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A pillow on which to rest our heads
I sometimes struggle to believe that God really loves me. I can be tempted to feel a sense of failure and self-condemnation. It is relatively easy to believe that God loves everybody else, but much harder to believe that God loves me.
The love of God, Paul explains in Romans 8, starts with ‘no condemnation’ (v.1) and ends with no separation: Nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (v.39). John Stott describes the truth of this passage as ‘a pillow on which to rest our weary heads’.
‘God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love,’ wrote St Augustine. This is not to say that salvation is something individualistic, but rather that you are so important that if you were the only person who had ever lived, Jesus would have died for you. And if it is true of you it is also true of me. God loves me.
1. Tell of the great love of the LordPsalm 89:1-8
The focus of both our worship and our witness is the love of God. The psalmist begins with worship. He starts with a hymn of praise (vv.1–18). His worship and praise focus on ‘the Lord’s great love’ (v.1).
‘I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself … For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?’ (vv.1–2,6a).
The message we pass onto others should always centre on God’s love: ‘I’ll never quit telling the story of your love’ (v.2, MSG).
Lord, I want to begin the day by worshipping and praising you for your great love for us. Thank you for your love and faithfulness to us. Thank you that in all the years of following you, I have experienced your love and faithfulness. Help us, Lord, to continue to make your love known to others.
2. Meditate on the amazing love of ChristRomans 8:18-39
Do your circumstances ever cause you to question God’s love for you?
Paul suffered greatly – beatings, imprisonment and many other hardships. He starts today’s passage by saying that these sufferings cannot come close to comparing to the glory we will see one day. There is no comparison ‘between the present hard times and the coming good times’ (v.18, MSG).
While we are waiting, we have the first fruits of the Spirit. We have the ‘first fruits of the Spirit’ (v.23). The Holy Spirit is a down payment guaranteeing what is to come – the future glory. One day the whole creation will be liberated (v.21) and our bodies will be totally redeemed (v.23).
Paul uses the analogy of a pregnancy. We are ‘feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy’ (vv.23–25, MSG).
‘Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans’ (v.26, MSG). He enables us to pray in accordance with God’s will (v.27). If our prayers are led by the Spirit, they will definitely be answered – because they will be in accordance with God’s will.
Life is not the random mess it may sometimes appear. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (v.28).
This applies to all Christians. He elaborates in verses 29–30 – we are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified. The first four events have happened, but glorification is a future event. However, Paul uses the same past tense for all of them. This use of the aorist (past) tense shows Paul’s certainty about the future – it has already been secured.
James Denney wrote, ‘the tense in the last word is amazing. It is the most daring anticipation of faith that even the New Testament contains.’ It speaks of total security. The security of a Christian is solidly grounded on the unwavering love of God. This sure foundation is deeper than all our circumstances and feelings.
In every detail of our lives, God is at work. God will take even our errors and work them out for our good. He reigns. He is sovereign. In everything he works for the good of those who love him. Supremely, the cross demonstrates that just as God took the very worst event in history and turned it into the very best, he can take the worst things in our lives and use them for good.
How can we be sure of God’s love? John Stott points out that Paul poses five unanswerable questions and defies his readers to deny their reality.
- With God on our side like this, how can we lose?
‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (v.31b).
- If God was prepared to give us his only Son, is he likely to withhold anything else?
‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (v.32).
- Who is going to dare to be counsel for the prosecution?
‘Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?’ (v.33a).
- If God is the judge and Jesus our defence counsel, how can a prosecution succeed?
‘It is God who justifies. Who then can condemn?’ (vv.33b–34). Jesus is our defence lawyer. He is supremely qualified. ‘Christ Jesus, who died’ (v.34) has already served the sentence for us. He ‘was raised to life’ by God (v.34). He is in the supreme place of honour ‘at the right hand of God’ (v.34). He is praying for us (v.34). He is sticking up for us. Jesus never stops praying for you.
- How can anyone drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love?
We can be separated from friends and family by circumstances or even death. But, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (v.35a). This does not mean that life is easy. There may be trouble, hard times, hatred, hunger, homelessness, bullying threats and backstabbing. But not even the worst sins listed in Scripture ... None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us (vv.35b–37, MSG). In the midst of every difficulty we can cling to God’s love for us.
Paul lists seventeen possibilities involving calamities of life, superhuman agencies, time and space (vv.35–39). He makes sure the inventory is comprehensive. And he concludes that he is absolutely convinced that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (v.39). As Isaac Watts wrote, ‘love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’.
Lord, how can we ever thank you enough for your amazing love for us? Thank you that our future is totally secure. Thank you that you have given us the Holy Spirit to guarantee our future. Thank you that your Spirit helps us now to pray in our weakness. Thank you that we know that in all things you are working together for the good of those who love you. Thank you that nothing can separate us from your love.
3. Enjoy the unfailing love of GodHosea 10:1-11:11
Do you realise that God loves you more than any parent loves their own children?
Hosea continues to speak of God’s love for his people in spite of their unfaithfulness. They have allowed ‘poisonous weeds’ (10:4) and ‘thorns and thistles’ (v.8) to grow up. We have to be so careful that these things do not grow up in our lives.
God calls them to ‘sow for yourselves righteousness’ and ‘reap the fruit of unfailing love … for it is time to seek the Lord’ (v.12).
He describes it here in terms of parental love: ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son … It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms … it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I … bent down to feed them’ (11:1–4).
This is an amazing picture of God’s love and tenderness: like a parent looking after a toddler. ‘I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek’ (v.4, MSG) – feeding them, teaching them to walk, taking them up in their arms.
Even though they refuse to repent and were determined to turn from him (vv.5,7), he cannot give them up (vv.5–8). ‘My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused’ (v.8b). This is the love that will not let us go.
Lord, help me to sow righteousness and not allow the weeds and thorns and thistles to grow in my life. Thank you that when we do this, we reap the fruit of unfailing love
Thank you, Father, that your love and compassion for us is greater than any parent for a child. Thank you for your extraordinary tenderness and mercy. Thank you that you will not let us go. Thank you that your people in the Old Testament experienced something of this love. But now we experience the full expression of your love in Christ Jesus – in his death and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Thank you, again, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’
I have hung onto this verse many times when things haven’t been working out or a big disappointment happens. Looking back over the years at many of the things that didn’t go the way I had hoped, I can now say that it was a great blessing that they didn’t. I could never have said that at the time. But there are still a few that I might have to ask about when I get to heaven.