I was asked to speak at House Church last Sunday about what God has been teaching me about what a life of romance with Him looks like. This was the message I shared. (:
I am going to open us with a prayer by A.W. Tozer.
“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”
God has been teaching me a lot on what a true romance with Him should look like. And it’s not necessarily anything I’m psyched to talk about. On one hand, it’s personal. Like the whole “Don’t kiss and tell” policy, it’s kind of uncomfortable to talk openly about how I have come to know God as Lover of My Soul. But even more so than that, it’s uncomfortable to talk about what it’s taken me to give Him that place in my life. It’s been this long, ongoing process of repeated mistakes and regrets and a lot of the time lately I have felt as though God is walking me through this lesson in the book of my life and I just haven’t been able to grasp the concept and with every pop quiz he throws me I seem to demonstrate again and again that I haven’t learned very much at all.
I do think I am beginning to understand, though. Bits and pieces of the way I function are beginning to fall together and I’m starting to realize why this lesson of engaging wholeheartedly in a romance with God is so critical for me to get.
Like last night, for example, I was pondering my annoying tendency to go for guys I think I can’t have. This is awkward to admit amongst mixed company, but it’s what I do. More appealing than probably any legitimate merit or level of godliness or even physical attractiveness is a key factor: challenge. I’ve known this about myself for a while, as I’ve lost count of the number of men (or boys, rather) that I have pursued, and it wasn’t long before an obvious pattern had been established.
Yet, it was just last night that God whispered a bit of insight into why I am this way. “You think you need to earn it,” He said. It was definitely God because I don’t typically allow myself to stumble upon such painful truths of my flawed nature. And once I opened my ears enough to hear that little line of truth from the Spirit, the epiphanies kind of just burst the flood gates. “If you can earn their affection, you think maybe then you’ll feel valuable. Maybe you’ll feel worthy.”
And that’s exactly why it’s still so hard for me to grasp the love of God. I can’t possibly earn it. It’s not something I have to chase after or win over or be good enough for. In fact, God chases after me. He gave His Son to win me over. And He is the epitome of all that is good, immeasurably worthy of all of my affection.
So, what does this mean for us? If God is in pursuit of our hearts, wanting to engage in a Romance unlike any other, how do we respond? There is nothing we can do to earn God’s affection, but that certainly does not mean we don’t have our own part to play in a relationship with Him.In the book Captivating, John & Stasi Eldredge put it this way:
What is it that God wants from you?
He wants the same thing that you want. He wants to be loved. He wants to be known as only lovers can know each other. He wants intimacy with you. Yes, yes, he wants your obedience, but only when it flows out of a heart filled with love for him. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Following hard after Jesus is the heart’s natural response when it has been captured and has fallen deeply in love with him.
Reading George MacDonald several years ago, I came across an astounding thought. You’ve probably heard that there is in every human heart a place that God alone can fill. (Lord knows we’ve tried to fill it with everything else, to our utter dismay.) But what the old poet was saying was that there is also in God’s heart a place that you alone can fill. “It follows that there is also a chamber in God himself, into which none can enter but the one, the individual.” You. You are meant to fill a place in the heart of God no one and nothing else can fill. Whoa. He longs for you. (120)
Reading this book over the winter break opened my eyes dramatically to all the ways I have tried filling the place in my heart that God alone can fill. Passages in Hosea rocked my world.
Like in Hosea 2 where it says, “Therefore, behold, I [the Lord God] will hedge up her way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers but she shall not overtake them [inquiring for and requiring them], but shall not find them… Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly and to her heart” (Hosea 2: 6, 7, 14).
I have come to realize that my life has been a fluctuating parallel of Gomer, quite literally chasing after lovers and failing to find them. Gradually I have come to see that God is now alluring me, and while it is a desert that surrounds me, it seems that I need a desert to acknowledge my thirst for Him. And that’s our part, that is what God asks of us now: to acknowledge Him. Hosea 2:20 says “I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” The Amplified version expands on “acknowledge” as “know, recognize, be acquainted with, appreciate, give heed to, and cherish the Lord.”
