A surprising way to love God

 

I was frustrated. The naps, the workouts, the physio appointments, they all felt like a waste of time, an ongoing interruption in the midst of everything else pressing.

I listened as I ran at the gym, then as I stood on the bus, returning again and again for yet one more pass through Isaiah chapters 40-43. I heard the words. I knew what I needed was tucked somewhere among the beautiful promises. And I knew that I wasn’t hearing it, not with my heart, not in a way I could receive. I cried for help to hear what He was saying, to let it sink deep, and God put the words, this time, in the mouth of another. A friend, unaware of my morning listening, prayed the words from Isaiah 43 over me, “You are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you.”

It rang in my head all week: “You are precious.” I can’t hear Him say this and brush it off, not if I want to come closer to the blazing fire of His love. He lets us hear His heartbeat not merely so we can study Him or even revere Him, but so we can be one with Him, our loves set aflame by His own.

When I treasure something, I want others to treasure it too, to respect it and treat it with care. They honor me by honoring what matters to me. Since God treasures me, learning to love myself is a part of loving Him. I think how I feel if someone bad-mouths a dear friend, and I hurt over the thoughts that God hears me think about myself. And somehow it makes it a little easier to forgive myself, to cook a proper meal, or to do the shoulder exercises for the thousandth time when I can offer my efforts to God as a gift of love for Him.

Why do we struggle to live this truth that we are precious? Why is it so hard to believe not only that God sees us as precious, but that He wants us to see ourselves the same way?

Maybe it’s partly because we’ve confused our terms: worthy and worthless are not opposites. Worthless is the opposite of precious; worth refers to our God-declared, God-bestowed value. Worthy is the opposite of unworthy; worthiness speaks of our our ability to earn something. As clear as God makes it that we are unworthy, all having sinned, He makes it equally clear that we are of immeasurable value, worth going from heaven to hell and back again to reclaim. We are unworthy, yes, but never worthless. We are precious. And all – including this preciousness – is gift.

So maybe it’s a linguistic issue. Or maybe it feels selfish to invest in ourselves. But our bodies and souls, talents and skills, loves and desires and personalities are entrusted to us to steward and invest and use for His glory. We honor Him when we live in the ways that they work best. We do it not just for ourselves but for Him who values us, and for others who need to know they’re precious too. It turns out that we can’t practice compassion with other people unless we can be kind to ourselves (Brene Brown). And we’re not free to love others until we receive God’s love for ourselves.

I reach for the cross and cling. It’s solid, and when all else is shifting, this stands firm. Here He engraved us forever onto the palms of his hands. And here, in costly red ink, He wrote this truth into the center of history: “You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.”

 

9 thoughts on “A surprising way to love God

  1. Thank you for this reflection on preciousness. It has encouraged my heart this morning. What do you think is the meaning of 1 Peter 2:7? I have long held the view that most translations of this verse are incorrect when they imply that the preciousness (or honour) refers to the Lord Jesus, which it certainly does in verse 6. Translators seem to take this word in verse 7 and translate it adjectively as a repetition of the very similar word in verse 6. I am happy to see that in the newly published ESV they take it as a noun, making it the subject, and thus applying it to believers: “So the honor (or preciousness) is for you who believe…” Whichever is correct, we can rejoice in the the Lord who lifts us up as precious trophies of His grace. Bob

    1. Thanks, Bob, for this fascinating question. I haven’t thought about it before, so you’ve stretched me, and it’s good! :-)
      It does look like the translation “so the honor is for you who believe” is truer to the Greek than the alternative translation. I guess my question would be in what sense is Peter meaning this? It follows immediately on the quotation from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 28:16, “the one who trusts in him will not be put to shame (or dishonored).” I wonder if “the honor is for us” means that we won’t be dishonored because the stone on which we are being built is rock-solid and won’t shift or disappear, leaving us in danger (and looking foolish) without a foundation?
      That said, as I was listening through 1 Pet at the gym this morning, I was struck by how the undercurrent of our preciousness flows through the whole book. We are chosen, given a priceless inheritance, our faith is of greater worth than gold, we are bought with something far more precious than gold (hence, presumably, worth that price), etc etc. So whichever way we interpret that one verse, it seems clear that we are precious to God!

  2. This reminds me of Bernard of Clairvaux, who ranked four types of love as follows – loving self for self’s sake, loving God for self’s sake, loving God for God’s sake and (last and highest) loving self for God’s sake. It’s a kind of self-love that Bernard would say is free of selfishness (things we usually think of as synonymous but aren’t – perhaps like worth and worthiness.) I wish I could love myself without being selfish – but then perhaps the fact that “loving God for God’s sake” comes first is part of the answer, it’s not something I can just decide to do. It requires being deeply and inwardly transformed; hearing God call us “precious.”
    For more of Bernard’s writing on the subject: http://www.chinstitute.org/index.php/eras/medieval/bernard/

    1. Oh, Jon, I have so far to go even in learning to love God for God’s sake! It’s an encouragement to me that Bernard thinks that, at most, we can only experience that fourth level of love for moments at a time in this life, if at all. It’s a process, and, as you said, something God does in us. I do think, even apart from attaining Bernard’s fourth level of love, it’s helpful for us to realize that in the context of God’s love for us, self-love and selfishness aren’t necessarily synonymous. (Thanks for making that so clear in your comment!) I don’t think God intends only a few to hear and live in his delight in them; the cross, which speaks this loudest of all, is for all of us. Perhaps a place to start is to ask God to show us how He sees us; lately when I take my glasses off to sleep, I’ve been laying them on a little ceramic cross by my bedside and asking Him to let me see Him and myself and those around me through the lens of the cross.

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