Discover that God is generous.  God is not an angry tyrant who is eager to punish you or use fear, guilt, and shame to try to get you to change.  Jesus says that God delights in you so much that He is constantly giving you gifts - from your very life, to everything you enjoy.  Jesus shows you a God who gives rather than demands, who heals rather than wounds, who bestows freedom instead of oppression, and who offers forgiveness rather than condemnation.  Read, recite, and pray through Psalm 23's narrative about God's generosity.  Let the psalm's words soak into your soul and help you see God's generous nature more clearly.

Discover that God is love.  God's love for you doesn't depend on your behavior.  You can't earn His favor or avoid His wrath through pious activities.  God loves you unconditionally and completely.  Jesus reveals a God who loves you despite your brokenness and sins, and who is willing to meet you wherever you are to help you heal and grow.  Try lectio divina, a method of reading the Bible that involves listening with your heart.  Choose a brief passage from the Bible about love (such as 1 John 4:8: "God is love") and read it over and over slowly, reflecting on each word and phrase while paying attention to the impact the passage has on your heart.

Discover that God is holy.  God isn't like a soft and comforting teddy bear that doesn't care about right and wrong.  His love compels Him to stand strongly against sin, because sin destroys the people He loves.  God is holy - pure in His essence - and He loves you so much that He works tirelessly to purify your life from sin that hurts you.  God doesn't use fear, guilt, or shame to try to get you to become more holy.  Instead, God inspires you to grow in holiness through the power of His love at work in your life to burn away sin.  Create some margin in your schedule so you'll have enough time and energy for the rest and reflection that will help you grow as a person.  Eliminate activities that aren't truly important so you'll be able to devote yourself more to building a closer relationship with God.

Discover that God is self-sacrificing.  You don't need to work your way to God.  God has worked His way to you through Jesus death on the cross, sacrificing Himself to pay for your sins.  Jesus - God incarnate - has already done for you what you can never do for yourself.  Read the entire Gospel of John and let it speak to you powerfully about the sacrifice God has made for you.

Discover that God transforms.  No matter how deeply you're immersed in sin, you never have to be stuck there, because God has broken sin's power and He longs to free you from it and transform your life for the better.  Don't let sin define you.  Claim your identity as someone who has been reconciled to God through Christ, and base your decisions in light of that powerful reality.  Abide in Jesus by relying on His strength working through you in every situation.  Trust Jesus to empower you to overcome sin, grow, and enjoy a better life than you had in the past.  Spend some time in solitude regularly, stepping away from other people's pressure and opinions of you so you can more clearly hear God's voice speaking to you.  Let what God tells you about yourself shape your identity.

Give it time.  Recognize that the kind of deep changes God wants to make in your soul will come about through a gradual process.  Ask God to help you be patient as He renews your mind and transforms your life.  Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life so you'll be able to experience the fullness of each present moment and connect to God within it.  Learn how to slow down, calm down, and make time for rest and contemplation regularly.

Adapted from The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, copyright 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com
James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School, Ph.D., Fuller Seminary) is a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, KS and a writer and speaker in the area of Christian spiritual formation. A founding member of Richard J. Foster's spiritual renewal ministry, Renovaré, Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches. Smith is the author of A Spiritual Formation Workbook, Devotional Classics (with Richard Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven and Room of Marvels

Original publication date: August 28, 2009