Let me give you one of the most powerful verses in all of scripture. Proverbs give us these prophetic words of Christ: “Then I was beside him as a master craftsman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:30-31, NKJV).
Beloved, we are the sons being mentioned here. From the very foundations of the earth, God foresaw a body of believers joined to his Son. Even then the Father delighted and rejoiced in these sons. Jesus testifies, “I was my Father’s delight, the joy of his being, and now all who turn to me in faith are his delight as well!”
So how do we love Jesus in return? John answers, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3).
What are his commandments? The gospel says, “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked him [Christ] a question, testing him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:35-40).
The first and most important command is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. We’re to hold nothing back from him. The second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. These two simple, non-grievous commands sum up all of God’s law.
Jesus is saying here that we cannot be in communion with God or walk in his glory if we bear a grudge against anyone. Therefore, loving God means loving every brother and sister in the same way we’ve been loved by the Father.
Many Christians talk about intimacy with the Lord, walking with him, knowing him, having fellowship with him; but we can’t have true communion with God unless we receive into our hearts the full revelation of his love, grace and mercy.
Communion with God consists of two things:
1. Receiving the love of the Father
2. Loving him in return
You can spend hours each day in prayer, telling the Lord how much you love him, but that isn’t communion. If you haven’t received his love, you haven’t had communion with him. You simply can’t share intimacy with the Lord unless you’re secure in his love for you.
I know when I come to my Lord, I’m not coming to a hard, fierce, demanding Father. He doesn’t wait for me with an angry countenance. He doesn’t trail me, waiting for me to fail so he can say, “I caught you!”
No, I’m coming to a Father who has revealed himself to me as pure, unconditional love. He’s kind and tenderhearted, full of grace and mercy, anxious to lift all my cares and burdens. I know he’ll never turn me down when I call on him.
The prophet Zephaniah says something incredible about God’s love for us. He writes, “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17, NKJV).
God rests in his love for his people. In Hebrew, the phrase “He will rest in his love” reads, “He shall be silent because of His love.” God is saying, in essence, “I’ve found my true love, and I’m satisfied. I don’t need to look elsewhere because I have no complaint, and I won’t take my love back. My love is a settled matter!”
He cares about everything concerning me (see Psalm 100). Can you receive his word that he loved you before the world was created, before humankind existed, before you were born? Can you accept that he loved you even after you fell into Adam’s sinful ways and became an enemy to him? That’s why I come into his courts with praise and thanksgiving because I’m thankful for who my God is.
Whenever opposition arises, God’s grace thrives in us. Think about what happens to a tree when a great storm beats violently against it. The wind threatens to uproot the tree and carry it away. It breaks off branches and blows away its leaves. It loosens its roots and blows off its buds. When the storm is over, things look hopeless.
Yet, look closer; the same storm that opened crevices in the earth around the trunk of the tree has helped the roots go deeper. The tree has access to new, deeper sources of nutrition and water. It has been purged of all its dead branches. The buds may be gone, but others will grow back more fully. That tree is now stronger, growing in unseen ways. Just wait till harvest because it’s going to bear much fruit.
Maybe you’re in a storm right now. The wind is blowing hard, shaking you violently, and you think you’re going down. Beloved, don’t panic! You’ve got to know that in the midst of the tempest, you are putting down deep spiritual roots. God is developing in you a deepening humility, a greater mourning and sorrow for sin, a heightened hunger for his righteousness.
Paul says, “Not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3, NKJV).
In 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, we read, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The word ‘working’ in this verse is the same as ‘produces’ in Romans 5:3.
God is making you a seasoned soldier of the cross, battle-scarred but battle-smart and courageous. You may get down on yourself at times, but the Lord never does. The fact is that he could have acted sovereignly at any time to pluck you out of your struggle, but he didn’t because he is using to produce strength and new life in us.
Some believers can tell you all about their spiritual growth, and you can clearly see the changes in their lives. They testify to you about how the Holy Ghost has vanquished the enemy for them, and you rejoice with them in their victory.
Yet these kinds of Christians are the exception. Most believers are totally unaware of any spiritual progress in their lives. They pray, read the Bible and seek the Lord with all their hearts. There’s no obstruction to spiritual growth in them, but they can’t discern any growth in themselves. I’m an example of this type of believer. I know I walk in the righteousness of Christ, yet I never sense that I’m making progress. In fact, I occasionally get down on myself whenever I do or say something un-Christlike. I wonder, “I’ve been a Christian for years. Why don’t I ever learn?”
