The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you.
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.
—1 Peter 5:6-7
More than anything in the world, I wish I could convince people that God loves them. It’s the reason I’m a missionary, the heart of every talk I give, the subtext of every chat I have with a small child: I want every person I meet to have a sense of the passionate, all-consuming love of God that I’ve had some small taste of.
As Christians, we hear that message over and again, but it’s been castrated, whitewashed and ground down until it means nothing. “God likes you,” or perhaps, “God is mildly fond of you.” Love has become some vague sense of approval instead of the stern-as-death, burn-away-your-sins, wild rejoicing love Scripture tells us of. And “God is friendly” doesn’t change lives. It doesn’t heal broken hearts or pull addicts from the miry pit or give anyone a reason to wake up in the morning. It doesn’t make saints.
So if there’s one thing I want us to come away with at the end of the Year in the Word, it’s a conviction that we are deeply, powerfully loved in a way that has to change our lives. There isn’t much you find more often in Scripture than this and many of my favorite verses (Isaiah 49:13–16; Isaiah 62:4–5; Song of Songs 4:7; Romans 5:8; Isaiah 54:10–11 to name a few) are just God finding yet another way to tell your heart how inestimably precious it is to him.
This verse from Zephaniah is so incarnational it’s hard to believe it was written 600 years before the Annunciation. “The Lord your God” — not some distant God or even y’all’s God, but the God who has submitted himself entirely to you — “is in your midst.” He is God-with-us, Emmanuel. And he has come as our savior to save us from sin and from hell and from the slow, agonizing soul-death of being unloved.
Listen: God doesn’t just tolerate you, or even like you. He dances with joy over you. His love for you is so powerful that it burns away the unlovable parts, renewing you. Zephaniah was speaking to a depraved and idolatrous Jerusalem. His is a book filled with doom and judgment. And yet even to these Judahites whose crimes merited deportation and death, he says God will sing joyfully — think how much more you, covered in the blood of the Savior and transformed by his sacrifice, cause the Father to sing and rejoice.
Peter goes a step further. It’s not enough just to know that the Lord loves us; we need to live differently as a result. If we really believe he loves us, we need to be content to let him be God. Many of the young people I talk to who are discerning are terrified of what God’s will for them might be because they don’t truly believe God wants them to be happy. And while I don’t think he necessarily cares if you’re happy at this moment, he certainly wants you to be happy for eternity.
So often the path to peace in life requires stepping back, letting go of our plans and accepting the will of God as it presents itself — in this dirty diaper or at this red light or from a snarky coworker. When we humble ourselves, when we acknowledge that we aren’t lords of our own lives, we finally let God do the marvelous and terrifying and mundane things that will bring us great joy in his time, not in our own.
What’s left at the end of all this humbling and submitting? Often a heart filled with petty anxieties. It’s so discouraging to offer God the gift of celibacy or motherhood or missionary life and be so weighed down with worry that you left the oven on or forgot to pay a bill. And our sweet Father looks at us, discouraged as we are by our worldliness, and says, “Sweet child, give me that too.” “What, this? No, no. It’s too small, too silly. You’re busy with real problems like war and cancer. You don’t want my loneliness or my anger.” But he cares for you. He wants to take your big suffering and your little stuff too. He might not take it away, mind you, but he’ll hold it so it isn’t so heavy, so it doesn’t rule you.
I get all kinds of anxious about all kinds of things, most of them silly. And sometimes I forget to give my worries to God. I’m big and strong and independent and can take care of my own self — until I can’t. And then I find myself on some chapel floor, overcome by the too-muchness of it all. And I look at my God, crucified for love of me. And I just give it to him. “Jesus I love you. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus I love you. I love you.” Not because I feel it but because I’m willing it. I’m choosing it. I’m handing him the worries I can’t let go of, and I’m asking him to pry my fingers open.
Because he loves me. Oh, how he loves me. He loves me enough to carry my big sins and my little stupidities. If only I could learn to let him.
Meg Hunter-Kilmerwrites for her blog “Held by His Pierced Hands” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.