NOTE: This post is part of a series on God’s Priorities
One of the first tasks in resetting our priorities as Christians is to change our relationship with God.
Naturally, that starts with what is known as ‘regeneration’, or being ‘born again’ through receiving Christ, as the scriptures describe:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name ~ John 1:12
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” ~ John 3:3
Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever ~ 1 Peter 1:23
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby ~ 1 Peter 2:2
Many people dismiss this necessity for rebirth, thinking it is merely some profound emotional conversion experience (which some do have), but even if it is not such an experience, it must be a reality in order to begin. Otherwise, all that comes after this is merely our own efforts at becoming spiritual, without the cooperation of God – it’s merely building another idol to our ego, another self-improvement project instead of a self-surrender and renewal project.
So before we go on to experiencing God’s love in our daily Christian growth, we must assure that we have actually BECOME Christian – not through family culture or mental assent, but heartfelt belief in the basic Christian message. What is that message?
- God loves us
- We are separated from God by our sin
- Jesus died in our place to gain our forgiveness
- We must individually receive Him in order to be restored to God.
God’s Love in Initially Drawing Us
If you are still skeptical, or you agree with this but are not really drawn to it, you may have missed the reality and importance of the first point. And in order to actually please God and have a spiritual life worth living, we must be assured of the first point – God’s love.
In fact, the Bible itself agrees that it is God’s goodness that is attractive to us, not just his declaration that we are fallen and need His help:
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? ~ Romans 2:4 (NLT)
Here’s one of the most powerful stories, told by Jesus himself, about how much we are loved.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” ~ Matthew 7:9-11
In other words, if you and I, who are very imperfect, if not selfish and limited, in our love, know how much we want to give good things to our children, how much more will God, who is perfect in love, want to give us good things? What are we waiting for in keeping ourselves from God’s plan?!?
God’s Love in our Daily Experience
The truth is, our experience of God varies, from very present and real to nothing at all. Some of the greatest saints of all time, including the John of the Cross and Mother Theresa, have admitted to times of doubt and lack of God’s nearness. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.”
Yet this ought to not discourage us from seeking and experiencing God. God is love, John the Apostle wrote (1 John 4:8), and God can be experienced through honest prayer. Let me share a story from my own walk in this regard.
The Love of God Healing Deep Hurts
Before I was a Christian, I was a rebel. I had a mohawk in college (back when only skinheads and punks wore them), and I was very strident in my own wild life of drugs and drink. Part of the reason I lived this way was because I was hurt from childhood – my dad disappeared (to prison) when I was 4, and since I was a smart kid, they bumped me up a grade, which meant that I was always smaller than others. And always bullied.
When I became a new Christian, I was very radical as well. I brought all my hard-hearted “I don’t give a crap what you think of me” attitude into my faith. I preached outside of the bars I used to get drunk in. And while my initial experience with God was liberating, there were deeper wounds which God had not touched yet.
About a year into my Christian growth, I began to spend time worshiping God in my prayer time, often for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. And something profound began to happen. The presence of God would come, and overwhelm me with love. My heart had been so dry from lack of love as a child and adult, I often fell into a puddle of tears while God healed years of hurt in nightly bursts.
Now, that experience did not last forever. I still experience God in my times of prayer in varying degrees, but I know for sure that God’s love was real and present for me then, and is now on regular occasions.
I would like to go as far as saying, if this is NOT your experience, you should check your faith. Perhaps you are not yet born again. Or perhaps the faith you have been taught requires you to reach some level of perfection before God will love you.
In becoming people of God, our first new priority is to understand, agree with, and experience God’s love on a regular basis, as the foundation of our life and work with God. As soon as we start drifting from the experience of “abiding in Him,” our faith becomes dry, brittle, and powerless. Not to mention a drag.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” ~ John `5:9