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Letters From My African Lover

Nicole Parker
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Nicole Parker

Wife, mother, and Biblical counselor

Recorded

  • December 13, 2014
    10:30 AM
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All right, I’ve titled this, “Letters from My African Lover.” Now, that might be a little confusing because over here “African” means something different than in the States. So, when I shared this in the States, it was more, “My African Lover,” well, of course, because, you see, my husband was born and raised in Africa. He was born in Zimbabwe, and when we were first married, we lived here at Helderberg. So we’ve been on both sides of the ocean together, but in the States we tell everyone we’re an African-American couple, you see because he’s African and I’m American. Over here, of course, African is different than African over there, so there all astonished that I married an African. You should have seen all the looks when we were dating because people would say, “Oh, so you’re dating a man from Africa? So, uh, was he a missionary?” No. “Oh, so, do you have a picture?” because everyone’s, of course, very interested – what color is he? And I thought it was a little funny not to tell them. But I would eventually be good and say, “No, you’re not confusing me. I know he’s African, but it doesn’t matter what color his skin is. My husband is a true African in his heart.”

 

When we were here at Helderberg, he pastored United Nations Church. The church was just such a blessing to us. I think there were two of us and one other white person in the church, but it was wonderful. We had such great fellowship, and it was a great experience. And I love seeing how my husband loves being an African and just mixing in with everyone. He did his doctorate over here in Africa on churches in transition from being white to multicultural and how we needed to have the Spirit and how to be able to help people work together in unity, regardless of racial divides and things like that. So, we’re both very passionate about being integrated racially, and it’s wonderful to come to this conference and see everyone together, worshiping in unity. The Lord has brought South Africa so far, hasn’t He? Well, we’re very blessed to be here.

 

And so, anyway, this talk I’m talking about, “Letters from My African Lover,” because this whole seminar, this series, is on relationships. But the most important relationship, before you can have a relationship that’s horizontal and healthy with any other person, is a relationship with God, right? The Law of God has two great principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, right? But if we try to get “love your neighbor as yourself” first and make that the first commandment, everything falls apart. So we have to put first things first, relationship with God.

 

Now, many times when I talk with someone…I do a lot of Biblical counseling, so when people come to me for counseling, they’ll say, “Well, I’m just going through all these things, and I’m struggling with anxiety. I’m so depressed. My boyfriend and I really should break up, but I just can’t,” or whatever it is they’re dealing with. I find, generally, the most helpful thing to talk about first is how is their relationship with God. Because if your relationship with God is not doing well, then everything else in your life tends to start falling apart. And then when I do talk about that, people tend to tell me, “Well, you know, I’m not really having a devotional time every day.” Or, if they are having a devotional time, it’s more, “Well, I read this little devotional page every day,” or “I spend five minutes,” or, “I read a chapter,” or, “I have a prayer,” and it’s not really about a deep connection with Christ as the center of their lives. And this is the problem.

 

Many people say, “Well, I don’t know how to get really close to God,” because, of course, what makes it difficult in building a deep relationship with God? Anybody? We have busy lives, don’t we? And can you talk with God face to face? No, it’s sometimes very difficult to feel close to God. You don’t talk with Him, you don’t see Him, and you often don’t feel Him being there. And this is why I think it’s very helpful to talk about my husband’s and my story personally in how the Lord led us together.

 

You see, he was living in Africa. He came across to the States just for a couple of weeks, and during that time we met. We ended up spending barely a week together, really, in the midst of the General Conference Session in Toronto in 2000. And as we were there spending time together, we got to know each other well enough that we decided we wanted to stay in touch. And so he came back to Helderberg, and I was living in New York at the time. So we were not just a long-distance relationship. People say, “Well, we have a long-distance relationship. We don’t get to see other very often.” No, we were seven time zones apart, and we had to really be intentional if we wanted to build a relationship.

 

So I think this is a good allegory for helping us understand how to build a relationship with God. I couldn’t see my husband, you see. I couldn’t touch him. I hardly knew what his handwriting looked like. I didn’t know his favorite colors, his favorite foods. But when we were getting to know one another long distance, we were intentional because we were motivated. You see, many people think that they just can’t build a relationship with God that’s close like they can build with their boyfriend or their girlfriend. It’s so much easier to build a relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, right, because they’re right there. You can see them. They talk to you. They laugh with you. You can hold hands with one another. It just feels so real.

 

So, often, when a person is starting to feel thirsty for a relationship with God, they mistake that for a thirst for a relationship with a human being and begin immediately searching for a partner, someone that will make them feel complete, make them feel loved, and you can find that pretty quickly if you’re looking in this world, often. You’ll find someone who will make you feel loved for a little while, but then what? You see, no one ever really knows us to our very souls except Christ, and, therefore, we can never truly trust someone else’s love. They don’t really know us to our very souls, and we’re all sinners, aren’t we?

