Have you ever loved someone so much that your heart literally ached for them? This intense feeling happens most often when we are apart from “the one our heart desires,” usually a fiancé or spouse, but it can also be a child, or grandchild. It’s hard to believe we can experience such ecstasy and pain simultaneously.
Have you ever stopped to consider that this is the way God loves us? Scripture tells us that God is even jealous for us. There is nothing He won’t do for our benefit, including sacrificing His only Son – the extreme extent of His grace. While that really should have been enough, He didn’t stop there. He pulls out all the stops to ensure we have abundant life now, in addition to life throughout eternity (John 10:10). He has given us Holy Spirit as our wonderful Counselor, and the way He deals with us is always grace-full, whether it appears harsh or extraordinarily kind. We must be careful to never mistake God’s “tough love” as rejection or displeasure. He has already demonstrated His sacrifice for love.
Our sanctification, the process of growing in Christ, is the operation of His love through the grace matrix. Freedom of choice, first granted to Adam and Eve, is love to an infinite degree. He forces us to do nothing, but puts the choice before us along with instruction for what He knows will result in our good. His desire is that we will choose His way. It is not coincidental that the same thing that most benefits us personally is what speaks love to God’s heart through our obedience. A win-win! But His love also allows us to be willful to our detriment. When that happens, His love does not abandon us there, but gives us the opportunity once again to choose His way. He goes way beyond what any human would in presenting chance after chance to make better choices. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV)
As the Lord opens our spiritual eyes to see His grace in operation, we are both encouraged and warned. Whether we are making a choice because of suffering the consequence of a bad decision, or because God is testing our hearts in the blessing that accompanies alignment with Him, He is always most concerned with our spiritual growth. The lessons we learn the hard way are not quickly forgotten, and the experience serves as a warning for the future. At the same time, it is encouraging to know the future holds opportunity for a “do-over” or a “do-better.” In the testing, we must realize God is not going for a pass/fail result, but uses the result as a marker to say “You are here;” X marks the spot. So, the X might confirm a level of spiritual maturity, or it will reveal there is more work to be done to bring our flesh-nature into submission to Him.
The more familiar we are with the operation of the grace matrix, the more we will recognize both the need to align ourselves with God, and how every choice presents that opportunity. We don’t want to be consumers of grace to the degree of exploitation, but humbly and gratefully receive His generous supply when we’re off track. In God’s design, consequences become more severe the further down the wrong path we go. So how dire do things have to get before the Lord has our undivided attention? On the blessing side, we must understand that God’s testing is not to disrupt or mar the blessing, but to determine our humility and faithfulness in the midst of it. Are we enjoying the fruits of our labor, or His? We can know that all of us called to the Lord’s service will be tested. Paul explains the reason in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
Whether we learn through consequences or tests, our attitude should be the same: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) The height and depth of God’s love that covers every contingency in our lives is truly boundless.