Chapter 1 of Experiencing the Father's Love by Os Hillman
When God Thinks of You, Love Swells in his Heart
The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17).
"When God thinks of you, love swells in his heart." I can imagine the thoughts going through your mind as you reflect on that statement. For many of us, this idea is hard to accept. Do you really believe God loves you, even delights in you? If you are a follower of Christ you will probably give me the politically correct answer and say, "Yes. I believe He does." However, most of us will respond to that statement perhaps with a "Well, yes, but.". It is hard for us to believe God loves us without adding a "but" after the statement. The very statement challenges our theology about God. Many of us associate the nature of God with holiness, judgment, and righteousness. Our first cognitive association with that statement will be based on beliefs and conclusions we have formed from our individual life experiences. The opening verse from Zephaniah reveals the true heart of God toward us. He rejoices over us with gladness, love, and singing! The psalmist says "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!"
I'll be honest with you. When I first heard that opening statement, I found it hard to grasp. "Yeah, I believe that God loves me if I have been good and not sinned." Or, maybe I might think, "Yeah, I guess I can believe that sometimes." Or, "Well, you don't know how much I've failed God." That one statement can reveal how much we've all been impacted by shame and our need to perform to gain love.
In my own experience, deep down I didn't really believe God loved me without conditions. Part of me required me to earn that love. Our actions often determine what we really believe about God, don't they? Our ability to see God as an unconditionally loving Heavenly Father is formed by many factors-our earthly father, the type of parenting we received growing up, and the wounds we received as a child. The type of church experience we've had also impacts our beliefs. These factors determine whether our view of God is rooted in love as opposed to fear, performance, shame or legalism.
If I were to do a survey of the average Christian and ask why God created man, my guess is the answers would be as follows:
· To worship God.
· To evangelize the whole world.
· To work on His behalf.
I doubt the first answer would be to have friendship and intimacy with God Himself. It simply is not our first line of thinking. We have been trained to worship, to fulfill the great commission, and to work for Him. Don't get me wrong, all of this is important. However, by missing the core reason for His creating you and me, we miss the core motivation for what we do. Our Christian life becomes defined by what we do and how well we do it, instead of how well we know the Creator and His motivation for creating us in the first place. Activity should come as a result of the relationship, not the other way around.
Winning the lost and impacting the world is the fruit of the relationship Jesus spoke of in John 15 when He said we could do nothing without abiding in the Vine. The church's failure to emphasize our need for intimacy with the Father is exemplified by the number of evangelism strategies and programs designed to win the lost as compared to those designed to help us understand and experience the love of God in our own lives. True transformation only comes when we experience the deep level of love from our Father in a vulnerability that transfers to others. Jesus said, "You will know my disciples by the love they have for one another." The focus is on knowing versus doing.
When Jesus died, He destroyed the performance model of obeying the 10 commandments to be acceptable to God. Up until Jesus, people were very much defined by their performance measured against the law. He changed the rules and said, "Accepting Me alone is what makes you acceptable."
God as Our Father
In Psalms it says, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me" (Psalm 27:10). You are the helper of the fatherless" (Psalm 10:14).
To truly believe we are loved by God and can experience that love, we must overcome a number of personal hurdles. Many of us must overcome the dysfunctional family systems we were brought up in. Our earthly fathers may have taught us that a Heavenly Father could be a dictator, a rejecter of his own offspring, a sexual abuser, a boot camp sergeant, or a traffic cop. These attributes have been the only characteristics of earthly fathers that many people have known. So, to relate to a Heavenly Father as unconditionally loving requires a miracle of sorts. There must be a time of healing from such wounds in order to experience God at a deeply personal love level. This often requires an intentional process of counseling or personal ministry. We must replace what we experienced with what we know the truth to be-that we are loveable and that our Heavenly Father loves us.
I lost my dad when I was fourteen years old to an airplane crash. The plane totally burned and there was no body, so I did not get to see my dad in a casket. I experienced some fantasies related to his death in which I thought I saw him in his car around town. This was not true, but because I never saw him dead, I thought that maybe he was not actually dead. It was not until a counseling session in my mid-fifties that I realized for the first time that I had never adequately grieved the loss of my dad. I was forced to grow up sooner than I should have as a fourteen year old and the only son in the family. I also had not recognized how his death greatly affected my inability to relate to the love of the Father in my own life. Subconsciously I believed I was abandoned by my father, so in essence, my Heavenly Father also abandoned me. It was difficult for me to relate to my Heavenly Father at a heart level. This led to putting a shell around my heart and creating a wall that was impenetrable by others who wanted to get close as a defense mechanism to avoid being hurt again. This was all done at a subconscious level.
