The subtitle of this book is ‘Overwhelmed by a Relentless God’. I was drawn to this book because of some particular things I’m trying to work through. (These beginning thoughts don’t have anything to do with the book and everything to do with why I picked up the book in the first place. But hey, it’s my blog, so here I go.) Basically, I am trying to get to the root of some problematic symptoms in my life. I heard a quote once (which I currently cannot find!) that says all sin is simply not believing God. Meaning, If we truly and fully believed God in everything, we would never sin. Sin is truly irrational. And regardless of one’s thoughts on sin and the nature of God, I think most people would agree that getting the the root of a problem is more effective than hacking at its manifestations. All that is to say that I have traced a few of my problematic symptoms (we all understand that, for some reason, I’m using a euphemism for my SIN, right…?) back to a root problem of not believing that God loves me the way the Bible says he does. I seem to think that God loves me the way one “loves but not likes” someone. The way you may love a perpetually annoying/obnoxious/disrespectful/pick-your-most-distasteful-attribute niece or nephew. You love them alright, because they’re family, but you don’t really like them or have affectionate feelings about them or want to spend any time with them. How I got to believing such things, I’ll leave alone for now. The important thing for now is that once I realized that my view of how God feels about me was not accurate, I set about trying to make it right. Because, usually, beliefs that are that deep aren’t just a matter of deciding otherwise. So I’ve set about to do lots of things to help convince myself of truth. And I came across this book, with its enticing subtitle. And I read it, thinking I would be affirmed and taught and reassured of the relentless love that God has for me.
Interestingly, only the first and third chapters were anything like what I expected. The bulk of the book is about what it looks like if and when we really love God, and what it looks like if and when we don’t. I fear my reading of the book was a bit tainted by what I wanted it to be. I’m not sure I read it as thoughtfully as I ought to have because I was wanting him to be writing about something other than what he was. Several chapters in, however, I was able to let go of my ideas and read the book for what it was. He really writes very well about what it looks like to take God seriously. And even though much of what he does would qualify as an admonition, he is excellent at describing the difference between acting out of love versus out of a motivation of needing to earn something. (As in, he’s never laying on a guilt trip.)
Both the subtitle and title make sense, of course, because when you’re overwhelmed by the love of God, it will show in your lifestyle. And when you’re not, it will show also. So I don’t particularly recommend this book as an affirmation of how God loves us, but I certainly recommend it for lots of other reasons. Particularly if the abundant life seems rather elusive, this book may help to understand ways which Christianity is commonly and sadly misrepresented that interfere with the abundant life.
My only negative reaction to the book was, interestingly, addressed and rejected in the last chapter. I did a study a few years ago called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. The study was very good and both I and the women I did it with benefitted from it in ways we could point to even today. However, we started almost every discussion after our weekly reading by airing out our complaints. Airing out complaints is a poor way to say it, but I cannot think of a better way. Basically, all the examples he uses are moving to Africa-and-saving-a-thousand-babies kind of stories. Or check-arriving-5-minutes-before-payroll-is due stories. All true stories, all good stories. But in a room full of women who spend the majority of time changing diapers, rocking babies, folding laundry, doing dishes, and trying desperately to shower at least every other day, we had to do a bit of translating. Blackaby never insinuates that what we do is not important, there’s just such a gap between his experiences and our reality, that we couldn’t always take what he said as it was. There was a lot of “so what this means for people like us is…”. Once translated, like I said, it was very helpful. I found Crazy Love to be similar in its extreme examples. Chan’s examples differ in that the extreme examples could apply to any Christian, where Backaby’s weren’t even possible unless you already had some sort of influence or were presented with an big opportunity. The similarity is in the lack of non headline-worthy examples. The examples are all things that are easily recognizable as “big things for God” by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Let me tell you something: any day that I wake up and I am patient and kind to both my children and husband until the moment I fall asleep that night, a miracle has occurred. I do not say this to water down what a miracle is. I say this because it is truly a miracle. God himself has taken up residence inside of me, is working to crucify my unkindness and impatience, and growing and cultivating fruits of the spirit in me. And I believe with all my heart this is the big stuff for God that I’m called to right now.
Very often, I talk with God. Not at him, but with. There is interaction, including listening. If he tells me to sell my house and give the money to the poor and live in a yurt, then I will be grateful for the reminder from Chan that dismissing this command calls into question whether or not my first love is God (which I believe it really does). But I’m telling you, most days what I’m hearing is this:
“I’m here. It’s true you couldn’t do this without me, but you aren’t without me. Love your children. Be respectful to your husband. Listen all the way before talking. Stop thinking of what you will say in response while listening. What you are doing matters. It makes a difference. Not because you are so super-awesome, but because your diligent efforts are some of the tools I am using to shape your children. And your husband. And anyone you come in contact with. And since we established that you are not super-awesome, you can relax in knowing that nothing depends on your super-awesomeness. Be anxious for nothing. But in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to Me. Be thankful. If you get to a point in your day when you think you have nothing to be thankful for, come see me. I will remind you. If you cannot complete something today because disciplining and/or discipling children took more time than usual, or because of something out of your control, I did not mean for you to do it today. Trust that all things work together for those who love me and are called according to my purpose. Trust that the idea you’ve got in your head about how something would have been better your way is uninformed. I’m here.”
Like I said, in the last chapter, Chan does affirm that God is not necessarily calling everyone to sell their house or open their doors to the neighborhood homeless. We just need to be willing to do whatever God asks and not rule anything out as too extreme or have a category of things we are unwilling to surrender (physically, emotionally, or otherwise). I guess I understand the absence of the diaper/ laundry/ shower example. It’s not very sexy; I get it. So as long as you’re solid about less glamorous callings being equally God-glorifying as the African orphanage starters, I think the book is a fantastic read.
Completely unrelated note: I am always surprised by which of my ‘Book Thoughts’ come out short and which come out long. I guess that affirms one of my reasons for writing about them: I am not fully aware of all my thought about them until I write!