(This TTF series starts with the post "Through the Furnace (TTF): Intro 1.")
One reason that I have so strongly stressed our need to be in the Word daily is because this is where we find God, as He is. And if we are not relating to God as He is - as He has revealed Himself to be in His Word - we are relating to Him out of falsehoods, misconceptions, preconceived ideas, and half-truths. And many times we are relating to Him in unhealthy ways because of our broken pasts and broken hearts.
We just don’t know it.
But if we continue to do this - if we do not put the effort and thought into correcting our unhealthy views and our unhealthy ways of relating to Him - our relationship with Him will always be stunted, shallow, or damaged.
As I went through my own furnace of trials, I realized that there are (at the minimum) two critical areas that we need to address when it comes to getting a proper, balanced, biblical view of God. In order to have the most complete, whole, and satisfying relationship with Him, it is most important to correctly understand God’s holiness/justness and His love. They are two sides of the same coin. And we need a biblical, balanced view of these two things. (When I say holiness, I also include His justness. It is because He is so holy that He can demand justice.)
God’s holiness, His justness, is what demands a payment for our sins. But God’s love is what paid it. God’s holiness is what makes us properly fear Him and fall down on our faces at His feet. But God’s love is what picks us up, draws us close to Him, and makes us fall into His arms.
If we overemphasize His holiness/justness, we will have a harsh, demanding God that we are terrified of and that we desperately seek to appease. Because we fear what will happen if we don’t. He will always be the “Old Testament” God of wrath to us, and we will never feel His love or feel close to Him. And the warm, inviting, relational Jesus of the New Testament will always feel far away and foreign to us.
But if we overemphasize His love, we will have a relaxed, permissive God that we don’t fear, and we will have a casual attitude toward Him, His Word, and prayer which will allow us to make God into whatever kind of “god” we want Him to be. (Which is America’s spiritual problem nowadays.)
And we’ll be doing just fine with this unbalanced view of the “god of love” as long as life goes smoothly. But as soon as something goes wrong, our whole theology will be blown out of the water. Because then we will wonder what kind of a loving God would allow something horrible or disappointing like that.
“A loving God wouldn’t . . .”
And we might be tempted to turn our backs on Him because it doesn’t square with our idea of who God is. But it’s not God who’s off-track. It’s our unbalanced view of Him that’s the problem. It’s our made-up “god” that is the problem. But the God of the Bible is not the same thing as our made-up “god.” And we need to get to know Him as He is in His Word, not as we want Him to be.
For me, I used to live in fear of His holiness, but not in a healthy kind of fear. A balanced view of His holiness and His love will create a healthy fear; but I was just plain scared that He would never be pleased with me and that I didn’t deserve His love. I couldn’t just accept His love; I had to earn it. This kept me busy, but never able to feel His unconditional love. Because to me, it was all based on my performance. So I exhausted myself trying to say the right words, think holy thoughts, follow the Bible just right, be the “good child.” And I would get hard on myself if I didn’t follow “the formula” just right.
Let me say, though, that I didn’t exhaust myself or know that my view was off for over twenty years of being a Christian. It was going through the furnace and struggling with humility that brought me to that point of beautiful, necessary exhaustion.
As I took my trip through the furnace, I realized that I had never really lived in His love. And I tried to figure out why. What was preventing me from trusting that He loved me? Following this train of thought helped to uncover the unhealthy ways that I saw myself and God, and it also revealed to me that I didn’t really trust in His goodness. Oh, of course, I knew about His goodness in my head. I just didn’t let it deep into my heart. (You can’t let that kind of stuff in when you live behind self-protective walls.)
In my life, I didn’t have a complete trust of anyone. I didn’t trust anyone else to “complete me” or care for me or care about me. When you’ve had multiple fathers and your biological father had basically nothing to do with you, it’s hard to feel like you could really belong to anyone, that they would be there for you no matter what, that you could really matter to anyone that much. Even to God. How could He care that much for me and about me, to always be there and to love me unconditionally? I mean, seriously, no one really does that, right?
I didn’t know how to be a child that belonged and that was loved for who I was; I only knew how to be the step-child that felt like an outsider who didn’t really fit in.
I had been living under my own misconceptions of who God is. I had been seeing Him the way I saw my father - or lack of father. (No offense to him; he’s a really nice guy. He just . . . wasn’t there.) And the only way for me to get out from under these misconceptions was to accept God’s Truth about who He is. I had to learn to really find Him in the pages of the Bible - His holiness and His love - in equal balance.