I think the Thessalonian Christians were stunned when they heard Paul’s glowing assessment of them. “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, NKJV).
Rest assured that if you have the fear of God in your heart, you’re going to emerge from your life’s storms much stronger. When you’re doing battle with the enemy, you’re calling forth all the grace and power of God. Even though you may feel weakened, that grace and power are strengthening you. For one, you’re becoming more urgent in your praying. Second, you’re being stripped of all pride. The storm is actually putting you on “spiritual guard” in every area of your life!
Paul knew that spiritual growth is often a secret, hidden thing. Scripture likens it to the unseen growth of flowers and trees. “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5-6).
God is telling us, “Go to the lilies! Just try to watch them grow. I’m telling you by day’s end you won’t see any growth whatsoever. But know this; I water the lily every morning with the dew I send, and it’s going to grow.” The same is true of most spiritual growth, especially in the middle of trials. It’s imperceptible to the human eye.
Take heart, friend; I’ve got good news for you. You are growing in your struggle. In fact, you may be growing by leaps and bounds because of your struggle.
Anyone can keep his joy when he’s riding high in the Holy Ghost, not being tried or tempted. God wants us to keep ourselves in his love at all times, especially in our temptations.
The apostle John tells us very simply how we can keep ourselves in God’s love: “we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16, NKJV). The word ‘dwell’ here means “to stay in a state of expectancy.” In other words, God wants us to expect his love to be renewed in us every day. We’re to live every day in the knowledge that God has always loved us and will always love us.
In reality, most of us flit in and out of God’s love according to our emotional ups and downs. We feel safe in his love only if we’ve done well, but we’re unsure of his love whenever we’re tempted or have failed him. That’s especially the time we’re to trust in his love.
Jeremiah 31 offers a wonderful illustration of God’s love. Israel was in a backslidden state. The people had grown fat and prosperous and were indulging in all kinds of wickedness. Suddenly, their lusts turned sour. They lost all pleasure in fulfilling their sensual appetites. Israel cried out, “You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained bull; restore me, and I will return, for you are the Lord my God. Surely, after my turning, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, because I bore the reproach of my youth” (Jeremiah 31:18-19).
Listen to God’s response to Israel. “…’For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:20).
God was telling his people, “I had to chasten you and speak hard words of truth to you. Even then you sinned against me, doing so despite the grace and mercy that I extended to you. You turned against my love, rejecting me. Nevertheless, my heart of compassion was moved deeply toward you. I remembered you in your struggle, and I will surely have mercy on you. I’ll freely forgive and restore you.”
One particular time, I was stirred by the Holy Spirit, and he led me to this passage: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21, NKJV). As I read, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Kevin, you’ve never come into the fullness and joy of my love.”
The Bible is filled with the truth of God’s love, but at times I allow myself to wonder how the Lord could ever love me. It’s a failure on my part to keep myself in the knowledge and assurance of his love.
The revelation of God’s love comes in part when we are born again. If you were to ask most Christians what they know about God’s love for them, they’d answer, “I know God gave his Son to die for me.” Few Christians, however, learn how to be kept in God’s love. We know something of our love toward the Lord; but if you were to ask most Christians to find biblical passages on God’s love for us, they could point to only a few.
Multitudes grow spiritually cold and lazy because they’re ignorant of the Lord’s love for them. They don’t know that their greatest weapon against Satan’s attacks is to be fully convinced of God’s love for them, through the revelation of the Holy Ghost.
In his final prayer on earth, Jesus said, “Father, I desire…that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world…. I have declared to them your name, and will declare it, that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:24, 26).
The implication here is that when the Father loved Jesus before eternity, he loved us too. “Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).
How long has God loved you? He’s loved you since he has existed because God is love. It is his very nature. He loved you as a sinner. He loved you in the womb. He loved you before the world began. There was no beginning to his love for you, and there is no end to it.
One of the earliest letters to the church was from the apostles to new Gentile believers, and in it, the authors said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29, ESV).
Rather than weight down new believers with endless rules like the Jews had, Paul simply commanded, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).
