I get so bogged down and depressed when I try to be a ‘good’ Christian. Things begin to feel so legalistic and joyless that I find myself wondering how I could love anyone that will take over my life at any moment, twist my arm, and whisper things like ‘If you loved me you’d ___” or “If you had faith/believed more I wouldn’t ___” like some abusive relationship that won’t let you think, feel, or do things for yourself. Is there any way to overcome this feeling?
Dear friend: It’s very possible you could’ve been sold a pile of lies about God. I’ve heard some of those conditional statements you mentioned and they do have good intentions, but they’re jumping off a false premise.
I think your question boils down to a very simple one:
How do I actually love God?
I’ve never heard a single person in the history of anywhere successfully answer this question. Most people say those bizarre things like, “If you know God really loved you, then you would love Him back!” And we’re supposed to reply, “So convicting!” — and then feel really bad about our sorry little Christian lives.
But if some random lady on the street yelled “I love you” at me, I’m not going to immediately reciprocate. Not even if she’s Salma Hayek. The most I would say is, “Okay thanks lady” while backing away slowly.
The truth here is: No one can make you fall in love with God — including yourself.
So let’s ask an easier question.
How do I fall in love with someone?
Now we’re getting somewhere.
The more you get to know someone, the more you fall in love with them — and the more you fall in love with someone, the more you get to know them.
I recognize that my “job” as a pastor and as your friend is to hook you up with God. By God’s grace and His Spirit, I’m trying to get out of your way and help you encounter Him. The more I can reveal who He is, the more likely you’ll fall in love with God as He truly is.
Anyone who really encounters God can’t say no to Him. Not because they’re coerced by God, but exactly because God doesn’t have to. He is who He is. He’s awesome. His love and holiness are undeniable. A simple glimpse of His nature is enough to melt your face off.
And the more you understand God as He really is, the more you will automatically begin to trust Him, spend time with Him, and go totally radical for Him.
How do I know this? Because you do the same thing with the people you most dearly love. There’s no question you’d take a bullet for your friends or your spouse or your kids. You would drive hours to see them, you’d do anything they ask, and you’d sacrifice your blood and sweat to see them happy.
All this without thinking, “Why are they bothering me?” Because love makes you crazy in the best way possible.
But — it takes time to get there. No one can force you. You can only join a church and attend Bible study and go on mission trips and embrace serving opportunities with an open mind, and soon you’ll encounter the Living God. All the while, you’ll see that the Spirit of God is beckoning you and wooing you and opening doors and drawing you to Himself, without ever intruding upon your will.
I’ve found that small moments build into a big love for Jesus. Once when I was serving food to the homeless (which I try to do regularly), I looked at the line of over a hundred people, their plates extended as I plopped down potato salad and baked beans. I had done this many times before — but this particular time, I was just so dang excited and happy to see the looks on their faces. I couldn’t stop smiling as one after another, I was so blessed to serve these men and women.
Then I realized: Is this how God feels about me? Is this how happy He is to give me His grace when I extend my plate to Him? Is this His heart when He gives me the gift of His Son and His Spirit and His Word? And I nearly wept right there thinking about how much God loves me. Even writing this, my heart can hardly stand it.
I could never have created this moment out of thin air. It happened because I was inside the sunbeam that connects to the sun. And God, in such a simple way, shared His heart with me. I can tell you: I’m still shaken by that experience. I haven’t gotten over it. Even in my worst days, I remember what happened there.
I can tell you without shame that in my prayers, I nearly always end with, I love you Jesus. It’s not easy. Probably not too many people pray this way. I’m not saying that to brag, but to say: it takes a vulnerability on your end.
To love someone is a big deal, and God understands our feelings of mistrust and risk. He is totally willing to work with that. But God Himself is perfect, unfailing, and always there — so when you get to know Him, it’s actually not so hard to love Him. He’s really the awesome dad that we’re all longing for, and we can be completely open and vulnerable with Him like we’ve been trying to be with everyone else: except with Him, you won’t be let down. And as weird as it sounds, I actually like Him. I get the feeling that He likes us, too.
Read the four gospels. Read Acts and Colossians. Read them as if they’re specifically written for you (because they are). Get to know Jesus. You might be surprised by his love one day. It’s okay if it doesn’t happen in a moment. It may take many moments over a lifetime to get there. But when you’re there: expect a love that will uppercut your soul. Expect something beyond simple platitudes, formulas, quotes, and catchphrases — and expect the Jesus you always knew and suspected all along.