The Father as Our Protector
"Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies in the field. Are you not much more valuable to your true Father than they?" (Matthew 6:26, 28).
The truth is that most humans, just like Adam and Eve, believe God is holding out on them. We don't really believe God's true nature is love. Suppose you are a brand new recruit in the army and your assignment in Afghanistan is to cross a field that is loaded with mines. A ten year veteran soldier scout is with you and he has learned how the enemy places mines in the fields so that you cannot see them. However, your experienced scout knows how they hide them and has learned to recognize the signs of where the mines are located. Are you going to ignore his advice? I don't know about you, but I would stay as close to that person as I could. I would stay right behind him the whole way. His directions to me would preserve my life. I would be stupid not to rely on his guidance through that field. God is the same way. He wants to protect us from the minefields of life. However, many of us simply do not believe God has our best interest in mind. We believe He is going to place limits upon us that will prevent us from doing what we really want to do.
When we live under a belief that God loves us we also understand what it means to live under God's authority, knowing His nature is always love towards us no matter how it might appear to our limited understanding. We understand that God gives us freedoms and boundaries for our benefit, not to put limits on our lives.
Understanding Our 7 Needs
God created man to have seven needs as human beings. They include the following:
3. Blessing & Provision
5. Purpose & Meaning
6. Freedom & Boundary
7. Intimate Love & Companionship
These needs are not listed categorically in Genesis 1 and 2, but are implied in many different ways as you read through these two chapters. It is important for us to realize God created mankind with these seven needs because unless we understand this we do not understand why we are tempted to meet our needs outside God's design. Understanding this foundation will help us understand how we are to receive from God in appropriate ways and how we are often motivated to receive by meeting our own needs outside God's order.
We are all tempted to gain things in life outside the parameters of God's intended plan. One of the primary strategies that Satan uses in our lives is to manipulate outcomes outside God's intended plan. The more we begin to meet our own needs in our own way the more we open ourselves up to entry points where Satan begins to establish territory in our lives. Over time a stronghold is developed which the apostle Paul describes as follows: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled" (2 Cor 10:3-6). Notice some key thoughts expressed in this very important passage.
- Strongholds are a belief system that entices us to argue against the knowledge of God.
- It is a thought or idea that is not rooted in God which motivates us to meet our own needs.
- It is a form of disobedience to the ways of God.
When Jesus was baptized and fasted and prayed for forty days, Satan came to him and tried to convince Him to meet His needs outside God's design and purposes. Satan tried to appeal to Jesus by actually misquoting scripture to Him. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He shall give His angels charge over you' and, in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matt 4:1-6).
Jesus was physically hungry. His need was for food. But Jesus knew that what God wanted Him to receive at that time was not physical food, but spiritual food. He refused to receive what He knew He was not to receive at that time. Satan tried to convince him to refocus His attention on His physical need, not His spiritual need. Satan was trying to change Jesus' belief system and what to believe about meeting His needs.
Sometimes a stronghold can develop as a natural defense mechanism to being hurt by another person such as a parent, sibling or even an accident. If you were abused when you were young you will tend to have built-in defenses to avoid being hurt again. However, all spiritual strongholds in our lives develop when we begin to focus on meeting a need in our lives outside God's intended way. It tempts us to believe a lie about the nature of our Heavenly Father. It happens in a myriad of ways:
- A wife desires to feel better about herself by going out and meeting that emotional need through a shopping spree at the mall.
- A business owner uses manipulation and control to motivate his employees to greater performance because of his fear of failure rather than seeking God for strategy on how to be successful.
- A man has an overwhelming need for sex so he visits pornographic websites rather than developing intimacy with his God and his wife that can meet his emotional and physical needs.
- A teenage boy gets involved in drugs to mask the emotional pain of rejection from a father or mother.
- A teenage girl has a baby out of wedlock because she is longing for the love of her father but instead seeks love in the wrong places.
- A business owner commits fraud in a business because the pressures to succeed at all costs outweigh the integrity of his soul.
The stories are countless of how human beings seek to meet needs outside God the Father's intended plan. Many times the underlying motivations in our hearts are often tainted by difficult life experiences. The unresolved pain in our lives due to emotional wounds we received when we were young can tempt us to have defense mechanisms to meet our needs apart from God because we believe God has been holding out on us or we simply don't want to be hurt again. This is a plan of the enemy - to make us believe a lie about the nature of our Heavenly Father. Recognizing that this spiritual battle exists will help us better understand how to take our needs to our Heavenly Father who truly desires to meet our every need.
Today, evaluate the seven needs you have in your own life and determine if you are seeking to meet those seven needs through your Heavenly Father or you are seeking to meet them through a spiritual stronghold in your life.
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Copyright 2010 Os Hillman. Permission granted to share or reproduce with appropriate credit.