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Monday, March 30, 2009

Steadfast Love

For the past two months, my cousin Emmi (who is like my little brother) has been training me with regard to diet and exercise. Unlike just any kind of physical trainer, Emmi has been praying with and for me, walking me through Scriptures, and challenging me on the sin and heart issues related to my struggle with weight loss. This journey has been up and down for me. In it, I have seen some really ugly parts of my heart (and so has he). Some days, I have experienced new hope and belief that God can and will transform my heart and behavior, and other days I am ashamed to say I have given up in despair and disbelief. Throughout it all however, my brother Emmi has not given up on me. It is remarkable to me actually. I can be whiny, obstinate, proud, and all around impossible. I have high highs and low lows. I keep waiting for the day when Emmi will tire of checking in on me and hearing the same lame excuses. After all, he does have a busy life and there are a lot of people to whom he is ministering and shepherding in this season of life—I am sure that many of these people are growing much more quickly than I am. Still, my brother has stood by me—investing in me, believing in God for me, encouraging me, and boldly and lovingly speaking truth to me about God’s Word and my sin.

Steadfast (persevering) love.

It is a rare thing to see this in this world, where people so often give up on each other and throw each other away when things get difficult or require sacrifice. A wife divorces her husband when she bores of the monotony of everyday life. A friendship quietly fades in response to awkward circumstances. A father gives up on a son who is a constant disappointment. Best of friends are torn apart because they simply do not know what to do with each other’s sins.

Sadly, these scenarios are not just what we see in the secular world. They describe the lives of those of us who live inside the church! When we live like this, the message we are sending to the world is that the gospel doesn’t work.

On the other hand, when I see my brother standing by me in the messiness of my sin and struggle, I see that the gospel does work. I experience the persevering love of Christ for me through my brother. This persevering love is changing my heart and building my faith.

The Bible is a picture of persevering (or steadfast) love unlike any other. From Genesis to Revelation, God has shown forbearing, patient, merciful, loyal, unwavering love to His people. He pursued us, even though we have sinned against Him. He not only forgave us, but He even placed His affection on us, even though our sin tortured and killed Him on the cross! He continues to do these things for us, even though we still struggle against sin. He has not given up on us!

There are a multitude of passages in Scripture that talk about God’s steadfast love. Here are just a few:

Exodus 15:13 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.”

1 Chronicles 16:34 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Nehemiah 9:6-31

Psalm 25:8-10 “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”

Psalm 36:5-9 “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord. 7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

Micah 7: 18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our
sins into the depths of the sea. 20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.

Joel 2:12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

God calls us to imitate His steadfast love through the help of His Spirit by prayer and His Word. We bring Him glory by imaging the steadfast love He has shown us. He desires steadfast love from us more than our sacrifices (money, ministry work, acts of service, etc.)!

Hosea 6:6 “6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

In the New Testament, Paul commends the church at Thessalonica for their steadfastness and love:

1 Thessalonians 1: 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."

Here are a few other examples of how we are urged toward steadfastness and love and steadfast love:

Proverbs 3:3 “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Proverbs 19:22a “What is desired in a man is steadfast love”

Hosea 10:12 “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love;break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

1 Timothy 6:11 “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

Titus 2:2 “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.”

Steadfast love is our witness to the world that the gospel works.

Let me say that again, steadfast love is our witness to the world that the gospel works.

In John 13:35, Jesus tells us, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us not forget the context of this statement. Jesus said this after He stooped down to wash the dirty feet of the disciples even though He knew they would abandon and betray Him in His most painful hour. Jesus did this while preparing to die a brutal and shameful death on a cross for His sinful friends. Jesus is not calling us to the kind of love we see in the world or that comes intuitively in our own hearts. He is calling us to is steadfast love. He is calling us to scandalous, amazing, other-worldly love. By this, the world will know we are His. His own love will witness to the world through us. This is the kind of love that changes hearts and draws people to Christ. It did for me!

Still, where the rubber hits the road in the messiness of our everyday lives (rejection, abandonment, betrayal, inconvenience, humiliation), we must ask ourselves: Has God’s steadfast love of us made a difference in our lives? Does it matter to us that we are called to image God’s steadfast love? Do we get that this is how we are to proclaim the gospel to the world? How is the Lord is calling us to demonstrate steadfast love in our specific circumstances right now? Does a specific person come to mind? Will we ask Him how He is calling us to this in the specifics of our own lives? Are we listening to Him? Are we willing to obey? Do we believe that He can do the impossible in and through us? Do we believe the gospel works?

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your steadfast love!!! Your amazing love caused me to love you. Your steadfast love has been my only hope in the midst of my struggles with sin. Your steadfast love has led me from death to life and from defeat to victory. Thank you, Lord, for your patience, long-suffering, forbearance, mercy and grace toward me! Without these things, I could never stand before your presence. Your love gives me hope of redemption! I pray that you would open my eyes to the ways you want me to show steadfast love to the people you have brought into my life. I know the only way that I can image your steadfast love is by your Spirit. Help me to constantly seek to be filled with your Spirit through the Word and prayer and submission to you. I ask that you would fill me with your Spirit so that your out-of-this-world love would flow through me to others. I pray that you would help me to love those whom I sinfully find “unlovable,” “hopeless,” “annoying,” “unforgivable,” “unchangeable,” “ugly,” “too awkward,” and “too much of an inconvenience”. Forgive me for this grievous sin against your own name! When I do this to my brother and sister, I spit on the steadfast love you showed me despite the fact that I am “unlovable,” “hopeless,” “annoying,” “unforgivable,” “unchangeable,” “ugly,” “too awkward,” and “too much of an inconvenience” apart from you! Renew my heart with truth from your Word. Align my heart and will with yours. I pray for anyone who would read this blog too, that you would do this work in their heart too. Thank you that your Spirit gives us supernatural power to love in ways we would otherwise be unable to love. Thank you that your Spirit is available to us through prayer and your Word, through confession and praise. Fill us!! We love you. In Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, Bina- and a great reminder for me, too. You're right that that kind of long-lasting, steadfast love is one of the best reflections of God's change in our hearts to non-believers. Thanks for the reminder ;)

The Pichura Family said...

Wow..thanks for your openness in sharing your struggle and yet the beauty that arises in the midst of it...God's steadfast love!
The month of April, the kids and I are going to be studying the fruit of the Spirit...LOVE! So, it was a neat way to gear my heart! Thanks so much!

Rachel said...

You don't know how much I needed to read this right now-but God did! Thank you.

Heather said...

Thank you Bina for this wonderful reminder of how God loves us and how I should in response love others.