After I graduated from college, I took my first real job immediately. I was hired as a youth pastor at a small church in a small town in Indiana. There was nothing special about this situation, except, I was really sad.
You see, during my last semester at college the girl I was supposed to marry broke up with me. I was heartbroken about that and lonely as I moved to a new place where I knew no one. My mom was really worried about her “little boy.” Even though I was a college graduate, a full-fledged adult and gainfully employed, she could not help but think the worst. I was- to my mom anyway- a helpless and pathetic waif who needed his mom.
Well, I didn’t need my mom. But that doesn’t mean that I was without needs – I needed friends.
The church secretary hit upon a solution pretty quickly. No young man should be unattached. Our secretary, let’s call her Bonnie, began matchmaking in earnest. She developed a list of eligible girls in the church who were in the right age range for me to be interested in. The list was pretty uninteresting to me, except for one name.
Soon after arriving at my new church, I noticed the only choir member who did not have white hair. She was a girl, a very pretty girl, who was about my age. And every Sunday I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I wasn’t quite stalking her, but I definitely noticed and paid attention. And when Shannon’s name appeared on my secretary’s list I took notice.
I began to learn everything I could about Shannon. I found out about her family, where she lived and what she liked to do. It may sound creepy now, but I gathered as much information and insight as I could get. I got her phone number from the secretary and then things really went into high gear. When Bonnie realized that I was interested in one of the girls on her list, she started feeding me information about Shannon. Bonnie told me about Shannon’s old boyfriends and where she worked. I learned that she was not only in the choir, but she was quite the singer in her own right. In fact, she was making her own album of Christian music and she sometimes traveled with a band giving concerts. Surely this was the girl of my dreams!
I got all of this information before I ever called her for a date. I was doing all this research before I ever spoke to her at church. I was deep in trying to win this girl, and I hadn’t even really started yet.
And that’s how God’s love works. He pays attention to us and watches us, even before we know that God exists. In fact, the Bible teaches that before we were born he knew all about us and had a plan for our lives (Jeremiah 1.5). While we were still out on our own, Jesus died for our sins (Romans 5.8). God has been learning about us for our whole lives. Just like me with Shannon.
The moment of truth is when I finally called Shannon and asked her for a date. I was nervous because the last girl I dated rejected me and hurt me deeply, but I was pretty convinced that this was the right thing. I began the process of wooing Shannon. I was working to convince her that I was the one for her.
That’s how God works as well. He is constantly reaching out to us, looking for a relationship with us. We don’t have to accept his overtures, but they are always there. He’s always there, wooing us into a relationship with him. In fact, Jesus says (Luke 19.10) that he came to seek and save the lost. His whole purpose is to find us, to love us, to search for us and to save us.
Shannon will tell you that she was not impressed by me at all. She thought I was arrogant, weird, too sarcastic and a questionable dresser. (She might not have been wrong on my attire.) She didn’t like me at all… at first. You see, she got to decide if she was going to date me. It was her decision. I couldn’t force her to go on a date, or fall in love, or marry me. All I could do was take care of her, and love her.
Again, this is how God’s love works. He keeps reaching out. He keeps loving. He keeps forgiving and waiting. It’s up to us whether or not we accept his offer of a relationship. In the theological world, we call this prevenient grace. God loved us and offered us his grace before we were even aware of it. He keeps loving us and waiting on us, but the next step is ours. God loves you now, just the way you are. The next step is up to you.
By the way, I wore Shannon down. She went on a date with me, and then another, and then another. We dated for several months before we got engaged. And then a year after that we got married. Our wedding was over 30 years ago. Love works!