Before I left, a friend prayed, "God, I know how You’ve wanted this time with Francis." Though I didn’t say anything at the time, I secretly thought it was a heretical way to pray and that he was wrong to phrase it that way. I was going to the woods because I wanted more of God. But He’s God; He certainly wouldn’t want more of me! It seemed demeaning to think that God could long for a human being.
The more I searched the Scriptures, however, the more I realized my friend’s prayer was right on, and that my reaction to his prayer indicated how much I still doubted God’s love. My belief in God’s love was still theoretical, not a reality I lived out or experienced.
I ended up spending four days in the woods without speaking to another human being. I had no plan or agenda; I just opened my Bible. I don’t think it was coincidence that on the first day it fell open to Jeremiah 1.
After reading that passage, I meditated on it for the next four days. It spoke of God’s intimate knowledge of me. I had always acknowledged His complete sovereignty over me, but verses 4 and 5 took it to another level: "The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'"
In other words, God knew me before He made me.
Please don't skim over this truth just because you’ve heard it before. Take some time to really think about it. I’ll say it again: God knew you and me before we existed.
When I first digested this, all of my other relationships seemed trivial by comparison. God has been with me from the start--in fact, from well before the start.
My next thought, alone in the woods, was that He determined what Jeremiah would do before he was even born. I questioned whether that was also true of me. Maybe all of this pertained only to Jeremiah’s life?
Then I remembered Ephesians 2:10, which tells us that we were created “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do? That verse is meant for me and all others who have been “saved by grace through faith? My existence was not random, nor was it an accident. God knew who He was creating, and He designed me for a specific work.
God’s next words to Jeremiah assured me that I need not fear failure:
"Ah, Sovereign LORD," I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child?"
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant?" (Jeremiah 1:6-10)
When Jeremiah voices his hesitation and fear, God--the God of the galaxies--reaches out and touches his mouth. It’s a gentle and affectionate gesture, something a loving parent would do. Through this illustration I realized that I don’t have to worry about not meeting His expectations. God will ensure my success in accordance with His plan, not mine.
This is the God we serve, the God who knew us before He made us. The God who promises to remain with us and rescue us. The God who loves us and longs for us to love Him back.
So why, when we constantly offend Him and are so unlovable and unloving, does God persist in loving us?
In my childhood, doing something offensive resulted in punishment, not love. Whether we admit it or not, every one of us has offended God at some point. Jesus affirmed this when He said, "No one is good--except God alone" (Luke 18:19).
So why does God still love us, despite us? I do not have an answer to this question. But I do know that if God’s mercy didn’t exist, there would be no hope. No matter how good we tried to be, we would be punished because of our sins.
Many people look at their lives and weigh their sins against their good deeds. But Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags? Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins.
The literal interpretation of "filthy rags" in this verse is "menstrual garments" (think used tampons--and if you’re disgusted by that idea, you get Isaiah’s point). It’s hard to imagine something more disgusting that we could brag about or put on display. But compared to God's perfect holiness, that’s how our good deeds appear.
God’s mercy is a free, yet costly, gift. It cannot be earned. Our righteous acts, just like menstrual garments, certainly don’t help us deserve it. The wages of sin will always be death. But because of God’s mercy, sin is paid for through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of the death of you and me.
A Strange Inheritance
The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing.
The wildest part is that Jesus doesn’t have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn’t need me or you. Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance (Eph. 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing God treasures us.
That really is amazing beyond description. The holy Creator sees you as His “glorious inheritance?
The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time. He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him--and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by.
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