The Desperate Difficulty of Knowing God’s Love

Anonymous asked:

I really enjoyed reading your posts as they taught me a lot about God and His love. Recently I felt depressed as I think even though I’ve been a Christian since young, I’ve never truly experienced His love. I felt worthless as a Christian as I’m not living a victorious life. What should I do?

Hey my dear friend: I can definitely sense that you want to get this whole Christian life right, and I totally commend you for that. Even the fact that you asked a stranger online about this shows a humble step in the right direction, and I’m privileged to be a part of that journey.

Here are just a few things to consider. As always, please feel free to skip around.

1) We’re all hiding a dark terrible secret (that isn’t really a secret).

Please know: Every week I talk with one more nervous anxious Christian who thinks they haven’t
experienced victory in Christ,
or claimed all the promises,
or confessed all known sin,
or been praying and reading Scripture like I should,
or even, I’m not ready to be blasted up in the rapture.

It usually goes: “I’ve read all of Calvin’s Institutes and I saw Jesus in the campfire and I threw out my heroin stash and I feed the homeless every Tuesday — but I still suck at the Christian life.”

If I poke hard enough, even pastors and leaders and those “on-fire Christians” often feel the same way. Every churchgoer has this uncertain insecurity that they’re never good enough with God and that somehow He’s a ninja parole officer who is waiting with the lever to the trap door of hell.

But the Big Christian Secret is, I’ve never really met a single Christian on this planet that feels like they got this whole thing right. And it’s not really a secret. The Bible all over tells us we’re fallen, broken, rebellious, dysfunctional, crazy. I don’t know anyone who has ever experienced the totality of God’s love without some doubts, frustration, confusion, and questions. On this side of life, there will always be a gray foggy filter between us and God, and some days the fog will be thicker than others.

I’m NOT endorsing a loophole faith where “weakness” means permission to do what you want. I’m not okay with hijacking the word “struggle” as an excuse for outright depravity. But I think many of us go too far the other way: we presume that faith means perfectionism, and that Christianity is somehow “up to me.” Which is not the point of the Bible or faith or Jesus, at all.

2) Doubting the love of God is the pinnacle battle for all people in all of history: so we’re there with you.

There’s a myth that we’ll all arrive one day to a finished trophy faith, like those hall-of-fame heroes in the Bible, and that we’ll finally “get God’s love” and quit chasing after these vampire-idols. But the hard truth is that every single person in the Bible had the same exact struggle: they all doubted the love of God, they all got it wrong sometimes, and they all fell for cheap imitations of the real thing. It’s why Adam and Eve were tempted by the seduction of a snake. It’s why Jacob conned his brother and his uncle out of land and livestock. It’s why Moses melted down and flipped out at the Israelites. It’s why David pretty much raped a woman and killed her husband. It’s why Judas sold out his friend, brother, and Lord. It’s why we desperately run after approval, validation, and significance by squeezing it from our career or children or romance or image or charity. It’s why we have long midnight bouts of existential panic at our short little lives on earth, wondering if it all means anything. It’s why we steal, kill, cheat, lie, and smoke the world between our fingertips. It’s even why we do good things: as if they will compensate for some deep unknown flaw by scratching the eternal itch of our emptiness.

On a long enough timeline, we’re never totally sure that God’s love is enough. At any given time, we’re never 100% sure of God’s love. This is the bottom line fight of every human being, and all our very human problems stem from this same tension. There is nothing wrong with you here that isn’t wrong with everyone else.

None of this means that we don’t grow or strive or do our best. But all this is why we needed the cross.

When you read Hebrews 11, the famous passage on all these victorious Bible people, they were all living by faith. They trusted that God had them covered. In the end, they were not living to “feel God’s victory” or to remove the unease of their own failures. They didn’t put their hope in their own self-grading or introspection. They stopped looking at themselves. They didn’t measure their progress or make a report card or take a church survey. They simply knew: I am a work in progress looking towards the work finished, Jesus.

3) The grace of God covers even our doubt of His love.

