Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love
I am delighted that you have decided to start this 40-day devotional with me during Lent. It will be a journey that we take together as we immerse ourselves in the truth that we are much loved by God.
We all surely know that God loves us. But over the years, as I’ve listened to many people, and also as I have listened to myself, I have come to believe that while we ‘know’ that God’s loves us, many of us don’t really know God’s love. There is an intellectual or cognitive knowing that we have, because we read it in the Bible and we celebrate it particularly at Christmas and Easter. But that truth has often not sunk below our brain into our mouth, our heart, our gut, our hands and our feet.
My training is in clinical social work, and so I tend to interpret this quite psychologically. Many of us have been well schooled, from childhood, to doubt ourselves. Those messages we have learned as children are deeply engrained in our bones: You never do things properly; you always mess up; why can’t you be more like so and so; if only you…; I’m disappointed in you. Probably in most instances, these kinds of messages were not intended to break down, yet they remain in the underlying fabric of our psyche, of our spirit, and interfere with our openness to receiving, knowing and accepting God’s love.
Many of us have had these messages reinforced in our childhood faith in the church. We have been taught that we are terrible sinners, that God cannot stand to be in the presence of sin, that even the very best that we do is like filthy rags, that we always fall short, that God’s wrath is upon us, that we deserve eternal flames, and so on. There is biblical and theological truth in these messages. But they are lopsided, overemphasising our inadequacy and reinforcing our psychological vulnerability.
Ultimately, for many of us, we come into adulthood with a nagging feeling that God cannot love us. That we are unlovable. That we are damaged goods. And when we do mess up in our faith, which we all do, at least on occasion, this nagging feeling crows in triumph. And sometimes that makes it hard to return to God – we are such failures and so useless, God would be better off without us.
And so, I have been wondering for some time what our lives would be like if we really, really, really believed, deep in the core of our being, that we were much loved by God. How would we be different if this truth was not just a loosely held cognitive belief, but also a deeply held certainty?
I suspect we’d have a much more intimate and consistent relationship with God, because we’d experience and trust in God’s abiding love. We’d be less likely to sin, because we’d be more cautious about grieving God. We’d experience less anxiety, because even (or especially) when times are hard we’d be certain that God is present and concerned. We’d be more generous, because of an abundance of love that enables us to share more love with others. We’d be better witnesses to those around us, because there would be less toxin and more joy in our faith.
Being God’s Beloved is intended to lead you through a series of reflections on how much you are loved by God. It has a clear agenda – to convince you of this fact! It will speak to less happy topics, such as sin and wrath, but the centre and focus is always on God’s love. This is because I believe, deeply and surely, that love is the centre of God’s heart. And if love is at the centre of God, then everything else that we talk about in our faith should be in relation to love.
I hope that by the end of this journey, you will feel immersed in God’s love, that God has filled you up, inside and out, with God’s extravagant, generous, warm, embracing love. That this will not be something you merely know, but something you are, in your inner being. And that you will already have begun to see how naturally that transforms your Christian living, in your daily devotions, your struggle with sin, your participation in God’s mission in the world and your witness. Because when we truly know that God love us and when our lives begin to reflect that knowing, then we will Be God’s Beloved.
To structure this devotional, I am following in the footsteps of those who have seen the value of a 40 day period of spiritual reflection. Rick Warren has nicely shown how 40 days is a meaningful spiritual period in the Bible:
- “Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain.
- Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.
- The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land.
- David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge.
- Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.
- The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave the people 40 days to change.
- Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.
- The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.”
And so my prayer is that you and I too will be transformed by these 40 days of reflection on Being God’s Beloved.
The 40 days of Lent start on Ash Wednesday, which is 5 March 2014, and continue until Holy Saturday on 19 April. The 40 days of Lent exclude Sundays, thus we are looking at 6 days of reflection per week. Because these reflections are integrated with the Lent course at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Irene, South Africa, on Wednesday evenings, we will treat Wednesday as the ‘day off’ for reading. So, the reflections will start on the day after Ash Wednesday, and continue every day, except Wednesdays, until Holy Saturday. You are, of course, free to structure your reflections as you like, but I encourage you to do one per day, so that you have time to meditate and pray on the reflection, and so that you engage in a prolonged and rhythmic reflection on Being God’s Beloved.
The weekly talks will be held at St Martin’s Church, in Irene, South Africa on Wednesday evenings from 19:00 to 20:00, and a week later on Wednesday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30. The talks will pull together the week’s readings and allow time for worship, discussion and fellowship. You can attend these in person, or participate live through Skype, or watch a video of the talk a couple of days later on the blog. The daily reflections will be posted on my blog, which links to my own Facebook page and the parish Facebook page. You can also access them through a link on the parish website. On my blog you can sign up to receive the daily reflections by email. For those at St Martins who do not have access to the Internet, printed copies of the reflections will be made available. Or you can request the parish office to email them to you. So, although this reflection will be hosted and run from St Martins, we hope to have a wider community of the faithful journeying together from all over the world.
The devotions are grouped according to themes for each six-day collection of reflections, interspersed with Wednesday evening Lent Course talks and other services:
- Ash Wednesday service (5 March).
- Week 1 – The character of God and God’s initial engagement with humanity.
- Talk 1 – The Character of God (12 March).
- Week 2 – God’s love as revealed across the Old Testament.
- Talk 2 – The God of the Old Testament (19 March).
- Week 3 – Theological reflections on God’s love in relation to other themes, such as sin and wrath.
- Talk 3 –Justice, Wrath and Love (26 March).
- Week 4 – The incarnation and message of Jesus of Nazareth.
- Talk 4 – Christ as the embodiment of Divine Love (2 April).
- Week 5 – The ministry and work of Jesus the Messiah.
- Talk 5 – The cross (9 April).
- Week 6 – Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Holy Week services (14-19 April).
- Week 7 – The implications of Jesus for life and love.
- Easter Sunday services (20 April).
I wish you God’s richest blessings as you journey through Lent and as you reflect on what it means to Be God’s Beloved. I will be praying for you over this time.
Blessings and joy