Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of James Bryan Smith's new book, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, (InterVarsity Press, 2009).

What you think about God will determine the kind of relationship you have with Him.  If you think of God as harsh and demanding, you'll probably be afraid of God and keep your distance from Him.  If you think of God as just an impersonal force in the universe, you'll likely have nothing but a vague relationship with Him.  But if you think about God the way Jesus does, you'll get an accurate perspective that will lead you to fall in love with Him.

Here's how you can fall in love with the God Jesus knows:

Seek true change in your life.  God has great purposes for your life and wants to help you grow as a person.  Invite God to lead you toward the best life possible and transform you into the person He wants you to become.  Understand that real change comes only by changing the way you think, since your thoughts lead to your actions.  So commit to examining the stories you have in your mind about God and evaluating whether they're true or false. 

Replace wrong thoughts about God with thoughts that line up with biblical truth, as the Holy Spirit leads you.  Once you begin to think about God correctly and clearly, you'll gain the confidence you need to trust Him more as He transforms you.  Be sure to get enough sleep on a regular basis so you'll be rested enough to truly concentrate on activities like prayer and reading the Bible - activities through which you can pursue a closer relationship with God.

Discover that God is good.  Even though you live in a fallen world and will experience suffering as a result, God sent Jesus to overcome the sin that causes suffering, and He offers you real hope even the midst of the worst situations.  Jesus says that His Father is good, and He proclaimed that reality even during times when He intensely suffered here on earth. 

When you invite Jesus to live in and through you, He will give you the faith you need to go on even while you're suffering.  Jesus will believe for you when you can't believe in your own strength.  If you trust God even when going through pain, God will use it to accomplish good purposes in your life.  You can experience more of God's goodness by spending a few minutes each day in silence and by spending some time regularly outside in God's creation.  Notice how God reveals more of His character to you as you draw closer to Him through silence and time in creation.

Discover that God is trustworthy.  Hurtful experiences - from a dream that didn't come true to the death of a person you love - can make it difficult for you to trust God.  But God can be trusted even when your life doesn't make sense or when something in it is difficult to accept.  The God that Jesus describes is nearby, holy, powerful, caring, forgiving, and protecting.  Even in the midst of fear and doubt during His earthly lifetime (such as while preparing to die on the cross), Jesus chose to trust and obey His heavenly Father. 

Like Jesus, sometimes you'll need to go through pain in order for something good to be accomplished, but God will always be with you and give you the mercy and grace to empower you to face any situation.  He will also redeem even the most painful circumstances.  Start counting your blessings by writing them down regularly in an ongoing list.  As you read through your growing list of blessings, thank God for them and praise Him for His work in your life.

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