Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE LOVE OF GOD

I looked in the mirror and wondered if I was staring at one of heaven’s spoiled brats. After consuming more than my share of mercies, I could see in my eyes a sadness that reflected not what God had given, but what He had withheld. Questions formed emotional distance between me and the Father I was counting on. Why wouldn’t He answer my calls? I knew I’d let Him down in so many ways. But I didn’t want to feel like an unloved child any more than I liked thinking of Him as an emotionally distant or negligent parent. With thoughts I wished I didn’t have, I found help by reading again some of the story of another man who knew far better than I what it meant to have a bad day.

Why Was Paul Still Smiling?
 In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wrote about a series of hardships he had endured as a servant of Christ. Five times he had taken 39 lashes. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Then, as if these hard times weren’t enough, when Paul was troubled by a physical problem he believed was caused by Satan, he says his prayers for healing were not granted (12:7-10). Yet, Paul is still quoted today as a follower of Christ who sometimes wrote about the love of God as if nothing else mattered. In addition to his own problems, Paul carried the weight of his concerns for others. So, he wrote to followers of Christ: “I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19). What did Paul know that we are missing? How could a man with so many problems be more sure of the love of God than we are?

What Are We Missing?
 According to Paul, knowing we are loved is as important to our well-being as it is for an oak or cedar to have a healthy root system. If we aren’t well-grounded in the love of God, we are apt to be like a shallow-rooted tree that dries up in the heat or blows over in the wind. Being rooted deeply in God’s love, Paul could groan with a whole world of trouble (Romans 8:22-23) and still write, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39). So how did he do it? How did Paul live with such tension? How could he see the love of God as if it were a huge ocean, while admitting to emotions that carried him up and down like a ship in rough water?

Why Was Paul on His Knees?
 If Paul had concluded that seeing the love of God was nothing more than a moral obligation, he could have encouraged others to “just do it.” Instead, Paul wrote out a prayer to make it clear that seeing how much God loves us is not just a matter of opening our eyes to the obvious. His letter to the Ephesians shows why no one can claim credit for discovering on their own an ocean of divine love that is infinitely and eternally greater than any human love we have ever known. By saying that, he was asking the Father in heaven to help them see the depth and breadth of God’s love for all of His people. Paul was telling the Ephesians, and us in the process, that sensing the wonder of how much God cares about us requires the work of the Spirit in our hearts (3:16-19). Learning to catch a glimpse of the measureless love of God is something to pray for. It’s something to ask for ourselves, and it’s a way of interceding for those we care about. When Paul prayed that, together with “all the saints,” the Ephesians would discover the unmeasured depths of God’s love, he was including us in his prayer. Our circumstances don’t rule us out. Paul would know. He wasn’t writing his letter from a mountain retreat. He was writing in circumstances he would never have chosen for himself. He was writing from prison.

What Was Paul Seeing?
 In the confinement of a Roman prison, Paul made no secret of where he found comfort and strength. Read his letter to the Ephesians and count the number of times he referred to the name of the One who died for us. His letters, like his life, showed that he was consumed, energized, and emboldened by seeing in Christ the proof of God’s love, not just for himself but for all of us. Look again at the apostle’s wonderful obsession. In his inspired prayer for the Ephesians, he asks “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; . . . to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:14-19). Circumstances may shout that the Father in heaven is emotionally aloof or even negligent. But, as Paul discovered, the One who opened blind eyes, sent demons running, and bore our sins in His own body deserves far more trust than our circumstances.

Father in heaven, forgive us for trying to see Your love on our own. Please do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Open the eyes of our hearts. Help us to look into the eyes of Your Son, to touch the scars in His hands, and to feel the warmth of Your embrace and tears for us, in Him.
 –Mart De Haan

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