Throughout my life, all of my biggest struggles shoot out from the same root. Whether it was years of being addicted to pornography or years of feeling extreme loneliness and insecurity, it all came from the same place—not truly believing God could love me. And until that root issue was addressed, there was no way for me to love my wife, Jamie, much less anyone else.
Thinking Rightly About God
I read a book while we were engaged that helped transform and correct my view of God and His love. A.W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God helped shine a light beneath the surface of my heart, exposing the root that God so badly wanted to do surgery on. “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” wrote Tozer. So many of my identity issues and love issues and sin issues stemmed from what I thought about God.
I assumed God was angry all the time, and when you think about God being angry, you can’t help but live with a fear that He’ll snap and suddenly crush you.
I assumed God was disappointed with me, and when you think this way about God, you’ll spend every day of your life trying to out-work and out-impress every human you encounter.
If you think God is indifferent toward you, you’ll be indifferent with yourself and everyone else you’re in a relationship with as well.
But when you begin to think rightly about God, everything changes. I think Tozer was right: what you think about God is the most important thing about you. And it’s impossible to truly love anyone else if you don’t first understand that God is love. He’s not only the author of love, but He is love itself.
First John 4 helped immensely as I was learning to understand God’s love for me.
“Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”
There is so much packed within those few verses. God is love. And love (true love) only comes from knowing and receiving the love of God. The Scripture is pretty clear that it’s impossible to truly love someone without receiving and choosing to believe the insane love with which God has loved you. You can’t muster up love. You can’t conjure up love. You can’t fake love. God’s love has to be the root of your soul, the compass of your life, the rudder of your boat. Without it, you’re just an action-based, performance-driven, feeling-fluctuating drifter. I was learning how true this was of myself. You can’t truly love unless you are loved.
But there’s also something specific about the love ascribed to God in 1 John. It says that He made His love known by sending His Son, Jesus, into the world.
There’s never been anyone like Jesus, and there never ever will be. When Jesus burst onto the scene of the human storyline two thousand years ago, it changed everything. There couldn’t be another question as to if God loved people. That question had hung in the air for generations, as the people of God waited around for a Messiah to show up. Even if they believed in the laws of God and the truths of God, it was hard to know the love of God before they saw Jesus with their own eyes. As His feet strolled through dusty city streets and darkened alleys, His very existence proved that God’s love was not merely a theory or religion, but it was active and on the move.
The love of God showed up.
The Scripture says that “the love of God was made manifest among us.” Plainly put, the love of God showed up. It crashed through the walls of what everyone had ever thought about God. And when they got a glimpse of Jesus, they were peering into the very heart of God. And inside that big, beautiful heart is outrageous love.
One of the most distinguishing marks about the love of God is found in the way Jesus displayed His love. Sure, His love was spoken with His own words; it spilled out from everything He said and every parable and every peculiar story He told. But He chose an even better way to express His love, and this one is perhaps the most intriguing and counter-cultural thing about Jesus. It’s the thing I’m most caught off guard by when I think of the King of the universe coming to earth and wrapping Himself in human skin.
Philippians 2 tells us that “although Jesus was in the form of God …[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What? Jesus? The guy who was fully human and fully God, the Word made flesh, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords? The form He deliberately chose as the greatest display of His love for us was being a servant? Counter-cultural. I told you. There could be nothing more humble than a servant. And nothing more humbling for Deity to do than take on the lowly role of serving people, all the way to death on a cross. And although I’m not fully sure why God would write the story this way, I do know this: There’s no greater display of love than servanthood.
If we’re ever going to learn what true love is, we have to get to the place where we are awestruck and deeply moved by the God who is love. The One who came to serve us, not be served by us. When we think rightly about God, when we think this way when God comes to our minds, it will change us. Every relationship becomes about serving the other person because we’ve been served by God. Every dating relationship revolves not around what can I get from that person, but how can I serve him or her. Every marriage becomes not about getting our way, but about laying down our life, considering our life less important than the other person’s, putting our own love on display through the form of humble servanthood. This is how Jesus did it. This is how He calls us to do it.
What about you? Do you know that you are loved? When you think about the cross of Jesus, does God’s full and complete love grab a hold of you and shake you to the core?
This post is adapted from Aaron and Jamie Ivey’s new book, Complement.