I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. (Ephesians 5:25–26)
If you only hope for unconditional love from God, your hope is great, but too small.
Unconditional love from God is not the sweetest experience of his love. The sweetest experience is when his love says, “I have made you so much like my Son that I delight to see you and be with you. You are a pleasure to me, because you are so radiant with my glory.”
This sweetest experience is conditional on our transformation into the kind of people whose emotions and choices and actions please God.
Unconditional love is the source and foundation of the human transformation that makes the sweetness of conditional love possible. If God did not love us unconditionally, he would not penetrate our unattractive lives, bring us to faith, unite us to Christ, give us his Spirit, and make us progressively like Jesus.
But when he unconditionally chooses us, and sends Christ to die for us, and regenerates us, he puts in motion an unstoppable process of transformation that makes us glorious. He gives us a splendor to match his favorite kind: his own.
We see this in Ephesians 5:25–27. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [unconditional love], that he might sanctify her . . . and present the church to himself in splendor” — the condition in which he delights.
It is unspeakably wonderful that God would unconditionally set his favor on us while we are still unbelieving sinners. The ultimate reason this is wonderful is that this unconditional love brings us into the everlasting enjoyment of his glorious presence.
But the apex of that enjoyment is that we not only see his glory, but also reflect it. “The name of our Lord Jesus [will] be glorified in you, and you in him” (2 Thessalonians 1:12).
God Really Loves Us
Charlotte Mortimer described her adult education, creative writing class. The teacher asked all the students to write “I love you” in 25 words or less, without using the words, “I love you.”
The class was given 15 minutes to complete the assignment. Charlotte wrote that one woman spent about 10 minutes looking at the ceiling and wiggling in her seat. Then the last five minutes, she wrote frantically. Later she read her composition to the class. It consisted of three loving statements:
“Why, I’ve seen lots worse hairdos than that, honey.”
“These cookies are hardly burned at all.”
“Cuddle up-I’ll get your feet warm.”
It tells us something about her husband. It also tells us something about the practical side of love.
I don’t know if anyone else spends much time wondering why God loves us, but sometimes His love is a mystery to me. I know my inadequacies and shortcomings. I also know that God loves me in spite of them. Moses’ words to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7-8 comfort me. He explains God’s love for them to the Israelites:
“The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt.”
Our might and importance have nothing to do with God’s affection for us. He just loves us. John 3:16 may be the most memorized verse in the Bible: “God so loved the world…”
A book that touched me was Love Beyond Reason, by John Ortberg. In the book, Ortberg describes a doll, Pandy, that belonged to his sister, Barbie. By the time he knew Pandy he says, “She had lost a lot of hair, one arm was missing, and she’d had the stuffing knocked out of her.” Not impressed with Pandy’s beauty, he felt that she was too damaged to be even given away.
He remembers his family going to Canada from Illinois for vacation. On the return trip they realized that they had left the doll in Canada and had to drive all the way back to Canada to retrieve her. Pandy was that important to his sister.
When Barbie married and had a little girl of her own, Courtney, his sister had Pandy restored and kept her as Courtney’s doll. Ortberg’s reflection on Pandy’s story impacted me deeply. He wrote, “When Pandy was young, Barbie loved her. She celebrated her beauty. When Pandy was old and ragged, Barbie loved her still. Now she did not simply love Pandy because Pandy was beautiful, she loved her with the kind of love that made Pandy beautiful.”
That’s what God’s love has done for us. He doesn’t love us because we are beautiful, His love makes us attractive.
Sometimes it is hard for us to receive undeserved love, so we try to earn it. Richard Bellinger, a young boy in South Carolina, was the son of a Baptist minister. One Saturday night, Richard decided to shine his father’s shoes. The following night his father put a silver dollar on the bureau of his son’s room with a note commending his son for what he had done, and telling him that the dollar was his reward. The next morning, when the father put on his shoes, he felt something hard and metallic in one of them. When he took the shoe off and reached inside, he found the silver dollar he had given to his son the night before. Along with the dollar was a note that simply read, “I did it for love!”
What God has done for us, He did for love. Instead of trying to understand it, or deserve it, or pay for it, He just wants us to receive it and say, “Thank you.” When we do that, His love begins to change us. And does His love ever have the power to change us!
Gwen and I pastored outside Baltimore, Maryland early in our ministry. I was drawn to a story I read about a college in that area. One of the local college professors gave an assignment to his class. He asked them to go into the economically impoverished communities to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote something like, “He hasn’t got a chance.”
Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He decided to use his class to follow up on the previous survey in order to see what had happened to those boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors, and businessmen.
The professor was astounded at the results and decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, the 176 men still lived in the area and his class interviewed each of them. They were asked the question, “How do you account for your success?” In each case the reply came with feeling, “There was a teacher.”
Investigating, the professor learned that the teacher was still alive. He personally went to speak with her. He asked her what magic formula she had used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement. The teacher looked at him, broke into a smile, and said, “It’s really very simple, I loved those boys.”