I know that none of this is easy. Which is why God’s grace preempted our failure to believe His love, too. Because God’s grace is rest.

Imagine how much just resting in grace would solve. Imagine the sort of life where guilt and shame were not steering your compass. Envision a day free of self-shaming and beating your behaviors, where you’re not trying to get it all together in a single day. See how grace would dissolve your every effort to impress or flex or prove your own worth.

Can you imagine what it would really look like if you trusted that God the creator of your soul really loves you — if even just a tiny fraction of your broken heart could beat with this terribly disarming truth?

The hang-up is we think we need to get all this today, and some people do. Thank God when it happens overnight. But the rest of us get it one day at a time, in process, and God is okay with just a tiny fraction forward that embraces Him.

Putting your faith in God’s grace means the burdens are off. You don’t have to prove yourself anymore. You don’t have to pressure yourself into getting all-of-God’s-love in a single face-melting service. All this is adding burdens on. The Gospel is the only truth in the universe that could ever break our morbid desire to remain in these chains.

4) Be okay with the up-and-down instability some days — because you’re only human, and God knows that.

I struggle with this so badly. I would say it’s my hugest struggle of all, doubled up with my skepticism. I often gauge my self-worth on my last sermon, how much everyone laughed or nodded, how big my ministry is, how many likes and reblogs I get, how many site views or podcast downloads, the affirming words of others.

A typical preacher might say, “Don’t seek attention, just stop it!” Or I should believe harder, or I need more faith, or something. But saying all that by itself doesn’t work. The very fact that I am insecure points to a real need that I have — and this need points to my very need for Jesus.

I need to know that only Jesus is okay with all my instability. He receives even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed. Only his unconditional love gives me the confidence to finish strong. When I’m vulnerable enough to admit that I don’t think God is enough, then somehow He begins to become enough.

When I know that God loves me despite my inability to fully grasp His love, then actually: I can begin to receive applause by its true size. I can rightly estimate human approval and even enjoy it. I even have room to hurt when I’m discouraged, because I don’t have to worry that I’m not “secure enough” in God. He’s covered me there too.

At some point, we need to be okay with this back-and-forth flippancy. We need to be aware of our humanness, our rhythms, our tempo, our seasons. There will be false starts and silent breakthroughs. We need to see that God has already responded to our failures in His Son. We need to be okay with this gap between who we are and what God has done (1 John 3:2). We can settle into the tension of an invisible God and putting faith in His unseen love. We can acknowledge that the squishy fleshy part of us will always nag at our pursuit of Him. We know that some days will be Romans 7, and others will be Romans 8. We are thankful for both, and God will love us through both.

Sometimes victory just means that you’ve quit measuring your own victory, and before you know it: you will get better without hardly trying. We get better when we stop trying to get better and simply look to the one who is best.

He loves you, dear friend. Let that sink into even the barest molecule of your being, and please see yourself as He sees you. It’s hard to go back on that.

I’ll leave you with an old quote here:

I think the devil’s biggest lie is to make you think that how you feel right now is how you will always feel forever.

Please do not allow your mood to determine your entire value as a person. We get tired. We get cranky. We have doubts, frustrations, questions. And Jesus welcomes you graciously, the exhausted cranky doubtful you, and he will give you rest for your weary bones.

You might think there’s some kind of “awesome version” of you hidden inside your skin, and maybe you feel like you’re always two steps behind trying to catch up to some experienced mature mold of you — but Jesus loves you, right now, unconditionally. It’s only this kind of pure love that will ever penetrate deep enough to actually bring about change in your heart, and even then, we must not be so hard on ourselves in this journey.

Believe me: the seasons change. Feelings fade. Life goes on. Endure the late-night twitch and don’t beat yourself up. Let go of harsh self-evaluation. No matter how you feel, be kind and pray anyway. The same grace that you show others: have some grace for yourself too. And before you know it, you will be further along down this path without even hardly trying. The moment you quit trying to improve and simply rest in Christ, you’ll move forward.

— J.S.

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