This photo is not faked. It shows a real shepherd…
A Guest Post by Emily Louis
I used to try really hard to muster up love for God. Knowing that it is the greatest commandment in the Bible, I tried to take it seriously. Whenever I heard someone suggest “If you don’t know what to pray, tell God you love him”, I did. But it felt forced; I knew I should love him but even his creation of me and his death on the cross felt a little impersonal.
Misunderstandings about the Nature of God
It’s hard to love someone who doesn’t seem trustworthy or personal. The view I had of God was that he was someone to serve, be afraid of, and keep a safe distance from. If he was going to punish me for every tiny mistake I ever made, I wanted to do what it took to stay in his good graces.
Love felt like a commodity that was meted out carefully. I tried my best to toe the line; I was the good little legalist. I was willing to do all the things, follow the rules, and serve in every capacity because it was the right thing to do. I was fearful at what might happen if I wasn’t meeting the expectations in front of me. I wanted to keep God happy; keeping him off my back was my way of controlling the outcome.
I had no grasp on God being a loving and generous father. Shaped by authorities in my church who used sarcasm, guilt trips, and shame to motivate, this is the picture I had of God, too. I believed he was just and holy, too, so I allowed him to behave in this perceived way. Everything in me wanted him to love me more so I did everything that I was told. I didn’t want the hammer to fall so I watched my step.
No Joy in My Religious Experience
Even while going through all of the motions and looking like I had my religion figured out, there was little to no relationship with him. Everything I did was mechanical and I rarely consulted the holy spirit for direction. Looking back, it amazes me how long I could function without questioning my “form of godliness.” I guess it comes from living in the status quo for so long. You don’t know that there is something more, something better, until you’ve tasted it.
How did I break out of the status quo, you ask?
The Understanding that Changed Everything
I learned that I was already loved. And that his love was secure.
Nothing I could do would make God love me more.
Nothing I would ever do would make him love me less.
His unconditional love flipped everything on its head. There was no longer a need to behave a certain way for God to like me. I could let some opportunities pass without feeling guilty and like I should be doing more. Getting this truth to sink down from my head into my heart, allowed me to let go of the performance-based Christianity that I was living in.
The rest of the world operates on conditional acceptance and conditional love so it is natural when we assume that God works this way, too. This is one of the reasons that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every single day. As we “do life” and make mistakes, it’s easy to forget that in Christ, we have been made worthy. Because he is enough, we are enough.
You are enough.
The Sweet Fruit of Living in God’s Love
We can do life differently because all of our doing can flow from the security of who we belong to. We serve because we love God, and we love God because he loves us. (See 1 John 4:19.) What a beautiful progression this is! No coercing, no guilt trips, just love.
When we know how loved we are, it makes believing what God says to us easier and sweeter.
Learning that God is good IN REAL LIFE and not just on paper, makes him trustworthy. We can trust God when we know that he is kind and gracious and good. In the storms and on the mountaintops, we can count on him to keep his word. We take comfort in his character even when we wrestle with hard questions or potentially life-changing decisions. His love won’t run out or fade.
His love is going to be there to catch you, to correct you, and to comfort you. Standing in awe of the vastness of God’s love for me makes love for him my natural response. You could say that I have fallen in love with God.
But for his grace, I wonder if I would have burned out by now or if I would still be going through the motions.
My life is truly a testimony that God can take hard, religious hearts and soften them. I hope this piece of my story makes his love even more real to you than it was yesterday.
There is nothing that you can do to make God love you more. Nothing you can do will make God love you less.
Emily Louis is a coach who focuses on helping Christians heal their relationship with God so that they can experience all the joy and fulfillment they were created for. Her weekly podcast, Abundant Grace is designed to equip and encourage Christians to grow in grace and truth that transforms. Emily’s favorite part of her ministry is watching people’s eyes light up as they realize how very loved they are. She lives in rural Montana with her husband, Bill, and their 4 beautiful little girls.
Enjoy her podcasts at https://emilyklouis.com/ and follow her on Instagram @emily.abundantgrace.
My Story of Finding Faith and Love through Christ (by R. Christian Bohlen)
How to Truly Believe (free 20-page resource with practical recommendations, by R. Christian Bohlen)
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