It was the Holy Spirit’s inspiration speaking through them, saying, “Come on, church. Whether or not there’s a specific law about it, don’t engage in things if you’re not certain whether they’re biblically compromising. I’ve often hear young people ask me a question like “How far can I go into the things of the world and still be a Christian? Like, okay, I know I can’t have sex, but can I do this?” For adults, it’s often questions like “I know I can’t get drunk, but do three beers count as drunkenness? How about two beers? How close can I get to the world?”
That’s totally the opposite of what the Holy Spirit is calling his church into! We should be saying, “How close can I get to Jesus? What can I let go of to get closer? If there’s any former association in my life that has a sense of dabbling in the old way of living, how far can I get from this?”
In the church, we should hear the Word of the Lord and say to ourselves, “I want to be circumspect in heart. I want to be pure in my conscience. I want to obey the Word of the Lord. I will stop at nothing to win the prize for this race I am running.”
“Then the king of Assyria sent…Rabshakeh…with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah” (2 Kings 18:17, NKJV). The Assyrians represent today’s “guides to prosperity.” The devil will parade his army around your walls, people who are powerful, beautiful and seemingly successful in all they undertake. When you see them, you will feel walled in like a prisoner.
The first trick of the man of sin is to question a believer’s commitment to trust the Lord fully. Rabshakeh, whose name means “drunken envoy,” was the king’s ambassador. He mocked the godly, saying, “What confidence is this in which you trust? You speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words. And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me?” (2 Kings 18:19-20).
Satan then adds another twist; he tells you that God is the one behind all your troubles. Assyria’s messenger claimed, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’” (2 Kings 18:25).Satan will try to convince you that God is getting even with you, that he is mad at you. This is his slickest lie! He makes you believe God has forsaken you and turned you over to trouble and sorrow. He wants you to think all your problems are the result of God’s punishment for your past sins. Don’t believe it! It is Satan who is out to destroy you.
Our Lord is a deliverer, a fortress. Isaiah said he comes “To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
No, dear saint, you are not going down. You are simply under attack, being barraged by the enemy’s lies because you have set your heart truly to trust in the Lord. Satan is trying to destroy your faith in God.
We must be prepared for what is coming. We must be ready to spend our days in spiritual warfare, knowing that a flood of iniquity is aimed against the people of God. “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints’” (Jude 1:14, NKJV). Scripture says we are kings and priests unto the Lord, and we represent these tens of thousands going out to battle Satan’s army. Satan wars against us because he hates us greatly (see Revelation 12:17).
If we are determined to lay hold of Christ, we need to realize that we are invincible in Christ. It is written, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God says we are guaranteed victory over all the power of the enemy; we have all the host of heaven fighting for us.
May God give us more Holy Ghost fight so that each of us can shout to the world and all the hordes of hell, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37–39).
This is the battle cry of those who hunger for Jesus.
Every man or woman of God is going to become the target of hell’s evil devices once a commitment is made to become a living sacrifice for Christ. The hordes of hell will be unleashed against the one who sets his heart to walk in holiness of faith.
Satan will afflict and set up roadblocks because you have become a real threat to his program of deception. You can resign the warfare, give up, quit and become a dull, fruitless wanderer.
For me, I choose to resist the devil’s plot, rise up in faith and resume the fight. Satan cannot keep down one who truly trusts in the Lord.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?” (Luke 14:28-30, NKJV).
Christ knew many of his followers would not have what it took to see them through. He knew they would turn back and not finish the race. I believe this is the most tragic condition possible for a believer. They start out fully intending to lay hold of Christ, to grow into a mature disciple and become more like Jesus; then they drift away. Such a person is the one who laid a foundation and could not finish because he did not first count the cost.
What a joy it is to meet those who are indeed finishing the race! These believers are growing in the wisdom and knowledge of Christ. They are being transformed daily, from moment to moment. Paul says to them encouragingly, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is not heaven these believers seek but Christ in his glory!
I know that many who read this particular message are in the process of pausing or taking a step backward. It may seem like a small step, but it will cause a swift descent away from his love. If this is true of you, realize the Holy Spirit is calling you all the way back, back to repentance, self-denial and surrender. At this very moment, time is a big factor. If you ever intend to lay hold of Christ, do it now. See it through!