In the beginning, God created . . .
. . . and He created everything.
Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved them and He was in relationship with them. God walked with them, talked with them. He loved them so very, very much.
But, then sin is introduced to the story, as the Enemy of God, this former fallen angel, distracts man and woman away from their First Love. God, in his perfection, can’t tolerate this sin. Yet He loves His people, so thousands of years pass as He constantly draws His people back to Himself. It makes Him sad and angry, but He loves these people so much. Sin keeps getting in the way, but story after story God faithfully and relentlessly draws near to the ones that He created, sustains, and loves.
Then we reach the climax of that love – God the Father, in His mysterious, triune, relational nature, sends His Son, and extension of Himself, to walk among us. To be like us. To serve us. To be tempted in every way. To model the heart of God for us. Ultimately this Son gives up His own life and perfection to die a humiliating, horrific death, as the blameless sacrifice, as we could never atone, to repair the relationship. He brings us into the fullness of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved, because of His great love for us.
Yet it wasn’t merely His death that is significant, for three days later He rose from the dead, defeating both death and sin, repairing the breech, and drawing us into communion with God. He left His very Spirit, His Holy Spirit, to indwell us, that we might know and remain in fellowship with God, even on earth. The perfection of this fellowship that we will ultimately come into, as we step across eternity and live in eternal relationship with God in Heaven (or when Jesus returns to completely heal the earth).
It is the grandest story of love – of a God who created everything in love, who drew an unfaithful people to Himself in love, who chose to walk as one of us in love, who paid the price for the sin that we deserved, in love.
Love who rose again, defeating death and sin, who sent His Spirit to testify to our souls of that love.
This is our God, who daily, minute by minute, is displaying, speaking, and proclaiming His great love for us.
We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We repent of the ways in which we reject Him and His love. We believe in who He says He is and all that He’s done for us. We go out and continue to tell people of this great love of our great God!
I’ve become hesitant to talk so frequently about having “quiet time,” “devo time,” or “time with the Lord.” Not because I don’t think it’s one of the most important ways we can spend our time, but because it’s not the most important. In our individualistic, western view of Christianity, it’s easy to adapt a solely personal and isolated view of our faith and relationship with Jesus. We can lose a value for cooperate worship, fellowship, prayer, giving, and service when it becomes, albeit subconsciously, a me-centered emphasis. There’s a fine line, which isn’t to say that spending time alone with God isn’t imperative or universally commanded (Jesus Himself makes it clear that He needs time in solitude and seclusion with just the Father).
After all, my time alone with Jesus leads to some of the most necessary, precious, and life-giving moments of my day.
However, sometimes I believe a lie about my time alone with the Lord. I’ve been fed this idea, through a variety of often hidden means, that every time I sit down before Jesus and force myself to be aware of His Spirit, usually with Scripture open, that I should expect something profound. I’m sitting before the God of the universe and I’m told to approach with a sense of expectation. If I don’t walk away with some incredible spiritual revelation about my life or someone else, what was the point? What am I supposed to tell people about my “quiet time” when they ask?
The point of our time with the Lord isn’t anything more than our being. Stop. Period. It begins and ends with our willingness to simply show up and be. To still our hearts and minds, as best we can, and listen to Him, as best we can, because we not only affirm that He’s worth it but we prove it by our actions. We genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that He is worth our time, our attention, our hearts, our minds, and our response.
It’s less about what I walk away with and more about who I’m slowly becoming.
Ten minutes of alone time with Jesus doesn’t necessarily guarantee my spiritual rejuvenation.
What it does is remind my soul, whether I feel it or not, that I’m the Beloved. It reminds my spirit what His voice sounds like, whether or not I feel like I’m hearing it in the moment. It sensitizes my soul to His nearness. So that when His whispers and nudges come in the midst of the noise of my daily life, I’m more able to recognize it.
