Why I Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Love

It started out great. She liked me and I liked her. We hugged and held hands and spent entire Saturdays together. It was great for about a month or so. But then I said something that triggered a downward spiral.

One day, I mentioned that it had been a hard day, and that I could really use a good hug when we met up. Then I added, “Sorry, I feel a little bit like a needy middle school girl.”

She bristled at the word “needy” and said that it made her uncomfortable. I had only meant it as a joke, but she has had bad experiences with needy guys, and was watchful for any neediness I might have. I reassured her that no, of course I didn’t mean it like that. But we soon discovered that something was lurking beneath my actions.

The further my girlfriend backed away, the more I tried to earn back her affections. I drove 40 minutes to her house whenever she had a rough day. I made her gifts and brought her milkshakes (which I knew she loved). I did all sorts of nice things for her. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t necessarily because I liked her that much. It was because I wanted her to hug and hold me again, I wanted to feel loved again.

Wanting to feel loved isn’t necessarily bad. But I knew something was wrong when I realized that every time I hung out with her, I left angry. I would go out of my way to do nice things for her, but she still wasn’t giving me her affection in return.

Of course my anger made her want to give it even less. She really just wanted to hang out with me and have fun, with no obligations. This eventually broke our relationship, and in our last conversation as a couple I realized what I had been doing. I was trying to earn her love, and I resented her when she didn’t give what I felt I had earned, and it was a big part of what soured the romance.

I’m not sure where my desperate desire to be loved stems from. But I’m guessing most of us have some element of this need and insecurity in our relationships, perhaps even in our relationship with God.

 

Love First, Then Obey

When we want to feel that God loves us, we often try to behave better so that He’ll love us more, or so that we can earn something from Him. For example, I try to abstain from lust because I think that maybe God would bring me a better wife if I did. But is that really the right reason for “obedience”—doing something for God so He’d do something for me? Is that really love?

As my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart, I remembered that God said in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” We don’t love God so that He will love us. We love Him because He already loves us. I was relieved but also a little convicted. My attempts to obey were basically an effort to earn something from God, instead of simply loving Him.

So how can we show our love for Him? 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” Our obedience isn’t how we earn God’s love—it is an outpouring of the love we already feel for God. So God doesn’t merely want us to obey, He wants our love. That’s pretty cool.

Like a parent, God encourages us to good actions because He knows it will bring us a better life. After God lovingly and miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He had Moses tell them, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).

God is saying, I want you to obey Me because it will make a very good life for you. We obey God not so we can earn His love, but because we know He loves us, and we trust that He gave us these commandments for a good reason. Obeying God’s commandments doesn’t mean that we will avoid all trouble or persecution, but it helps us avoid the natural consequences that irresponsible actions and sinful living can bring upon us.

In fact, a few verses earlier, we have what Jesus later cites as the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The commandment is simply to love God! But then you may ask, how do I make myself love something?

 

Hang Out With God

In the verses immediately following, we are given some specific instructions that seem to be placed right after the command in order to help us foster that love in our hearts. We are told to put God’s words before us and around us, and to talk about them always (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

God just wants us to hang out with Him and enjoy Him! For me, this sometimes means reading the Bible during little breaks, putting verses up around my room, and bringing up what I’m learning in my quiet time when I talk to my friends.

It’s like what my ex-girlfriend wanted. She just wanted someone to be with her, do life with her, and hang out with her. She didn’t want to be obligated to love me just because I was trying to earn it. When we read those verses in Deuteronomy, this sounds like what God wants us to do as well. Just hang out with Him, think about His words, and talk about Him with others. Maybe this is the right way to foster our love for God, and obedience comes naturally because we love Him.

But even in a worldly relationship, we don’t always feel “in love” with someone, yet we still treat them in a loving way. And we should try to do the same for God. So even when we don’t experience the mountain-top love of God at a given moment, or when our heart doesn’t automatically motivate us to stop sinning, we must still try. Because we know that, even during those times we’re not super excited about a relationship, we still love the person—and God—and we don’t want to hurt them.

When I don’t feel that passion, I try my best to wait faithfully until it returns. It also helps when I surround myself with God’s Word and other people who love him. At the end of the day, I trust that God’s love is always waiting for me. Even if I walk away in a moment of weakness, God is always waiting for me to return and again enjoy His love.

My attempts to earn what I want from people will probably be something I struggle with throughout my life. But acknowledging that it is my struggle helps keep me aware of it, so I can intentionally focus on enjoying God’s presence and fostering my love for Him again.

