Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers...
Across the country there are millions of people who have a faith. People who’ve been brought up to believe Jesus died and rose. They’ve gone to church, but they have no living experience of God’s love. We need Paul’s prayer found in 2 Thessalonians:
May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s patience. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
This is a prayer for Christians. He’s writing to the church. It’s a prayer that God will do something in us who believe but who don’t always feel God loves us.
I want to use this prayer to open the door of your mind and heart to something more than you may have already experienced. Here are Christians going through great difficulties, and Paul says: “My prayer for you is that God will direct your hearts into the love of Christ.” That means it’s possible to endure persecution and not to feel the love of Christ. It’s possible to go through seminary and not to feel the love of Christ. It’s possible to worship in the seats of an evangelical church like this for 20 years and to not feel the love of Christ.
I don’t want to be there! And neither do you. People who are not Christians endure great pain and carry great sorrows. They do it by gritting their teeth. They do it in Britain with a stiff upper lip.
Paul is saying to these believers, “I want something better for you. I want your soul to be filled with the love of God.” Let me give you some real life examples of the love of God flooding a person’s soul, so that you will be encouraged to pray for more of this yourself.
Four Testimonies about God’s Love
1. John Wesley
Wesley was a pastor. He had preached on two continents—in England and in Georgia, here in the States. Something happened to him on the 24th of May, 1738, while he was listening to a man read the preface to Luther’s work on Romans in Aldersgate Street in London. Here is Wesley’s description of what happened to him:
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[i]
What is so amazing about this is that this man had been preaching in church for years, but now he tasted the love of God. He had a new sense of its sweetness. His life and ministry was transformed.
2. Jonathan Edwards
In 1737, Edwards rode out into the woods for time of prayer:
I had a view, that was for me extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God… and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love.[ii]
He went out into the woods, tied up his horse, and saw the love of Christ in a way that he had not seen it before. He had a “view” of it, and he got a glimpse of it. Its sweetness came home to his soul
3. Dwight L. Moody
In 1871, Moody’s church building was destroyed in the Chicago fire. He went to New York to seek financial help:
I began to cry as never before for a greater blessing from God. The hunger increased… I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with his Spirit.
Well, one day in the city of New York – oh! What a day, I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say, God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.[iii]
His soul was so overwhelmed by the love of God that he said, “I can’t take it anymore.”
4. Blaise Pascal
One of the most intense descriptions of this kind of experience comes from Blaise Pascal, a Roman Catholic. It would be easy for some of us to dismiss experiences where people feel God’s love by saying that there are certain, more emotional, types of people who alone have these experiences. But Pascal was a mathematician and a scientist, so his story is particularly interesting.
Pascal had an extraordinary experience of the love of God that lasted for about two hours. He wrote some scribbled notes of what happened to him, and then he sewed them into the inside of his coat where others found them after his death:
This day of grace 1654
From about half past ten at night, to about half after midnight
God of Abraham, God of Isaac God of Jacob
Not of the philosophers and scholars.
Security, feeling, joy, peace
God of Jesus Christ…
Greatness of the human soul…
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
May I never be separated from him.[iv]
What happened to him? His heart was “directed into the love of God and the patience of Christ.”
Ask God Paul’s Prayer
Some of you carry a lot of baggage on the topic of God’s love. Perhaps, when you think of God, you picture him with a frown on his face. Or, you think of God as cold, aloof, harsh, and demanding. These thoughts may have deep roots in your mind.
When Paul writes, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s patience”, it is meant as a prayer, so use it. Make it your own. The Scriptures tell us what we should pray for. So ask God, and go on asking, until like the snow that melted in the warmth this week, your heart begins to thaw in the warmth of the love of God.
[This post was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “The Love of God and the Patience of Christ,” from the series Staying the Course When You’re Tired of the Battle.][Photo credit: Unsplash]