by Luke Jarboe
Many of us have been told “God loves you,” or “Jesus loves you more than you can imagine,” or some variation of those statements. But what does that mean, actually?
I think maybe I am starting to understand that now.
This past season I went through some difficult and painful situations: health issues, chronic pain, moving cities, missing friends, family leaving, heartbreak, and loosing hope. This pain drove me to spend a lot of time in God’s word and a lot of time in prayer. I was frantically searching. Searching for something that would give me hope, something that would tell me, “Everything is going to be ok.” But what if that “something” didn’t exist for me? That’s what I was afraid of, and to a certain extent, I believed that lie was true.
In desperation I began to plunge into the scriptures and prayer, begging God for assurances – anything I could get my hands on.
And while I was in pain and felt very alone, God was not far off. I began reading and meditating over God’s word, and as I did that I was reminded to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [my] requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). I also grew to love Lamentations 3:22-23, and was encouraged that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your [God’s] faithfulness.” These passages along with others like Psalm 37:1-9, Isaiah 26:3-4, Matthew 22:37-40, Joshua 1:8-9, and Romans 8:31-32 became a lifeline to me. But still, I didn’t quite get it.
One day I was listening to a sermon by Timothy Keller called, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In describing the love of God, Timothy said, “Think about it like this. If you find somebody who you adore and you think more of this person than anyone else in the world and you would do anything for that person, and you discover that person feels the same way about you – does that feel good? That’s heaven and you know why its heaven? Because it comes from this [the Trinity].” It feels like heaven because that’s how God feels about God. For all of eternity God has been content and totally in love. He wants us to be a part of his love. He wants us to join His “dance” that is totally selfless and self-giving. That’s why loss, disloyalty, death, and selfishness hurt so much. They are the opposite of God’s nature – the opposite of what we’re created for.
This idea became revolutionary to me. For some reason, though I’d heard it before, it suddenly clicked. If God “did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). God would do anything for me – He proved it on the cross! God loves me so much that if there is something that he knows is best for me and best for His Kingdom (which is to say the same thing, because I am a part of his kingdom), than he’d do it! So if He does not do it, it must not be best! For if we are in Christ, we can be certain that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
The Gospel is God’s commitment to love us.
Hah! What good news! For maybe the first time in my life, I began to believe that God was in my corner – He wanted to be my coach, my dad, and even my friend.
Milton Vincent writes in his book, A Gospel Primer for Christians:
"One of the leading causes of my natural tendency to self-love is fear. I fear that if I do not love myself there would be no one left to love me quite so well as I do. An even more significant cause of self-love is a lack of persuasion that there is someone out there who is worthy to be loved more than I. Arrogance lies underneath both of these causes: I love myself supremely because I am the most worthy person I know to be loved and also because I think I can do a better job at it than anyone else.
Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love by addressing both of these causes. First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself. “Greater love has no one than this,” says Jesus while speaking of His love (John 15:13). Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 Timothy 1:11) and in so doing, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead."
As I began to understand God’s love and surrender my aches, desires, and confusion to Him, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” began to “guard [my] heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). And while surrendering things over to God was essential, it was understanding God’s love that helped me the most. The hurt came and went, but when it was present – God’s love gave me peace. It was a calm and contentment I cannot fully explain. I just felt so loved and at peace. I began to believe that everything would be OK, because I was deeply and unconditionally loved by a God that wanted to be my very best friend. God is committed to my good, not my destruction. John 4:15-19 explains this further:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
I am beginning to understand what it means to be “in love” with Jesus. When God asks me to do something, I no longer have to view it through a sinful lens of “servile and painful obligation,” but rather, of willing delight. Perhaps I might describe it this way:
Friend: What! You mean you would do [insert difficult command/calling] if God asked you? Why would you do that? That would be difficult and such a sacrifice! Isn’t that asking a bit much?
Jesus has given me everything.
Christian: Oh, you don’t understand! God would do anything for me! Anything! He loves me so much. In fact, do you know how much he has suffered for me? Jesus went through terrible things because he loved me so much. You don’t understand – I’d do anything for Him! Jesus has given me everything. Jesus has won my heart completely. I want to love Him in return.
Now, I imagine that God’s love is kind of like a loveseat, a place of rest that I can jump and fall back into. It’s a place that he wants me to surrender, trust, listen, and rest in.
“When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19
Luke is an engineer in Oklahoma City, OK, and he is passionate about people knowing the love of Jesus all over the globe. He grew up in Cambodia, graduated High School in Colorado, and studied physics at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK.