A Stranger to the Groom

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”   Mark 12:29-30

My life changed forever in response to these four words, spoken by God through the pages of a Bible study fourteen years ago. “Do you love Jesus?”

I still remember the moment clearly. I knew the right answer, and I lifted my pen to fill the blank awaiting my ink on the page. But God had other plans for me that day. His Spirit intervened, lifting a veil of deception that enshrouded my heart, and allowed me to see what He saw. I did not love Him. I can tell you with all sincerity, the news shocked me. I recall my hand trembling as I moved it to write the only answer I’d become capable of putting down. No.

For twenty-six years, I had attended church and tried to live what I understood to be a godly life. And to be honest, I was miserable. The consistent, nagging ache within my heart wouldn’t leave. I tried to fill it with my husband’s love, but although we were happily married, I had no peace. I found myself frustrated with God, questioning Christianity, and doubting whether Jesus was even real.

Where was this Prince of Peace? Was Christ’s invitation to abundant life and surpassing joy merely the stuff of fairy tales?

That day as Jesus confronted me in my living room, I discovered the source of my struggle. I didn’t love the Savior of my soul. In fact, until that day, I’d never even met Him. I had called Him Lord with my mouth, but I had never trusted Him with my heart. Jesus warns about that kind of hypocrisy in Mark 7:6,

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Growing up in a Christian home, I had heard lots of wonderful stories about Jesus. Many times I sat in a church pew enthralled by marvelous tales of faith and God’s intervention. Unfortunately, I allowed those stories to remain the extent of my knowledge of God. I never pursued Jesus for myself and allowed Him to make Himself real to me. I applauded others for their relationship with Jesus, but never set out on my own. I was willing to give Him my Sunday mornings—well, at least most of them—but I wasn’t willing to trust Him with anything else.

I spent 26 years attending church and almost missed knowing Jesus. And when you miss Jesus, dear one, you miss everything.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus offers a chilling prophecy in Matthew 7. When He returns to claim His throne and summon His bride to Himself, there will be many people shocked to find the door to the wedding feast closed to them.

Jesus doesn’t refer to those who blatantly rejected Him here. These are not those who refused to believe that Jesus was who He said He was. On the contrary, these people serve in His name! They fully expect that when He returns He will welcome them with open arms. Yet when they try to enter eternity with Him, He will tell them plainly, “I never knew you.”

Beloved, you and I cannot enter eternal rest without knowing and being known by Jesus. Nothing less than intimacy will do. We can know all about Him, attend church and even quote Scripture (John 5:39-40), but if we don’t personally know and love the One we profess to believe, we worship in vain.

My heart is so tender toward you as I type these words. A stark reality rises to my thoughts as I consider these truths. You see, had Jesus not intervened in my life that day, presenting Himself to me in Bible study and unveiling my deceptions, I would have been counted among those rejected by Jesus at His return. I knew about Him but I did not know Him, and I did not seek out His will for my life (Matthew 7:21, 23).

I had tried to earn His favor and blessing by doing what I thought was expected of me. I even labeled it salvation by grace because that’s what the Bible and my church preached. Sadly, I worshiped in vain. I had offered up works and called it faith. That’s why I didn’t experience the fruit of my salvation promised to me in Scripture. What He asked of me—what He asks of you—is devotion. He invites us to trust Him with our hearts, with our very lives. What He really wants is you and me.

How grateful I am that our loving God pursues! He could have left me wallowing in my works. After all, I had chosen them. But like He did for a broken woman at a Samaritan well, Jesus intersected my path, showed me who He is and offered me an opportunity to make a different choice. And that afternoon in my living room, face to face with the Lord of Glory, I did choose. I chose to believe Jesus is worth loving, that I could take this risk and offer Him my heart. I confessed my sin through cleansing tears, and asked Him to teach me to love Him. I didn’t know how. It didn’t matter. All that mattered that day was that I wanted to. Jesus promises to do the rest.

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts . . . so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  Deuteronomy 30:6

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