You might have to think back to when your parents dragged you to church as a kid, or maybe even reach way back to when you visited grandma’s church on Easter, but do you remember your “Sunday best”? That was the fancy dress outfit you only ever wore to church. Maybe you even got it just for the occasion. You didn’t go to school in your Sunday best, and you certainly didn’t play in them. We have work clothes for painting the fence and sweats for hitting the gym, but if you think about God’s love, what’s so amazing is that it’s always exactly what we need regardless of where we are or what we are doing. God’s love has the Sunday best … for Sundays. It also has play clothes, work clothes, and–brace yourselves–lingerie.
There is a romantic side to God’s love. Do you know where to find it? Most often, New Testament Christians tend to think of the Old Testament as, well, old. It’s like our Sunday best: stiff, confining, often complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable. But there, all through the prophets and throughout the wisdom writings is the voice of God calling his bride, wanting her–wooing her. It’s a picture of what our relationship to God should look like. Hosea 2:14 says, “Therefore I am now going to allure her (Israel); I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her…There she will [respond] as in the days of her youth.” That, dear friends, is a picture of seduction, and an example of why sex is sacred. In fact other writings, like Song of Solomon for example, were considered too racy for young Hebrew boys and they had to wait to read and memorize that little love novel until they were older.
Think about this for a minute, would the Sunday best version of God’s love have transformed the Samaritan woman at the well? No way! Sunday best wouldn’t have even crossed the border into Samaria unless it was absolutely unavoidable, let alone stop to rest … let alone talk to a Samaritan–a Samaritan woman, who was an adulteress. No good Jew would have done that. Even the Samaritans didn’t associate with her. Jesus would have been, at the very least, accused of being demon possessed for this (which, on occasion, he was). Just look at the reaction of his disciples when they catch up to him. They were shocked, to say the least. God’s love left it’s Sunday best in the garment bag. That day it was wearing a soldier’s uniform, sweat pants, or maybe work clothes. It blew past social barriers and captivated that woman’s heart. Jesus in no way flirted with her, but he absolutely wooed her heart and soul with the unfailing love of God which spoke to her brokenness, sin, shame, and also offered the hope of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. “God’s kindness leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). That’s another way of saying that the love of God seduces you–not your flesh, but your heart, soul, and spirit.
Now I have a confession: I know this conceptually, but I cannot think of a time where I have recognized this side of God’s love. I’ve often felt a little awkward at the flirtatious romantic thing. I know Sunday best: chapter and verse, rules, morality, duty, liturgy, theology, orthodoxy… I know work clothes with their effort and obligation, and even the uniform/armor. I relate to the intellectual side. It’s the lingerie, the seduction of God’s love that I can’t quite connect with. I know it’s true and by faith declare it. I see it in Scripture clearly enough, but it’s hard for me to see past the principles of right and wrong, holy and wicked, faith and deeds, duty and obligation. I feel loved when I perform well and currently, things are not going like I’d expect them to. I have shepherded our fellowship for eleven years now as faithfully as I know how and yet attendance is declining and other indicators of growth seem to be going the wrong way. I know it’s not all about the numbers, but numbers tell you something, like the lights on the dashboard of your car. It leaves me feeling a bit like the older son in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32). It’s tempting to look into Scripture and see that the Lord blesses what his faithful servants put their hands to (messed up as some of them were), but the work of my own hand seems so inadequate … so, un-blessed, as though if I were somehow more faithful, my ministry would be more fruitful. Discouragement sets in, yet I know better than this and so I try to stand on principles and push through it. Principles aren’t enough and so the cycle continues. As it does, it begins to adversely affect my approach to ministry–my approach to people (and my desire to approach it at all). It effects how I love.
This wasn’t intended to be a rant on my personal inner struggles, but I do hope that you can find some kind of inspiration, clarity, or encouragement to join me in a quest to experience the fullness of God’s love. Maybe you’ve been living in your Sunday best, all stuffed in a suit that makes it hard just to move. It looks good, it really does, but it can also be very out-of-place, and/or disingenuous. No matter how good your Sunday best looks, no one notices how good you look if you sport it at the beach, on a battlefield, or at a work party. Sharp as it may be, it’s just inappropriate. Out-of-place is not effective, in fact it does the opposite of attract, woo, and seduce. It alienates. I’ve felt that alienation around people who seem so full and in love with Jesus when I’m just trying to perform well in my “Sunday best” chapter and verse, p’s and q’s walk with God. I’ve felt a little alienated when talking to someone who needs the “jeans and t-shirt” version of God’s love and I’m there in my “Sunday best” addressing issues rather than the heart of the person.
I find myself wondering if God is allowing me to go through a long season of decline so that I can know failure … and still know his love. Maybe I need to know, intimately, God’s love beyond the principles–not in concept alone, but really and truly. I want that. I want it like I want intimacy with my wife; I want it to be real, vibrant, alive, and pure–driven by true love and not by duty or obligation. I want more than just the “ought to’s” of the Sunday best version of God’s love. “And I pray that you [and I], being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). How about you? How have you experienced different aspects of God’s love, and what does that look like in your experience? How has it changed you and effected the way you love others?