 

You know, my husband is a wonderful husband, but he is a sinner, and I am a sinner, so we fail each other. We misunderstand each other. We needed a relationship first with a God who we couldn’t see, who we couldn’t touch, but we knew loved us so much and who we could love in response because that’s the great cry of the human soul. We have to have a relationship in which we can really know God and love Him.

 

The problem is, for most of us, we’re just not very motivated. We aren’t motivated enough to work at it, and I know this because when my husband first wanted to build a relationship with me, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put in the effort because, you know what? He lived all the way over in Africa. I had already tried once having a long-distance relationship, and everything was wonderful until we’re actually in the same place. And then it all fell apart, and we were so different from one another, and it just wasn’t going to work at all. But we didn’t see it until we were actually together for a couple of weeks.

 

So, I was kind of skeptical about the whole long-distance relationship thing, but when I started spending time with my husband, just long distance…At that time, you know, nowadays you can use Skype, you can connect in so many ways for free. Then, we had email, and we had this new thing called MSN Messenger. So, we downloaded that onto our computers, and we could now type to one another slowly. Of course, my husband is living in Africa. He had a very old computer, and I would happily be typing away. Isn’t this wonderful. This guy is such a great listener because his computer was so old that if I was typing anything, he couldn’t. So he literally couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Communication problems, but we worked through that once we were able to realize we just have to both, you know, I have to pause and let him write back because I’m wondering, “Why are you not answering any of my questions? I keep asking, and you say nothing,” you know. So that was the first hour or so of trying to talk on MSN Messenger.

 

But you see? We persevered through it, didn’t we, because we cared about one another. It was too expensive for us to call across the ocean very much, so we focused our time mostly on emailing each other. And, you see, we spent a month getting to know one another after he left the States. So we had one month. I told him, “I want one month before I make any decision about having a committed relationship with you. I want to have time to actually get to know you a little more.” He was ready. He said, “I’ve known you now for a whole week. I want to get to know you better.” I said, “No, no, no. I need a little more time than that.” So I said, “Give me a month,” and during that month he called a couple of times, we emailed each other, and I started to know this man better. I realized, you know what? This guy is all the things that I’ve been looking for. Even though I wasn’t really sure if I was looking for a husband, now I knew. This is the sort of guy who has been exactly what I wanted.

 

So I was still struggling, you know. How can I really connect with this guy so far away? After two weeks, two weeks into our four-week agreement, he said, “I already know. I want to date you. Let’s start.” And I said, “No. I said one month. Give me a month.” So we had two more weeks of getting to know each other, and by the time we agreed to start dating, I was almost positive I was actually going to marry this guy, which was a very scary thing, and I didn’t dare tell any of my friends because, you know, people are going to think, “You’re nuts. You think you’re in love with that guy in Africa? You don’t even know him.”

 

But in my heart, I knew this is somebody who I match with so well, the kinds of friendships that we built, our goals in life, our personalities, the things we laughed at, the things that we cared most deeply about, we could see because we’d been talking, communicating about all of this. I could see this is the sort of guy that I really thing I want to spend my life with. And even though at the beginning I told him, “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” we never went into it as a sort of, “You know, let’s just hang out together, see how it goes.” You know, many times these days people start dating because they’re bored, because they’re lonely, because the other person is there, and it feels nice. We weren’t about to start a relationship like that, especially since he was in Africa. There would be no reason to do that, right? We weren’t going to get any warm, fuzzy feelings out of making out with one another. We were going to have to do the hard work of communicating and sorting out whether we were planning to marry one another, and that was from the beginning our intention.

 

We agreed we wanted to know one another. We wanted to know whether we wanted to spend our lives together as a team in ministry. So we focused on those questions. We wrote out a commitment to one another, an agreement, the rules for our relationship like making sure that God is our first priority, that we’re spending time with Him, even if we don’t have time to spend time with one another. And that we would refrain from kissing when we were actually together, and any prolonged or intense hugging, you know, that’s a little fuzzy on the definition, but we knew when we were going beyond and was time to stop hugging. We made specific, intentional rules for ourselves, planned out how we wanted to run our relationship and how we would strategically evaluate the Lord’s plan for our lives.

Now, I’m not saying we’re the pattern for everyone, that this is what everyone must do, and we are the right people and did everything right. The Lord leads in so many different ways, doesn’t He? He’s so good in teaching us how to look at things through His eyes. So, many people, I’ve heard their stories how the Lord has led them in all kinds of surprising ways. Our way was surprising, too. I certainly don’t recommend that people get married a year after they meet. Well, it was a whole year and two days, but that’s not what I would recommend for people, especially when you’re getting to know one another across the ocean.

