19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water…Hebrews 10:19-22 (ESV)
It’s been a long time since I’ve dated anyone.
Now, to be perfectly clear, my wife Kerri and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary this year, and we’ve continued to “date” plenty in that time- which is awesome, by the way, and highly recommended no matter how long you’ve been married. That said, it’s been well over a decade since I’ve been in what we would traditionally call a “dating relationship.”
And to tell you the truth, I couldn’t be happier about that. Looking back on it, the thought of dating- at least as it is most commonly practiced in our culture- sounds pretty terrible. Think about it- It locks one into a near-constant state of evaluation, uncertainty, and insecurity- “performance anxiety” in its most intense, heart-rending form.
Does she like me, or is she merely tolerating me until this dinner can mercifully end?
Did that joke land, or does he think I’m super awkward and inappropriate?
Do I look okay- I mean, better than okay, or at least better than that guy over there?
Will he ask me out again, or is this gonna be it?
The questions that plague us in even the healthiest dating relationships can be inescapable, and often maddening. Why is this? Because for most, if not all of us, it is our greatest longing to be known fully and loved unconditionally, even in the face of our struggles and shortcomings. The necessary insecurity of a dating relationship puts that vulnerability on full display and tests it to the max. Sometimes, it works out well; often, though, it doesn’t, and we are left reeling, and even more insecure than before.
I bring this up not with the intent to dredge up any painful memories from your past, or to offer a critique of dating culture in our world today, but instead to point out how often we view and approach God through the lens of these experiences. Because our hearts and minds have been trained to see love as a reward we receive for good performance- and something that can (and maybe should) be withheld when that performance goes bad- we often think of what it means to be in a relationship with God in tragic and toxic terms.
Here’s how this usually plays out in practice- We set out to “earn” God’s love, acceptance, and approval by our good performance. We put our best spiritual foot forward, dominating church attendance, personal devotion and disciplines, and avoiding as best we can those things we have determined are particularly unacceptable to God (we all have our own lists). If we’re feeling especially ambitious, we may go so far as to give away some money and tell someone about Jesus. Gold stars all around!
But then, inevitably, something goes wrong. We find that we can’t keep up. We get tired. We lose interest. Others stop cooperating with our best efforts to love them and make it really hard for us to demonstrate love, grace, and kindness. Things aren’t working out the way we thought they would. And we stumble…we fall…and in many cases, we just dive right in to the ocean of our own sinful selfishness.
And what happens next? You already know. We feel terrible about it. We become buried under a weight of shame. We ask questions like, “How could God love me now? How could God want me now? Surely He has moved on to someone much more ‘deserving’ than me.” And so, we avoid Him. Whereas before we couldn’t get close enough to Him, now we can’t get far enough from Him. In the time when we need Him the most, we want Him the least.
Of course, usually “rock bottom” isn’t really “rock bottom,” and at some point, we lick our wounds and regain enough self-confidence to try again. The problem is, the cycle just keeps on repeating- much like many dating relationships. They start fast, things go awesome for awhile, and then someone (come on guys, you know it was you!) says something dumb and the whole thing falls apart. Work through this cycle enough times, and you’ll either settle into a hopeless state of self-loathing- or you’ll begin to resent God for being so relentlessly demanding of you.
But what if an actual relationship with God isn’t anything like this at all? What if God is far less like your high school boyfriend, and far more like He actually reveals Himself to be in the Bible? Because the Good News isn’t, “Put your best foot forward and maybe God will like you- at least until He finds someone more attractive and impressive.” It is, instead, a declaration that though you and I are undeserving and unlovable– even on our best day!- that God has chosen to love us, accept us, and approve us through Jesus Christ. When God looks at you, He isn’t looking at your performance, your qualifications, your credentials; He is looking squarely at Jesus, the One who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” And because of this, His love for you is undeniably, inescapably secure, unchanging through the full range of your highs and lows.
What does this mean practically? It means that you can drop your “performance anxiety” and instead let yourself be loved. It means that next time you fail, you don’t have to run from God in shame, but instead can run to Him and be restored. It means that you are now free to run after righteousness, to live a life of overflowing gratitude and joy in Jesus. It means that you can rest, knowing that God isn’t going anywhere. And let me tell you, nothing will motivate deep, lasting change like the security of a perfect, unconditional love.
My strong encouragement to you today is this- Stop “dating” God, because He couldn’t be less interested in “dating” you. He is after something far better- a relationship that, through Jesus Christ, lasts forever.