When I used to read the Bible, all I would zero in on was His wrath and reasons to be afraid of Him. Obviously, because of my own walls and fears. But once He helped heal those, the other side of Him came alive for me, too. I started to really meet God in the pages, and not just His rules and restrictions. And I began to see such mercy and love.
Now I don’t just notice how He wiped out a city, I see how in His mercy and love He reached down to save one righteous man and his family before He unleashed His wrath. I see how when He fought on behalf of His people, He did so completely, oftentimes losing none of His people while totally obliterating the enemy. And He would relent from destroying a whole city because of one righteous person.
“Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” (Jeremiah 5:1) God cares enough about us as individuals to notice one righteous person out of so many people, and to act out of His love for one righteous person, instead of out of His justness for a whole city full of unrighteous people.
(Today, as I thought about this, I have been convicted to the core that those of us who are diligently seeking righteousness, who are abiding in the Lord, and who passionately believe in prayer have an incredible opportunity and a great responsibility to be intercessors before the Lord, to be someone who will “stand in the gap” for the people around us. Instead of just focusing on our own lives. If we don’t, who else will? See Ezekiel 22:30-31. I, for one, know that I need to be much more diligent and deliberate about this. I think God’s really been working on me about this one for a while.)
Because of my overemphasis on His wrath, I had always missed out on what it means to believe that “God is love.” God loves us because that’s who He is. He doesn’t love us because of what we do for Him or because of how well we do it or because of who we are. He loves us because HE! IS! LOVE! And He loves us because WE! ARE! HIS!
It’s not about us - about our attempts to earn love or to pull it out of Him. It’s about Him - about accepting the fact that He loves us unconditionally already, because of who He is. He loves us to the max. And He couldn’t love us more than He already does, no matter how hard we try to earn that love. We need to stop trying to earn something that is already ours for the taking.
But as long as Satan keeps us blind to who God really is and what’s already available to us, he can keep us busy trying to earn something that we could never earn. It’s something that we just have to accept. Our attempts to reach God - to earn His favor, love, forgiveness, or blessings - will not work. (That is “religion.”) In fact, they come from walls, fears, doubts, and misconceptions. And as long as these things remain, we will keep Him an arm’s length away from the very core of our hearts.
I think putting us in the furnace is one of the most loving and merciful things God could do. Because this causes us (if we are conscientious about it) to face our fears, walls, doubts, and misconceptions. And as we do that, we begin to open our hearts a little more to the Holy Spirit and to allow in God’s truth and healing and love. (That is, unless we choose to run from the work of the Holy Spirit. Which I think many people do.)
I wonder if the difficult circumstances of life and the inner struggles we go through are God’s way of asking us this one question . . . “What do you really think about Me and about yourself?”
The other day, I was out cleaning up the garden to put it to bed for the winter. I was tearing up the old pepper plants when I nearly grabbed one that had a praying mantis on it. (I had bought mantis egg cases from the garden supply store in the spring.) I let go of the plant when I saw it. And as the praying mantis began running from me in fear, I found myself saying, “Oh, don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. In fact, I’m the one who put you here.”
And as I said that, I suddenly saw myself as the mantis and God as the Gardener. And I realized that this was the same message God had been trying to get through to me for years, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. In fact, I’m the One who put you here. I only have love for you.”
It’s funny to me (not “ha ha funny”) that I could be so fond of and gentle with the toads, worms, and mantises in my garden, but that I live as though God isn’t as fond of or gentle with me. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that God really does love me and intends only good for me, just because I am His, just because He is who He is. Not because He has to and not because I earn it, but because that’s the kind of God He is. It is mysterious. It is mind-blowing. It is so humbling!
If I had to define a balanced view of His Love and His Holiness in one sentence, I would say this: It’s knowing that we don’t deserve His love, but it’s being so, so thankful and grateful that He loves us anyway. And it’s living in such a way that our lives show it.
We have to begin seeing Him for who He is if we are ever going to learn to live in His love and to have a healthy fear of Him. And to do this, I think that it is a very important thing to deliberately and conscientiously explore the fears, walls, misconceptions, and doubts that we have grown up with. We need to expose them, instead of trying to run away from them or talk ourselves out of them or hide them (which only makes them stronger).