 

Why Is It So Hard to Evangelize to My Friends?

Written By Rachel Raja, Singapore

After a few years of attending campus ministry at my university, I became increasingly gripped by the gospel, and evangelizing to my friends quickly took a front seat in life. I started spending time planning and meeting my non-Christian friends and thinking hard about who in my life could benefit from hearing the gospel. These meetups which resulted in dinners, games or exercising were easy to organize and quite enjoyable for my friends and I.

But often, I’d be on the train home after such a meetup, wondering if I had truly been effective in sharing Christ with my friends.

Why did the actual act of sharing Christ seem so hard? It was far easier to portray myself as a good person who cared about my friends and their lives, and it was far easier to look like a loving Christian, than it was to speak of Jesus. I always secretly wish that my actions could magically lead them to knowing Christ, without ever having to do the hard stuff like explaining the gospel and possibly offending my friend by telling them that they are sinful and need Christ.

I can’t help but wonder why exactly I feel this way when it comes to evangelizing. Here are some reasons I’ve come up with:

 

1. I don’t know why I should evangelize

I’ve always known that evangelism is important, probably because the church that I grew up in taught me that it was central to the Christian life. So, I invited my friends for evangelistic meetings and built deep relationships with them where possible. My friends knew where I was going with this, that I wanted them to hear and believe the message of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they were receptive, sometimes not. And when they were not, I acted like my job was done and resigned myself to the fate that I was not the person to lead them to Christ.

Actually, if I had really sat down and thought about why I was doing what I was doing, I had no concrete answer. I just did it because everyone else was doing it. It seemed the right thing to do, and it seemed like something I could do mindlessly.

Recently, as I was reading Jim Elliot’s diary entries from 1952 in the book The Shadow of the Almighty, I was struck by his fervor for evangelism. He commented that though there were only about 100 people in a particular group of untouched people in South America, Elliot wanted to find a way to them because “we [Christians] have orders of such.”

I think he was right. In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus explained the Scriptures to the disciples and told them that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in His name to all nations. So why do we evangelize? Because the Lord Jesus Himself tells us to.

And why wouldn’t we want to obey Christ? If we have tasted and seen how good the gospel is, and know that we have the special privilege of sharing that good news, wouldn’t we want to share it with everyone and glorify the work of Christ? Perhaps, in looking at what the gospel means for ourselves, sharing the gospel may become more natural and less of a “chore”.

What then happens when we evangelize? In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus foretells the end days, and in Matthew 24:14 specifically, He says that when the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed to all nations, the end will come, meaning that Jesus will come back!

Every time we evangelize, we realize that it’s that much closer to the day that the Lord Jesus Himself comes back. This is exciting! And it pushes me to share the good news of forgiveness and the glorious news of the Christ that I can spend eternity with—the same eternity described in Revelation 20, where God Himself will be with Christians, will wipe away every tear; death will be no more, and neither will there be mourning, crying or pain.

But even knowing this doesn’t translate to actually doing, sometimes. . .

 

2. I don’t know when is the right time to share the gospel

In my meetups with friends, I usually spend some time warming up and catching up with them first. The moment the first hour mark is up, the whole thing turns into something of a ticking time bomb.

I’m waiting for the perfect moment to slip the gospel in, but we could spend hours talking about something else. When everyone’s having such a good time, I’d be the one ruining the day by bringing up a serious topic. What if I get blank stares? What if they stop inviting me to things?

It’s not uncommon for Christians to feel this way. In fact, because you’ve worked really hard to build a friendship with someone, you are afraid that the gospel could undo all of that.

I’ve always found it easier to ask questions about life and religion when I am in a big group of friends. This could really start with anything or any topic and quickly funnel into the differing views each one in the group might have. When it comes to my turn, I have an opportunity to share what I think and why I think that way. I find that it is helpful to let my friends know from the very start that I am a Christian. This way, they have an avenue for questions, and sometimes, they even ask you what you think as a Christian.

There is also a time for one-on-one sharing. Sometimes I feel that the time is right—when a friend is going through a really hard break-up, when they are fighting depression, or when a friend’s parent has a terminal illness—these are times when my friends are looking for more than just mere company, and are actually pondering life’s bigger questions. But at these opportune times, I’m still fighting in my head what question to ask.

Should I ask a simple question about what the other person believes in? Or how the person is doing spiritually? Some days I end up asking and sharing, though sometimes it goes nowhere (and that’s okay), but other days I choke on my words and stay silent.

