What a joy it is when we truly know how greatly we are loved by God! But perhaps like many Christians I talk with you struggle to experience God’s love. Your image (or concept) of God may have some damaging distortions. It may need to be renewed.
When we are truly convinced that the holy, sovereign Lord is gracious to us in all situations forever then we will abandon ourselves totally to him and his purposes for us. We will live in peace no matter what happens to us and we will grow more and more to be all that God has created us to be.
It’s so important to our life with God and one another that we grow in our trust and experience of God’s goodness. In 1989 I did my Ph.D. dissertation on this subject so I have a lot to say about it, but I will be brief!
What do you Really Believe about God?
In the mid 20th Century the great devotional writer AW Tozer, in Knowledge of the Holy, his little book with a big view of God, said:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… Were we able to extract from any person a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that person. (Knowledge of the Holy, p. 1).
We’re talking about something much deeper than our professed beliefs about God. You may say emphatically that you believe God loves you and yet not have a reliable experiential knowledge of God’s love. My question for you is: What is your personal image of God really like? How do you see him in your heart?
Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God (p. 2).
Reflect on these questions to consider to what extent in your daily life you actually appreciate or rely on God as loving:
- Do I appreciate God with me as I do what I’m doing during the day?
- When I’m mistreated (or a loved one is mistreated) do I still trust that God has been good to me?
- If I’m stuck in traffic do I pray?
- Is my heart ever warmed with a sweet sense of God’s presence?
- When I have a problem how long does it take me to ask God what to do?
- When I’m bored or lonely do I turn to God for comfort?
- If I have a health problem (or a loved one does) do I remain thankful to God for his loving kindness?
- If I can’t sleep do I pray or meditate on Scripture?
- When I wake up are my first thoughts of God and my love for him?
Images are Powerful
The pictures and scenes that you carry in your mind are powerful. They carry ideas and emotions. They can form a life script for us.
- The child who internalizes abuse is prone to be re-abused again and again
- If you have a critical parent in your head you probably feel inadequate
- If you grew up in an alcoholic home you saw and experienced emotional detachment and will tend to carry that into your relationships
Whatever storyline you internalize in your personal development (as a child or later in life) affects how you relate to yourself – the way you see yourself and think about yourself – and thus how you relate to God and others. Negative self-images inevitably become negative God-images and vice versa.
How do we renew our personal concepts of God and self? Two primary ways: (1) Loving personal relationships with Christ’s Ambassadors and (2) Renewing our minds in Scripture. The two go together in that we need to experience the truth of God’s word in our relationships with one another in the body of Christ. We need to have Biblical images of God’s love in our minds and we need loving relationships with people who mediate Christ’s love to us.
The word of God washes our minds of the harmful images we may have internalized in childhood or from our culture (Ephesians 5:26). This occurs best in the context of our intimate relationships, like in a good marriage when a husband shares Scripture with his wife, not just verbally but also mediating it through loving relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33).
Step into a Loving Picture with Jesus
Let’s look at five of the wonderful pictures of God’s love that Jesus gives us in Luke’s gospel. (Luke is the iconographer of the Gospels.) These images of God and self can help to heal any distorted images of God that we carry in our heart. By stepping into the storyline that Jesus offers you can learn to live with a redeeming picture of God at the forefront of your mind and to live by it’s positive message.
For each Biblical picture there is a common emotional struggle and a corresponding untrue and harmful projection onto God. Most people I talk to struggle with one or more of these distorted images of God. To renew your mind in Jesus’ gospel story you need to get in touch with how you’re hurting and share this with Christ and his ambassadors.
By stepping into the storyline that Jesus offers you can learn to live with a redeeming picture of God at the forefront of your mind and to live by it’s positive message.
Jesus is Merciful
Maybe you struggle with guilt or shame or live with an “internal critic” that condemns you. If so at times in your life it has probably felt like God is judging you harshly. Step into the Gospel story of Jesus at a gathering of Pharisees. A sinful woman enters the home and he overcomes their objections to receive her gladly. She falls at his feet weeping with gratitude for his forgiveness and love. (Luke 7:36-50)
The Good Shepherd Looks for Lost Sheep
Perhaps you have struggled with feeling unwanted or alone, longing for someone to take initiative to know you and care for you. In that case it may seem to you that God also overlooks you or is emotionally distant. Open your heart anew to Jesus as your Good Shepherd. He searches for lost sheep – not only those who need initial salvation from sin, but also those who need to be pursued in love. (Luke 15:4-6)
God is a Gracious Father
If you live with pressure to try harder and do better then you’re likely to feel like God has high expectations for you also. Try seeing yourself in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. You grabbed your inheritance early and set out in the world to prove yourself, but ended up in a pigsty. You’re shuffling back to your Father with your head hung in shame, but your Father runs out to embrace you! He lavishes you with loving gifts and welcomes you back home with a party! (Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus and the Children
Maybe you try not to be vulnerable, or emotional. If caregivers and loved ones have been impatient with you then you may feel as if you’re “too needy” or “too sensitive.” Probably at times it seems that God is impatient with you. Recall the Gospel stories of Jesus making time to receive the children: he embraced them, listened to them with compassion, and encouraged them. Bring the “inner child” part of you to Jesus. (Luke 18:15-17)
The Risen Christ is Here to Help Me
You may tend to feel that you have to rely on yourself, like you can’t count on others to help you or maybe you just like to do things yourself. In that case it may be that God seems distant or unhelpful. But in reality, just as Christ rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples so he is present spiritually for you. Look to Jesus — he opens his arms to you and he offers his help for whatever you need. (Luke 24:36-40)
Soaking in God’s Word
Which of Luke’s portraits of Jesus and you especially ministers to you? By simply reading and thinking about that Gospel story you can soak yourself in that picture to use God’s word to cleanse your mind and heart (Eph. 5:26). It’s easy to memorize the gist of the story and then you can meditate on it as you go about your day.