Prepare Our Hearts – May 22

A weekday devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.

Friday May 22, 2020
1 John 3:23-24

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

I’ll never forget the early hours of one Sunday morning in college, when a particularly inebriated friend stumbled into my bedroom to tell me through exasperated tears, “I feel like God is just sitting up in heaven, looking down on me, constantly saying ‘No!’ while smacking me with a big stick.” Over a decade of ministry experience with teenagers has led me to see that my friend is far from alone and, sadly, teens and young adults aren’t the only ones who hold myopic misconceptions of God. While some people imagine God as a crotchety old man with a seemingly endless list of demanding and apparently arbitrary rules aimed at ensuring humanity never has any fun, others picture Him as nothing more than a fire-insurance policy for the soul, valid as long as at one point we said a prayer and asked Jesus to save us from our sins then He has to forgive us and, quite frankly, He doesn’t really care what we do with the rest of our life after that.

Author and pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” How we think about God effects how we view everything in the world. Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us groping in the dark in regards to the true character and nature of God. Scripture reveals an unmistakably personal yet wholly transcendent God in whom lies absolute power, absolute truth, and absolute love, far surpassing even our most wildly optimistic preconceptions.

It is true that God is indeed a God who issues decrees and commands. Regardless of how free we envision ourselves to be, the reality is that we are all subject to some sort of a master. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “we all gotta serve somebody,” and every master places expectations on its subjects. Failing to provide proper guidance for His creation would be a cruel abdication of God’s sovereign responsibility. Imagine gathering a group of children, who had never played or even watched a soccer game, placing them onto a soccer field and telling them to play an actual, officiated soccer game. Although the ensuing chaos would certainly be hilarious to the spectators, picture how frustrated the players would become. While someone may eventually and inadvertently kick the ball into a goal, without any guidance whatsoever, the game would be marked by non-stop whistles and agitated children. Just as any successful team requires a good coach to explain the rules of the game along with the roles and responsibilities of each player, God did not abandon us to scrounge and fend for ourselves through the tumultuous chaos of life. Seen in this way, God’s decrees are not oppressive and vindictive, but liberating and refreshing.

Jesus promised His followers “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” but it is only by abiding in Him and keeping His word that they can expect to experience abundant life and the fullness of joy. What does God require of those who desire to be found in Him? “That we believe in the name of his Son Jesus and love another.” As the familiar hymn says, “trust and obey.”

To believe in the name of Jesus means to accept that He is who He said He was, to know and acknowledge Him as our benevolent King of Kings. Belief requires placing all of our faith and trust in Jesus and His saving work on our behalf while confessing our inability to bring anything to His table apart from our failure and sin. God doesn’t stop at taking the penalty of our sins, but He also empowers us to keep His command of love. He sends His Spirit to live and dwell in the hearts of all who believe, to live and move and work in and through them.

Amazingly, although He knows our shortcomings and limitations even better than we do, God gladly welcomes us to His table and delights in us as His own adopted children. He doesn’t love us because of who we were or even who we might become, He loves us simply because He chooses to love us. For those who hope in Jesus, God sees us for who we really are and loves us where we are. By the power of His Spirit, He does not leave us in the mess where He found us, but works in our lives to help us become more and more like Him.

Prayer for Today:
Heavenly Father, You are the gracious and mighty King. We confess that we often misunderstand You and Your word. You are not callous and tyrannical, but rich in mercy and abounding in love. Forgive us for the times that we take the license to pick and chose what we wish to believe and obey. Help us to know You as You have revealed Yourself to be in Your Word. Help us to believe in the name of Jesus, help our unbelief. We humbly ask that You would continue to conform us and our desires into the image of Your Son. We pray in His Name, Amen.