We need to admit them to God and to ourselves, and to seek His help in replacing them with His Truths. And so I will once again present a lot of questions for reflection. (Big surprise, huh?) Take your time with these. Always pray before you work through them. Pray that the Holy Spirit shows you the true condition of your heart and helps you to see God’s Truth. And (yes, I know . . . ugh!) journal them. These may be painful insights, but they will be precious and valuable.
Write a letter to God, for your eyes only (or to share with a trusted friend if you want). Put into it whatever you have always wanted to say or ask or confess or scream. Put in all the doubts and fears and things you are angry about - whatever is really on your heart and mind. And then, turn it into a prayer to Him, out loud. Don’t edit it or make it sound prettier or more godly. Just be honest. He can handle it! He can handle (and He wants) the honesty and the raw feelings. He wants you - as you are. Not some polished, phony version of you. The more real you are with Him, the more you open your hurting heart up to Him and the more He can heal it. (If you have trouble answering the Questions for Reflection, explore this letter for any insight.)
And you may want to save this letter and make it a regular practice, writing a new “letter to God” every year. It’s up to you.
Example Prayer for Letting God Closer:
I want to know You as You really are. I am tired of living as a prisoner behind my fears, doubts, walls, and misconceptions. Search my heart and help me see anything that I need to face. And help me to replace lies and fears and misconceptions with Your truths. Help me learn to live in Your Truth. Take my weaknesses and fears and replace them with Your strength and Your peace.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
(After praying, spend some time listening to Him!)
Questions for Reflection:
1. Is there anything in this section that stood out to me? Why?
2. What is my view of God? Not the Bible’s view or the “good Christian’s” view, but my deep-down view. The good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly, the clear ideas and the confusing ones? What are my fears about God? My doubts about God? (Write it all, and know that God can handle the honesty. He knows it already. He’s just been waiting for you to admit it.)
3. How do I live my life? And what does it say about my thoughts/views of God? (Of myself? Of others? Answer these if you want, although we did look at this last section.)
4. Do any of the following “wrong views of God” illustrate how I see or relate to God? (There can be more than one.) And how does it affect how I live my life? (If none fit, think up your own description and write down how this view affects your faith and your life.)
a. The Harmless, Old Man - This god has his rules, but doesn’t enforce them. He sits in his rocker and is uninvolved in the world down here. And so we get comfortable, all focused on our own little life with little regard for seeking righteousness. We just don’t see or feel the consequences. Or maybe we accept his forgiveness and payment for our sins, but we don’t respect him enough to life a life that is worthy of it.
b. The Smiling Grandfather - This god winks at sin, lets us bend the rules, and allows us to get into a little, harmless mischief now and then. If we live with this view, we don’t take our sins seriously enough. We are out for fun and we feel like God likes it that way. It’s all about our happiness, right? We have little concern for the building of God’s eternal kingdom and the souls of others, because we are enjoying the temporary things too much. We are just happy to get away with whatever we can get away with. Live it up while you can!
c. The Harsh, Demanding Father - This god is just waiting for us to step out of line so that he can - Whack! - smack us with a ruler. He’s all about rules and keeping tight, strict control. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t laugh, and never, ever, hugs. And we are always so careful walking this Christian-life-tightrope that we are exhausting ourselves. There is no joy or peace, only fear and so many rules to follow.
d. The Absent Father - This one just isn’t there. But we are always looking for him. Always looking for Someone to heal our heart, to carry us through this life, and to love us for who we are. But there’s No One there. No One to catch us when we fall. No One to hold us when we hurt. And No One who cares about what we are going through. And, oh, how it hurts! And so we have to rely on ourselves or lean on other people who always seem to let us down.
e. The Checked-Out/Too-Busy Father - This god doesn’t care. He’s got his own things or so many other better people to be concerned about that we are just so far down on his list. If we want any attention, we have to earn it or shine brighter than others. And we have to maintain his favor or attention with song and dance and rule-following so that he doesn’t slip away from us. If we please him, he smiles at us. And if we don’t, he shuns us. We are always trying, yet never resting in his love.
f. The Dictator - We are here only for him, to do his bidding. We are worthless lumps that should just be happy to serve him. We are the doormats that he wipes his feet on, the clay that he smooshes and contorts just for his own amusement. And, by golly, we should just be thankful for even that much. And there is never any hope of having a loving, tender, two-way relationship with him.
g. The Loyal Subject - God is only here for me, to do my bidding. He loves me, loves me, loves me, and is so pleased with all I do. And he is just waiting there for me to ask for what I want so that he can give it to me. I can just focus on my life and do my own thing. And whenever I need him, he’s there for me. And he’s happy to do it because I am the most important thing in the universe. It’s all about me!
