On a school run recently, one of my kids asked: “Daddy, is God ever fed up with us?” Over the years, my kids have stumped me with questions about God, but on this occasion, I couldn’t have been more delighted to answer them. I explained to them God’s faithful love [Jeremiah 31:3], His boundless grace [Ephesians 1:7-8] and His endless mercy towards us [Lamentations 3:22-23]. I assured them that God chose not to give up on us, fully aware of our past, present and future messes. I told them God is faithful to us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. I pray that somewhere in their little brains is lodged a consciousness that nothing they ever do will cause God to give up on them – that there’s always a way back to their Father’s loving arms.
Imagine if we could get to a point where God wrote us off. Where would any of us be? Before you say you aren’t bad enough to be written off, remember that God’s standard is Jesus. So, resist the temptation to compare yourself to the worst person you know. Remember how far you are from the standard Jesus set. One of the reasons I love studying Scripture is discovering its characters. They often ooze with fragility and faults. Yet, despite their flaws, God uses them to accomplish marvellous things. Abraham? An idol worshipper and liar. Jacob? A cheat. Moses? A murderer. Samson? A womaniser. Peter? Denied Jesus. Paul? A murderer. David? A womaniser and a murderer, and so on. We can’t claim to be any better. You may not know how despicable my flaws are, but you know yours, and so does God [Jeremiah 17:9]. Yet, this holy and perfect God takes delight in us and sings over us with gladness [Zephaniah 3:17]. That’s an astonishing revelation of God’s love – the basis of His thoughts and actions towards us.
For years, I’ve tried futilely to understand God’s love. Nowadays, I’m learning to just accept and revel in it. I recently heard a friend preach on Jeremiah 18:1-6, and his message brought me to tears. He highlighted three things in the sermon. First, it was the potter at the wheel, not an apprentice. God takes a personal interest in us. He doesn’t leave us to a proxy for any reason. Second, the clay was marred in the potter’s hands. But that didn’t deter him. He didn’t discard the clay. Instead, he patiently reworked the clay. That illustrates God’s faithfulness in the presence of our brokenness. And finally, Jeremiah observed that the potter kept remodelling the clay until the outcome was good to him, implying that God doesn’t stop transforming us until we become His desired vessel.
I reflected on my life as he made those points, and my moments of unfaithfulness came flooding back. But, I was also instantly overwhelmed by God’s mercy – grateful that He sticks with me. My thoughts went to Onesimus, the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon. Onesimus was a good-for-nothing runaway slave who had stolen from his master, Philemon. The penalty for such an act was severe. However, while on the run, Onesimus met Jesus through Paul. Under Paul’s tutelage, Onesimus transformed into someone Paul could vouch for [Philemon 1:10-16] and entrust with letters which make up part of our New Testament today [Colossians 4:9]. It’s a story that illustrates God’s ability to recycle someone considered useless and written off by people. Paul must have seen himself in Onesimus because he preaches about God’s redeeming grace more than any other biblical writer [1 Corinthians 15:10].
These biblical characters teach us many lessons, but the one that encourages me most this week is: “Submit yourself under the mighty hand of God” [1 Peter 5:6]. Or, as my friend put it: “Stay on the wheel”. David modelled how to stay on the wheel after his fall [2 Samuel 11 & 12]. His life taught us that God never rejects a contrite heart [Psalm 51]. God isn’t surprised by your past or present messes. He wouldn’t be God otherwise! So, irrespective of what you’ve done or what’s happened to you, if your heart is right, there’s grace for redemption, restoration, reconciliation, and restitution under God’s mighty hand [Isaiah 66:2, Psalm 51]. Who would have thought that God would call a murderer a man after His heart [Acts 13:22]? That God would honour David by taking his name [Matthew 1:1]? Remember, when God forgives your past, He forgets it too and gives you a new beginning [Psalm 103:12]. You commit to staying on the wheel, and He’ll transform you into a work of art [John 15:1-8].
A note of caution; never write off anyone on the wheel, irrespective of their past. God takes delight in restoring surrendered vessels consigned to the rubbish heap. For instance, despite falling and being written off, Samson accomplished more in his dying moments than at any point in his life [Judges 16:28-30]. You and I can mend a slightly chipped vase with superglue. But it takes love, artistry, willingness, and ability to restore one shattered into many pieces. God excels in the latter. He does so for His glory [Ephesians 2:1-10]. Paul points out that the more messed up we are, the more God lavishes His grace on us [Romans 5:20-21].
God desires to make all his children like Jesus [Romans 8:29-30]. He won’t give up on us unless we exercise our freedom to come off the wheel because He never compels us to act against our will. Even then, He doesn’t stop pursuing us with His love to win us back. So my appeal this week is simple: stay on the wheel if you’re already on there, or come back to the wheel if you took yourself off it [2 Corinthians 5:20]. It may not be easy, but you’re in God’s will if you stay on the wheel.