 

We knew some other people who were dating long distance like we were, across an ocean, and got married about the same time we did. Within a couple of months, she was hiding in the bathroom calling the police because her husband was beating her, threatening her life. She didn’t realize that this was the sort of man he was because, again, she wasn’t being strategic and intentional, and she didn’t really know him.

 

So, we knew it was risky, but we were getting to know each other, and why? Because we were motivated. We really wanted to glorify God, and we cared about one another. Now, see, when you’re wanting to build a relationship with God, you have to do it the same way. You have to be motivated enough. If you’re not motivated enough to want to build a relationship with God, you’re not going to do the hard work.

 

You’re going to sit down with your Bible, and then you’re going to go, “Hmmm, I think I’m just going to send an SMS to somebody.” You know what I mean? “I’m just going to check Facebook quickly. I’ll get back to the Bible.” You’ll have a quick prayer, “Be with grandma. Help me to do well in my classes…and, yeah, what do I want to eat for breakfast?” You know what I mean? You must be motivated in your relationship with God and be willing to sacrifice and to persevere.

 

These days, people don’t persevere in relationships very often. They do whatever they feel like doing. They turn on the TV if they feel like turning on the TV. If they know they’re feeling kind of restless and empty inside, they don’t tend to go to their Bible. They go to the refrigerator. You know what I’m talking about, right? This is the way we live. It’s our culture, and in order to overcome that culture, we’re going to have to be intentional about building a relationship with God.

 

Many people ask me, “Well, how can I actually have a devotional life that makes a difference?” Well, what did I do with my husband? When we were getting to know one another, we set aside an hour every day. We said we’re going to have an hour of time together, and barring some kind of emergency or not being able to get online or something, that was what we did. We’d spend an hour together every day, no matter how busy we were, how tired we were, how much other stuff we wanted to get done, we made it a priority. Make a priority out of having time with God, and you’ll find your relationship begins to grow.

 

However, you don’t want to just try to make that your priority, and that’s the end of it. Many people use their devotional time in ways that don’t actually help them grow. Now, there’s nothing wrong with studying the Bible. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to do, but the purpose of devotional time is not to just get your Scripture memorization done. It’s not to just read through the Bible. It’s not just to study out a complicated passage of Scripture. These are all great things to do, but that’s not what devotional time is about. Many people try to use their Bible study time, their morning devotional time, to put together a Bible study to give to someone else. Or maybe to just feel like they’re confident that they’ve done the right thing, you know?

 

I used to have to have my worship time. I had made a commitment I was going to have an hour every day with God no matter what. And if I woke up late, or I ended up only having 45 minutes, I would feel so guilty and, like, I know I’m missing out because I haven’t done what I promised I would do. And somewhere along the day, I would try to get at least 15 minutes to just sit down and read quickly so that I could say, “Okay, I had my hour of devotional time.”

 

I was getting in an hour, most times, but it wasn’t necessarily devotional time. It was ticking it off the list. I’ve got everything done. I’ve spent another 10 minutes here and another 5 minutes there, so I did the whole hour. You see, devotional time is not about checking something off the list, crossing off, “Yes, I did that. I’ve managed to get it done today. Now I feel like I’m spiritual.” It’s about connecting with God as a best friend.

 

The purpose of devotional time is, first of all, beholding God and His love for me. I have to behold the character of God in order to be changed into His image, don’t I? It’s not enough for me to have decided to give my life back to the Lord back in 1990. I need to do it now. I need to give my life to the Lord now, today, every day, hand Him my heart and say, “You see me.” “Thou God seest me,” everything within me. Show me today how I’m not like You, and then change me into Your image.” And He will. That’s what He loves to do. But the first step is beholding God.

 

Many people have a hard time loving God. They know the Bible says, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” “But I don’t know how to love Him.  I don’t feel close to Him.” Love is not a feeling. It’s a commitment. It’s a choice to follow. But it becomes so much easier to love the Lord, to be committed to Him, when you can trust Him. So many times, we’ve had life experiences that make us wonder, “Is He really love?” Is God really committed to my best interest? If so, why did He allow this person to die? Why did He allow this bad thing to happen to me? We have to take the Word of God, who He says He is, as a higher authority than who we feel He is or who our circumstances seem to tell us He is. And that’s what our devotional time is supposed to do, to help us see who God is based on His Word and say, “This is who You are. This is the kind of God you are, that You, walking down the street, saw this blind man crying out for You, and You stopped, and You called to him, and You healed him, even though he is wretched. He’s miserable, he’s poor, he’s blind, and when he casts off his garment to run toward You, he’s also naked.” Spiritually, Bartimaeus is every one of us, right?

 

When we spend time reading, not just reading, but actually drinking in the lessons of the Word, imagining ourselves in that place, right there walking with Jesus, seeing what He’s doing, wondering, “Why does He treat this person so well? Why does He treat this person this way?” We understand more and more of the character of God. Beholding God as He is will change us into His image, and it will teach us to love Him.

