“My father has never really come to the point of resting confidently in his relationship with my mother,” someone once told me. “He’s always giving her expensive presents and surprising her with things. But my mother sometimes says, ‘You really don’t need to go to all this trouble. I appreciate it but I love you anyway.‘”
The father, it seems, was continually trying to earn the love and appreciation of his wife, though this was unnecessary-the love was already there, and no longer needed to be deserved. Yet he could not rest in it.
The same thing happens easily in our relationship with God. We know mentally that God accepts us as his children. But emotionally, we can’t rest in our relationship with him. We’re often hounded by the idea that we must do all sorts of things in order not to fall out of his favor.
Perhaps now and then we realize that this is a heathen way of thinking. Heathen gods are capricious and greedy, and you can easily get out of favor with them. But our heavenly Father isn’t like that. As we realize this about him, we can be at peace-but the restlessness can suddenly reappear: Am I really worthy enough?
You may have thought you were the only person troubled by feelings like this. Yet, although they are stronger in some than in others, all Christians experience them. Certainly I do! After walking with the Lord for eighteen years, I’m still learning more about resting in my relationship with him.
For years I had no assurance of eternal life. This ended when I consciously gave my life to Christ. I learned then to base my assurance on promises from God’s word, as in 1 John 5:11-12. Afterward I’m not aware of having had much more uncertainty about my redemption and eternal salvation through Christ’s blood. In this matter I had come to the point of resting, both intellectually and emotionally, in God’s promises. It has been of enormous help to know these promises by heart so that they became a part of my thinking.
I am personally very thankful that I can say this. How gracious God is, that he frees our minds and hearts from the idea that we must “earn” our salvation! This gives me great peace and security in the unstable world in which we live.
But there are other aspects of Christ’s work of redemption besides the fact that I can be with him after I die. God wants me to live in this world as his child, and he even wants me to have a part in the salvation and building up of others. My Father wants me to change. He says, “Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree” (Isaiah 55:13)—and just as he formed the deceiver Jacob into Israel, and Simon into Peter, and Saul into Paul, so his aim is that I become more and more like Christ.
This too is his work. I can’t change by myself, anymore than a thornbush can change itself into a pine. But God can change us completely.
I find it harder to trust God for this part of my Christian life than I do for my salvation. I can simply accept salvation in the same way a child accepts being a part of his family. But in the case of my spiritual growth, my total cooperation is called for. It is God’s work—yet it involves me totally, and I am so unreliable.
For example, in 1 Peter 2:1-2 we are told, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” God asks me to get to work. There are certain things I mustn’t do anymore, and other things I must start doing.
No wonder I easily become unsure of myself in this matter of my spiritual growth. Even though I’m undependable, God wants to draw me in completely to this growth process, in the same way a child’s cooperation is needed for his own education and maturity.
How can I live this way each day, knowing that God is working within me, but that he needs my complete cooperation?
I have learned most of all that I must allow God’s word to constantly correct my thinking. This means not letting my thoughts be determined by my own feelings of uncertainty or unwillingness. I should realize that I do not have a morning devotional time just to do something spiritual or to earn a place in heaven. If I think this way, I am like the child who obediently folds his pajamas in the morning in the hope that his parents won’t decide that day to expel him from the family. We are right to feel sorry for such a child. He has not learned to rest in his relationship with his parents.
So also my devotional time isn’t a “good work” to win God’s favor today. If I rush off to work in the morning without having set aside time for prayer or meditating on the Scriptures, I’m not putting God in a bad mood. But there is a good chance that I will be putting myself in a bad mood, and therefore the day may not go very well. So I should remind myself every morning that God has accepted me, and will take care of me as his child, and cause me to grow spiritually.
As I look back over the last eighteen years, I can see there have been changes. God has helped me grow. In years past people would say to me, “Gert, you are too hard.” They were right. There was too much of the thornbush in me—which can wound people and offers no shade—and not enough of the pine.
Actually, I am not at all the right kind of person to minister spiritually to others. Someone very different from me should do it. But when I go back to the Bible, and to my calling, and to the promises God has given me, I conclude: God wants it this way. He will form Christ in me more and more. He says, “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me” (Hosea 14:8). There is hope.
What really helps me rest consistently in my relationship with God is thinking carefully about his promises and praying over them. After all these years, I’ve concluded that nothing else really gives me rest. If I concentrate on myself or on circumstances, there is always cause for anxiety, and sometimes even panic. But if I think and pray over God’s promises, my rest returns—sometimes immediately, sometimes after days of fixing my attention on him.
I have learned that I cannot look at the same time at both the circumstances as well as the Giver of circumstances. The more I look at circumstances and myself, the more I lose sight of God.
But by pondering God’s greatness, God’s love, and God’s promises, I can rest emotionally in the precious relationship I’ve been given with him through Jesus Christ.
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything…” (Philippians 4:5-6).