On those days where I stay silent, I have to remind myself of something a staff worker at my campus ministry said once. In a bid to encourage students to evangelize, she told us, “What you are doing for [your friend] is a REALLY GOOD thing for them.”

Sometimes sharing the gospel might feel intrusive, disruptive, or uncomfortable for our friends in the moment. But what a Christian has to share is eternally loving for our friends. It is eternally loving, because though it may seem offensive, it is definitely more loving to care for a friend’s life and well-being in eternity than merely their  comfort on this Earth. With the right balances in mind, I am more encouraged to try again.

But when I do share the gospel or my friend warms up to the idea of finding out more, I start to realize that. . .

 

3. I forget who is the One who moves the hearts of men

Sometimes we succeed in having more serious and open conversations with friends who are willing to hear us out. But where do we go from there?

My friends usually smile politely at what I say, and sometimes they probe a little further. Typically, the conversation ends at dinner, and then I stop talking about the subject altogether. I end up going home thinking that I’ve tried, and sometimes even pat myself on the back for it.

In the weeks that follow, I either completely ignore my friend or see very little need for follow-up. This is because trying once and hoping for the best is way easier than asking my friend to come for an evangelistic talk, or to read the Bible with me, or to discuss questions.

Also, follow-ups are hard because often, I meet my friends as I run on empty. I think that my knowledge of the gospel and of the Bible can quickly turn them to Christ. Only sometimes do I even say a quick prayer on public transport, for things to go well. But I never really commit my friends in prayer, either in preparation or post meetups. What a shame, because prayer is truly a privilege given to us by our heavenly Father. It reminds us that this is God’s work, not ours.

 

At the end of the day, if I’m on that train ride thinking of all the things I messed up in my attempts to share the gospel, I’d probably feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I might feel like I am totally responsible for my friend’s salvation, and that when I fail or my friend doesn’t receive Christ, it’s because I was incompetent or didn’t try hard enough.

But take heart! In John 10:27, Jesus Himself says that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. In fact, all we have to do is tell people about Him. Jesus is the one in charge of softening people’s hearts and helping them believe.

So yes, evangelism is hard work, but keep at it. Sometimes we learn things that make sharing the gospel easier; but more importantly, we need to remember the privilege we have as God’s people. Christ is using us in His grand plan to eventually unite all things in Him, things in heaven, and things on earth (Ephesians 1: 9-10).

What To Do When the Bible Is Confusing

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

When we ask questions about the Bible, we often learn more about God through those questions. But what do you do when you have a question, and the more you read about it, the less it makes sense?

For example, I was reading through all four Gospels when I came across Matthew 11:29, where Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” But in Mark 11, I found Jesus cursing fig trees for not bearing fruit and flipping tables in the temple. How do I reconcile these actions with His gentleness and humility?

As my doubts began to turn my confusion into disbelief, I wanted to stop reading the Bible. Even though it seems easier to do so whenever doubt arises, here are five things that have helped me deal with my confusion: 

 

1. Don’t stop reading the Bible or going to church

I’ve seen friends leave the church, and consequently leave Christianity altogether when they have unanswered questions. I remember reflecting on those same questions and being very certain that the Bible has all the answers to them. So even though my faith was shaken, I decided that I was going to stay in church, read the Bible, and question other Christians and Bible experts until I figure out for myself who God is.

It is easy to doubt that the Bible is trustworthy when you have questions about what’s written in it. But the Bible claims to be the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). It claims to be entirely true (Psalm 119). And it claims to be sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3:15-17). These claims are either blasphemous or true. It can’t be both. If you believe in the God of the Bible, you must believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

Though the Bible was written by different authors in different parts of the ancient world over different time periods, they all talk about the same God and the same gospel. It is an incredibly cohesive work. Historians also agree about the existence of Jesus and His crucifixion. To me, that’s enough evidence of the reliability of the Bible.

Giving up on the Bible and the church, and looking for the truth about God in other places is a mistake. Since the rest of the world has rejected God, why would they tell you the truth about God?

 

2. Pray for understanding

James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask God. Before He died, Jesus promised that He will send us the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind His people of everything He taught (John 14:26). We have that Holy Spirit as our Counselor today, so let the Spirit lead. Pray and ask for wisdom, understanding, and an open heart to receive the truth.