 

You see, as I got to know my husband by just messaging back and forth with him, asking him about things, talking to him, I was doing exactly the same thing as when people are praying, right? I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear his voice, but I believed that the messages he was sending back came from him. And he believed that the ones coming from me came from me. We communicated, we got to know one another’s characters, we became friends, and then we fell in love. It took time. It took intentionality, but the key was I was beholding who my husband was when he was only my boyfriend.

 

Devotional time is for beholding God and His love for me. It’s for nurturing my friendship with My Savior. You want to have a relationship built on communication and quality time. Now, my husband and I, when we were dating, we couldn’t actually sit down together. Many people say, “Well, I just don’t know how to spend time with God. I get bored. I fall asleep when I’m trying to pray.” Again, how did I get over that with my husband? When he was my boyfriend, I had to be intentional, I had to be motivated, but because my relationship with him was growing, I wasn’t falling asleep sitting there typing at the computer. I was spending time with someone I cared about.

 

If you’re having a hard time being able to study, maybe you need to get out of your bed. Maybe you need to go for a walk, pray out loud. I’ve been known to put on a headset so it looks like I’m talking on the phone, but I’m really just praying. I just don’t want to look like I’m a madwoman walking down the sidewalk talking to myself. Whatever you do, you need to pray. Make it a priority to communicate with God about the things going on in your life. It was the little things that bound my husband and me together as we were getting to know one another.

 

He would tell me, “Ah, I did this in my class today. I think it didn’t go over too well. I should have done this. I think I need to do this.” You know, he was humble. He was honest. He didn’t make himself out to be a hero. These are the things that drew me to him, that I could see the little things that showed so much. It’s when we share the little things with God, talk to Him about everything that perplexes the mind. He holds up worlds, right? He can take care of these complicated situations we face in our friendships, in our families, in our own turmoil within ourselves as we struggle with the way that we see we are and who we should be. He wants us to bring those things to Him, and as we pray about them, we take the burdens off of our shoulders and cast them onto His. And then we’re so grateful. We live in praise to Him, “Wow, I can’t believe You took that. I can’t believe you changed that situation. Thank You so much.” This is how we build a relationship with Him, right?

 

We have to commune with God about what’s actually going on in our lives in our devotional times. Devotional time is not a time to just check it off the list, I’ve done everything. It’s about building a relationship through communication and quality time, just the way all relationships grow, right? When I wanted to get to know my husband, I knew I was going to have to spend time in communication, right? And it couldn’t be just time together. You can sit next to a person in class for four years straight, but if you don’t communicate with them, you don’t have any quality time with them, you’re still strangers, aren’t you?

 

Many people have that kind of relationship with God. They go sit down with Him everyday and say, “How are You? I’m fine. Thanks for this nice day. Amen.” And they don’t really build a relationship. Instead, they become more entrenched in their pattern of thinking, “Well, that’s Him, and this is me. We’re going on with our lives.” They don’t actually communicate with Him and build a relationship. God wants us to communicate with Him about what’s actually going on in our lives.

 

Now, devotional time is also a time to lay ourselves before the Lord, and let the sword cut where it needs to cut. There have been so many times that I’ve been in my devotional time and just praying, “Lord, what do You want to change in me today.” And He’ll say, “It’s that right there. How you spoke to this person.” And I’ll say, “Wow, Lord, I didn’t think anything when I said that.” “No, but now it’s time.” “Know you need to change the way that you’re relating to your boss.” “Oh, but, Lord, I’ve been relating to him that way for three years now.” “No, but today’s the day that you’re ready to hear that it’s time to change.” Maybe I wasn’t ready to hear yesterday or any other day for the last three years. “But the path of the just is as the shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day,” right?

 

God wants us to keep growing, so every day as we lay ourselves before Him and say, “What is it that You want to do in my life to change me into Your image?” He’ll point out things. He’ll say, “This right here, the way that you’re cherishing fear in this area of your life,” “The way that you’re refusing to trust Me with this area of your life, “The way that you’re clinging to power,” or to pride in some way. These things are the things He wants us to hand over. Let the sword cut. As we pray, as we learn who God is, we’re willing to give Him anything and everything.

 

The purpose of devotional life is to build my sense of worth and lovability, my sense of identity on God, who He is, how much He loves me. He has created me in His image, hasn’t He? He has redeemed me by His blood. When I build my sense of worth on Him, then my sense of worth doesn’t go up and down on what any human being thinks of me. And it definitely won’t be helpful if you’re in a marriage or in any kind of intense relationship to have your worth going up and down based on what this other person thinks of you. Have you noticed that?

