About five years ago, God changed my perspective of Him in a way that transformed me forever.
I believe much of how we view God is wrapped up in our family of origin: how we relate to our parents and our siblings, how our families defined success and failure, how they handled conflict, and the like. Over time, I’ve learned that some of growing in Jesus means understanding the ways that brokenness in those areas distort your views of God and the way He works life and reality. Those realizations bring growth and healing, facilitating deeper intimacy with the Lord, if we let them.
So back to my story. If I had really thought about my perception of God before five years ago, I would have said I thought of Him as benevolent taskmaster, a caring but always slightly disapproving boss, who loved me but wanted to line me out for work, and always thought I could do a little better than whatever I was currently doing. There’s lots of reasons for that, based in my upbringing, my parents (like most parents) doing the best they could in imperfect ways.
That summer five years ago, God showed me a different vision, through a lot of time praying and solitude with Him. I spent a week in the basement of my spiritual mentor’s house in Colorado, and he would lead me through some times of silence and stillness. One evening, he told me to go on his back porch and stare at the mountains, and to let God show me how He feels about me- He said, “I don’t know, God may show you a squirrel or something.” So, I did what he told me.
As I sat there, I could hear the neighbors next door. I heard two little kids running around in the sprinklers in the back yard on a summer evening (they were around the corner, so I couldn’t see them, yet somehow picturing them in my mind’s eye made the vision more vivid for me). Their parents were sitting on the back porch, laughing and talking, clearly just entranced and delighted by watching their kids have fun. And, in that moment, it hit me: my God isn’t a benevolent taskmaster at all. He’s my Abba, my Dad. He doesn’t just endure me, He enjoys me. And, I am His beloved, in whom He’s pleased, not because of what I’ve done, probably in spite of it. Instead, He chooses to love me, thanks to what Jesus did for me. He loves His kids the same way I love mine, except even more. And, that began a transformational process for me.
So many of you have similar stories. Lately, I’ve had the chance to hear a lot of people give their testimonies. Over time, especially among those saved at an early age, I began to hear a theme. For so many us, myself included, those early-aged decisions for Christ are actually motivated, in some part, by fear- fear of going to hell, fear of Mom and Dad going to heaven and getting left behind, or something else.
When you think about it, that’s normal, because when you’re a kid, fear is a big motivator for everything. You do the right things so you don’t get caught, or get in trouble. It makes sense that, for the young, fear would be a motivator.
The problem with faith driven by fear is that it doesn’t engender a lot of passion. It’s hard to love when compelled by fear. The interesting thing is that, for most adults who have a strong faith, they give testimony of a moment later in life where they reached a place of brokenness, where they were confronted with the totality of their sin and the depths of who they actually were without Christ. That moment, that crisis of faith, was a watershed for them. They may articulate it as a point where Jesus was once their savior but now became their Lord, or they rededicated their life to Him, or whatever, but they describe this point where we come to realize that they are lost and they are saved not because of a harsh God who inspires fear, but a passionate God who inspires love. And, that changes the game completely for them.
When that happens for you, you realize, as David Benner says in his wonderful book Surrender to Love: “God is head over heels in love with you. God is simply giddy about you. He just can’t help loving you. And he loves you deeply, recklessly, and extravagantly–just as you are. God knows you are a sinner, your sins do not surprise him. Nor do they reduce in the slightest his love for you.” From that point, that recognition begins transforming you.
That recognition of love, that grace, there all along but maybe realized in a new way, frees us from our fear and makes us whole. Surrendering to God’s love liberates us from guilt, from effort to earn God’s approval, and enables us to genuinely love God and others as He loves us.
Every year at Grace, we have a school theme to focus our attention. Our theme this year is “Transformed by Truth”, and it comes from Romans 12:2-Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Transformation occurs when we bring all that we are to the fullness of God’s love for us. Our fearful, angry, and damaged parts can only be healed by being exposed to the fullness of God’s love for us, and staying in the depths of that love long enough for it to penetrate our brokenness.
Not all of us go through this transformational process. In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed. Something will shape and form us; either we’ll be shaped by the philosophies of the day: the fallen culture, the broken world all of which seeks to deceive us, or we will be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” as we press into the Spirit. He will mold us to have the heart and mind of God in order to see His will, what is true, what is good and acceptable and perfect. This means we’ll have discernment. Discernment to know how to live.
The question is whether we’ll surrender. How will we spend our time? On what things will we let our minds and attention dwell? Will we take the time necessary to be still before the Lord and allow his Spirit to transform us? He is the active agent, but we are too, because surrender and presenting ourselves to Him are active roles. And, yet, they are roles of the heart, not the will. They come from experiencing God’s love for us so intimately and completely that our love for God springs up as a response. Surrender, then, rather than something we muster up, becomes a work of the Spirit, making Christ’s love mine, and His nature mine.
So many of us don’t understand this, and so we’re never transformed. We believe in Jesus, understanding truths about Him, but we’re never actually changed into new people. As Michael Zigarelli, professor of management at Charleston University School of Business says, so many of us are in a vicious cycle: 1) We become a part of the surrounding culture of busyness, hurry and overload, which leads to 2) God becoming more marginalized in our lives, which leads to 3) a deteriorating relationship with God, which leads to 4) Our faith becoming even more vulnerable to adopting secular assumptions about how to live, which leads to 5) more conformity to the culture of busyness, hurry and overload, and then the cycle begins again. And, it kills our peace, our joy, and our opportunities for a right relationship with God.
We see this everywhere in the church, and especially in the American church. One of Satan’s best and biggest weapons is to keep us distracted, occupying our thoughts and our minds, scattering our focus, so that we’re never actually changed; God’s Word never actually has an impact on our hearts. We may really want to change, but we’re like the seed in Jesus’ parable that gets so choked up by the weeds and thorns around it, by the other thorns, the concerns of the world, that the transformational power of God’s Word is cut off from us. Or, like the rich young ruler, we walk away sad and dejected, because we’re so caught up in the many things and concerns of this world that we care, we just don’t care enough.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be transformed by truth in our hearts, our minds, and our hands. About what that means in how we view the world around us, thinking about issues we all face like politics, race, sexuality, family, community, money, and success through the lens of God’s story. And, about what it means to really be loved by God and to allow that love to transform the way we love God and other people well. I’ll be writing about many of these things this year, because I believe God wants to transform our perspectives in all these areas, aligning them with His Word and His will.
Paul also tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The new has come, the old has gone. (2 Cor. 5:17). If, like me, you’re tired of not becoming all God calls you to be, to look like this new creation you’ve become, and to enjoy the abundant life He offers to those who do, let’s do something different this year. Let’s let the truth of God’s Word transform us and make us new.