Now, I can’t tell you for certain what that looks like for you. Maybe, like me, like Gomer, you have to cease your pursuit of other lovers. Maybe you need to revive the spark in your relationship and start going on date nights with God, engaging in focused quiet time with Him. Maybe you need to start reading the love letters He has sent you, turning to Scripture and meditating on the loving words you find there.
The thing is, you have to do something. God loves us, like looooooooooooooves us, and wants to woo us and wow us and romance us until we’re dizzy from all the affection. But no relationship can be sustained by a one-sided affection. You must let yourself fall for God. Choose to commit to Him, and then choose again tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Consider the cross that hangs loosely, casually perhaps, from your neck as though it were a band around your finger. “In that day,” declared the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master…’” (Hosea 2:16)
I think I’m starting to grasp this lesson. And I think I’ve even been able to pass a few of the recent pop quizzes. And you should all prepare to be tested, because God will ask you to prove your love for Him again and again. He will do all He can to “remove the name of the Baals from [your] lips” (Hosea 2:17). Deuteronomy 4 says: “Out of heaven He made you hear His voice, that He might correct, discipline, and admonish you; and on earth He made you see his great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire… Know, recognize, and understand therefore this day and turn your [mind and] heart to it that the Lord is God in the heavens above and upon the earth beneath; there is no other” (4:36, 39, AMP). God will ensure that when we call upon Him it is not out of obligation or duty or because you want him to save the day and be on his way again; He will ensure that when we seek Him it is “as a vital necessity”, and so we will find Him when we search with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13, AMP).
In seeking Him with all my heart, I’ve made a few personal commitments. I’m committing to a year of singleness. I’m refusing to dwell on heart ache and nurse desires that I know I cannot fulfill. I’m learning to value the relationships I have with godly women. And I’m trying to romance the crap out of the Lover of my Soul. I wait for Him in the morning, and write letters to Him in my journal, and draw pictures for Him on white boards. I’ll get giddy with excitement during my devotionals with Him. I read and reread the Love Letters of Scripture that are often so personal and so timely I have to blush or giggle or cry or scream or just sit in absolute awestruck silence. Lately I’ve even been writing him poetry. As if it could get more sappy than that.
But I’m still struggling. I imagine that after Gomer returned to Hosea and accepted his relentless love and devotion to her, she probably battled some serious feelings of inadequacy. I battle every day to wrap my head around the idea that I don’t have to earn God’s favor, that even after all of my unfaithfulness and my prevailing tendency to seek fulfillment from men, God is willing to look past the dirt and brokenness and call me His Beloved. And I waver back and forth between finding my true value in His lavish Love, and seeking my worth in the affection of others. I’m still struggling to understand it all and muster up the courage to really truly wholly relinquish my heart up to Him.
I wrote quite a bit over the winter break when God was really speaking to me on all of this, and so I’ll close with one of those poems and the worship team can come up to lead us in praise.
This is Love
"Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.’" (Jeremiah 31:3 WEB)
This is Love.
You are my Prince, my Fairy Tale, my Happily Ever After.
For true love does not come from people
Or any earthly matter.
The love we all long for
Comes from an infatuated Creator.
It’s a love that is impossible to understand.
For the mystery of Love
Is not that man would love me,
But that You would love man.
This is Prince Charming.
A knight in shining armor.
You fight not with shield and sword
But rather with loving fervor.
A passion that pierces and dismantles
A loyalty that withstands fire.
You battle all for Your sweet damsel,
To earn the full depth of her heart’s desire.
This is a Fairy Tale.
For I am a hidden princess,
I am the damsel.
I long from a deep
Deep ache from within
For a love and a prince
And a happily never end.
And many have come
To prove their loyalty and worth
And after so many memories
Of let down and hurt
I’ve forgotten my royal title,
That I was a princess at birth.
I’ve accepted far less
Than what I was made to deserve.
But You came to remind me,
That from the creation of earth,
You saved me for last.
And by Your standards the last are valued at first.
You carved me with craving
And fashioned me with favor.
You called me good,
And called me Yours.
I looked at you from below
As you gazed down from above,
And You said: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting Love.
You are my masterpiece,
A work of art without blemish.
For it is I who have drawn you
With ink of loving kindness.”
This is Happily Ever After.
