As Christians, we know we are called and empowered toward lives full of joy. How could we not be joyous, our King has risen and He has freed us from the power of sin and the grip of death! If we are honest, though, we may not always feel joyous....
Jesus loves me.
This simple sentence can sometimes be an overwhelming thought. God became a human, like me. He understands my sorrows, and died for my sins so that I might be united with Him in glory. Not only glory, but also His Spirit dwells with me now and currently guides, encourages, and grows me from one small change to another until His work in me is completed (2 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 1:6).
For the Christian, there is this and so much more, all packed into the small, life-changing sentence: Jesus loves me.
Yet, this simple phrase often lacks transforming power in my life. There are times when I become discouraged by my acts of sin and selfishness. In these moments of conviction, I really don’t love myself; and it becomes difficult to understand how God could.
Other times, I question God’s love for me as an individual. My emotions of guilt and discouragement often turn normal days into weighty and cloudy ones. I know I am a Christian and that the Bible says “for God so loved the world.” But can anything be done when the intellectual truth of God’s love fails to touch my heart?
How can I grow in my understanding of God’s love for me, when I don’t feel loved?
“I love you”
One true broad statement is this: a man or woman in love desires to be loved in return. Hearing the phrase “I love you” from someone you love can carry incredible significance. Married couples often remember with fondness the day they first heard “I love you” from their spouse.
Imagine a married couple that honestly says “I love you” every day. Can a spouse in this marriage still feel unloved? Absolutely. Why? Because humans by nature allow their experiences to determine their perceptions.
In the honeymoon stage, the phrase “I love you” seems to meet no end. “I love you” means the significant other will stop at no cost, fight all foes, and even sacrifice their own lives for the other.
Years later, the phrase is perceived differently because further experiences have defined and shaped the meaning, either positively or negatively (or some of both). For example, the spouse may learn that “I love you” does not mean they love enough to pick up dirty laundry, communicate honestly, serve humbly, and so on.
In these situations, the meaning of the phrase “I love you” shrinks with experience. On the other hand, “I love you” may be expanded even beyond initial perception through experiences of amazing self-sacrifice, love, and unwavering commitment. This is recognizable in couples who honestly say they are more in love now than ever before.
Another thing to point out is that our perception does not always accurately capture reality. We humans are often wrong in how we perceive others’ actions. Similarly, Christians can often inaccurately perceive God’s love. The question is, how do Christians grow an accurate understanding of God’s love when experience and perception greatly influence us?
Growing in “Jesus Loves Me”
When a good husband seeks to communicate love to his wife he does not simply tell his wife “I love you,” but he romances her by using phrases and actions to help her understand. He writes poems about her love, sings songs about her beauty, gives her flowers, watches the kids, cooks the food, all to expand her perception of “I love you.”
Similarly, in Scripture God not only says “I love you” but He also uses images, poetry, synonyms, and stories to communicate His love. God directly speaks to our perception of His love towards us in order to grow our understanding.
Below is a list (not exhaustive) of examples where God attempts to expand our perception of His love. Therefore, when your heart fails to respond to His love and your experience tempts you to believe He has left, seek Him and search Scripture to discover “the great love with which He has loved us” (Ephesians 2:4)
- is like a great gift (John 15:13, Romans 8:31-32).
- looks like someone planning a future surprise (John 14:1-4, 1 Corinthians 2:9).
- sounds like joyful singing (Zephaniah 3:14-17).
- is unbreakable (Romans 8:37-39, Psalm 136).
- wants to adopt us as children (1 John 2:28-3:2, Ephesians 1:3-6).
- looks like encouraging the outcast (Genesis 21:14-21, John 4:1-26, Luke 23:39-43).
- is not dependent on how “good” we are (1 John 4:7-10, Ephesians 2:4-6).
- causes Him to weep (John 11:28-38, Luke 13:34-35).
- is compared to a bird protecting young (Psalm 36:7, Psalm 57:1, Matthew 23:37).
- looks like a good father (Matthew 6:1-8, Matthew 7:7-10, Psalm 103:13).
- is compared to a compassionate mother (Isaiah 49:14-18, Isaiah 66:12-13).
- looks like a caring teacher (Matthew 9:35-38, Mark 6:33-44).
Reread the Scriptures
Sometimes a daughter wants to hear “I love you,” but other times she wants to hear a story of her dad’s courage to fight the dragon. Sometimes a son wants to hear “I love you,” but other times he wants to explore with his dad.
As Christians we need not resign ourselves to the memory of the glorious truth that “Jesus loves us,” but like a wife who re-reads old love letters when her husband is traveling, we must also reread God’s letters, searching anew and afresh to expand our understanding that in fact, Jesus truly loves us.