 

When this person says something to you, and it just makes you crash. You know, many people get married because they think, you know, “I was so lonely, then I got together with this person. As soon as we started dating, I got so much happier. Then we got engaged, and I’m even happier.” They just can’t wait until they get married, and they just think they’re going to be catapulted into the stars. And instead, they find themselves in the pit of hell because, if you build your sense of worth or lovability on what a person thinks of you, everything hangs on that relationship. If that person says one thing to you that hurts you, you crash because that’s where you have to get your sense of worth out of this person. And then you have two people going, “You must give me what I need!” No, they can never give you what you need. Only Christ can give you what you need. And that is the secret of your devotional time. Every one of us has these two great longings in our souls: To find love, to find worth. But we can only find them in the cross.

 

God wants us to be changed into His image. The purpose of your devotional time is to continue to process what He has begun in you. Justification, forgiveness, it cleanses our past. It makes us as though we’re white as snow, right? But sanctification, it cleanses our future. Moment by moment, day by day, God keeps peeling off the layers of sin, of doubt, of pride, and showing us how we can become like Him. We keep stepping. It doesn’t matter where you are on the path toward Heaven. God is willing to take you where you are at that moment anytime. What matters is which direction your facing and which direction your stepping. They may be small steps, doesn’t matter. All God wants is for you to be facing His direction. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He helps us as we behold Him to just shed the layers of sin, become more and more like Him. That’s the purpose of devotional time.

 

When your devotional time is like that, you’ll find that your other relationships in life begin to come into harmony. Not everything, not all the time. You’re relating to sinners, and you’re a sinner yourself, but your sense of worth will level out so you don’t crash when someone criticizes you at work. You don’t crash when someone turns their back on you. It will hurt. It hurt Jesus, didn’t it? Was Jesus hurt when Judas betrayed Him? Absolutely. Did Jesus decide, “I’m not going to love anybody anymore then. They all do this.” No. If we want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we must behold Him every day. That’s what the purpose of devotional time is.

 

God has put two great themes throughout Scripture, creation and redemption. Creation shows us the power of God, that He can take mud and fashion hands like these, that He can take mud and fashion a brain that can think, that can choose, that can be changed into His image, right? It’s incredible. Creation tells us the power of God and the love of God, that He decided to create me, to make me in His image so that I could have a relationship with Him.

 

And redemption shows me how much He still loves me. The inherent value of a human soul is found in the story of redemption. God creates me out of mud, right? He breathes into me the breath of life. He stands me on my feet and says, “I want you to learn to love like I love,” and I slap Him on the face and say, “I don’t You. I can go on my own way.” Now, if you created something like that, what would you want to do? I’d want to say, “Bad mud.” Throw it out, right? Who needs that?! God can create another one, right? But instead, He follows after, and He says, “I will die for you.” That tells us how much we’re actually worth in His sight. When we drink in the love of God and our worth in His sight every day in our devotional time, everything in our lives is transformed by it. Our relationships, our sense of worth.

 

You want to know the cure for workaholism? It’s finding your worth in Christ. You want to know the cure for compulsive relationships? It’s finding your sense of love in Christ. Creation and redemption are the two great themes in Scripture that tell us the answer to the two great questions of the human heart: Am I loved? And am I worth anything? Yes, yes, we are! And that’s what we need to focus on in our devotional time.

 

If your devotional time is dried up, and you’re struggling to really connect with God, this is what you need. Go back to looking at creation and redemption, the themes throughout all the stories of Scripture, showing how much He loves you, how priceless you are in His sight, and you’ll find the other things in your life that Christ sees the turmoil that keeps making you crash, those things will start to level out because you’ll be able to go in faith in His love for you.

 

You see, we think that our hearts will get satisfied with our relationships with other people. We’re notoriously idolatrous, aren’t we? As humans, we’re created to be worshipers. We can’t help it. We cannot change that. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden, they were created to be worshipers, but they had a choice. Who would they worship? Who would they serve? We have a choice, too. We cannot choose whether or not we will worship. We only choose who we will worship. I can choose to worship God, or, if I refuse to worship Him, I will worship self. I can’t help it. I’ll worship self in whatever way I can find a way to worship self.

 

People say, “Well, you know, you don’t understand how much I love my girlfriend, how much she means to me. It’s not that I’m worshiping myself. It’s that I love her.” No, it’s not. People don’t love the other person if they don’t love God first. They love what they get from the other person. I don’t mean that an atheist can’t have some sort of genuine love in their hearts, but every bit of love is a gift from God. It comes from beholding love in Him, in nature, in His Word and wherever He’s given us the message of what love is. But true love happens when we worship God first because then I can love other people, not because I want to get something out of them, but because God has loved me so much. He’s poured His love into me, given me a sense of how much I’m worth in His sight, how much I’m loved. Now it pours through me to those around me. That’s how God wants our relationships to work.