Inspiring awe-struck fascination
And desperate desire,
It’s Your Love that surpasses imagination
And pulls my standards higher.
In the grasp of Your embrace
I absorb a new identity.
I discover a love story to be lived
For uninterrupted eternity.
This is Love.
A love so grand
That the breath leaves my lungs,
And the rock beneath my feet turns to sand.
Toward you my heart will lunge
As I hesitantly raise my hands
And lower to my knees
For I’ve forgotten how to stand.
I’ve unlocked the mystery,
And finally comprehend;
This is Love.
Not that man would love me,
But that You would love man.
Three weeks ago I received an email that I was unfortunately not offered an interview for a position as a Pepperdine Spiritual Life Advisor… Two weeks ago Housing & Residence Life emailed me that they had made a mistake and asked me if I would still take an interview… One week ago I had the most God-inspired interview I could have possibly hoped for… And today God has blessed me with the honor of serving as SLA to the freshman girls of White house for the 2014-2015 school year.
My God is a God of miracles.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."
God has this funny way of always seating me beside the most delightful people on planes. Actually, this is bizarre, I have always said He literally sits me next to angels, and just as I was about to type that, I realized that the little heart on He Jia Ying’s shirt is donning a lit halo.
Ha. God. Seriously?
This little girl occupied all of my attention during my two hour plane ride from Shanghai to Shenzhen this morning. As I read the Jesus Calling devotional and journaled about it on the plane, she peeked over her mother’s lap with unrestrained curiosity. Once she had stared and pointed enough to derail my attention, I handed her the devotional to look at herself. She asked what kind of book it was, and I said it was a “prayer book”. She looked puzzled, so her mother explained what a prayer book entailed in more depth. All of our conversation took place in Chinese, which was a wonderful opportunity for me to practice the language, as well as to develop a memorable connection with Chinese people. I learned that the little girl was named He Jia Ying and she was twelve years old. We talked about school and travel and what style of dance we liked. Communicating was not done with ease, but her mother acted as a facilitator between my slow understanding and Jia Ying’s rapid speaking. We shared blueberries and took photos together and I don’t believe my face lost its smile for the duration of the flight.
My smile shined especially bright at one point of our conversation. As I flipped through my journal, Jia Ying caught sight of a recent drawing of mine. She and her mom admired it with serious interest and asked me what it meant. They could identify the “xinzang”, or heart, that I had drawn in the middle, but they didn’t know what the broken ropes and grasping hands meant. I pointed to the words I had drawn out along the side (“Bind my wandering heart to Thee”) and explained them as saying: “Wo gei ni wo de xinzang, Yesu” (I give you my heart, Jesus). I had no idea how either Jia Ying nor her mother would receive my description, but to my surprise, her mother seemed to understand. She responded to Jia Ying’s confused look until it was replaced with some level of enlightenment. It took a few minutes, and I couldn’t help but to marvel over the fact that I was perhaps witnessing the first few minutes that this little girl had ever heard about Jesus. I am not sure what her mother said exactly, and even if I asked I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to translate her response. But she said something. And that something was about the one thing that matters—Yesu.
Praise God that I made a new friend today, and praise God that she discovered there is a person named Yesu out there that she might want to be friends with, too.
I wonder at their devotion. At the immediate humility of bowing to the floor merely upon entering a sacred room or standing before a religious painting. The devotion to tradition and ritual. The overwhelming smoke of incense on the wind, carrying ashes in circles around the circling worshipers.
Are they going through the motions? This young lady bowing in front of me, is she bowing out of reverence and a heart that pulls her to her knees? Is she replicating the hands she once saw her mother raise, or bowing as a grandmother once taught her was the way to bow? Is it merely tradition, merely culture, or merely spiritual compelling?
I wonder. I wonder if they might wonder the same thing walking into an American church. I know I do. I can’t help it, questioning if the worship leaders are genuine, if the congregation is Spirit-filled, if the gathering is part of a living Body or a dying building. I suppose there is a similarity there. One can be devoutly Buddhist or devoutly Christian. But if they are not really devout than they are not really either, aren’t they?
Perhaps some of those who bow in Buddhist temples and some who bow in Christian churches really serve the same god: themselves.