Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reflecting on the Heart of God

I was on vacation, sitting on the lake in a kayak. A bird flew by and I thought to myself, “God knows the name of that bird. He knows exactly how many feathers it has, knows when and where and how it was born, watched it grow up, and will see when and where and how it dies.” That got me thinking.

I thought about all the people in the world. ALL of them. (That’s about 7 billion people.) I thought of the tiny, tiny, tiny percentage...out of all those people...that I know personally. People that I have actually made face-to-face contact with and am therefore aware of their existence. That’s a ridiculously small number. Out of this tiny amount of people that I know, I narrow it down to the ones I actually care about: the people I have talked to and interacted with enough to have a personal interest in their lives. Even smaller. Out of this group I narrow it down to those I love. The people whose cares and struggles are so close to my heart that when they hurt I hurt, when they weep I weep, when they rejoice I rejoice. The people that I know and love on an extremely personal level.


That is a tiny figure. Even lots of people that I care deeply about do not make it onto this very personal love list - simply because I as a human being do not have the time or energy to invest so personally in that many lives! Add a few hundred more people to this list and there’s a good chance I would shrivel up and die under the weight of so many problems and struggles laid deep on my heart.

But then I turn my eyes to God. God, who created every single being on this earth: not just all 7 billion of us who are living right now, but all those who have lived before. Yet He loves and cares for each of us...EACH of us...on an infinitely deeper level than we care about our most special friend in all the world. Imagine taking your tiny personal love list and spreading that kind of affection to every single person in the entire world. Imagine knowing the thoughts, desires, struggles, and lives of everyone who has and will ever live on this earth. Imagine not only possessing that kind of knowledge, but also experiencing each individual’s life on a personal level: weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice, understanding their confusion and anger.

Not one of us finite human beings would last a minute with this kind of knowledge. People say, “What if I was God?” as though the responsibility of being God is something easy. No. What God does, day in and day out, without rest or pause, is something that is far, far more difficult than we could even imagine. Think of all the sin He has seen! He knows the human condition better than any of us. He watches every day as we slip into the same exact patterns of sin that thousands and millions and billions of our ancestors have slipped into before us. And yet...He is patient. He is kind. He is even merciful! He blesses us when we do not deserve it!

I have tried to put it into words, but the truth is that I cannot come close to fathoming the width and depth of the heart of the Lord. It is so great, so perfect, and so wonderful, that all I can do is fall on my face and praise Him. On this earth, I will never fully understand the greatness of His love, but I can certainly increase in my learning. And the more that I know, the more I will praise Him for who He is and for who I could never be.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Total Devotion

Today in my Bible reading of John 21:15-23, I was learning about total devotion. In this passage, Jesus asks Peter the same question three times: “Do you love Me?” The first time Peter is quick to answer. “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Of course he loved Jesus! Jesus had just made the ultimate sacrifice right in front of his eyes. Peter was probably on an emotional high. He had just seen the Lord and Savior of the world give Himself up completely and die a horrific death on the cross, then miraculously rise to life again. Of course he loved Jesus! Like Peter, it is easy for me to love the Lord in words. When I think of all He’s done for me, I just want to shout for joy . . . and tell all the world how much I love Jesus! However, Christ knew how easy it is for humans to enthusiastically profess their undying devotion, then crumble when it comes time to put that love into action. Therefore, “Jesus wanted Peter to love Him so supremely as to forsake all that he was familiar with and be exclusively devoted to being a fisher of men.” (John MacArthur) Am I willing to forsake all that I love - all that is familiar to me - to follow Christ wherever He leads?

Jesus accepts Peter’s answer. All right, he says, if you really love Me, then feed my lambs. As Christians, one of our primary duties is to draw others into closer relationships with the Lord. In order to provide others with a constant supply of nourishment, we ourselves must always be connected to a well that never runs dry- the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. We can’t feed others when we are running dry.

Peter probably nodded his head and turned back to his fishing nets. But Jesus wasn’t going to let him off the hook so quickly (get it? “off the hook”....ha ha). So He asks him the same exact question a second time. Peter was probably a bit surprised. Did I mumble the first time? Oh well . . . I’ll say it again in case He missed it. “Yes Lord; You know that I love You.” Jesus replies: “Tend my sheep.” Peter nods again and turns back around. Then, Jesus drives the lesson home. He says it a third time. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter is grieved. I would be too. All of my sins . . . all the times I HAVEN’T shown my love . . . all the times I’ve let Him down . . . all the times I’ve disobeyed . . . missed opportunities . . . chosen the flesh . . . grieved His heart . . . that’s what would be going through my mind. A tear would run down my cheek. “Lord, You know all things,” I say with Peter. He knows every time that I have let Him down. He knows every sin I have committed. He sees the filth and dirt and grime that is on my heart. He knows how often I’ve been unfaithful. But . . . He also knows that this pathetic sinful little heart wants desperately to love Him more. “Lord, You know all things,” I say. “You know that I love You.”

Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. He understands the depravity of the human heart and He wants to help us love Him more. So for the third time He says “Feed My sheep” and then He adds the ultimate challenge. He tells Peter that one day Peter will be asked to give up his life for the glory of the Lord. Will Peter be willing? Whenever a Christian chooses to follow Christ, he must be prepared to face suffering and death. We cannot give half of ourselves to the Lord. He calls for all, or nothing. Am I willing to sacrifice everything? My hopes, my dreams, my plans . . . my friends, my reputation, my comfort . . . my possessions, my gifts, my passions . . . am I willing to give it all up? To follow Him wherever He may lead me? If you are willing to do this, Jesus tells Peter, if you are willing to give yourself completely up for me . . . then “Follow Me.”

And that is where I realized that I, just like Peter, am faced with that very same decision. Jesus doesn’t call for something: He calls for everything. He doesn’t want sacrifice: He wants complete sacrifice. He doesn’t ask us to surrender: He calls for total surrender. I began to take a mental inventory of everything I hold dear, and that’s where I found my dream. I have to ask myself: Would I be willing to give up those things that are dearest to my heart if He calls me to? This isn’t the first time I’ve asked myself that question and every time my mental answer is “Of course I would!” But  deep down inside there are things I don’t really believe that God would ever call me to give up. I mean, if He had really wanted me to give it up, He wouldn't have created me with these dreams and desires, right? No. Because then it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. I’m not saying that I believe God is calling me to give up all of my aspirations. I am just asking myself if I would be willing to give up everything . . . everything . . . for His sake. Including my dreams. Would I?