There is no more important question any of us will answer in our lifetimes, than who is God really? Is he an abusive bully demanding the universe do his bidding, or is he an affectionate Father inviting us into the fullness of his glory? How do we answer it? We sort out the story of Scripture, we look at the reflection of his nature in Jesus, and we let the Holy Spirit unveil him in our hearts. It’s a process that takes a life time. But having been one who lived in the fear of appeasing God every day to one who has lived with a growing awareness of his affection over the last twenty years, I can say sorting that out is life’s greatest adventure. And finding a way to live in his affection
Last week I exchanged some email with a lady who is sorting that out in her own life. I thought others of you might enjoy reading over my shoulder as this life awakens to a greater reality. This is Joani’s original email:
I’m just finishing He Loves Me and chapter 22 discusses the difference between “save me” prayers and “God glorify you name” prayers. On page 178 you write, “This is the prayer the Father always answers, ‘Father, may the purpose for which you have created me and placed me where you have in the world be fulfilled completely.'” How is asking God to fulfill His purpose in us different from evangelical songs asking God to “use” us? I think it’s in your Transition series where you discuss God “using” us as a putrid idea, and you used your daughter coming to you saying, ‘Dad, use me,” as an example to verify “use me” as unhealthy. I agree with you. The idea of God using us does seem unhealthy.
How would you distinguish between the prayer of “God’s purpose” and “God’s using? I read your prayer on page 178 as passivity but not the “Relax, I’m your heavenly Father and have the best in store for you” kind of passivity. I read it as a prayer of passivity where I’m basically a doormat for God. I come from an abusive background, and have not been won into trust about passivity. Passivity has been a terrible experience in my past. Passivity means I have no voice or value so I’m resisting this prayer of passivity. So what is the context for the idea of God having a purpose for us?
My response: Wow! A doormat for God? Don’t know that I’ve heard that expression before. I guess it all depends on how we view God. If he’s a demanding taskmaster who wants to ruin our lives with his “purpose” or exploit us for his gain, then you’re right. It’s a pretty disgusting notion. But if he’s the Creator, who loves us more than anyone ever has or will and wants us to be a part of his incredible purpose to redeem the world to himself and help set captives free, then who wouldn’t want to be part of that? I don’t see God’s “purpose” as our obligation at all. I see it as an invitation to fulfill all that we were created for before sin and religion twisted us up.
So I don’t know that your question is about vocabulary here, but about how we perceive God and our place with him. That may be shaded by your background for sure. I understand why being used by another person or deity for their purposes would be pretty disgusting. But if he knows you better than you know yourself and he wants you to know absolute fulfillment and joy and would never ask anything of you that would violate your personhood or compromise your freedom. Who wouldn’t want to discover what he’s about in the world and join him in it? God’s giving beats our trying to get any day…
You hit the nail on the head about the issue not being about vocabulary. The issue is whether or not we know him, and you’re right — if we know who God actually is then why wouldn’t we want to join him on this journey! And after reading your email I realized more clearly how I still see God as the family and neighbors I grew up with. In essence, I see God as a dictator, absentee father, bully and constant rule changer so that I never have a chance of succeeding. What an appalling view!
I was brought to tears with your sentence, “. . . (he) . . would never ask anything of you that would violate your personhood or compromise your freedom.” I found that absolutely remarkable! I didn’t know that about God and putting it in such terms was both eye-opening and heart-wrenching (in a good way).
I’ve almost always viewed myself as insignificant or inconsequential — as a cookie-cutter person or generic box of macaroni (for lack of a better illustration) to be kicked around. I’m starting to see that’s no longer acceptable. I can’t hold my son, for example, as significant and loved by God and claim I’m not. I haven’t been trying to be stubborn or set myself apart. I was simply thinking like the stray dog — unable to trust or receive love.
You said in a different way what you’ve always been saying about God’s love, and it’s what I needed to hear.
My heart goes out to people like Joani who are sorting out how God really thinks about them. I know it isn’t easy to see something in your heart that your mind doesn’t fully embrace yet. I know how discouraging and how scary to think of God as an abusive Father who will exploit you instead of one coming to set you free. So much of religion paints him that way, as an offended, angry deity always disappointed in us. And because of our shame it is easier to believe that than that he is an affectionate Father delighting in them each day and drawing them ever-more surely into the reailty of his love.
But we have to see that struggle as his more than ours. When I read Joani’s email, I am so encouraged because I see God is unraveling her old way of thinking and that she is getting her ready to see his love in a way that will capture her heart. Every word of her emails breathes with that reality.
What I wrote her next, I’d want to say to all of you in this same struggle:
“God is moving something in your heart to a place of greater freedom. It may be taking awhile because the brokenness runs so deep. And I do understand how easy it is to get discouraged with the passing of time and still battling the darkness. But you need to see this not as your responsibility to change your own thinking, but as Father at work in you to win the heart of a daughter he so loves. The struggle is understandable. We’ve all been through it, though certainly at different depths and through different experiences. But you will get through this. He is winning your heart from unworthy conclusions about him that others have given you to the reality that only he can give.
“He is making himself known to you. As best you can each day, try (however fleetingly) to relax into the trust that he is doing this in you not asking you to do it yourself. He knows how lost you are. He knows how painful it has all been, but your desire for him and the reality of his love will win out. He’s at work already. The day is at hand.
So when you get discouraged and are overcome with tears, let them flow. It is all part of draining the old lies and wounds and letting you see beyond that into the richness of his love for you. And when you sense that love let the joy flow. It runs in fits and starts as the old gives way to the new. Let the process play out. Don’t try to rush it and don’t judge yourself for it not being fulfilled yet. This is in his hands and there’s no better place for it.
His love for you has always been there and no less true today just because you can’t see it clearly. But you when you do you’ll find great joy in your Heavenly Dad.
I’m praying for you…”
And for those who want further help learning how to let God build a relationship with you, Wayne offers a series of short videos to help coach you into responding to what he is doing, rather than trying to get there in your own wisdom or strength. They are called Engage. They are free and you can find them here.