July 19, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 12:6-7 (NRSV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to know God’s love deep in our hearts. This is especially true if our experiences of human love have been inadequate or hurtful. Yet the fact of God’s love for each one of us is solidly and consistently affirmed in Scripture, including the passage in which Jesus talks about the value of sparrows. The same God who cares even about each sparrow knows and loves us more than we’ll ever fully understand. Yet, we can know God’s love through the good news of Jesus’s death for us. Moreover, God’s love will be poured into our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. Don’t you yearn to know more of God’s love for you today?
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Yesterday’s devotion focused on Jesus’s teaching about how much God knows us and cares for us. The God who values even a tiny sparrow knows and cares about us more than we’ll ever fully comprehend. Such amazing and encouraging news!
After I finished writing yesterday’s devotion, I continued to reflect on the truth of Luke 12:6-7. I wondered why it is sometimes so hard for us to believe the God cares for us as much as he does. As I mentioned yesterday, when we’re going through difficult times, we can struggle to believe God’s concern for us. If God really loves us so much, why is he letting us suffer?
Sometimes experiences of human love can help us understand and have confidence in God’s love. This is especially true for folks who, for example, had a particularly loving parent. Conversely, it can be hard for us if one or both of our parents did not express love to us in ways that touched our hearts.
As I was thinking about my experience of God’s care for me, I reflected on my relationship with my dad. He was a man who loved truly. But he did not find it easy to express his love in ordinary ways. My dad had a hard time saying “I love you” and he wasn’t very comfortable with physical expressions of love. Yet, at the same time, he found ways to communicate his love through actions that spoke louder than words.
Let me share one story with you that still sings in my heart. When I was five years old, my family went on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. One day we took a hike in a stunning redwood forest. I chose to bring along my favorite teddy bear, sticking him in my jacket pocket. Teddy (yes, not the most creative name ever) was precious to me. I took him almost everywhere and slept with him each night. He was my comfort and my constant companion. (Proof of Teddy’s belovedness can be seen in the fact that my mom had to make a suit of clothes for him to keep him from completely falling apart. See the photo of Teddy.)
When it was time for bed one the evening after the hike I realized I had left Teddy in my jacket pocket. But when I went to get him, he wasn’t there. Terribly worried, I told my parents, who searched our car and all around our campsite. No sign of Teddy. They figured, much to my horror, that Teddy had probably fallen out of my pocket somewhere on our hike in the woods. At that point, I was sobbing, fearful that my precious Teddy was gone forever.
My dad said he would go look for Teddy. He would retrace our hike from earlier that day to see if he could find him. Even at five years of age, I realized that the odds were not good. How could my dad find Teddy in the dark with just a flashlight? And if Teddy had fallen out of my pocket on the trail, probably somebody else had taken him. I felt despair, though I was glad my dad was going to look for Teddy.
I cried myself to sleep that night, believing that I would never see Teddy again. I have no idea how long I was asleep when my dad woke me up. He had found Teddy hiding under a bush along the forest trail. Teddy was fine and he was mine again. As I hugged my dad tightly, I resolved never to lose Teddy again. (For the record, I never did. That’s why I still have him.)
As I think back on that experience, I realize that I felt utterly known and utterly valued by my dad. He knew how much Teddy meant to me and he was willing to be considerably inconvenienced so as to find him for me. Even though it’s unlikely that my dad told me he loved me that night, I felt dearly and deeply loved because of what he had done for me.
You may have had experiences of being known and cared for in ways that have helped you to “get” God’s love for you. If so, that’s wonderful. I’d encourage you to remember those experiences and let them bring to life God’s care. Yet, as a pastor, I have heard time and again from people who struggle to believe in God’s love because their own parents were not very loving. In some cases, their parents were not just withholding of love, but outright abusive. This can make it difficult for people to know God’s love for them in a personal way.
So how can someone truly know God’s love if their experience of human love is lacking or tainted? In some cases, folks like this have experienced deep love from others, from friends, or people at church, or a spouse, or their children. This can make such a difference.
But, no matter your experience of human love, you can know God’s love in a healing and transforming way. How? First of all, you can pay close attention to what you read in Scripture. The fact of God’s love for you is affirmed again and again, including the passage in Luke 12 about the sparrows. Second, you can let the truth of the gospel fill your mind and touch your heart. God’s love is communicated most profoundly through the death of Jesus. As it says in Romans 5:8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” As you meditate on this truth, God’s love can become more real to you.
Moreover, we are not on our own when it comes to knowing God’s love. We read in Romans 5:5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This means that God, through the activity of the Spirit, is making God’s own love known to us. This is great news for folks whose experience of human love is flawed. (And, in the end, that’s true for all of us because human love is never perfect.)
So, even if you grew up in a loving home, even if you’ve had powerful experiences of God’s love in the past, don’t you yearn to know more of God’s love for you? I know I do. It’s so easy for me to slip into assuming that God’s love is something I must earn by my performance. And, when I fail to live up to my own expectations, I can project my lack of love for myself onto God. So, I need to know that the God who has loved me through Jesus Christ is like a father who goes out into the dark night to look for a child’s beloved Teddy. Or, if you prefer, like a father who runs unashamedly to embrace the son who has hurt and dishonored him (Luke 15:11-24). That’s how God loves us. That’s how God loves you.
As you think about your childhood, what memories do you have of being truly known and loved?
If you really didn’t know that kind of love as a child, have you experienced such love as an adult?
What helps you to know deep down in your heart that God loves you?
Are you willing to ask the Holy Spirit to pour even more of God’s love into your heart?
As you consider that last question, if the answer is “Yes,” then go ahead and ask. Make yourself as available as you can to the love-pouring work of the Spirit.
Lord Jesus, thank you for those who have helped us to experience true, gracious, knowing love. Their care for us makes it easier for us to know how much God loves us.
Yet, sometimes it’s hard for us to believe in God’s love. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes they’re related to the inadequacy of the love we’ve experienced in the past. Sometimes we just get stuck in thinking that we have to earn God’s love through our performance.
I pray today, Lord, for all who need to know the love of God more deeply and personally. That would include me! May the truth of the gospel penetrate our souls. May your Spirit pour the love of God into our hearts. Help us, Lord, to be open. Help us to receive. Help us to know just how much we are known and loved by God. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Shrewd Manager and the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:1-13; 15:11-32)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.