Many years ago, I conducted a weekend preaching mission in a congregation known for its liveliness and charismatic expression. Using the words of the Father to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved son in whom I delight,” I shared the good news that we are God’s beloved. As the service ended, I offered an opportunity for those unsure about God’s personal love for them to come forward. To my surprise, almost half those present, many of them churchgoers of long standing, came to the front of the church for prayer and counsel.
There are many possible reasons why some of us find it hard to know ourselves as God’s beloved. Explanations may range from a lack of healthy attachment to our parents or conditional acceptance by our first caregivers to memories of painful abuse or present- day voices that undermine and ridicule to dehumanizing social conditions that mock the gospel’s proclamation that every human creature is precious and loved by God. Tragedy, ongoing suffering, and painful disappointments can also make it hard to believe that God cares for us.
It is essential that, before we face our sinfulness, we come to know that we are God’s beloved. It is highly unlikely that we will ask God to reveal the disorder of our lives if we are unsure about how God feels toward us. The ringing testimony of Christ followers throughout history, including Ignatius and Dallas Willard, affirms that it is possible that these negative memories, voices, conditions, and experiences can be disempowered from having the final word about who we are. The good news is that you and I can come to know, both with our head and our heart, that we are loved by God, as we are.
This inner knowing goes beyond mere belief. It is an experiential assurance that we are God’s beloved.
The Beloved Charter
How can we come to know that we are God’s beloved in a more personal way? One of the best ways is to spend some time regularly meditating on God’s personal love in Scripture, and to ask the Holy Spirit to make it more real for us.
Throughout the Bible there are many verses that underline the fact of our belovedness. When we put together what I like to call our personal Beloved Charter, it helps us see ourselves through the eyes of our loving God and begin to feel about ourselves the way God feels. With hearts and minds, we begin to see that God is recklessly in love with each one of us, that the divine Lover is interested in everything we do, and that God has unique purposes for our one life here on earth.8
To give you some idea of what a Beloved Charter could look like, here is the one that I wrote out for myself several years ago. It still speaks to me today.
Trevor, you are my beloved child in whom I delight. You did not choose me; I chose you. I want you to be my friend. I formed your inward parts and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, made a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honor. You have been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which I have already prepared to be your way of life. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. I know all your longings; your sighing is not hidden from me. Nothing will ever be able to separate you from my love for you in Christ Jesus, your Lord. Abide in my love.
Coming to know ourselves as God’s beloved sets the foundation for life-changing repentance to take place in our lives. Allowing words and images like the ones in my own Beloved Charter to percolate within our hearts indicates our willingness to let God be God in our lives, changes the way we see ourselves, and helps us hear God telling us who we are.
I am continually surprised by how the Spirit presses home the message of a Beloved Charter into our hearts. Here is an excerpt from an email of someone who spent a retreat day putting together their personal Beloved Charter, meditating on its words, and speaking to God about it.
Thank you for your encouragement to put together my own personal Beloved Charter. When I imagined God speaking these words from deep within my own heart, it was quite difficult at first to believe that they could be true. I kept thinking that it was too good to be true. I have done many wrong things in my life, and it was hard to believe that God loved and accepted me unconditionally like these verses suggested. I kept feeling that I needed to do something to earn God’s love. However, as the day progressed, there was a growing sense within that I am precious to God and embraced by his love. Almost every morning now, when looking into the mirror for the first time, I say to myself, “You are God’s beloved.” Whenever I do this, I smile.
Beginning Here and Now
God makes another kind of life available to us. Eternal living can begin right now, where we are. We enter this life through turning to Jesus and entrusting ourselves to him. We walk through the doorway of repentance, continue along the pathway of repentance, and experience the joy of knowing ourselves as loved sinners. As we change direction in this way, we are gradually transformed by God’s love into the compassionate image bearers God wants us to be. We become different in a life- giving way.
As this article concludes, I invite you to sit quietly with your hands placed on your lap. Curl up your fingers into tightly closed fists. Imagine that your tightly closed hands hold all your faults and flaws, all your visible and hidden sinfulness, all that weighs heavily on your conscience before God. Feel the tension build up from your hands and spread throughout your body. Next, look at the cross where Jesus died for all. To express your response to God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness, slowly open your hands— the one representing your desire to repent and the other your trust in the good news—and receive the gift God longs to give you.
As you end this exercise, you may like to pray with me:
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for your grace-filled invitation to keep turning toward another kind of life. Please show me what gets in the way of my receiving the life you make possible. Without the light of your love shining into my life, I cannot see the true condition of my heart. Show me how you see me through your forgiving eyes and how you want me to change my ways. Reveal also to me the way you see the wayward ways of our church, our community, and our world. Help me to recognize how I contribute to this disorder, that I may learn to live more in tune with your dream for the entire universe. Thank you that I can ask for all this knowing that you always love me and want to help me change.