 

When we go into relationships idolatrously instead, though, we’re trying to suck out of this other person the sense of love and worth that only God can actually give us, and it never ends well, never ends well. You wonder why there are so many divorces in the world? It’s because we’re so selfish. Divorce isn’t even just the worst thing. What about all these abusive relationships? Don’t we hear in the news all the time about women who have been beaten to death by their boyfriends or their husbands? How does this happen with a person who loves this other person supposedly with all their heart? How does it happen on both sides? The man is committed to power at all costs. He’s worshiping himself. What is the woman committed to? Well, often she’s committed to the sense of worth that she gets out of this man. “Well, I know he’s not the nicest guy, but you don’t understand. I’m the only one who really sees how wonderful he is. I’m the only one who sees his potential.”

 

You see, if we don’t worship God, we always either worship the other person in some way, what they make us feel loved or however they change how we feel about ourselves, or we try to make ourselves into the god that they need. I try to be the savior, right? So many times, a woman who has been beaten to death by her boyfriend or her husband, the reason why was she was trying to be his savior. She was trying to be the one that, “If I can just show him how much he’s loved, I will be the one who turns his life around. I will be the one,” and it doesn’t work, does it? Because we’re created to be worshipers, but we must worship God first. We’re like sponges. Every one of us is aching for someone to satisfy our thirsty souls. We need so much to have a relationship with a God who loves us, the only One who can actually satisfy our souls.

 

I sometimes liken it to a sponge, that people are trying to spend their time with God every day, and yet they’re coming up dry. It’s like if I have a sponge, I’m plunging it into a sink full of warm, soapy water. (I don’t know why it has to be warm and soapy for the illustration, but somehow that helps our minds, right?) So I’m taking my sponge, and I’m putting it down into the sink full of warm soapy water, but I pull it up, and it’s still dry. How would that happen? Why is it that sometimes people put their time in, “I’m going to have a devotional life.” They spend their time with God, but they come out still dry. It’s because that sponge is wrapped in a plastic bag. So you put it into that water, you bring it back out, is it wet? Still dry. Many times we try to have devotional time, but it’s our picture of God that’s warped. We cannot believe that He really loves us, and, therefore, we cannot connect with Him deeply and let Him satisfy out souls.

 

What is the plastic bag that surrounds my heart and your heart? I don’t know. Every one of us has different lies that the devil tells us about God, but I can tell you that they’re there. I can tell you that the devil is telling you lies about the character of God every chance he gets. Whatever his lies are for you, he’ll tailor make them, but they’re going to be about the character of God. Everything is always about, “Is God really love?” “Is He really powerful?” If I can’t believe He’s really powerful, I’m going to be filled with anxiety. I’m going to be trying to control the events in my life that I cannot control. I’m going to be fearful. I’m going to be lying awake at night because I cannot believe that God is powerful.

 

If I cannot believe that God loves me, I’m going to be looking for love in all the wrong places because I cannot help it. I’m created to worship. I’m going to worship whatever gives me a sense of identity, of love, of worth. That will be my god, the thing that makes me feel like I’m worth something, the thing that makes me feel loved.

 

So God wants to poke holes through those plastic bags, right? He wants to poke through the lies that the devil tells you about His character, and He does that using the sharpest thing in the world. What is that? It’s the sword of? It’s the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. When you identify the things that the devil is telling you about God, you’ll always find that they center on whether God is really trustworthy, whether God is really loving.

 

So, find what it is that the devil tells you. Maybe some of you can even say what some of the lies are that the devil tells you. What is it that you hear running through your head when you get down? You never do anything right? You’re so stupid? No one will ever love you? I don’t know what the lies are that you hear, but I know you hear them. Whatever they are, you meet them with the Word of God. Does the devil tell you you’re ugly? Well, the real lie behind that is that you’re worth is somehow based on how you look, but man looks on the outward appearance, right, not God. You see how the sword of the Spirit will cut through? You have to remember, “My worth is not based on what I look like, devil. It doesn’t matter whether I’m beautiful or whether I’m ugly.” We may try to fix it with makeup. We may try to fix it with clothes. No. God wants to strip off all of that and say, “No. Know that you are beautiful and priceless in My eyes, no matter what you look like on the outside.”

 

You may feel beautiful at 20; you’re not going to feel beautiful at 80 anymore anyway. God has this way of stripping away one by one the things that make us feel like we’re loved and worthwhile until we are looking to Him because He has to, right? That’s because He’s a God of love. He has to make the idols crumble in order to bring us back to Himself.

