I spent the week before New Years very burdened for many things–people, events in our country, events in the world. I had read an article about the call to fast during the days in which we are living, people like Anne Graham Lotz also urged that we begin this New Year fasting and praying. Throughout that week, it seemed that everything I picked up pointed to this urgency. I asked God to give me His heart into what to pray for and how to pray and things began to coalesce into what I believe is His heart for all of us right now. To begin with, He gave me Isaiah 58: 4-6 (AMP):
“[The facts are that] you fast only for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness. Fasting as you do today will not cause your voice to be heard on high. Is such a fast as yours what I have chosen, a day for a man to humble himself with sorrow in his soul? [Is true fasting merely mechanical?] Is it only to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him [to indicate a condition of heart that he does not have]? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? [Rather] is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke?”
I began to understand what He was asking then. A part of my burden was that there seem to be some who are unable to get free from oppression, unable to get free from “every enslaving yoke,” though they seek Him and long for the freedom they see in others. Some have experienced this freedom from time to time but discouragement and disillusionment has set in, creating a barrier between their knowledge of God and their experience of God. I can relate to this. I was enslaved in the same manner for many years. Saved, yet never experiencing the joy and abundant life that Jesus promised. Just when things seemed to be looking up, life happened. And every time life happened, one thing or another that was going wrong would sabotage joy. Joy was unattainable it seemed. My entire relationship with Jesus Christ, who promised joy and life abundant, revolved around this waxing and waning of whether life was going well or not. Whether my prayers were getting answered or not. Whether my kids were doing well, or not. Whether my finances were secure or not. Joy and the abundant life were fleeting at best, absent at worst.
What was wrong? What was I missing? When I needed Him the most, He was mysteriously absent, or so it seemed. How is it that I finally broke out of this roller coaster cycle? I can remember the cycle well, though it has been many years. During that time I had been reading through the Bible for the first time and it was like lights going off everywhere. Then I read it through again for the second time. This time the story began to unfold and I could see Jesus, fully involved in it all, watching as His beloved creation continued to be on this same roller coaster. They would receive His blessings and be happy with His blessings and then life happened, and joy would get swallowed up by real life. Then they would turn on Him and murmur against Him, and complain that He didn’t really love them. It happened again and again. It broke His heart. Can we break His heart? Yes, and He showed me how I was breaking His heart as well, in exactly the same way His people did then. I would experience a little happiness (I would not call it joy— not joy the way He promises joy), but all of my joy or happiness or whatever I wanted to call it, revolved around whether everything was going the way I thought it should go. It was whether Jesus was behaving like I thought He should be behaving and when He didn’t, I went into a pout and behaved like the spoiled petulant child I was. Since life rarely goes the way some of us plan, we spend a lot of time in the pit, out of the pit, in the pit, out of the pit. It is exhausting. We finally give up.
The central theme of the Bible is that God wants a relationship of love with you and every person created. Loving relationship motivates God. But love requires several things— freedom, risk, and choice. That means God chose to subject Himself to the same emotional relational roller-coaster ride love subjects every person to— the possibility of rejection and heartbreak. If you listen to the heart of God conveyed through the Old Testament prophets, God uses every relational metaphor we can imagine so that we might understand how God feels about us. God pours out his heart to Jeremiah the prophet when the people he loves keep rejecting him to love and worship other things.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. . . . Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31: 2, 20).
“I thought to myself, ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’ I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land— the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me “Father,” and I wanted you never to turn from me. But you have been unfaithful to me” (Jeremiah 3: 19– 20 NLT).
God loves us like a father loves a wayward child. Even though we rebel and run away, or break his heart, his Father’s heart yearns to show compassion, forgive, and take us back. But God uses even stronger relational imagery.
“As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62: 5).
God chooses our most intimate relationship to liken what he wants with us. As hard as it is for us to fathom, God likens himself to a love-struck groom who sings over his bride.
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3: 17).
Listen to the emotion in this passage that emanates from the heart of God— a wounded lover who just found out all he hoped for has been dashed to pieces on the shoals of adultery:
“My faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the LORD your God and committed adultery against him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to my voice. . . . You have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband” (Jeremiah 3: 12–13, 20 NLT).
Can you hear the emotion in the heart of God? As God reveals to the Old Testament prophets, when we forsake our Creator to go our own way against his will, and when we love other things more than God, it breaks his heart (an idol is anything we put first before God). (Burke, John (2015-10-13. Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You (pp. 156-159). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
This is how God truly feels about us. Ephesians 1 is a love story to us. I read it and put my own name in it—that is how personal it is!
But some never seem to be able to really believe it. Some, like the children of Israel appreciated the “blessing” but never loved the “Blesser.” Their appreciation only lasted until the next time life happened, and then instead of remembering and thanking Him for all He had already done in the past, they immediately began complaining and murmuring against Him. They murmured among themselves that He really didn’t care. They complained that their lives weren’t going the way they wanted and they never thanked Him. They never showed any gratitude when He blessed them.
They Never Loved Him.
(to be continued)