The vibration of the gravel under the van's tires jarred me alert after the lulling hum of the highway. After a long, scorching day providing a day camp in a Tennessee State Park for children with special needs, perspiration adhered my shirt to the vinyl seat and my eyes stubbornly kept drifting shut on the drive back to the antique dormitory where we ate and slept. Why had we stopped? Did the lead van have a flat tire?
Our driver rolled down his window to consult with the youth director, then turned and said, "Wake up. Shoes on. Everybody out!"
John, our youth minister, headed off into the trees beside the road and told us to come on. We glanced at each other, confused, but followed him in trust. A narrow dirt path snaked through the trees then descended, down and around and down and around, becoming more challenging as we sometimes needed to reach out a hand for something stable to help us balance.
A susurration beyond the trees grew into a roar. We raised our voices to match. "Water! There's water down here!" The athletes among us raced to be the first to reach the rocky pool of fresh water at the base of a hidden waterfall. "Can we get in? Can we swim in it?" John went first and deemed it safe enough, as long as we kept our shoes on for protection and traction and didn't swim directly below the plummeting water.
Ked-clad and fully clothed, nary a swim towel in sight, most of the group got in. I hung back. It didn't look safe. After a few minutes I conceded to wade in. The cool water refreshed and invigorated my overheated ankles and calves. A little farther, and a little farther still, and I was submerged to my shoulders, then my head as well, a baptism of unexpected joy.
How long we stayed I don't know, but we swam, the boys daring closer and closer to the relentless rushing water, until an adult told them that was close enough. Behind the curtain of the falls we took turns sitting on a ledge carved into the rock face, just wide enough for two or three youth. Then back into the water we slid, breathless with the cold and the power and the delight of the thing. Some climbed up the walls of the cove, chilled for the first time all week and ready to dry off. Eventually we all joined them by some unspoken consensus.
At the leaders' word, we hiked back up the trail and returned to our vans, no longer drowsy but drenched, shivering, and chattering all the way back to our home base.
This memory sprang to mind with the vividness of yesterday when I read the following commentary on Romans 5:5 by Dr. J. I. Packer:
Three points in Paul's words deserve comment. First, notice the verb shed abroad. It means literally poured (or dumped) out. It is the word used of the "outpouring" of the Spirit himself in Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45; Titus 3:6. It suggests a free flow and a large quantity--in fact, and inundation. Hence the rendering of the NEB, "God's love has flooded our inmost heart." Paul is not talking of faint and fitful impressions, but of deep and overwhelming ones.God's love has flooded the heart of those who, having believed in Christ, have received the gift of His Spirit. His love has inundated our hearts. More powerful, more relentless, more abundant than that falls or any falls, more love than mortal man or woman can hold has gushed into us, so that we may live "in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God's love" for us.
Then, second, notice the tense of the verb. It is in the perfect, which implies a settled state consequent upon a completed action. The thought is that knowledge of the love of God, having flooded our hearts, fills them now, just as a valley once flooded remains full of water. Paul assumes that all his readers, like himself, will be living in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God's love for them.
Third, notice that the instilling of this knowledge is described as part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to those who receive him--to all, that is, who are born again, all who are true believers (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 118).
Beloved, have you ever entered into that love? If you have never trusted the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, I urge you to do so now. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And again, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9-10).
If you already know Christ, if you have believed in His name and become His true child by faith, do you believe the love God has for us? His Word testifies over and over to His wooing, jealous, purifying love. Romans 5:5 is not the only place. Sometimes when I feel lonely and wallow in self-pity, I need to get out of the van and dive into the pool of God's love as witnessed by the Scriptures. Feelings lie. The Bible never does. God loves us. He delights in us. Every day draws nearer to the day Jesus will gather His bride, the church, to Himself "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27). Sometimes when I feel lonely, I am learning, my real problem is not believing God's revealed truth. I beg and plead for some sign, some token of His love instead of taking Him at His word and believing that His love has drenched my heart, whether I feel it or not. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!
If you perhaps feel unworthy of love today, disqualified from the sweeping flood of God's love, consider these verses which immediately follow the theme verse of this post:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:6-10)Christ poured out His life for us when we were still weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. How can any mere human act disqualify us from His love? (See also Romans 8.) He shed His blood for the disqualified. Our disqualification qualifies us for His grace.
Dear Crumbles, however you may feel about love and Valentine's Day, whether you are with your beloved or alone today, may God drench you with His love. May He flood your heart with the knowledge that He has loved us, He loves us, and He'll never stop loving us, for Jesus' sake. Amen.