 

So God wants us to find our sense of identity in Him. That is the safest way to get into a relationship. Now, with my husband, when I began getting to know him, I thought he was amazing. Then I got to know him more and more, and you know what? He is amazing. He gets more and more amazing every year. I’ve been married to him 13-1/2 years now, so maybe we’ll start going downhill next year, who knows, right. No, I know we won’t because he’s an amazing person. He’s created in the image of God, and He’s beholding God and becoming more and more like Him all the time. It’s wonderful being married to a person like that. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is. Now that I’m married, though, I understand things that I never understood when I was single, and I can tell you this: You have no idea until you’re actually married how every hour of every day of all the rest of your life is changed by who you marry. It’s incredible. What your children’s personalities are going to be and how they’re going to be disciplined, the size of house you live in, the place you live, and those are just a few of the things. There are millions, literally millions of areas in your life that are going to be changed by who you marry. Marry carefully. Let the Lord guide you. I cannot tell you how important that is.

 

With my husband and me, the Lord guided us so carefully through so many ways. One of the things that we did to be intentional was that we got a book of questions to ask before you get married. That book is out of print now, but there are some other ones that are just as good, I think. There’s one that’s, like, 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married, something like that. There are great books out there with questions to ask, and we went through one by one. And sometimes one question would springboard us into a discussion that took an hour on all sorts of different topics, things like, what would you do if we had a handicapped child? Where would you want to go on vacation? What sort of birthday present would you give to my mom? …to your mom? How would you want to spend holidays? How will we raise our children to worship God or not? How will we discipline our children? Just so many areas. Prioritize these things that you would buy for the household, you know, exercise equipment, jewelry, cars. What sort of house are you going to want to live in? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask before you get married to someone.

 

The great thing about a relationship with God is that you know that He has no weaknesses. And you can always trust His judgment. You can always trust Him to communicate to you what you need to know right now in this situation in your life. It may be painful, it may be difficult, He never promised, “It’s not going to be painful if you just follow Me.” Was Jesus’ life painful? Are we servants better than our Master? No. Pain is not our enemy, though. The Bible says sin is our enemy. Pain is the tool that God uses to transform us into His image, and often His most effective tool, isn’t it?

 

Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” As you come to Him with the lies that the devil tells you, and you lay them out before Him in your devotional time, say, “Lord, this is what the devil is telling me today. I feel terribly. This is what’s going on in my heart. Lord, take this. Give me Your Word. Give me an answer to this lie so that I can meet it with Your power.” I had a friend who used to put promises – he’d write a promise on a piece of paper and put it in his shoe. He was so desperate to walk on the Word of God, to stand on the foundation of God’s love for him, and that was how he got it across to himself. Whatever you do, I like to write a verse on my hand sometimes or keep something in my pocket or put it up on my kitchen window so that I can see it while I’m washing dishes.

 

Whatever you do, spend time with God. Let Him answer the lies that the devil is telling you because I guarantee those things are holding you back in your devotional time with God, if you’re not allowing Him to meet them with the Word. He wants us to come to Him and get rest.

 

When I was spending time with my husband, even though we were across the ocean from one another, it gave me such joy. I loved being with him. Why? Because we were building a love relationship. The more I loved him, the more I longed to be with Him. God wants us to have that. He wants us to find rest and community, first in Him and then with one another. He’s a communal God, right? He’s Three in One. God has always been in relationship, vulnerable relationship with Himself. As Christians, we must believe in a triune God because He has to be already multiple to be able to love before He created beings. Otherwise, He would have created us because He was bored and lonely, right? If He is love, then He is a relational God. He loves relationship, and His entire Law is relational. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.

 

God has said He will judge us. He decides who is saved and who is lost based on a relational Law. That’s pretty serious, isn’t it? It means that God makes relationships the most important thing in the universe.

 

You know, when I talk to people about who they want to marry…We live right on the edge of a college campus, so you can imagine we have a lot of people who are asking questions. How will I know the right person to marry? What kind of responses do you think people give me when I ask what kind of person do you want to marry? What do people say? You tell me, what would you think? Anyone? A smart person, right. They want to marry someone who’s intelligent, at least as intelligent as they are, right? And there are, of course, all kinds of different sorts of intelligence, but they want someone who’s smart. They want someone who’s…what else? Spiritual. What else? Someone who can cook. There’s a man, a true man speaking. Take note, all you ladies. All right, anyway, what else? Good-looking, right, that’s a big one these days. I don’t know that it mattered that much hundreds of years ago when people couldn’t see mirrors, and they weren’t controlled by magazines. But nowadays it’s very important to many people. What else? Somebody with a career. Somebody who knows where they’re going, at least, right? Yes, some people want money. Many people are afraid to admit it, but it’s a reality and one that may change all of your life significantly, right?

 

When I was looking at my husband, I wanted him because he was my best friend, and I felt he was really my soulmate. He was this wonderful person. I connected so well with him. We loved being together. People say, “I want somebody I can be completely real with, someone who will keep me from ever being lonely again.” Someone to laugh with. Someone to cry with. Someone who admires me. Someone who chooses me above all others. Isn’t that important? You don’t always put these things into words until you see someone who doesn’t, and then you’re like, “Oh, this is not what I want. Cross this person off the list,” right?

