There a certain passages of Scripture that embed themselves in you and will be with you until the day you die. Sometimes they are famous verses like John 3:16 or John 14:16 or the 23rd Psalm. Other heart-grippers are not as well known to others, but the Holy Spirit anchored them in your own soul, and they bring great hope and comfort to your own heart. Not for the first time I would like to share some thoughts from a passage like that which is interwoven with my life. Zephaniah 3:17 reads:
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.”
God reveals in this gracious encounter that He will gladly rejoice over you, still you with love, and dance about you with loud singing. So clear in the original Hebrew language is the reality that this unfathomable God desires for you and me to understand and experience His fatherly, indulgent, lavish love for us. God says that He rejoices over His children. God is not only rejoicing but employing divine superlatives, He says, “I want you to know that when I rejoice, I do it with gladness.” The word “rejoice” in the Hebrew indicates a display of joy and cheer, so God is saying, “My rejoicing is so intense that I can’t bear the thought of holding it within Myself – I’ve got to sing it forth.” His love for you as His child, His delight in you, and the fact that He treasures you in such a precious way compels Him to say, “I just have to put it on display.”
We know theologically that the greatest demonstration of God’s love was at Calvary when Jesus Christ willingly put His hands out and took Roman spikes in them, where the blood was shed from a body that had already been tortured during His interrogation. We know that His passion caused Him to sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane. There is no doubt about His commitment to love us unto death, but that doesn’t necessarily reveal this important aspect of His actual delight which fueled His willingness to suffer – the delight to display His immeasurable joy “with gladness.”
It was around age 25 when I discovered this insight, but still it didn’t become powerful reality until I became a father myself. With my two children, when I look at them… I just love them. It is not something I have to think about, work up or work on. The compelling love is just there in my heart and it is very strong. I don’t always love what they do, and God doesn’t always love what we do. This is not a carte blanche excuse to live any kind of way that you want, and then to have a hollow sense of God not unloving you. God is not a permissive God but He is a God who loves us so much that what we do does not control how He relates to us, because His love is greater than our folly.
This kind of love may be very foreign to you. Perhaps you grew up without ever hearing an affirming word. You never saw pleasure in your parents that came from you to them and back to you. When you did make them happy, maybe you had to earn it, and you never really knew how much it was going to take to earn it. It could be, because of your upbringing, that when you were saved you somehow ended up holding to a half-gospel that says, “God is going to have to tolerate me now because I have committed to the theological technicality of receiving Jesus Christ by faith so I’m now in the club.” Truth be known, many live as if they have been conditionally paroled instead of fully pardoned. Until now, though, nobody ever told you that your relationship with God is not a technicality – when God pardoned you, the Judge put down His gavel, came out from behind the desk and wrapped you up in His arms and said, “You are mine. I’m taking you home with me and I’m never going to let you go.”
He dances over you, child of God. He sings to you too. He smiles upon you as He continues to work upon you. You cannot undermine His love. You cannot get away from its cooling shade. He will never recant His covenant with you. The extravagant love of God is not something we should ascribe unto theologically without pursuing the sense of it experientially. Don’t believe it without stepping into it. Do not sing about it without receiving it. Do not say Amen to the idea without taking into your soul the reality. It is not only that He wants us to believe that He loves us…
He wants us to feel it. I promise you that He feels it for you.
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