Experiencing God's Love: The Cure for Spiritual Burnout (2)
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5).
As I noted in the previous post, Paul’s aim in this prayer is to remind us that if we hope to endure and press through seasons where all we can think of is quitting, we need to experience the reality of God’s abiding affection for his children. So let me make several observations, some of which are in the form of a question, some are principles, some are exhortations.
(1) First, don’t miss the fact that this is a prayer, not an exhortation! This is Paul’s petition or request directed to God, not a commandment directed to you. Paul isn’t speaking to us, but rather to God on our behalf. He doesn’t say, “Hey, you Thessalonians, you all need to feel God’s love and lay hold of Christ’s endurance, and it’s your responsibility to make it happen!” Rather, he prays, “Lord, would you graciously and mercifully take the initiative and lead and direct them into this reality; O God would you act in such a way that your children are reinvigorated and renewed with a sense of your delight in them and infuse into their souls the power that sustained Jesus.”
(2) Second, note also that Paul is asking that God would act directly upon our “hearts”. The “heart” here and in most places in Scripture is an all-inclusive term that refers not only to how we think but how we feel. Often we read in Scripture of our “inner man” or “inner being”, by which is meant the center or core of our personality. It includes our affections, our wills, our spiritual senses so to speak.
What this means, then, is that God can and often does and indeed must exert a powerful influence on our emotional life. Consider such texts: 1 Chron. 29:17-19; Proverbs 21:1; Ezra 1:1,5; Daniel 1:9; 2 Cor. 8:16-17. So, “heart” here refers not only to our thoughts and intentions but also to our affections and feelings and emotions and choices.
(3) Third, I need to say something about Paul’s choice of terms here, especially his use of the word translated “direct”. He has already used this word in 1 Thessalonians 3:11. There he writes: “Now may our God and Father himself direct our way to you . . .” Paul’s prayer is that God would remove all the obstacles and hindrances that keep us from coming to you. There are barriers that stand in the way. There are enemies who oppose us. There are hurdles that we have to overcome, and we need God’s help to make it happen.
So, what this means to you and me is that there are probably numerous obstacles or stumbling blocks that stand in the way of our feeling the affection of God for us. Entering into the fullness of what it means to know God’s love for us and to experiencing the persevering power of Christ is no easy thing. This certainly doesn’t come naturally to us.
So let’s pause for a moment and consider some of the biggest obstacles or pitfalls along the way that hinder us from feeling the depths of God’s love for us.
First, there is the false belief that God’s affection for me is held hostage by my past. In other words, we live in fear that our past failures govern our present identity and our future hopes. I am what I’ve done in the past. I am the sins I’ve already committed. I am what others have done to me. I am what others have said about me. And if that is what I am then it is obvious that God couldn’t possibly love me. Remember: your history is not your identity. See 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Second, there is the false belief that my current circumstances are indicative of God’s affection for me. In other words, we measure God’s love by how successful we are in terms of money, popularity, health, prospects for the future, friends, family, as well as by how we are doing in comparison with how others around us are doing, etc. This false belief is based on the assumption that hardship and adversity are signs of God’s displeasure and his disappointment with us.
Third, there is the false belief that God’s love for me is based on what I do rather than what Christ has done. We rehearse in our minds all the things we have done or failed to do and then conclude that the strength of God’s love is somehow tied to our performance rather than resting in the performance of Christ on our behalf.
Fourth, consider the false belief that God’s knowledge of us will forever preclude the possibility that he will enjoy us or delight in us. We know ourselves all too well. We know our sins, our selfishness, our weaknesses, our failures, our tendency to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. And we hate ourselves for it. We live in self-contempt and self-condemnation. The guilt and shame are at times overwhelming. But if God knows us better than we know ourselves he must be a thousand times as disgusted with us as we are with ourselves.
But according to Psalm 103:8-14, it is precisely God’s knowledge of us, of our weakness and our frailty and our failures, that moves him in compassion to love us all the more. Following the amazing portrayal of his love in Psalm 103:8-13, David declares that it is “because he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (v. 14).
Finally, there are the lies and slander of Satan that hammer us daily in an effort to convince us that a holy God could never love or care about unholy people like us. You know his tactics: “God is embarrassed by you. He’s fed up with you. His patience for you has run out. He’s done. It’s over. You are a pathetic failure. You’re hopeless. You’re an unsightly wart on the body of Christ. You’re too ugly, too dumb, too sinful, too overweight, too slow, too poor, too weak, too untalented, and it’s just too late.”
And I’m only scratching the surface of all the many reasons we are convinced God’s love for us is a ruse. No wonder Paul felt it so necessary that he pray that God would step into the situation and that God would begin to remove the boulders from the pathway to intimacy with him.
To be continued . . .