 

And what I hear so much of the time is, “I want someone who loves me completely and understands me completely.” Well, I have news for you. I’ve married the best man in the world for me, but he still doesn’t understand me completely, and he doesn’t love me completely because he’s a sinner and because he cannot understand me completely. He doesn’t know the very depths of everything within me. He knows everything that I communicate to him, but even I don’t know myself, do I? Only God does, and this is the beautiful thing about putting a relationship with God first. You can be completely secure because you know you’re completely known and completely loved.

 

And when you have that sort of foundation of security, you can go into a relationship knowing it will be risky, knowing you’re going to get hurt for sure. When you marry somebody, the guarantee is, “I’m going to be hurt.” Either this person is going to die, and that will hurt, or they’re going to live with me, and that will hurt even more. You’re continually hurting one another, showing one another ways that you’re not like Jesus.

 

“The real solution to loneliness lies not in marriage but in our union with Christ, which leads to our union with one another. We need to love people rather than fearing or using them.” That’s from the book Single and Lonely, Finding the Intimacy You Desire.

 

Now God has given us so many lessons in His Word about how we can understand more deeply a relationship with Him. Mark 4, verses 3 and 4, tells the story of the sower. You know the story of the sower? The sower went out to sow. We don’t have time to go through the whole parable. That could be a whole seminar in itself, but briefly, what happens when he drops the seed on the hard ground? Does anyone remember? It gets eaten up by the birds, that’s right. When the seed is eaten up by the birds, what would you do if you wanted to stop that process from happening?

 

If you wanted the seeds to actually go down into the ground, what would you do? Okay, you’d bury them. The first thing to do is you get a sharp instrument, right? All of us know, you need a sharp instrument. Then you have to start actually hitting the ground, right? You can’t just go ch-ch-ch-ch on the top of the ground, and that’s going to take care of it is it? You have to actually point the sharp instrument at the ground, and then you put some force behind it, right? All of us know this basic about gardening. You want to get something down into the ground, you’ve got to take something sharp, you point it at the ground and you hit. And you keep on hitting.

 

Now, this is how God wants to work in our hearts. If you’re finding a difficult time in your devotional life, I encourage you, take the sword, and don’t just skitter it across the ground. You have to point it at your heart. Point it at the actual struggles that you’re facing and use it. Put some force behind it. Claim the promises. Cling to them. Pray without ceasing. The Lord will help you to be able to work through those issues so that you can be close to Him.

 

And I want to finish just with one final thing: How to pray. Make an uninterrupted time with God, right? You need time with Him without a bunch of things interrupting you. Talk with God about what really matters to you, not just the simple things, the deep things, the things that you don’t even want to think about, the addictions, the struggles that you’re facing, the people that you’re not getting along with. Talk with Him about those. Meditate on His response in prayer and in Scripture. Sometimes He’ll just speak to you and say, “You need to do this.” Sometimes He’ll give you peace about something that you cannot change. Sometimes He’ll give you a promise that you’ll need to claim. And then get rid of mind blocks regarding the character of God. When you identify a lie that the devil is telling you, that you’re struggling with, that you just can’t get past it, focus on it. Hand it to Him in prayer. Agonize over it. Give it to Him. And then walk in faith, praising God that He has given you the victory, whether you feel it or not.

 

You see, the cry of your heart is the cry of God’s heart for you. When you’re crying out in loneliness or in fear or in darkness of any kind, it’s because He’s calling you. He’s saying, “Come away to Me. Let Me satisfy you.” Every time we long for something, it’s because He’s created a longing that He wants to satisfy within our hearts. And He will.

 

We’re going to talk in our next seminar more about specifically how to build a relationship. Well, first I’m going to talk about, it’s called “How to win a loser.” So, if you want to get together with the wrong person, I’ll tell you how. And then the good news is I’ll also tell you how to win a winner. So, if you want to win a loser, you want to win a winner, I’ll tell you how to do both in the next seminar. But for now, I want you come away with this message: The first thing to do, if you want to find the love of your life, is to find Christ. Find yourself in Him, and then He will be able to guide you to the best person in the world for you. And whoever that person is, even if you’re already married to someone, and you’re going, “This was not the best person for me,” the great thing about God is, He gives beauty for ashes. He doesn’t say, “Now, you’ve made a bad choice getting married to that person. Just divorce him and run off. Now I’ll lead you.” No, He takes you where you are and says, “Let me make something beautiful. You won’t believe what I can do when you surrender it to Me.”

 

All right, let’s bow our heads for prayer. Father in Heaven, we’re so grateful for Your love for us. We’re so grateful that You’ve told us that we are priceless in Your sight. Lord, help us to internalize these great truths so that we can be transformed into Your image, that we can learn to love as You love. Thank You for Your love, Lord, and help us just to worship You above all others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

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