It’s one thing to say that my identity is in the Lord. It’s another to actually walk in that. It’s yet another thing to begin fully grasping at what that exactly means. Jesus has been clear in these past few weeks that there are two pieces to who I am in Him. What’s more, I so easily confuse the two; it’s humbling and convicting to realize how much of what I perceive as my identity is actually deeply rooted and a little backwards
On one hand, I am (or strive to be) the good and faithful servant. It’s the Matthew 25 or Luke 19 principle, the master’s praise to the hard-working, mindful, selfless servant. There are countless verses and stories that detail our call to obedience: to love the hurting, feed the hungry, share the Gospel, shelter the homeless, fight against injustice. To do for the least of these and imitate Christ. After all Luke 12:48 makes it clear that if we’ve been given much, much will be expected. We are called to obedience, to follow the Lord into hard things, to love our neighbors and lay down our lives. My prayer becomes “Lord, let me be faithful in all that you’ve given me” – whether big or small (which, in and of itself is really just my hierarchical perception of what “big” and “small” even mean). I want to be found faithful in my commitment to the Lord and to loving His people, regardless of the cost. And that’s a good, biblical, God-glorifying thing.
However, when I start or end with my identity as a good and faithful servant, while partially true, I err in terms of living into who God actually and fully says that I am.
Because first and last, I am the beloved. I am only able to love because He first loved me, irrespective of anything I’ve done or deserved. I’m called beautiful and whole by the one who’s very body was broken for my redemption. It’s the childhood truth of Jesus’ love for us that comes not by anything we preempted or for anything other than the fact that He simply loves us. Except it’s not simple, because this love is deeper and stronger than we will ever comprehend; no human love even comes close to measuring the love through which God sees us. The only reason I can even think about leaning into my identity as a faithful servant is because I’m doing it out of a place of being unequivocally loved by Faithfulness Himself.
I don’t know that the church has always done a good job at explaining the relationship between justification and sanctification, or our place as both faithful servant (sanctification) and child of God (justification). Believing that I’m simply the beloved seems to negate the command for obedience, for love of neighbor, and for service. It trivializes or minimizes everything I’ve ever done, sacrificed, or stepped into on account of the Lord. And if it doesn’t mean anything, I’m not super compelled to continue walking into costly obedience.
That’s the tension we are asked to navigate everyday – because being good and faithful servant does matter. It matters a whole lot. We please the heart of God when we walk in tandem with His Spirit. We are called to follow Him, to die to self, and care for others. However, the tension comes when we realize that we can never start with that. That can never be the whole foundation of our identity. Because if base who we are in being a good and faithful servant, we inevitably come back to a view of God’s love that makes sense, something that we control. “I know God loves me . . . after all, how could He not when I’m so clearly following Him?” It no longer becomes the whole, pervasive, inexplicable love of the Father but the kind of love we can earn, maintain, and understand. The kind of love that feels comfortable and makes us feel worthy.
I feel like the mental shift should be easy: I am beloved first, faithful servant second. Both necessitate one another. However, I think that this tension will likely take a lifetime to master. Because being beloved, for as beautiful and amazing as it is, carries with it some fearful connotations.
We know that perfect love casts out fear, but the fact of the matter is that my only concept for love is human love. For as much amazing human love as I’ve experienced, it has not been without failures, heartbreaks, and conditions. If I lean fully into the eternal, incomprehensible love of God for me, I inherently strip myself of any control. It becomes this wholehearted trust in the heart of God for me, that it will never fail or diminish. That none of how He sees me is contingent on what I do or don’t do. And even though my theology tells me that nothing can separate me from His love, the questions still seem to arise in my heart from my flawed, fleshly concept of love. Because what if I’m too messy? What if I lean into being beloved and then He gets disappointed in me? What if I’m not good enough for the Lord or He decides He doesn’t want me anymore? What does it mean if my obedience isn’t changing His view of me, isn’t earning me more favor in His sight?
He’s pleased with me as His faithful servant, but He loves me as simply His daughter.
I think that’s a dichotomy worth wresting with, since it has everything to do with who we are, how we approach life, ministry, and the posture with which we go before God. I’ll probably be wrestling with it for the rest of my life.