Our fundamental problem is not sin, it is alienation from God. We close the door on parts of our heart to Him even though He is ever-present, closer to us than our own hearts. When we let God truly penetrate our souls, He lovingly obliterates the sin from our life with His own presence – a consuming fire of holy transforming affection. In these moments, He fans into flame His abiding Spirit of love and peace and joy in our hearts.
Our alienation from God – just like Adam and Eve’s – is due to primarily to us believing lies about Him. When we reject the truth that relationship with Him is the most good, most satisfying thing, we look around for something else that is ‘better’ to satisfy us. From that place of internal alienation from God and a mindset of searching for godless satisfaction, temptation will always win us over.
And from this place of failure, we retreat even more, in shame, ‘repentance’, and self-condemnation. Surely God will not want us now – not yet; not until we have proven our sincere repentance. We think He is shaking His head at us, turning His back on us, hiding His eyes from us, clenching His fists in frustration, tired of our failures, taking off His belt, or even cocking back His fist. Like a scared kid who knows a spanking or an icy rebuke is coming, we beg for forgiveness – when it is given, we try to earn back the trust, trying to not fail again, trying to perform better. This desire to perform leads to more hiding from God – after all, we wouldn’t want Him to see that part of our thoughts. And the more we hide from God, the more we feel ashamed, the more we are alienated, the more we sin, and the more we continue to hide.
But when we truly look to Jesus, things start to change. In Him the truth about God, about us, and about our relationships snaps into focus. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:7-10). Hebrews 1:3 tells us Jesus “is the brightness of God’s glory and the exact image of His being.” Jesus only ever did what He saw the Father doing. If you want to know who God is, look to Jesus. “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” Hebrews 11 admonishes us.
In Jesus, it is so clear that God isn’t holding out on us, or waiting to see us mess up again, or ashamed of us, or getting ready to punish us for a stray thought. His commands are for our good. He asks us to trust Him and come unto Him, with all our sins and heavy-laden cares. When we have come to Jesus sins and all and moment-by moment are resting in His love (a resting which can even remain while working under His yoke with Him; Matt. 11:28-30), things change: We let Him in, He bears our burdens, the alienation problem is over, we are satisfied in Him, hiding is no longer needed, and sin is no longer attractive.
Jesus is not a doctrine to be embraced, but a Person – a reality to be experienced.
We must have right ideas about Jesus. But we must also allow Him to touch us in the depths of our souls, our hearts, our minds – even the parts that are ugly and dark.
As a part of overcoming the lies about who God is, I want to ask you to imagine yourself in the story of the prodigal son. We use our imaginations to think of our family, of the stories we love, even of sin. The imagination is simply the part of our mind where we conceptualize and picture our lives most vividly. I want to invite you to now allow God to use your imagination to embrace the spiritual truths revealed by Him in the Bible. Jesus (as the eternal Logos of the Father) manifested in Himself who God is, and He also taught us how to think of and thus imagine the Father. Let’s use the story of the Prodigal child.
Without going into detail, imagine that you – the prodigal child – have left God’s presence and walked into a place of self-created alienation from your Father. After finding it unsatisfying and bankrupt, you “come to your senses” and decide to repent before your Father and come back to him. You have your whole speech prepared: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against You. I am not worthy to be your child. I beg you – allow me to be one of your hired servants.”
Now vividly imagine yourself walking back, down the long dusty trails. Perhaps you can mentally experience the smells, the temperature, the sound of your feet on the road, the thoughts going through your mind, the feeling of regret, the tension flushing your face as you wonder what His response will be. Try to use all five senses, and your emotions.
It is a long journey, but finally the road leads you over the top of one of the hills overlooking you father’s home. You catch a glimpse of him, far away. He doesn’t see you yet. (What is he doing?). Then, you see him turn in your direction, and you see that he has seen you, too.
Close your eyes and try to imagine this. What does he do? How does he react to your presence?
Really do this – it’s worth taking a few minutes to imagine this as vividly as you can and really put yourself into the story from the beginning to this point. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts.
I have had some people tell me that their father seems angry. Perhaps he looks out at you, shakes his head, and then goes back to work. Or maybe he folds his arms and stares out at you, waiting tersely.
But we know that isn’t how God reacts to you, because Jesus told this story and what the Father does is he runs out to you and embraces you, not even letting you finish the apology you begin to offer! In fact, this is the main point of the story. Christians used to call it “The Parable of the Running Father.”
Take a few moments to close your eyes and imagine that happening – that you are in the story, and he is running toward you… looking at you… he is hugging you, pulling you into his embrace. Perhaps you feel his rough camel-skin shirt. How hard does he hug you? What does he say?
Jesus tells us what the Father says, regardless of what we may imagine. Guide your imagination to conform to what Jesus says is true. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts, and spent a few minutes experiencing the love of the Father:
“This is my child! My child who was dead and has come back – he is alive again!”
☩ ☩ ☩
It isn’t uncommon – especially for those who have secretly imagined God primarily as a distant and angry Being – to cry tears of joy-filled holy repentance when they allow themselves to really imagine, guided by Scripture, Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit, how much God loves them.
This kind of Scriptural contemplating and imagining is how we start to let the biblical truth of God’s love soak into us, and move us to truly worshipful prayer.
Blessed be you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
You are our merciful Father
and the God of all comfort.
You revive my life.
You are compassionate and gracious,
patient, and abundantly rich in gracious love.
You do not maintain a dispute continuously
or remain angry for all time.
You do not deal with us according to our sins,
or repay us equivalent to our iniquity.
As high as heaven rises above earth,
so your gracious love strengthens those who fear you.
As far as the east is from the west,
that is how far you have removed our sins from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so, you, Lord have compassion for those who fear you.
My heart and flesh cry out for you, O Lord,
in your presence is fullness of joy.