One of the delights of life for Marion and me is our weekly Skype chat with Simeon, Heather and Sophie. We love talking with our children, but our almost-two-year-old granddaughter is a special treasure.
Two of the things I enjoy most about Sophie are her zest for life and her zany sense of humour. Both are seen in this photo, taken last August while Simeon and Heather were in Ottawa for a wedding. It shows Sophie going into gales of laughter over a silly game with a water bottle.
Last Sunday, while we were Skyping with Simeon, he pointed the webcam towards Heather and Sophie who were playing a game on the living room floor. The game consisted of Sophie lying on her back on the floor, Heather putting her foot on Sophie’s tummy, and Sophie screaming with laughter and begging her mother to do it again and again. This went on for several minutes and I soon found myself laughing along with them. It was impossible not to be infected with the crazy laughter virus.
As I was watching Sophie delight in her mother’s playful touch, I realized that I was seeing a demonstration of a key aspect of how God relates to those who belong to Him. I was seeing a picture of God’s delight in his beloved children, and their delight in Him. Even though as heirs of Adam’s rebellion we are fully deserving of God’s wrath and rejection, those who have put their trust in Jesus receive grace and mercy instead of judgment. Instead of being rejected we are treated as His beloved children and heirs of His Kingdom. Like the son who messed up his life, came to his senses and returned home, we receive a royal welcome when we turn to God in humility. Our Father is delighted when we humble ourselves and receive His offer of mercy and acceptance. He’s so pleased that he invites us into His house and throws a party for us.
Sadly, some of those who belong to Jesus seem to go through life convinced that God is not very happy with this deal – that he barely tolerates us, like some unwilling stepfather who has had a family of unwanted children foisted on him against his better judgment, treating us as his children in a legal sense, but interacting with us as little as possible except to pounce like a hawk on our misdeeds. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is no disinterested, distant pseudo-Dad. Rather, he delights in us as a treasured possession, rejoices over our fumbling efforts to walk with him and talk to Him, patiently feeds us and cares for us, frequently overlooks our childish weaknesses, and loves to see us grow up into maturity so that we can come into our inheritance.
Watching Simeon and Heather play with their daughter, it is easy to see how much they care for her. They don’t have to pretend – their love is absolutely genuine, and she knows it. Although they do sometimes have to correct her, she is completely secure in their affection.
Jesus told a parable about ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom to appear so the wedding festivities could begin. Five of the ten prepared themselves in advance by buying extra oil for their lamps; the other five did not. They had to wait a long time for the bridegroom’s appearing, and in the end only the ones who had provided extra oil for themselves were able to go in to the wedding banquet.
This is a sobering message that points to a crucial reality. A life of sustained intimacy with God — represented by the virgins who had provided extra oil for themselves — has the power to keep us going for the long haul, even when things get dark, so that in the end we inherit the Kingdom. But like the five virgins who ran out of oil and missed the wedding banquet, none of us can buy the result of someone else’s life of intimacy. We all need to cultivate an intimate relationship with Him for ourselves. The wonderfully good news is that if we make the choice to set our hearts on Him, Jesus delights in us and welcomes every attempt we make to cultivate an intimate life of worship, prayer and loving obedience. If we try to succeed as disciples by relying on our own strength and ability to do the works of the Kingdom, and do not take the time to delight in the seeming foolishness of just loving God, we will undoubtedly fail. On the other hand, if we pay attention to what He longs to give us, and take time to cultivate a life of intimate prayer, love and worship based on His delight in us, He will faithfully draw us close, sustain us through the dark times, and bring us into His wedding banquet.
I remember being overcome by the joy of the Lord on several occasions during the early years of the outpouring that began in 1994. The Holy Spirit overcame my reservations and ushered me into an experience of refreshing unlike anything I had ever known before. Those times of resting in the assurance of Father’s love had a powerful impact on my emotional life, providing an experiential knowledge of Father’s affection for me as His beloved son. At moments when we are tempted to get discouraged, it’s good to remember the moments when the Holy One has showered His kindness and goodness on us. Like Heather playing with Sophie, He delights in our joy in Him, and does not tire of showing us His goodness. Yes, there is a time to get up off the floor, stop playing games, and get on with what we usually think of as “normal life”. But it’s important to return frequently to the place of refreshing with God, whatever form that refreshing takes, so that our lamps do not run dry, and our life of service is characterized by the joy, vitality and assurance which are the fruit of intimacy with Him. In the words of the old gospel song,
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Keep me burning til the break of day
The Bridegroom is coming for those who have set their hearts on him, and our inheritance is waiting.