Summary: God likes you. The only way to obey God over the long haul is to love him. The first step to loving Him is to receive His love for you. The first step to receiving his love for you is to understand he likes you.
A few months ago I had an interesting email conversation with a woman who has attended our church for a few years. She told me that she hadn’t been coming for a while because of some personal issues that were going on. When I asked her to clarify what she meant, she said basically coming to church had become too painful for her. “You see”, she said, “it doesn’t seem to matter what I do to try and please God, whenever I come to church I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like I can never make God happy no matter how hard I try. So I just stopped coming.”
I know how she feels, or at least I think I do. As a life-long people pleaser and rule follower and rule enforcer, I know what it feels like to wonder if I’ll ever really become the person God wants me to be. It is easy to feel like being a Christian is hard work all the time and it never lets up and then you die and then it finally becomes good.
Let me do a little experiment. I’m going to say two propositions. Going with your first instinct, I want you to raise you hand if you agree. Don’t take time to analyze – just go with your first reaction. Here we go…
God loves you.
Ok, try this one… God likes you.
Somehow we buy into this idea that God loves us, but it’s some sort of “Christian” type of love that means He loves us because He is supposed to or because He has to. It’s the kind of love that brothers and sisters are forced to say they have for each other. But for us to say that God likes us…that makes us stop and think. Does God really like me? Does he generally like people?
To some of us, the idea that God likes us is a scandalous thought. After all, how can God (holy, perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful) really like anything about us in our unholiness, imperfection, un-knowing, un-powerful selves?
If the idea that God likes you seems somehow disrespectful or too familiar, I hope to encourage you with a few stories from scripture. My motivation for trying to change your thinking on this subject is probably deeper than the title of my message seems. I really want you to know God better. And I want you to discover an important key to having a great relationship with him. The problem is, if we try to please God without having a real relationship with him, we’ll get burned out quick – and we’ll fail every time.
I’ve been reading a book that a good friend recommended to me. It’s “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. Miller addresses this problem…
Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz, p. 77
Ultimately, we do what we love to do. I like to think that I do things for the right reasons, but I don’t, I do things because I do or don’t love doing them. Because of sin, because I am self-addicted, living in the wreckage of the fall, my body, my heart, and my affections are prone to love things that kill me. [My friend] Tony says Jesus gives us the ability to love the things we should love, the things of Heaven. Tony says that when people who follow Jesus love the right things, they help create God’s kingdom on earth, and that is something beautiful.
I found myself trying to love the right things without God’s help, and it was impossible. I tried to go one week without thinking a negative thought about another human being, and I couldn’t do it. Before I tried that experiment, I thought I was a nice person, but after trying it, I realized I thought bad things about people all day long, and that, like Tony says, my natural desire was to love darkness.
My answer to this dilemma was self-discipline. I figured I could just make myself do good things, think good thoughts about other people, but that was no easier than walking up to a complete stranger and falling in love with them. I could go through the motions for a while, but sooner or later my heart would testify to its true love: darkness. Then I would get up and try again. The cycle was dehumanizing.
So, what do we do when we find that our feeble efforts to live up to God’s standards – his law – only end up making us feel miserable? The answer, at least a part of the answer, is in understanding God’s heart toward us. A few pages later in the book Miller shares about his pastor at a church in Portland:
Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz, p. 85-86