Recently, I went shopping. The great thing about shopping post Christmas is that it is often a rather lovely array of extreme-clearance-money-saving bonanzas. Discount are piled on top of discounts so that once you’ve got 50% off an item that’s already 60% off where you also get buy one get one free, it practically feels like they’re giving the stuff away.
As I made my way through one of the usual stores I visit, I noticed this male mannequin poised confidently over one of the aisles. He had a broad, muscular chest with chiseled shoulders, arms, and back. It was easy to see through his white shirt and notice his perfect six pack abs and trim waist. His pants fit snugly revealing muscular buttocks and legs as well. There wasn’t an ounce of body fat on him.
While I’m in pretty good physical shape (I’m 6’2″, 185 pounds, play sports frequently and eat pretty well), I’m nowhere near where this guy is. What’s more, since the holidays were not too long ago, I had gained about 10 pounds from all the holiday feasting and hence started to feel a little uncomfortable.
Then a thought came: You need to rejoin the gym.
Yeah, I probably do I thought to myself. I could get into much better shape that way, gain some extra muscle.
Then another thought came: You need to go on a diet as well.
Oh man, that’s probably true I thought in agreement. I’ve been pretty liberal about eating whatever I want. A diet is definitely my best bet for shedding these extra pounds.
Then a third thought came: Maybe this is why you’re not married yet.
Oh my gosh what if that’s it! I thought to myself. Maybe if I had just been in better shape then the women I had pursued in the past would have been more interested in me. Okay. I definitely need to get back to the gym and get this diet in full swing.
As I was mapping out a detailed plan in my head, from what foods to cut out, how to make my portion sizes smaller, what workout routine I would need at the gym, I had a poignant epiphany:
I was feeling insecure because of a piece of plastic.
How could a shaped piece of plastic standing in a clothing store be the cause of so much anxiety? As I began to think about it more deeply, what I realized made this piece of plastic so powerful is that with it comes a message, a message reinforced by magazines, television and the media:
This is what you need to look like to be loved.
To get the spouse you’ve always dreamed of (or keep the one you’ve got), to get the respect and admiration of your friends and peers, to get the love you so deeply crave, this is what you need to look like.
Love is the deepest human need we have so to have that played against us, threatened to be withheld unless a certain condition is met is very, very destructive.
It is also the exact opposite of how God treats us.
As I returned home, I began asking God about my experience at the mall; unpacking it with him. Though I was asking God lots of questions, he basically ignored them. Instead, he brought just one thing to mind. It was Psalm 18:19 when David says about God “He brought me out into an open space, he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
That’s right God, you do delight in me! I exclaimed, starting to remember how this is something he has made a perennial theme of my life.
So I sat down and just started thinking about God’s delight in me. I thought about Jesus looking at me and I could see this huge smile on his face as he stared at me. A smile that says I utterly delight in you and adore you! It makes me so happy just to see you! You bring me so much joy!
Notice something else about this passage; there are no conditions attached to God’s delight. It doesn’t say “he delighted in me because I was good looking enough”. Or “he delighted in me because I followed enough rules” or because I was nice enough to my neighbor, or read my bible enough, or was smart enough, or made good enough grades, or made enough money, or was a good enough parent, etc so forth. He delights in you just because you exist. For those of you who are dog owners, it’s kind of like how your dog is when you first come home from work. When you walk in the door your dog is jumping all over you, licking you, has it’s tail wagging like crazy. Your dog doesn’t care if you’re overweight, your clothes don’t match, you didn’t take a shower, you screwed up something at work, failed to be a good parent, or broke 7 out of the 10 commandments today. It is just excited to see you because it delights in you. That’s what God’s love for you is like; he has unconditional delight in you.
I couldn’t help but smile while thinking about this. So I just sat there for at least a good half hour or so thinking about him smiling at me, meditating on this, soaking in all his delight and love of me.
It was exactly what my heart needed.
Now I know at this point some of you may be thinking “That’s really great that Jesus shows up to you in visions and what not, but he doesn’t really talk to me that way.” To that comment, I must respectfully disagree. What I just described above is something that anyone can do because all it requires is your imagination.
With your imagination you imagine things that are untrue (like I could imagine that Mickey Mouse is president), but you can also imagine things that are true. For example, I was not there when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law nor did I see it on the news. However, I can imagine what all of that is like. I can imagine him sitting in the oval office at his desk taking a pen and signing his name to that document. In this case, I have just imagined something that is true.
Now what’s interesting about this is that in imagining something (or also remembering something) you can have the same emotional and physiological reaction as if you had just experienced it. For example, right now in thinking about Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law, some of you are starting to feel a little angry. Others of you are starting to feel joy, a sense of relief. That is because what you think on affects your being.
So what if you thought about and imagined something true about what God thinks about you? Let’s apply this to Psalm 18:19. First, let’s imagine Jesus. He is is a first century Jew so imagine a man with dark hair (either dark brown or black), dark eyes and olive skin from being out in the sun so much. Next, imagine him with a beard since that was customary for Jewish men. Now imagine him wearing a cloak (which would basically look like a robe to us). If you want, you can imagine it is a white cloak (which I often do) symbolizing how he is righteous, pure, clean and good. Now for the most important part. Imagine him smiling at you. Imagine the dimples in his cheeks forming as his grin widens. Imagine the way his mouth curves upwards and his lips spread to reveal his teeth. Imagine the way this beard shifts because of the movement of the skin over his cheekbones. Imagine the way he tilts his head to the side in fondness and affection for you. Imagine the sparkle in his eyes, the look of total adoration and delight as he looks upon someone he loved so much he would die for.
Now let whatever physiological or emotional response you’re having sweep over you.
And then think about him smiling at you again.
And think about it again.
And think about it again.
And think about it again.
Now you have not only imagined something true, you have had an experience of God. This is I think the primary reason God gave us an imagination; so we can experience Him. You can have as much of God or as little of God as you want, the only limit is your imagination.
The message of the enemy is always never enough. Not good looking enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not kind enough, not moral enough, not a good enough parent, not caring enough, not giving enough to earn the love we so deeply crave. God however, gives his love freely to us with no strings attached, no earning required.
Friends, this is the gospel, this is the good news (gospel just means good news), that God rescued you because he delights in you. That is why Jesus died for you sins, that is why God was willing to sacrifice his son to rescue you, because he delights in you and he wants you to experience that delight. If you live in the experience of his delight and love for you, it will change you forever.
So I am not going to get a gym membership. I am not going to start some new diet plan. Instead I’m going sit and think on how much God delights in me and I would invite you to do the same.