You are Custom Made by God
I believe that one of God’s goals for all of us is that we realize the “selves” He originally intended us to be; each different from the next with a unique combination of personality traits, interests and locations along the spiritual path. God can assist every willing person on earth in that custom process. It begins with our trust in God’s desire for what is best for us and confidence that God will liberate our true self, not bind it. That is the intimate relationship God has with His people on earth, for He has chosen our bodies to be His own dwelling place.
Choosing God’s Love Over Our Self-Evaluation
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” the apostle John exclaims in his first letter. Everything around us murmurs the opposite: we are unworthy, we have failed, we fall short. As if anticipating the objection, John adds, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him…” A part of us now remains hidden and undeveloped, like an organ the function of which we’ve not yet ascertained. Yet the Spirit’s work proceeds, invisibly and unendingly, to fashion our true selves. We cannot construct the personality that pleases God, but God can and promises to do exactly that.
God makes clear that He accepts us —more, delights in us—as individuals bearings His image. We do not always sense that divine love, of course. For example, despite being loved by all as a sweet lady, my mother, in her declining years, persisted in thinking she was not good enough to be acceptable to God and was always striving to be better. Self-doubt and despair may steal in for all of us, as had happened among those the apostle John was addressing. Sometimes “our hearts condemn us,” John acknowledges, but “God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”
When the New Testament translator J. B. Phillips came across this passage from I John it seemed to leap off the page. Phillips explains, “Like many others, I find myself something of a perfectionist and, if we don’t watch ourselves, this obsession for the perfect can make us arrogantly critical of other people, and in certain moods, dangerously critical of ourselves.” Phillips suffered from clinical depression, and when the dark moods descended, he would wallow in condemnation and feel no mercy. Ever after, he clung to the words of that verse. “It is almost as if John is saying, ‘if God loves us, who are we to be so high and mighty as to refuse to love ourselves! ‘ ”
For me too, accepting God’s love involves a relentless hushing of voices that whisper otherwise. You are unworthy. You failed again. God cannot possibly love you. Those whose conscience were formed under sermons portraying an Old Testament God of strict authority and punishment, can barely grasp the reality that God has con-descended to live within us and now loves us from the inside out. We must ask the God who “is greater than our hearts” to halt that ruthless cycle of condemnation and to remind us of perhaps the hardest truth to grasp, that God desires and loves us.
God’s Love Makes You Lovable
Why does God love us? The Bible answers that profound question with one incomparable word: grace. God loves because of who God is, not because we have done anything to deserve it. God cannot help loving, for love defines His nature.
Philip Yancey says he remembers few of the many sermons he has heard in his life, apart from the only sermon he heard preached by Ian Pitt-Watson, a professor at Fuller Seminary. His sermon had one point: “some things are loved because they are worthy, some things are worthy because they are loved.”
Pitt-Watson began with examples of things we love because of their inherent worth: gorgeous supermodels, gifted athletes, brilliant scientists, priceless works of art. Then he mentioned an object of no intrinsic worth that was greatly loved regardless. He told of his daughter Rosemary’s ragdoll—dirty, threadbare, but the most precious of all her possessions. Like Linus with his blanket in the Peanuts comics, Rosemary could not bear to face life without her rag doll.
When the Pitt-Watson’s relocated from Scotland across the ocean to America, each member of the family carefully selected what possessions to bring along. Rosemary chose just one article: her ragdoll. When she misplaced the rag doll in the airport, Rosemary became so distraught that the family considered postponing their flight. Found at last, the doll had magical powers to calm the little girl. It had little worth in itself but much worth in her eyes.
Pitt-Watson preceded to make the biblical application. God’s love, thankfully, is not based on our intrinsic worth. It comes by grace, a priceless yet free gift that bestows worth on the most unlovable object. Some things are loved because they are worthy and some are worthy because they are loved—theologically, we fit the latter category. In the words of Saint Augustine, “by loving the unlovable, You made us lovable.”
Toward the end of his life, Henri Nouwen said that prayer had become for him primarily a time of “listening to the blessing.” “The real work of prayer,” he said, “is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” That may sound self-indulgent, he admitted, but not if it meant seeing himself as the Beloved, a person in whom God had chosen to dwell. The more he listened to that voice, the less likely he was to judge his worth by how others responded to him or by how much he achieved. He prayed for God’s inner presence to express itself in his daily life as he ate and drank, talked and loved, played and worked. He sought the radical freedom of an identity anchored in a place “beyond all human praise and blame.”
I too have found that prayer means far more than telling God what I want Him to do. Primarily, it means putting myself in a place where God can “renew my mind,” where I can absorb my new identity as God‘s Beloved, which God insists is mine for the believing.
In a daring analogy, Kathleen Norris reverses the point of view we normally ascribe to God:
One morning this past spring I noticed a young couple with an infant at an airport departure gate. The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter who’s it was, no matter if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried looking, he would respond with absolute delight.
It was beautiful to see. Our drab departure gate had become the gate of heaven. And as I watched that baby play with any adult that would allow it, I felt as awe struck as Jacob, because I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creatures He has made and called good, along with the rest of creation. And, as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is as nothing to God, who can look right through whatever evil we’ve done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image.
I suspect that only God, and some well-loved infants, can see this way.
The many ways in which God loves you is presented in:
God’s Love – a Rapsody of Particulars
To read more about the depth of God’s love read:
Longing to Reciprocate God’s Astonishing Love
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1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139:1-18)
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey