“WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP ME?”
We are long past the days of even considering child sacrifice,
but that doesn’t mean that we don’t look for other ways to trade
favors with God. Money, time and energy can be used in our
attempts to ingratiate God to accept us or work on our behalf.
And these in the extreme can destroy us and others around us
as surely as worshipping any idol.
No one modeled what it meant to be a committed member
of our congregation better than Janice (not her real name).
Whenever we needed someone to cook a meal, fill-in for a no-
show in our children’s ministry or help by spending time with a
hurting woman, she was always the first to volunteer. She never
It became so obvious that we actually made announcements
that excluded her: “Would anybody but Janice be willing to
help out in the nursery today? The person who was supposed
to be there called in sick.” We all laughed, and then waited for
someone else to volunteer.
In return for her service, we showered her with praise. We
told her what a gift she was to the body and how special she was
to God. We told others, in her hearing, what an example Janice
was of every member doing their part in ministry. If we just had
a hundred Janice’s our congregation would have transformed
the city, or so we thought.
There were signs, of course, to all of us that she stretched
herself too thin. We knew of struggles in her family and that
responsibilities at home went ignored as she was off helping
someone else. But frankly, we needed her because others
weren’t nearly as willing.
One day it came crashing down like a sand castle in the rising
surf. What many thought was the enemy trying to destroy her,
turned out to be God who was working to set her free. For
Janice’s serving hadn’t entirely come out of her freedom as a
loved child of God. Though she had a God-given passion for
children, and a heart to serve, somewhere in the process those
also became the way for her to earn the acceptance of others,
and more importantly of God.
What Shall I Give to God?
Eventually I left that congregation and found out later that
she did as well when I connected with her family some months
later. She told me her story. A significant need in her family had
caused her to finally give up doing all the ministry others had
come to expect of her. Her marriage broke up and she began
to ask the difficult questions about her life in God. People who
had been blessed by her service, soon distanced themselves
from her struggle.
God, however, brought others in her life to help her. He
reminded her of simpler times when she had enjoyed the con-
fidence that God loved her and accepted her as his daughter.
Somehow all her serving had stolen that simple truth from her.
She became like a little girl whose father was too busy for her
and had been driven to find a present big enough to catch his
No matter how many of those presents she brought they
never seemed to be enough, but for far different reasons than
she thought at the time. Fearful that she would never again
know Father’s love like she had, she allowed the empty place in
her heart to be filled by her busy service and the attention from
others that it earned her. Rather than encouraging her faithful-
ness, as we thought we were doing, we were only feeding her
insecurity, leading her even further from the relationship with
God she desired. That insecurity, along with the needs in her
own home, brought her to the brink of personal and emotional
But the loving Father had never taken his eye off of her. He
allowed her to come to the end of her efforts so she could find
out just how loved she was. The events had been painful, but
they had transformed her. Then she looked at me with tears in
her eyes and a voice that wasn’t angry, simply pleading for some
kind of understanding. “You were my pastor, why didn’t you
Her words sliced through me as the attention suddenly
shifted from her healing, to my complicity in her bondage. She
might have driven the car off of the road, but I had helped fill
it with gasoline. What could I say? I apologized to her without
making any excuses. I had failed her pure and simple.
But the reason I had not stopped her wasn’t because I didn’t
He Loves Me!
care, it was because I had been on the same course as her, and
at the time I hadn’t known there was anything wrong with it.
AFTER ALL THIS…
Never the server that Janice was nor facing the same pres-
sures at home, I didn’t end up nearly so broken. But, like her, I
had a desire to trade my gifts for my Father’s affection and like
her, I had come to the realization that they were never going to
My experiences with God began at a very young age. My
hunger to know him was piqued by hearing how God involved
himself in the lives of ordinary men and women. I also knew at
that young age that I was far from sinless and took solace in the
God of mercy and forgiveness. I also thought I had to put some-
thing forward that would prove to him how serious I was about
following him. Looking back, I now know that I was seeking
approval from him, by my spiritual passion and willingness to
obey him to the best of my ability.
During this time I experienced incredible moments of fel-
lowship with God. I saw him intervene in my life in ways that I
knew could only have been him. I heard his voice speak to the
depths of my being and guide me in critical decisions I made. I
mistakenly thought he was rewarding my offerings to him and
continued to lay at his feet whatever I could find that I thought
would please him.
But inside, I was never certain that he loved and accepted
me—my gifts and sacrifice, perhaps, but not me. The more I
gave the more it seemed he wanted, and the best I could do at
any moment was to break even with him. I never knew that God
was simply delighted with me as his child.
—Not after 35 years of faithfully engaging the spiritual disci-
plines in varying mixtures and degrees of intensity
—Not after twenty years of professional ministry as a local
—Not even after traveling at personal cost and risk to help
God’s people in third-world countries.
At any given moment, I was never sure that God deeply loved
me. If you had asked me, I would have told you that he loved me,
What Shall I Give to God?
and for the most part I believed that to be true. After all, Scripture
clearly presses that point and I am comfortable talking in such
terms. But that still didn’t answer my deeper concern. How did
he feel about me on any given day?
HE DELIGHTS IN YOU
The words of the Old Testament prophet seemed only a dis-
tant dream, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you
with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Except for
fleeting moments, few and far between, I couldn’t imagine that
this is the way God felt about me. How could he with the temp-
tations that I battled?
I don’t think it takes any of us long who probe such questions
honestly to see enough failures and wasted time that would
give God ample justification to set us aside and to ignore the
requests we make of him.
Jesus warned us that there would be people who would
prophesy, cast out demons and work many miracles in his
name, who he would turn away at the judgment. “I never knew
you. Depart from me.” If that isn’t a great example of climbing
the ladder that’s leaning on the wrong wall, I don’t know what
is. I didn’t want to be caught with that crowd.
These moments of insecurity would drive me to my knees in
repentance, and make me redouble my efforts to be more com-
mitted to God. Though I could sustain the increased burden for
a few weeks or months, I never had any certainty that the things
I was doing were enough to cause him to be delighted with me.
Eventually, I would slide back to where I had been before.
I’ll never forget when all of that changed. A few years ago,
through a painful betrayal and a fresh insight into God’s work
for us on the cross, I began to see how much my Father loved
me and to understand how much delight he took in his chil-
dren. It has radically changed my life and it is my hope that the
telling of it in the pages ahead will help transform yours as well.
God doesn’t need us to serve him as a means to attain his
love or affection. He wants us serving him out of the love and
affection he already holds in his heart for us. If you have never
tasted that reality, you cannot imagine the freedom that is yours.
He Loves Me!
My Father brought me to the place where I realized that even
if I never preached another sermon, never counseled another
person nor ever led someone to Christ again, he still delighted
in me as his child.
That doesn’t mean he approves of everything I do, but it has
freed me to know that he loves me—absolutely and completely.
I had served God for 34 years always with an undercurrent of
trying to earn his favor. It has only been in the last four that I’ve
learned to live in that favor and I’m never going back.
That’s when it became clear. It is not the fear of losing God’s
favor that takes us to the depth of fellowship with him and trans-
forms our lives with his holiness. It is our certainty of knowing
that favor, even in the midst of our weakness and failure, that
lead us to the fullness of his life.
Fearing had never taken me to the depths of his life or his
transforming power; discovering his delight has. I now know
that the key to God’s favor doesn’t rest on what I could give
him, but what he already had given to me.
He delights in you, too. Can you see him that way over you,
exalting and dancing with joy?
No? Do you think your failures and doubts diminish his love
for you? Are you afraid you can’t bring enough to make him
Then come with me and let me show you something. He
doesn’t delight in you because of your deeds or your gifts. He
delights in you simply because you are his.
The Lord your God is with you...he will take great delight
in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over
you with singing.
What Shall I Give to God?
For your personal journey
Take an honest look at the spiritual things you give your life
to. Are they rising out of your security of God’s great love for
you or an attempt to earn his affection? Do you live trying to
pay God back for his salvation, or some other act of his on your
behalf? Ask God to begin to rearrange your thinking and to help
you understand that his love goes far beyond any gift you can
He Loves Me!
and the Beggar
When we accept ownership of our powerlessness
and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we
are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God
can make something beautiful out of us.
Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel
t turned out to be a tale of two men. These are the only two
encounters Mark thought significant to record from Jesus’
last trip to Jerusalem and his impending death. One was at the
beginning of the journey, near his home base of Galilee. The
other came on the trip’s last leg, in the city of Jericho before he
would ascend to Jerusalem.
Two men, each in dire need, approached Jesus for help.
Clearly, Jesus extends his favor to both of them, but as we shall
see only one received it. The other went away from his moment
with Jesus, his countenance shattered, grieved because he had
misunderstood the offer Jesus made to him.
Watch each of them carefully. Why does one receive and the
other does not? If you’re like me, you’ll see yourself in both of
them at various times in your life. But now you’ll know which
example will show you how you respond to God, and which
will take your best intentions and turn them against you.
The answer may surprise you because it is the opposite of
everything most of us have been trained to think about God and
how he works in us.
CAUGHT IN THE DOING
Jesus had no more begun his journey to Jerusalem, when a
man ran up to him, stopped him and knelt before him in the
dirt. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Both his pace and his posture testify to the desperation in his
request. He knew Jesus had something he lacked and wanted to
find out his secret before he left town.
The question certainly sounds genuine enough, even humble.
Jesus answers by referring him to the commandments.
The businessman’s answer tells us a lot about him. “I have
kept all of these from my youth up.”
Really? Of course we know now and Jesus knew at the time
that this answer wasn’t possible. Paul told us that no one has
ever kept all of God’s law and that if even one person could
have earned eternal life by the law, then Christ would have died
in vain. If this man had been genuine, he would have known
that. The Father had only given the law so that we might come
to the end of ourselves and know that we needed someone to
rescue us. Any genuine pursuit of the law would have led this
man to the same conclusion.
Does that mean he was lying? Not necessarily. Though he
had not kept the law, what was most critical in this exchange
was that he genuinely thought he had. Since he was a little child
he had worked hard to keep the law, in hopes of earning his
place in God’s kingdom.
For him to think he had kept the law, however, he had to rec-
reate it in his own image. In other words he would have created
loopholes in his mind to justify those portions he had not kept,
perhaps only focusing on major parts of the law such as murder
He Loves Me!
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested