Recently, the college ministry from our church went to Stinson Beach, and my wife, daughter, son in law, and their two kids (2 of my 3 grandchildren) also went.
Our oldest grandchild is Isabella, or Bella, for short. She’s 2 years old, and as smart and alive as they come. She came equipped with a variety of tools for moving sand from one place to another, and soon after we arrived, she went to work on re-arranging the contours of the beach.
I thought it would be the grandfatherly thing to do, so I took her by the hand and walked her down near the water where the sand is wet, all with the mindset of helping her build a sand castle. That’s when the God lesson began.
Apparently Bella didn’t understand my superior plans for building a sand castle, and instead, chose her inferior plan of just moving sand from here to there. With each shovel full of sand that she moved, I began to lose interest. I looked south down the beach, wondering what was “over there”. I drifted off into thinking about the books I had brought. I went from being an active, interested participant to being a passive, somewhat indifferent, duty bound bystander.
I looked back to where our group was seated, and saw my wife and daughter relaxing. “They deserve a break”, I said to myself. I instinctively knew the rightness of watching Bella so that they could relax longer. I knew that I ought to give my complete attention to Bella. I knew it was the “right” thing to do.
Being the godly man that I am, I caught myself, and with deliberate intentionality, I re-focused. “Get down to her level” I told myself, so I plopped down into the sand and got eye level with Bella. With renewed purpose, I forced myself to pay attention, and it helped. I reconnected with Bella, and it got more interesting. Each time my mind drifted, I purposed to stay on task, and enjoyed some wonderful moments with my granddaughter.
God began to speak to me. What I was doing was good, but it wasn’t natural. As with every Christian on Earth, we have a divided nature. There is my “flesh” of which the Apostle Paul declares “in which dwells no good thing”. (Romans 7:18) Also within me is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, conforming me into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
On a positive note, I realized that God was leading me to be selfless, and to pay attention to my granddaughter. (I am a bit ashamed to even confess that I needed help with that.) On a negative note, I once again realized how absolutely absent agape love is within my heart, apart from God’s Spirit. I thank God that I struggled through it, but I was suddenly re-amazed at God.
God never struggles to pay attention to me and love me when I am “moving sand around on the beach”. When I am doing something relatively unproductive for His kingdom, He isn’t thinking more of himself than me. He doesn’t wait until I am doing valuable Kingdom work to turn His eyes toward me. He doesn’t ignore me until I am doing something that he is interested in. Whether I am preaching the Gospel, or “moving sand around on the beach”, His heart consistently and perfectly loves me.
I often have to struggle to extend agape love for others, but God’s nature IS love. (1 John 4:8, 16) He cannot do anything other than love me selflessly, regardless of how insignificant my thoughts, words, or deeds are.
I sometimes struggle to “do” the right thing, but agape love is also often “feeling” the right thing. I know that agape isn’t just about feelings, and that it can be extended even when the flesh fights against it, but this beach episode reminded me that God always “feels it”. His heart towards all of humanity is always full of love, ready to give, and paying attention. He never drifts off into selfishness, or has to talk Himself back into a right frame of mind.
Only God can say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”. (Jeremiah 31:3) There is never a time when God doesn’t love us.
“God, help me to love like You do. Deliver me from my natural instinct to focus upon myself. Help me to see the value of people, even when they are doing nothing more than ‘moving sand around on the beach’. Thank You for Your perfect love for me”.