Maybe you doubt that God will give you a definite answer. I did. I asked God to explain why it’s okay for Him to overturn tables and curse fig trees but then we have to love our enemies and not repay evil with evil. But God didn’t explain Himself to me. Instead, I was reminded of God’s reply to Job, when Job questioned God about his suffering: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4).

I told God it didn’t make sense.

As my questions multiplied, I began wondering why I should believe in a God who never did any of the miraculous things He did in the Bible for me. An encouraging word from someone who loves me, is that all He can do in reality?

But after praying, God showed me how He was working in this world and in my life. My mother met the same person twice on her way to the restroom after Sunday Service, and that person became my therapist. My best friend started telling me about the revelations she received from God and what God has been doing in her life. So even though I didn’t feel Him; He was working all around me. And now, looking back, I can see His footprints through my difficulties and stubbornness.

God will help you to make sense of your questions. Keep going to Him, knock on the door relentlessly, and don’t give up seeking Him with all your heart. If you wait patiently, you will see the bigger picture.

 

3. Go back to the basics

When you are faced with a confusing question, you need to have a firm foundation to stand on. What is the rock you are standing on? What do you know for sure? List the things you are certain about or that you should be certain about. Here is my list:

  • God created the world and everything was perfect. (Genesis 1)
  • Man disobeyed God and sin came into the world. (Genesis 3)
  • God came to earth as the man, Jesus, to die for our sins. (Matthew 1-2; Luke 2)
  • He died and resurrected three days later, defeating sin and death. (see any of the gospels)
  • Those who believe in him will be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life. (Matthew 26:28; John 3:16)
  • God wants us to live a holy and God-honoring life (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
  • He gives the Holy Spirit to believers to help them live that life. (John 14:16-18)

These statements might not be directly related to what you are confused about, but what begins in curiosity can quickly lead to doubting everything you thought you believed in. In these cases, I found that I need to go back to the foundation of my faith and check that it is still stable. I read about Jesus’ birth, His death and resurrection.

Knowing the essentials of your faith will help you discern truth from interpretation and opinion. This is helpful as you search for answers.

 

4. Talk to a mature Christian you trust

The Bible is the most-read book in the world, so your doubts and questions are probably not new. People who have found answers to their questions would be able to share with you what they have discovered. But it is important to look for a Christian you trust—someone you aren’t afraid to approach, and someone who knows the Bible well.

For me, that person is my father. Once, I read in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 that God will judge all who inflict suffering. The question that came to my mind when I read this was: what if these people are also suffering themselves and didn’t mean to inflict suffering? I brought my question to my father, and we talked about God’s judgment and His mercy. He reminded me of 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. That helped me make sense of the passage.

 

5. Use Internet sources wisely

If you don’t have a trustworthy Christian to turn to, you can search for answers through other reliable sources that are grounded in Scripture. My father’s answers don’t always clarify my doubts, so I use some of these resources as well.

The guideline to finding a reliable resource is to see whether the resource contradicts the basics discussed above. If it does, then it’s not reliable. If it doesn’t, then check how much Biblical content they have, and how much cross-referencing they use. For instance, if they talk about judgment in the Old Testament without making references to verses in the New Testament, then it’s probably not that reliable.

I use Constable’s Notes on Lumina at Bible.org to understand Bible passages that are confusing, as well as GotQuestions.org, which has answers to almost every question we can possibly ask about God and the Bible. I realized early on that reading blogs and opinion pieces written by random people make me even more confused, especially when they contradict what my father told me or what I find in my Study Bible. So I recommend sticking to trusted avenues with concrete statements of faith, like Desiring God or Our Daily Bread Ministries.

 

I did find an answer to my question after much prayer, reading and thinking. Jesus is God, and therefore He has an authority that we do not have. There are things that He can do that we have no right to do. After all, I did not help Him create the world, who am I to curse a fig tree when I’m also one of His creations?

I have come to the realization that there will be mysteries that we will forever be unable to comprehend, or know only partially; for we are like blind men touching different parts of an elephant. Some questions I simply have to put on a list of things to ask God when I get to heaven.

If you have any questions about God or the Bible, I’d like to encourage you to bring your doubts to God and pray about the answers you find. Don’t use your doubts as an excuse to stop reading the Bible. Read smaller chunks and give yourself more time to meditate, or use a commentary to guide you, but make sure you keep seeking Him. As long as we remain connected to God, He will work in our lives (John 15:5) and prove Himself to be true.

How I Discovered the Key to Hearing God’s Voice

“God told me to…”

All my life as a Christian, I’ve heard people around me use those words. People I looked up to would recount testimonies of how God had dramatically changed the course of their lives through an audible voice. My peers would discuss how they regularly heard God speak to them and direct their daily decisions.

