your insecurities by filling you with His love.
5. In what ways do you strive for God’s love and acceptance? How do you try and repay God for his love and acceptance? What would it look like for you to rest in God’s love? Read John 15:5-17.
6. If you have never specifically asked for it, ask for God’s love today.
7. In what ways can you release God’s love to the world?
- Who do you know that needs to hear God’s love?
- How can you share God’s love?
- What will it mean for you to love one another?