h. The Walk Away - He gave up on me a long time ago because I just can’t seem to get my act together. I’ve lost any hope of ever feeling his love again because I’ve slipped too far away. He could never love someone like me. And I deserve it!
i. The Jokester/Scientist – This god is just messing around with us. He is a cosmic jokester who thinks it’s fun to mess with people’s lives. Just to see what they do. Or he’s like a scientist that tests us just for fun, poking at us until we cry. He causes unnecessary pain just to see what happens. We don’t mean that much to him. We are just his experiments or play-things. And there is nothing we can do about it. Why would I want a relationship with a god like that?
j. The Ignored – Who cares about God? Don’t need Him. Never did! What has he ever done for me anyway? He’s never shown me that he’s real. And I’m supposed to just believe in him? Sorry, not interested and never was. I can handle life myself.
[We will not see Him if we don’t want to. He gives us that choice – at least on this side of eternity. But if this is your view, try an experiment. Suspend disbelief for one year. And say, “Okay, God, I don’t know if You are real. But I really do want to know. Show me if You are real.” And then watch and keep an open mind and read the Bible and see what happens. (It’s amazing to me how many people will reject the God of the Bible without ever reading the Bible. They base their decision on what other people say and on their own desire to live as their own god. But if God is real, no amount of denial will change it and you will have no excuse when you stand before Him.) You have to be willing to see Him or else you will miss Him every time.]
5. What contributed to my view of Him? What events in my past created my doubts, fears, questions, misconceptions, etc.?
6. How does my view of God resemble the way I view/relate to my mother or father?
7. How do I feel/think God sees me? (No pat or “proper” answers, but honest feelings and thoughts.)
8. What do I not like about myself? What do I think God doesn’t like about me? (Turn this into prayer and ask God to heal your wounds and to help you see yourself the way He does.)
9. What do I not like about God right now? Am I angry at Him, disappointed in Him, afraid of Him, etc.? (Transparency is the point here. It’s necessary for you and the quality of your relationship with Him. He already knows anyway. So don’t be afraid to admit this to Him in prayer. Admitting it loosens the hold it has on you.)
10. Deep down: Do I feel like I have to earn His love/blessings/forgiveness? Like He expects too much out of me? Like He’s unfair? Like He doesn’t really want to be close to me or care about me? Do I trust that He’s really good and loving? Fill in this blank as many times as needed: “I think that God …”
11. Why do I feel this way? And what in my past developed or contributed to these thoughts/feelings?
12. How do these views affect my life, my self-esteem, and the way I relate to Him? (To others? To myself?)
13. What is my view of the supernatural/spirit world?
14. What is my view of eternity?
15. Do I live with enough/too much/too little awareness of the spirit world? Of eternity?
[When it comes to angels, demons, the supernatural, and eternity, we can easily fall into one or the other – indifference or morbid fascination. Angels and demons are real. And the Bible makes that very clear. This is why the armor of God in Ephesians 6 is so important. There is a battle going on around us all the time and yet we choose to stick our heads in the sand. (For more on this, look up the post “ISI 15: Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God” in the Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com and sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com.)
And the Bible also makes it very clear that one day this world will pass away and we will all stand before God to give an account for our lives. And where we spend eternity will be determined by our choice to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us or not. And if we chose to make Jesus our Lord and Savior, we will spend eternity in heaven. That is the only way to heaven.
But our place in heaven – the position/role that we are given and the eternal rewards we receive - will also be affected by the things that we did for God and for His kingdom. These are the only things that will remain once He burns up everything else. But how many of us live our lives for today, instead of for eternity? How many of us ignore the eternal/supernatural things so that we can enjoy a little bit more of the temporary things?
Those are ways that we show indifference to the supernatural things. But there is the equally disturbing condition of having too much interest in them. All you have to do is turn on the TV or walk around the bookstores to see the huge selection of books on witchcraft, angels, New Age mysticism, and the like. Instead of remembering that angels are God’s messengers and are here to do His Will, we have turned them into beings to be worshipped or controlled. And this SHOULD NEVER BE!!! They are never – EVER – to be worshipped or prayed to. Heavenly angels are here to glorify God and do His Will, not to be praised themselves or do people’s wills.