Personally, I’d never experienced anything remotely close to it. And it made me jealous. After all, if the Creator of the universe was going around talking with my friends, I wanted to be in on that conversation.

But it wasn’t just the novelty of hearing the voice of God, it seemed imperative to Christian living that I heard from God. I mean, that was the way that my friends seemed to make decisions—whether they were life-changing decisions or mundane ones. And if I wasn’t hearing God speak to me, who knows what kind of implications my uninformed decisions could have?

Did I pick the wrong university course, setting me off on a path down the wrong career choice? Was I wearing the wrong clothes, ones that wouldn’t grab the attention of that special someone God had been saving me for? Was I missing out on divine appointments?

I was desperate for these same experiences that so many other Christians were having. I’d read books about it, spent what seemed like ages straining away in a dark room, attended altar call after altar call, in the hope that I would finally hear God’s voice.

Then one day, it happened. I’d just started university and decided to check out the campus Christian fellowship. After attending a few sessions of their weekly meetings, one of the staff workers, Joel, asked me if I’d like to meet with him to read the Bible over a meal.

And that’s when I finally heard God speaking to me—clearly and surely, there was no doubt that it was Him.

It seemed so ridiculous that I hadn’t realized it, but the key to hearing God speak had been in front of me the entire time. That day, as Joel and I opened our Bibles and read Paul’s letter to the Colossians together, we weren’t just reading lifeless words on a page. On the contrary, the living God was speaking to us through it.

We studied the Bible in-depth, thinking hard about what Paul had been trying to convey to the Colossian church, and how each verse in the letter supported this purpose—to remind them of the supremacy and ultimate sufficiency of Jesus, and convict them that there was nothing else a Christian needed to be right before Him. Two thousand years ago, God was speaking through Paul to the Colossian church, and as we worked to understand what He was saying then, He was also speaking that same message to us.

I realized then that hearing God speak is about opening His Word and seeing what He had written there for us.

The fact is that as I’d strived to hear God speak, I’d subconsciously relegated the Bible to a lower level than other ways of knowing Him, such as hearing an audible voice. But while I might not have heard the audible voice like my friends may have, I’ve discovered that hearing God speak through the Bible is powerful.

For one, it’s the inspired word of God. Though the Bible was written by human authors, it was God who was doing the work, speaking through the authors. This means that when Paul was writing to the Colossian church to remind them of a certain truth, it was God who was speaking through Paul to them. That same God is speaking through the Word to us today.

Furthermore, it gives me a certainty about my faith. Throughout my time of seeking to hear God’s voice, there were many times when I thought that I might have finally heard Him speak. “What’s that, God?” I would say as I strained to concentrate on what that voice in my head was saying, “You want me to go to that restaurant today?”

The truth is that I could never truly be sure if that really was God. But as I read the Bible and study it, I can be 100 percent sure that it is the Creator of the universe speaking to me. And with that comes a deep certainty and a firm foundation. It means that I can truly be convicted and have the courage to make hard decisions, knowing for sure that my actions will be pleasing to God.

And as I discovered the riches that were waiting to be unearthed in the Bible, my Christian walk grew in stability and maturity. I could never question whether God wanted me to do something because I could read it clearly in the Bible. The state of my relationship with God was no longer contingent on experiences, but instead it was rooted in the convictions that the Holy Spirit was building in my heart from what I was reading.

I’m convinced that though extra-biblical communication with God might exist, it cannot replace or even come as close in importance as hearing God speak to us through the Bible. As John Piper, a Christian theologian, said, “Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.” After all, if we’re wondering what God wants to say to us, shouldn’t we start with what He has purposefully put together for our instruction?

And sure, I may not have specific guidance about my daily life in the same way that some of my friends might have. But by hearing what God has to say through the Bible, I become more familiar with His character, and this equips me to make daily decisions that I know will be in line with what He has instructed us to do.

For example, when deciding if I should take a part-time job while I’m still at university, I consider what He said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, to be responsible and not be a burden to others in the Church. However, I also take into account what the mission of disciples are—to spread the Gospel and encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ; will having a part-time job still allow me to accomplish these things?

So today I no longer envy or desire the experiences that my friends have, because I know that each day when I open my Bible, God is speaking to me. It’s undeniable, clear, and amazing. I know for sure that these are the words of the living God, who holds the universe in the palm of His hands.