The Art of Receiving

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The most important spiritual discipline we can practice is receiving the Father’s love for us.

Every other discipline and habit and spiritual exercise we could possibly conceive of will quickly disintegrate under the weight of crushing legalism until we have practised dwelling in the abundant love that God has for us.

And yet, when we find ourselves in a spiritual dry season, we are quick to forget the unchanging, steadfast love that the Father has for us, and turn instead to striving and doing in order to somehow place ourselves back under His favour. I think that if only I knew more about God or repented more or read more of my Bible or was more disciplined, God would break my spiritual rut and manifest more of His love to me.

The Father is not like that.

The spiritual life is not some slot machine that we put our little coins of righteous deeds into in exchange for more of His favour. The Father’s favour and love is freely received, not bought.

This does not come naturally to us. Every instinct in us tells us that God is big, distant, removed from our worries and anxieties. Our minds are quick to conceive of a detached deity in whose direction we send our doubting prayers and intercessions. Our spiritual lives become a mathematical equation in which more obedience equals more favour; if only I did more, if only I did something differently, God would manifest more of himself in my life.

Of course, repentance is crucial in our relationship with God for we are so frequently prone to wander, and good works are the vital outworking of His Spirit’s transforming power in us. However, in our spiritually dry seasons, we are often quick to put the cart before the horse. We are quick to seek solutions rather than savour and rest in the Father’s love for us.

Perhaps your spiritual rut is not a call to do more, but a call simply to be still in the Father’s presence.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:18-19).

It is the unwavering, steadfast love of the Father alone that survives our seasons of spiritual fatigue and our darkest doubts. The truth of the Father’s love for us does not change based on our experiences or circumstances. When we are past the point of pressing on, it is His unchanging love that meets us at the end of the road.

Our relationship with God is not a theological problem to be solved but a relationship with a loving Father. His love for us is unconditional. He bestows it freely, without qualification. True rest does not come from restless striving, but simply receiving the Father’s abundant love for us. Every other habit and spiritual discipline we could practice is simply to cultivate the ground in order to receive the rain of God’s grace.

When we received the spirit of adoption, the Father did not transfer us from one economy of striving into another. The slave strives for the Father’s approval and acceptance out of fear of condemnation; the son dwells in peace and rest because he knows nothing can shake him from the Father’s embrace.

We will not experience true peace until we have dwelt in the truth that we that we have peace with God. Peace will not rule in our hearts until the truth of the Gospel reigns in our lives.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…and always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

The answer to your spiritual rut may not be to do more, but simply to receive.Sit with the Father. Switch off your phone, come away, be still. Dwell in His boundless love for you, that sweet, unchanging love that shed blood to ransom your soul and reconcile you to Himself.

A Great and Terrifying Wilderness

There are seasons where God feels closer than your breath, and seasons where He seems further away than the darkest reaches of the universe, obscured by the night sky as you gaze up, wondering to yourself, “Where are You?”

We’re experience-people. We live on touch, sight, smell, hearing, emotions. We often seek confirmation about the world and the reality we perceive by using one of these senses. “How do you know Everest exists?”, you might say. “Of course it does,” I’d respond. “You can go to Nepal and see it for yourself, climb its ridges, touch it.” You can confirm your suspicion by travelling there, or you can rely on the testimony of others.

A more difficult question might be, “How do you know she loves you?” Now, that’s harder. Yet, in many ways, the question of someone’s love is still confirmed by our experience and feeling of love. The way she treats you, the sacrifices she makes for you, your joint experiences – these would go toward confirming her love for you. Our perception of love is tied up, not exclusively but extensively, in our emotions and feelings.

Our experience of God, however, is often not like this. Sometimes our experience of Him is as tangible as Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai; we hear the sound of His voice, we smell His fire or His fragrance, we perceive, somehow, His glory about us. Yet, more often (for me at least) its more like the believers that Peter’s Epistle is addressed to:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. 1 Peter 1:8, ESV

“You have not seen Him,” says the writer of that letter. “Yet you love Him, you believe in Him, you rejoice.” How can that be? When our perception of love is so tied in to our nature as physical beings, based on touch and sight and feeling, how can we who do not see Him love Him and rejoice in Him?

It totally reevaluates our perception of faith. So often I have fallen into the trap of thinking of the outcome of faith as a succession of mountain-top experiences, tangible meetings and encounters. If only I pray right, I’ll have these transcendent feelings of awe and devotion. If only I sing this song, or go to that place, then I’ll meet God, I’ll experience His presence. My idea of faith-experienced is tied up with nice feelings and giddy emotions.

Which is why time and time again I’ve been discouraged and hopeless when it isn’t like that. As if there’s something wrong with my process and method. Like a true relationship with God is like a constant “feeling-stream,” where I receive all these spiritually-charged emotions and experiences. And, when I don’t get that, I doubt, I wonder, I lose heart, because my faith is based on a series of transient experiences rather than a constant bedrock of truth, a truth that surpasses my fleeting human perceptions.

In short, we import society’s longing for instant gratification into our spiritual life, that a relationship with God is about constantly “feeling something,” pious emotions and ecstatic thoughts.

Let’s go back to Moses on his mountain. In Deuteronomy, the story of Moses recounting to the Israelites how God led them through the Sinai wilderness, he says of God, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites…the great and terrifying wilderness you saw” (Deuteronomy 1:6,7,19, ESV).

The authentic expression of faith is not just the amazing, extra-ordinary encounter with God on the mountain top. No. Its the lived obedience and trust in God when He doesn’t feel so present, the mornings you get up and are in terror at the “great and terrifying wilderness” you are about to enter. Its about what happens in the periods of boredom and anxiety in the wilderness. In short, faith is more than feelings. 

And there’s something beautiful about that. Because, our God is not transient and fleeting like our human experience. He is trustworthy, He is faithful, He is steadfast in His boundless love to us from age to age, a constant cornerstone and bedrock. He is the God with whom our feet shall not be moved, in whom we shall not be shaken, and whose Kingdom has no end.

And this is truth that doesn’t change based on our experiences. Truth is constant, when our feelings are not. Take heart, friend. He is with you, holding, leading, loving, even when we don’t feel it.