The following is an excerpt from my new Bible study, Knowing the God You Pray To, released this week by PrayerShop Publishing (prayershop.org). You may want to consider using it for personal or group study. Leader’s guide is available.
Consider the following true statements about God:
- God is Creator and Sustainer of all that is, overseeing galaxies and natural disasters, nations and kingdoms, and unseen spiritual realms in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
- God is love, grace, and mercy and does not delight in punishing people.
- God is Judge and Ruler over every living creature, with full authority to govern and reign.
- God is a miracle worker who raises the dead, heals the incurable, parts the seas, turns water into wine, stops the sun, and feeds multitudes from a single lunch sack.
Does one of those descriptions of God resonate more with you than the others? Which one?
I read the above list of God’s characteristics to my twentysomething son so we could talk them over. I felt a bit exposed when, after hearing the description of God as Judge and Ruler, he interjected, “That’s the one you really believed, isn’t it?”
He was right. For many years, that was my dominant view of God. This viewpoint was biblically sound and led me to a high view of God. However, focusing on this one aspect of God’s character also led me to a distortion that constantly affected the way I lived, felt about Him, and related to both Him and others. My son went on to describe how he had observed this belief affecting me: “You believed that God was always out to make sure you got everything right and was just waiting to punish you when you didn’t.”
That is how I reacted to God. I felt as if I were constantly on trial before my Judge and had to work hard every day to measure up. I desperately needed my view of Him as Ruler and Judge to be balanced by an equally accurate view of His love, grace, and mercy. When God started revealing those aspects of Himself to me, I was gradually able to relax and enjoy Him more. I began to talk to Him in new ways.
Instead of prayers dominated by concerns about performance (“Help me obey” or “Help me please You” or “Forgive me for messing up”), I could now begin connecting with God as a loving Father and Friend who enjoyed me, invited me to take risks, redeemed my mistakes, and understood my weaknesses. Gradually my prayers became more open and vulnerable (“Father, I am struggling to love this person—will You help me understand what’s really going on inside me?” “Jesus, I’m afraid. I want to trust You, but this circumstance is really making me anxious. Please help me rest in Your love and see Your grace for me.”)
What’s been especially surprising and encouraging is that when I relate to God in these new ways, I sense His pleasure. He is glad I am relating to Him with a bigger, richer, more accurate picture of who He is. I hear Him saying, “Child, I longed to touch your heart, but I couldn’t when you focused solely on getting everything right because you were fearful of being punished. I love being able to simply love you and pour out My grace and mercy into your everyday life.”
Can you relate with my experiences? Is a one-sided view of God affecting how you relate with Him? I hope that, through this study, you’ll begin to find new freedom and depth with Him.