God has endless ways of winning our hearts, and I'm fascinated by them all.
Before she knew Him, He loved her.
As a premature infant, she survived despite indifference and unsophisticated care. As a child, she escaped the bombing at Hiroshima by some unknown whim that prompted her father to move the family to the countryside.
Now, as a young computer programmer living in the United States, Shigeko's marriage was in trouble. Her husband was a Christian; she was a self-described "pew-warmer," and the seams were starting to show. In a dream, she saw herself jumping off a building.
Little did she know that one of her co-workers was praying for her. Thanks to his friendliness, she began dropping by his office to borrow Christian books — until another woman became jealous of their friendship, and began to spread rumors. The situation escalated until Shigeko found it hard to do her job at all. Meanwhile, she stopped reading Christian literature, afraid she'd discover that she couldn't believe in Jesus. Then how would she be saved?
One evening, Shigeko was helping her younger son practice his violin, and inwardly wrestling with the situation at work. Without thinking, she said, "Holy Spirit, I give this problem into your hand."
Immediately, she felt total peace.
Later that night, she mused, "What a wonderful thing happened to me today!" Then she saw Jesus standing by her bed. He wore a white robe and held a lantern as He waited outside a door without a handle, a door she knew could only be opened by the person inside. As she watched, the door did open, and Jesus went inside.
To this day, Shigeko thinks of her heart as filled with His light.
Those Who Know It
God has endless ways of winning our hearts, and I'm fascinated by them all. I first heard Shigeko's story during a lull in our historical geography tour: We were sitting in a hotel room, homework spread all over the coffee table in front of us. I've listened to stories in parks, and in the parking lot after church. I've elicited stories at my kitchen table, and requested them over email from faraway friends.
But not everyone's story is characterized by escapes from death, visions, and dramatic life changes. My story starts with a 4-year-old who wanted Jesus in her heart — and a 13-year-old who couldn't remember the hour she first believed, but reaffirmed it with all her heart. It's about a Book I'd taken for granted until He made it alive, a King whose rule I avoided until He won my trust, and a Savior whose love I'm still learning to understand.
Don is a gifted mentor who has pored over the the Bible for decades. But he still can't articulate why he is convinced that God loves him. "I just seem to know," he says, "but I'm not quite sure how. Perhaps it is one of those things where the Spirit speaks with 'groanings' and not words between His heart and mine?"
Bria is one of those avid learners who reads Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton and Blaise Pascal, just because she can. She knows and believes in God's unconditional love because the Bible tells her so — and because she has experienced lots of little "coincidences" that make her suspect that He cares. "I know it with my head," she says, "but I keep acting as if it isn't true."
Anna is defined by her solid Biblical upbringing, confidence in the promises of God, and deep, personal love for Jesus. She has faithfully served Him for years, but the troubles still keep coming, one after the other. The loss of a home. Her extended family shattered by the pain of divorce. A wayward child exposing her to gossip, humiliation and heartbreak. Deep in the core of her being, she knows that God loves her, but she just can't help asking, "Is there something I've done to keep Him from being able to fulfill His promises? Is God really pleased with me?"
I would venture to say that every Christian struggles with these questions at least once in their lives — and probably many times. Not knowing the answer for sure can add anguish to times of suffering. It can even cripple someone whose outward circumstances are easy.
I can't help thinking of the old hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story." Even "those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it."
The best way to begin hearing that love is also the simplest: Just ask.
That's what Sarah did. When she was thrown into the crucible of college life, "Eighteen years of Christian training in my parents' home suddenly didn't seem sufficient impetus to continue living fully for God." She says, "I prayed as never before that Jesus Himself would tell me that He loved me."
A few days later, she was rushing down a hallway, when her friend Kristen greeted her with a hug, saying, "Sarah, God loves you so much!"
"As quick as the words left her mouth," Sarah says, "I understood clearly that this was a message from God." Not only did He answer prayer, but "He did it in the manner I've always best understood: object lessons and bear hugs."
This is a story that Jesus loves to tell.
How to Hear
Jesus frequently told His listeners, "He that has ears to hear, let him hear." But too often we cannot hear Him saying anything! Is there a remedy?
