By Helen Lambert
Where do you belong? Is it where you are from, the town or country where you were born? Is it your family or your friendship group? Perhaps you belong to a club or a team? Do you sometimes feel you belong to your work?
We talk about having a “sense of belonging”, or “feeling we belong”, as things that make us feel safe and secure. Where we belong gives us a sense of identity and affects how we behave. What aspects of your life (or even your identity) are affected by where you belong?
Conversely, it can be really hard to feel we don’t belong – whether to the “in” group, our community, the prevailing culture, or perhaps life in general.
Where does today’s Bible verse tell us we belong? The narrative of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that the God who created the world, and created us, also chose us to belong to him. Amazingly, the God who created the universe and everything in it, knows us so personally that he calls us by name (v1). He tells us, through the prophet Isaiah, that we are his.
What are the implications of this deep and personal relationship with our creator God? This verse makes clear to us that belonging to God is a safe place to be. Why do you think this is so?
Firstly, we are safe because we are known. The One who created us knows us better than we know ourselves, and so we do not need to hide away, or pretend to be someone we are not – as we may have to do to “fit in” with some of other the groups we want to belong to. Not only are we known, but we are loved (yes – in spite of being known!) Further into this passage it says that we are infinitely precious to God (v4).
Secondly, we are safe because God promises to look after us through the storms and terrors of life (though note that he does not say he will remove all these challenges). The promise is to be with us when we walk through “deep waters” (v2) so that they do not overwhelm us. What deep waters do you feel threatened by at the moment? Ask God to walk with you so that you are not overwhelmed.
Thirdly, we can feel safe because we have been chosen by God – we have nothing to prove! The Bible tells us that God chose us to belong to him even before the beginning of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and that this is made possible by Jesus Christ. It is not our own doing.
Finally, we can feel safe because our belonging to God gives us an identity and a purpose: “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit…” (John 15:16)
So, God’s love, acceptance and choosing does not depend on who we are, what we have done, or even our choosing to follow him. It is there for us, and has been since “before the world was made” (Ephesians 1:4). We do, however, have a choice about whether we want to live in that place of safety, to accept the offer of belonging, to choose to explore and discover the relationship that is offered to us. This in turn leads us to make choices about the way we live. Earlier, we considered how where we belong affects the way that we live. If we accept that we belong to God, this will inevitably inform the choices we make about our life, our behaviour and our priorities. How might they change for you?
I write this in the week that COVID restrictions have been lifted. Many are celebrating, but others have great fear. Whether this is true of you, or whether other fears threaten to overwhelm you, or if you struggle with the fear of being an “outsider” – of not truly feeling you belong – be encouraged by these verses which are “bookended” by, and centred on, the promise of God to save, protect and accompany, all will a deeply personal love. “Do not be afraid – I will save you” (v1); “Do not be afraid – I am with you” (v5); “I am the Lord your God who saves you” (v3); “I will…save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you…”(v4).
Know that you too belong and are welcome in the place of safety that is the Father’s love:
“I have called you by name – you are mine!”
43 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.