God loves us. When we are about to step into heaven because we have believed in Him, if someone asks us why we made it, we can confidently say, “He just loved us.”
The kind of love God has for us cost Him dearly. John MacArthur told of an incident that occurred during Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector of England. A young soldier was scheduled to be executed. The girl to whom he was engaged pleaded with Cromwell to spare the life of her beloved, but Cromwell was resistant to her request. The young man was to be executed when the curfew bell sounded.
However, when the sexton repeatedly pulled the rope to signal the execution the bell made no sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and wrapped herself around the clapper so that it could not strike the bell. Her body was smashed and bruised, but she did not let go until the clapper stopped swinging. She managed to climb down, bruised and bleeding, to meet those gathered to witness the execution. When she explained what she had done, Cromwell commuted the sentence.
A poet beautifully recorded the story as follows:
“At his feet she told her story, showed her hands all bruised and torn, And her sweet young face still haggard with the anguish it had worn, Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light. ‘Go, your lover lives,’ said Cromwell; ‘Curfew will not ring tonight.’ ”
God loves us. His body still bears the scars from His suffering so we would not die. He wants us to believe that and allow His love to change us. When I know God loves me that much I can never give up on myself.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Psalm 63:1–2)
Only God will satisfy a heart like David’s. And David was a man after God’s own heart. That’s the way we were created to be.
This is the essence of what it means to love God: to be satisfied in him. In him — not just his gifts, but God himself, as the glorious person that he is!
Loving God will include obeying all his commands; it will include believing all his word; it will include thanking him for all his gifts. But all that is overflow. The essence of loving God is admiring and enjoying all he is. And it is this enjoyment of God that makes all of our other responses truly glorifying to him.
We all know this intuitively as well as from Scripture. Do we feel most honored by the love of those who serve us from the constraints of duty, or from the delights of fellowship?
My wife is most honored when I say, “It makes me happy to spend time with you.” My happiness is the echo of her excellence. And so it is with God. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
None of us has arrived at perfect satisfaction in God. I grieve often over the murmuring of my heart when I lose some earthly comfort or convenience. But I have tasted that the Lord is good. By God’s grace I now know the fountain of everlasting joy.
And so I love to spend my days luring people into joy until they say with me, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
Streams in the Desert – March 16
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
For our profit (Heb. 12:10).
In one of Ralph Connor’s books he tells a story of Gwen. Gwen was a wild, wilful lassie and one who had always been accustomed to having her own way. Then one day she met with a terrible accident which crippled her for life. She became very rebellious and in the murmuring state she was visited by the Sky Pilot, as the missionary among the mountaineers was termed. He told her the parable of the canyon.
“At first there were no canyons, but only the broad, open prairie. One day the Master of the Prairie, walking over his great lawns, where were only grasses, asked the Prairie, ‘Where are your flowers?’ and the Prairie said, ‘Master I have no seeds.’
“Then he spoke to the birds, and they carried seeds of every kind of flower and strewed them far and wide, and soon the prairie bloomed with crocuses and roses and buffalo beans and the yellow crowfoot and the wild sunflowers and the red lilies all summer long. Then the Master came and was well pleased; but he missed the flowers he loved best of all, and he said to the Prairie: ‘Where are the clematis and the columbine, the sweet violets and wind-flowers, and all the ferns and flowering shrubs?’
“And again he spoke to the birds, and again they carried all the seeds and scattered them far and wide. But, again, when the Master came he could not find the flowers he loved best of all, and he said: “‘Where are those my sweetest flowers?’ and the Prairie cried sorrowfully: “‘Oh, Master, I cannot keep the flowers, for the winds sweep fiercely, and the sun beats upon my breast, and they wither up and fly away.’
“Then the Master spoke to the Lightning, and with one swift blow the Lightning cleft the Prairie to the heart. And the Prairie rocked and groaned in agony, and for many a day moaned bitterly over the black, jagged, gaping wound. But the river poured its waters through the cleft, and carried down deep black mould.
“And once more the birds carried seeds and strewed them in the canyon. And after a long time the rough rocks were decked out with soft mosses and trailing vines, and all the nooks were hung with clematis and columbine, and great elms lifted their huge tops high up into the sunlight, and down about their feet clustered the low cedars and balsams, and everywhere the violets and wind-flower and maiden-hair grew and bloomed, till the canyon became the Master’s favorite place for rest and peace and joy.”
Then the Sky Pilot read to her: “The fruit–I’ll read ‘flowers’–of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness–and some of these grow only in the canyon.” “Which are the canyon flowers?” asked Gwen softly, and the Pilot answered: “Gentleness, meekness, longsuffering; but though the others, love, joy, peace, bloom in the open, yet never with so rich a bloom and so sweet a perfume as in the canyon.”
For a long time Gwen lay quite still, and then said wistfully, while her lips trembled: “There are no flowers in my canyon, but only ragged rocks.” “Some day they will bloom, Gwen dear; the Master will find them, and we, too, shall see them.”