This past Sunday, I wanted to tie the last four months together with a sermon focused on the foundational issue of a consistent walk with Jesus. It seems to me that so many American Christians don’t know Jesus with any real intimacy, partly because we’re very, very busy. However, the question must be asked – “Are we busy with the right things? Are we busy with God’s priorities or our own agendas, which too often leave God in second or even seventieth place in our lives?” I tried to lay before our congregation not just the need for a quiet time/devotions/whatever you want to call it, but also the heart that David exhibited in Psalm 63 which drove him into the arms of His Lord and Savior. This is really the critical question; it’s not just my time in Bible reading and prayer, and whether or not it’s a habit in my life, but is my heart behind it, in it and through it?
Most of us have experienced a guilty conscience because we’ve neglected, or been way too sporadic in, spending some time with our Lord on a daily basis. Like going to the dentist, we resign ourselves to “daily devotions” as a duty, maybe even a discipline and, in one sense, that’s OK. Some things in the Christian life are a matter of duty, but this daily time with Jesus should be so much more than that.
Allow me to take that last thought a big step further and show you what I mean. I am currently reading (devotionally) Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. In the third chapter, he talks about his father who was a rather stern man. His mom died giving birth to him and he always wondered if his dad blamed him for her death. His dad was a strict disciplinarian and harsh in his treatment of his only son. Francis said that the only time in his life his dad expressed any outward love to him was on the way to his step-mom’s funeral when his dad put his arm around Francis’ shoulder for a minute or two. His dad died when Francis was 12 and he has no doubt that his early concept of God was greatly influenced by his relationship (or lack thereof) with his earthly father. It is because of this that Pastor Chan feared the Lord and respected Him, but didn’t feel any deep affection for Him.
As the Holy Spirit has matured Francis as a man, father, husband and pastor, there has been a transformation over time. He writes that years ago, “I had no aspiration of being wanted by God; I was just happy not to be hated or hurt by Him.” He then goes on to say, “My own love and desire for my kids’ love is so strong that it opened my eyes to how much God desires and loves us.” I thought about my own children, and remembered how I would return home at the end of the day and they would run up to me with great enthusiasm to be picked up, hugged, kissed and just loved on. What a joy that is for any parent. This simple illustration has really impacted me recently, and has affected my own devotional life.
Chan goes on to ask a good question, “How could I not trust a heavenly, perfect Father who loves me infinitely more than I will ever love my kids?” A few pages later he writes, “Over time I realized that when we love God, we naturally run to Him – frequently and zealously. Jesus didn’t command that we have a regular time with Him each day. Rather, he tells us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ He called this the ‘first and greatest commandment’ (Matt. 22:37-38). The results are intimate prayer and study of His Word. Our motivation changes from guilt to love.”
Each morning as I sit down with the Scripture, move to some devotional reading (like Chan’s book), and then go to prayer, I picture myself running to Jesus and being bear hugged and loved. When I first started this “beginning picture” I thought, “Yeah, but does that scene agree with God’s Word?” Then I thought of the father’s response to the prodigal son (which I am/have been to one degree or another), as well as God’s impassioned and repeated pleas for Israel to return to Him. There is deep longing and even a measure of angst in the Lord’s expressions of His love and desire for His people. Yes, He is the ineffable, transcendent, almighty, and majestic God of Isaiah 6, but He is also the One whom we may call “Abba.” He is Jesus, sitting on the Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, with (I am guessing) tears in His eyes softly saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you together as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not!”
This is precisely my point. This God of wonder Who has called us to Himself is the One who “knew” us before we were ever knit together in our mother’s wombs (See Jeremiah 1:4-5). “My existence was not random, nor was it an accident. God knew who He was creating, and He designed me for a specific work as well as for Himself.” Then Chan says the most profound words I have come across so far in this book when he writes, “The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” This broke my heart, but there’s more, “He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him---and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by.”
My dear brothers and sisters, what an amazing privilege we’ve been given in that we should know Him, and be known intimately and personally by Him. He loves you and me with an everlasting love. Do you see yourself running to Him with your arms held open to be picked up, and being embraced by Him with a passion that is beyond your experiences in this life? If not, you need a new picture of your Savior. No wonder a brilliant theologian by the name of Karl Barth (with whom we might disagree in a number of areas) told a reporter one time that the most profound thought that has ever entered his mind was this, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The love of Christ (indeed my Triune God) is what should compel me to meet with Him in the morning hours before the sun rises in the sky. I now picture myself as a little boy running to my Abba/Papa to be unconditionally loved, hugged and kissed and, you know what, it doesn’t get any better (in this life or the next) than that. This is regardless of how “good” or “bad” I was the day before, even though I must continue to repent of my sins because I’m still a sinner, but one who is much beloved.
One last quote from Crazy Love, - “Imagine how awful it would feel to have your child say to you, ‘I don’t really love you or want your love, but I would like my allowance, please.’ Conversely, what a beautiful gift it is to have the one you love look you in the eye and say, ‘I love you. Not your beauty, your money, your family, or your car. Just you’…Do you love this God who is everything, or do you just love everything He gives you? Do you really know and believe that God loves you, individually and personally and intimately? Do you see and know Him as Abba, Father?” - I pray that you do.
So, enjoy your special, carved out time with Him today, tomorrow and for the rest of your earthly sojourn. He loves for you to love Him and my, oh my, how many reasons do we have to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength? Truly, this is the greatest commandment, but my prayer is that our love for Him would flow, not so much out of compulsion, but as a child’s love pours out for a parent who deeply delights in their child. Your God loves you far more than any parent could ever love their child. All praise, glory, and love be unto Him Who has loved us with an everlasting love.
Chan, Francis, and Danae Yankoski. "Chapter 3." Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008. Print.