And demons are fallen angels that we should never seek to contact or control. Their main purpose is to destroy the things of God and to prevent as many people as possible from coming to Him. And so it should not be a surprise that if people show an interest in them or seek to contact or control them, they will oftentimes disguise themselves as “good” beings who are here to do what you want. Anything to draw you in deeper and deeper, until you are much too ensnared to get out.
This is why I am so bothered by all the seemingly harmless, all-in-good-fun entertainment out there that centers on magic, witchcraft, vampires, etc. This stuff is not harmless fun. It is a gateway! A snare! And it’s geared toward children and young people. And that is scary.
We need to know what the Bible says about angels and demons if we are to have a proper understanding of them and a godly response to them and the things that pertain to them. And we need to be living our lives focused on the things that have eternal value. Because everything else will burn away in the end. So let me ask you this . . . If your priorities never change, what will be left when your works pass through the fire? Will you have the joy of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?]
16. The Bible says that there is a spiritual battle going on all around us, all the time. The Bible also says that we need to be outfitted with spiritual armor. How am I doing in each of those? (Read Ephesians 6:10-18)
17. What doubts, fears, misconceptions, sins, etc., is God asking me to lay down before Him right now? About Him? About myself? About faith and life and others?
18. What is God’s biblical answer or response to these doubts, fears, misconceptions, sins, etc.? (Ask God to guide you as you study the Bible for answers to these.) Can I accept God’s truth? If not, why not? What is blocking me from doing so?
19. Is God trying to tell me anything else I need to know? (Pray about it first.) What does He want me to think about more or tackle or deal with? (Pray for His help in doing this.)
If there is anything that He is asking you to lay down before Him right now, do it in prayer. Confess the lies you have believed, the sins you have embraced, the fears and doubts you have harbored, and the walls that you have maintained. And ask God to replace them with His Truth and His healing. Even if you don’t “feel” His love and forgiveness and healing right now, tell Him that you are going to accept them because you are standing on the Truth of the Bible. And ask Him to help make those things a reality in your life.
Who is God really - according to the Bible? How does He relate to His people? And how does He really see you? Spend some time reading the Bible, praying that God opens your eyes to the Truth about who He is (particularly relating to His love and holiness), what He expects out of you, and how He really sees you. Write down all the revelations that the Holy Spirit gives you as you read the Bible. Write down verses that speak truth about who He is and who you are.
In fact, now that you worked through these last two sections, ask God these questions: “God, how do You see me and feel about me?” and “What do You want me to know about You? How do You want me to see You?” And over the next few weeks, look for answers in the Bible and listen for the answers as He speaks to your heart and mind. And journal what He reveals to you.
If we were to really find Him in the Bible, I think that we could only come to the conclusion that God is a good, just, loving heavenly Father, even if things are going crazy or wrong in our lives. And if we are to really know how God sees us, I think we would have to believe that we are loved more than we will ever know, even though we are fallen creatures in need of a Savior and forgiveness.
This is really the only right way to see Him and ourselves, according to the Bible. He is a God who does not tolerate our sins, but does not condemn us because of them if we have accepted His forgiveness. He loves us so much in spite of who we are that He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him and have a fulfilling relationship with Him on earth. Not because we deserve it, but because He wants it.
He aches for the lost ones, but He has decided to allow us to choose Him or reject Him. He will not force it. But He hurts when we choose to go our own way, instead of running to Him. Yet He always pursues, always loves, and is always waiting for the moment we turn toward Him, even a little bit. And then He comes running to scoop us up in His arms.
He wants us to have the most abundant life possible. And He will come as close to us as we let Him come. But He knows that we can’t have the life we were made for if our hearts are closed off to Him at all and if we are trying to live apart from Him, in self-sufficiency, in control, for ourselves, or in disobedience. And so, in His loving mercy, He oftentimes allows discipline, pain, and trials to lead us to Him and to healing.
He has given us His wisdom and guidance in His Word, and He is always waiting to meet us in prayer. But it is up to us to pursue Him, and to obey or not. He knows that there are consequences for disobedience and for living apart from Him. And He wants to spare us those. So He gave us His Word, He will meet us in prayer, and He demands obedience. But if we choose to, He allows us to choose disobedience. And the consequences that go with it.
He is not disengaged from this world. He is always pursuing people and showing Himself to those with ears to hear and eyes to see. He is as close as you want Him to be. He does not tolerate sin, but He forgives it. Yes, there are consequences for our actions, but He promises to work all things out for good for them that love Him. He is a good, wise, loving heavenly Father. And through it all, He loves us greatly. Simply because of who He is and because we are His.