Ephesians 3:17-19- "I pray that you would really get how much your are loved by God. Because if you could truly grasp this one thing, it would completely change your life." (Paraphrase)
Note: Recently, I have been reading two books that have been very helpful to me in my understanding of God. The title of this blogpost comes from the first, "The Good and Beautiful God" by James Bryan Smith. The second book is "Forming" by David Takle. Many of the following thoughts come from these two books.
A.W. Tozer wrote: "What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us." Unfortunately, many people go through life with an incorrect view of God. In my experience, false narratives can become firmly entrenched in our minds, affecting our relationships, our peace, our joy and our ability to change. I have come to believe that the most important thing we can understand about God is that He is loving and good! However, many well intentioned but misguided preachers (including me), have believed that the best way to motivate people to change is through fear, guilt and exhorting people to exercise a heavy dose of self-effort. Author Henry Cloud says that if you walk into a given church on Sunday you are apt to hear a message that goes like this: "God is good. You are bad. Try harder." This narrative certainly has truth in it. However, the problem for me and many others is that this has produced an imbalanced and distorted metanarrative about God. The result is that our core thoughts about God are that he is angry with us and disappointed in us. The Barna Research Group states that "over one half of all professing Christinas in America believe God is highly critical and judgmental, and the majority of those believe He is looking for a way to punish them for what they are doing wrong."
These false narratives deeply affect our relationship with God. Consider the responses given when we are asked the question, "How is your relationship with God?" We usually give answers like, "I am reading my Bible, praying, going to church, serving in a ministry etc." These answers reveal that we associate our relationship with God with how well we are performing our Christian duties. If I asked you, "How is your relationship with your wife?", would you respond by saying, "I am taking out the trash, raking the leaves, and washing the dishes?" Would it not a better indicator of our relationship with our wife if we said, "I am so much in love, and she is so beautiful, I cannot believe she chose me, etc." This kind of evaluation of our relationship would likely produce better performance of our "spousal duties" as well.
So how can we begin to experience and be transformed by the love that God has for us? For me, I have begun to "immerse" myself in the accurate Biblical metanarratives of God's immense love, mercy and generosity. Julian of Norwich said that "what God wants most is to see me smile because I know how much he loves me." This "mind change" does take some work and a few practices have been especially helpful:
Every morning and evening for 10 minutes when I am waking up, and 10 minutes when I am going to sleep, thinking about the goodness and love of God.
Developing the spiritual discipline of reading the Bible with the mindset that I am encountering God or hearing His voice (instead of just reading academically). I began this mode of Bible study by focusing on passages such as Psalm 23 or Psalm 27. An ancient practice known as "Lectio Divina" has been very helpful to me. This practice involves reading the passage slowly, meditating on it, asking God what he wants me to know, or be or do. Also, talking with God about what I think the Spirit might have said to me, and finally, enjoying God and His character.
Meeting with a small group of trusted friends to share these reflections and "appreciation stories." I am involved with two small groups where we begin by our times by sharing an "appreciation story." This is a time where we share our gratitude for how we have seen God work in our lives during the last week. We then share our reflections from our own "Lectio Divina" readings of a particular passage in the Bible. Sharing with a community in this fashion is powerful and helps deepen our relationship with God and with each other.
Finally, I believe that it is important to know that change and growth come from the Spirit. Our part is engaging with God in ways that bring life. Learning ways to engage with God and letting Him reveal His true heart for us is ultimately what is transformative. This transformation is not about accomplishment but about becoming aware that we are His cherished children and allowing this awareness to become evident in us, producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. 1John 4:10-11 says that "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another." "Getting how much we are loved by God" will completely change our life.