Experiencing God's Love: The Cure for Spiritual Burnout (3)
We left off in the previous article after the third of six observations related to Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3:5. There the apostle prayed: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
(4) My fourth observation concerns the reality of the love of God for you and me. Having dealt with victims of virtually every imaginable form of abuse or sin, both rich and poor, both well known and anonymous, I’ve discovered that the only thing that supplies their souls with lasting hope and promise and encouragement and energy for tomorrow is the experiential reality of God’s love for them!
I’m not talking merely about knowing it to be a fact, knowing it to be a theological truth. This is more than a spectacle to observe or a topic to discuss or an argument to defend. Don’t approach the reality of God’s love for you like you would a painting in a museum, such as the Mona Lisa in the Louvre: behind bullet proof glass and roped off at a distance with security guards surrounding you.
God wants you to feel it! God wants you to be captivated in body, soul, and spirit, to be overwhelmed in the depth of your affections with a tangible sense of his passion and presence (read Romans 5:5; 8:15-17; Eph. 3:14-21).
(5) Fifth, although it is God who must act to make this a reality in our lives, he employs means. He sets before us a pathway to walk along which we are far more likely to encounter him in a life-changing way. So the question then becomes: “What should I do if I don’t feel his love?” Let me mention 5 things.
First, read and remind! Read God’s Word. Meditate on its promises. Reflect on the portrait of God and Christ and the Spirit. Believe its truths. Trust in its power. As you read, remind yourself of the fact of God’s love as demonstrated in the cross. The seed of feeling is always in faith. So reaffirm what you know to be true. Defy what you feel, or in this case don’t feel, and cling in faith to Zephaniah 3:17 which declares that his love is so great that he sings over you.
Practice not forgetting his benefits and blessings (read Psalm 103:1ff.). Preach to yourself! The psalmist often scolds himself and argues with his own soul, taking issue with what he feels as over against what he knows to be true. We must learn to talk to ourselves rather than listen to ourselves. “Self, soul, listen up! God loves you! Look at the cross! Remember the Table of the Lord. Look to the elements of bread and wine. What do they mean? To what do they point?” Remind yourself of the past and look to the future.
Second, obey! Listen to Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:9-11).
Sin numbs the soul and deadens the heart and renders the spirit deaf and senseless.
Third, pray! Ask God to renew your feeling of his love, to restore the joy of your salvation, to pour out afresh the Holy Spirit to awaken in you a renewed sense of his delight in you. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
Fourth, worship! Worship your way into the experience of God’s love. We read in Psalm 13:5-6, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Often we must sing to joy rather than merely from it.
“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:19-26).
(6) Finally, what does it mean for you and me to experience the “steadfastness of Christ”? What is “steadfastness”? For lack of a better way of putting it, steadfastness is spiritual stubbornness; a refusal to cave in to bad experience or disappointment or the failure of a dream to come true.
Consider our Lord’s steadfast endurance in Gethsemane, as he stood in the presence of Pilate, as he suffered that horrific scourging, and as he willingly hung on a tree for you and me.
Paul’s prayer is the that the same power that accounted for this sort of godly stubbornness, this relentless pursuit of God’s purpose without yielding to the pressure to quit, is available to us as well. “May the Lord direct your hearts into . . . the steadfastness of Christ!”
Don’t quit! Don’t grow weary in well-doing! Don’t give up on God! My prayer for you is that the Lord himself would graciously and mercifully “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” This is the cure for spiritual burnout.