It starts with faith. God's Word has already told me the truth: He loves me! So when something good happens in my life, faith says, "This isn't a coincidence. Only someone who knows me and is thinking about me would do this."
As he struggles with chronic depression, James has this principle firmly in mind:
Because the Scripture says, "Every good and perfect gift comes down from above," I work to identify the blessing I receive from those around me as originating from God.
It was a habit that would prove vital during one of the deepest trials of his life. When James saw himself as muddling through a problem of his own making, his sister was "so proud" of him for making a difficult decision that others would have avoided. While he saw another sister as an example of grace in trials, she saw him as "an example to the rest of us." Amazingly, it appeared that this was the way God felt about him.
But there was more. When his niece expressed spontaneous joy that he was able to attend her wedding, James saw that God values his company. When he feared that his son David, like him in so many ways, would worry about inheriting his father's battle with depression, David spontaneously remarked, "I like being like you, Dad." James sensed that God wasn't sorry about the way He made him.
As he recognized this "barrage of love arrows" that met his needs with such unerring precision, his sense of God's love finally made the journey from his head to his heart.
How Does He Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways.
Ariana is a high school student with a passion for the outdoors. After describing the ethereal effect of early morning fog on the surface of the river near her home, she writes,
It is at these points that I feel so connected to God. I sometimes wonder if He sends us these breathtaking images just to show His Presence. He becomes less of an elusive idea, and more of a firm friend, real and close, something that our small brains can start to grasp.
Kayla came to Jesus as a child, in response to the simple direction, "Call on the name of the Lord, and you shall be saved." She writes,
Recently I was again awed by my God's love when I studied Jesus' last hours from a medical standpoint. He went through every untold agony for undeserving me and for an equally undeserving world. He must have had a very potent love to get Him through it. Later on, I was singing a song called "Always the Same," and it dawned on me that since Jesus never changes, His all-powerful love must be just as potent today as it was then!
Brandon, now a young father of six, writes:
My story goes back to a time about 12 to 13 years ago when I was attending college, making some bad choices, and getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. I remember lying on my bed one night, bewildered how things had gotten to where they had. I knew deep down that someday, I would have to get right with God, but it seemed so big that I just didn't know what to do. Right then, I felt (yes, a real physical sensation) arms holding me, like I was a young child being held by a parent. I knew it was Jesus, and I knew that He loved me still, in spite of my stupid decisions. And I knew that He would straighten everything out. And praise Him, He has!
Let Me Recount the Ways
"You struck quite a chord when you mentioned God's unconditional love," wrote Joseph, who is nearly 90. "I feel it more and more as I get older."
Though meant to help us cultivate love for people, I think Edith Schaeffer's advice is equally effective for strengthening our confidence in God's love for us. She writes:
Love will grow as reasons for love are discovered, thought about, dwelt upon in the mind, expressed verbally, and remembered. As time goes on, the memory will become rich with increasing vividness and warmth in storing up facts and reasons behind the increase of love.
When "those who feared the LORD spoke with one another," writes Malachi, "the LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him." He loves to listen in on this kind of conversation.
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father," writes Paul, "that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge....
It's not only a story we need to hear; it's a story we need to tell.
Sometimes, we just don't want to hear about God's love. Sometimes, we don't just want to talk about it. Why do we shy away from this topic?
Perhaps we are afraid of what we'll find: a love that is fuzzy, undiscriminating, and thus meaningless. Or a love that's demanding and impossible to please. Will His pursuit of me will be as conditional, unpredictable and wavering as my love for Him?
This is the perfect love that casts out my fear:
It's a deep love based on knowledge of everything about me. I'll never come out with a revelation that surprises Him. God's love is as strong as death — and stronger. It suffers, dies and rises, in order to bring me to a place where I may feel it's impossible for me to be: a place where He is delighted with me! His love reproves, confident that I'm made out of stuff that will not only stand the refiner's fire, but come out more beautiful still. Where other loves can only hope for the best, His love transforms. It believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; His love never fails. Every day, His pursuit of my heart is unerring, untiring and unstoppable.
That is a love worth hearing, a love worth seeking, a love I love to tell.
Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.