Love Better: God

Content Warning: For those of you who have suffered church hurt or spiritual abuse, this post might be triggering.

I was young, 7 or 8, and it was spring in the Midwest, which meant thunderstorms. They started out as just your normal, garden variety thunderstorms, but soon they produced into the torrential downpour, thunder rolling, bright lightning strikes lighting up the whole room, “should we go to the basement” grade thunderstorms. 

My bedroom was on the west side of the house, and that meant I got the worst of the storms–all the wind and rain would attack my windows, making me feel like I just might be the next Dorothy, and I didn’t have a Toto.

I was convinced Jesus was coming back.

And, I can tell you that my feelings weren’t feelings of joy that I was going to get to spend eternity with my savior. No, my feelings were of abject fear of hell because of the theology that had brainwashed me, even at such a young age. Instead of the sheer joy I should have been feeling at the prospect of spending eternity in heaven, these were my thoughts:

  • Have I asked God to forgive all my sins?
  • What if I forgot a sin?
  • Am I past the age of accountability?
  • I’m obviously past the age of accountability because I’m questioning if I’m past the age of accountability.
  • I didn’t get baptized yet.
  • I’m going to hell.

Cue hysterics.

Clearly, Jesus didn’t come back that night, the world didn’t end, the rapture didn’t happen, the heavens didn’t open up…you get the point.

I’d love to tell you that I’m exaggerating here, but I am absolutely not. 

These were my thoughts as a young child because these were the prerequisites I was taught for me to go to heaven. Seriously, I could tell you the five-finger illustration of the steps to salvation when I was five, but if you would have asked me to describe the character of God, I would have looked at you like a deer in headlights.

I hope you’re looking at this list, scratching your head, thinking how odd and how terrible that is. 

Loving God does not Include a Check List (or a Sticker Chart)

I don’t want to spend all our time bashing on my childhood church, but there are some important things I do want you to understand. First, I am an unashamed Type A personality. What that means is if you give me a checklist, you better believe I’m not quitting until I can check everything off that list.

This was the type of Christianity I grew up with.

  • Confess my sins–check
  • Repent of my sins–check
  • Acknowledge Jesus as my savior–check
  • Be baptized (all the way in the water or it wouldn’t take) for the forgiveness of sins and gift of the holy spirit–check
  • Live a Christian life–check(ish)

That was how Christianity was taught to me, with lots of emphasis on the first four and little emphasis on the last one–ironically.

Here’s the thing, though, if that checklist is all there is to Christianity, why would anyone want to be part of it?

Missing from this equation completely is the love of God, love for God, and the appreciation of the grace and gift we were undeservedly given when Christ died on the cross for our sins.

To love God better, we have to abandon our checklists and focus on loving God for who he is and what he has done for us. For those of us who are Type A personalities, letting go of that checklist can be very difficult, but it is essential.

Think of it kind of like this: when you love someone, you want to do kind and loving things for them, right? What means more to them–when you do things out of the kindness of your heart because you love them and want their lives to be better or doing things because they made a list for you and you feel obligated to check those things off that list to hopefully keep them happy?

I hope you said doing things out of the kindness of your heart because you love them! If not, let me get you the name of a good counselor!

I want you to start thinking about your relationship with God, your Father, like that. He doesn’t want you to do things because you think there’s a checklist for you to complete to hopefully keep God happy. 

God doesn’t care about your checklist; he cares about your heart. 

The best way to love God better is to throw out your checklist.

In Philippians, Paul doesn’t tell us to create a checklist. No, he tells us to be saturated in prayer, to offer our faith-filled requests to God, and to tell God every detail of our lives (Philippians: 4)

Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ

Philippians 4:6-7

God wants an intimate relationship with us, where we talk to him about everything, where we feel comfortable and honest telling him our requests, and where we believe he will honor those requests. 

Paul goes on to tell us we focus our thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. God doesn’t just want us to come to him with every detail of our lives and all of our requests, he also wants us to remember who he is and what he has done and to praise him for it.

Again, think about your relationship with your partner. How miserable would your life be if you never showed any appreciation to them for all they do for you and your family? How unappreciated and resentful would they eventually feel? This admiration and appreciation is another hallmark of healthy relationships, and our relationship with God is no different.

Checklists do not inspire love and admiration. They are an obligation only, and God doesn’t want us to see him as an obligation. He wants our love and our hearts, and he wants us to be people who chase after his heart.

Fear of Hell does not Equal Love of God

I’m going to be really honest with you right now, and some of you might be shocked–I don’t really think about hell anymore in terms of my own eternity.

I used to.

When I was younger, fear of hell was my motivation for everything I did.

The older I’ve become, though, and the further removed I am from the legalistic, fundamentalist church, the more I recognize that fear of hell is not the same as love for God. My motivation in life cannot be fear of hell. It has to be love of God.

  • You don’t love God and others because of a fear of hell.  That is not genuine love.
  • You don’t serve those less fortunate because of a fear of hell. That’s an impure motive.
  • You don’t minister to others out of fear of hell. That simply creates that fear in others.
  • You don’t make good choices out of fear of hell. That’s not authentic.

Fear and love are totally different motivators.

Think about authority figures in your life–some of them you love, but some of them you fear, right? How is your attitude about each of them different?

  • You obey the one you love because you genuinely want to, but you obey the one you fear because you are afraid of the consequences.
  • You work hard for the one you love because you want to make them proud and you care about their reputation and the work they do, but you work hard for the one you fear because you are afraid to be humiliated or punished if you do something wrong.
  • You aren’t afraid to make mistakes with the one you love because you know they will treat you with respect in their correction, but you innately fear making mistakes with the one you fear because you know you will be publicly humiliated, treated like less-than, and possibly fired by the one you fear.

Fear and love are completely different motivators. When we approach our relationship with God, we need to approach it out of love and not of a fear of hell.

Mark 12:30-31 (TPT)  tells us:

You are to love the Lord Yahweh, your God, with a passionate heart, from the depths of your soul, with your every thought, and with all your strength. This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.’ You will never find a greater commandment than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

Loving God is so much more than a fear of hell. It is the complete surrender of our hearts, souls, thoughts, and strength. It is a life-altering love that comes from your passionate heart and the depths of your soul. It is present in every thought and comes through in all your strength. But, it doesn’t stop there. Loving God manifests itself through your love for others because it is life-changing.

Heart Change Equals Life Change

I mentioned earlier that the last step that was part of my brainwashing but never really talked about was to “live a Christian life.” I have some theories about why that one was ignored, but I won’t go into details today. However, if I were going to break this seemingly abstract concept down into a literal reality, I would say it looks something like this: Loving God and loving people–all people.

Sometimes, I think we humans make things much more difficult than they really need to be.

If we want to love God better, we need to start loving people better.

If we want to “live a Christian life,” then that means to live a life more and more like Jesus every single day. 

If we want to live our lives a little more like Jesus every day, then that means loving the marginalized, the misunderstood, and the misfits a little more every day.

If I’m being honest, I think that’s why so many churches focus on those first four steps so heavily and just kind of ignore what it means to live a life like Jesus. It’s not uncomfortable for the church to have people confess, repent, accept Jesus, and be baptized, but it is work, uncomfortable and back-breaking work, to truly love ALL people like Jesus loved them.

If we want to love God better, then, sure, there’s the important element of knowing God better and more intimately and the obedience that comes with that, but if we truly want to love God better, we have to love people better.

I hope this week you see the ways you can love God better, the ways you can know him more intimately, but especially the ways you can love people better.


  1. What, if any, scars do you have from church?
  2. How have you worked to recover from those scars?
  3. What is one way you can have a more intimate relationship with God this week?
  4. What is one way you can love people better this week?

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5 thoughts on “Love Better: God

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  1. Kristen, thank you for sharing your heart and testimony here. The most wonderful thing in life is our personal relationship with Jesus and loving others like he loves – and yes this is one of the hardest things to do but one of the most important. I work with many non-followers and loving them is where I intentionally set my heart each day.


  2. I’m so glad you’ve moved beyond a checklist faith and have a true relationship with our Savior!! Thank you for sharing your story, and I know you will minister to many hearts through this thoughtful post!


  3. All too often I wonder if church is a construct for the Type A people. Those checklists and steps! It’s so much easier to check things off than it is to do the messy work of loving everyone.


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