I think long-distance relationships are God’s gift to Christian dating. You get all of the benefits of dating and relatively few of the temptations. When Lew asked me out on our first date, it was at the tailend of my summer home from college a couple hundred miles away. We only had a few magical, lovestruck weeks together before I was headed back to the dorms. Thankfully, we had cell phones, so we spent at least an hour every evening talking and getting to know each other as I walked laps around my dorm building.
As wonderful as those phone calls were, they could never replace real, face-to-face conversations, so every now and again, whenever he could get the work off, Lew drove the 250 miles up to Seattle to visit me. Those visits were both glorious and excruciating. The soaring high of our reunion was quickly followed by the plummeting low of the goodbye. After one particularly difficult farewell, I trudged to my car and sobbed. When I finally pulled myself together, I glanced over to the passenger seat and noticed an unassuming shoebox sitting there. As I opened the box and saw what was inside, I started crying even harder than before.
Now, you may not know this, but Lew is a bit of a romantic and the phone calls just weren’t cutting it for him. Unbeknownst to me, he had also been writing me letters. And not just a few letters. A lot of letters. That shoebox was full to the brim, and so was my mailbox soon after! Some were as long as novels, some were just small notes, but I treasured each of them, written in his distinctive handwriting. I would read them over and over again. Every time I missed him, every time it had been too long since I had heard from him, I would pull out those letters and all of his love and affection would flood my heart anew. They made me feel close to him. They reminded me of all the things he had promised for our relationship and of his character as a godly man. They reminded me of all the reasons I said “yes” when he proposed to me.
I still have each and every one of them. They are in an antique suitcase under our bed along with some keepsakes from our wedding and the series of mixtape CDs he made for my long drives to visit him. I still read those letters sometimes, especially when our marriage is feeling a little worn, and they flood me with renewed commitment and love for the man whom I married.
The book of Malachi, which we are now studying, is a beautiful love letter from God to His people Israel. His opening statement is, “I have loved you.” In it, God constantly reminds Israel how much He loves them and has loved them for generations, even when they were unfaithful to Him time after time. God wanted them to read this message over and over again to be reminded of their relationship with Him and of all the reasons they said “yes” to the covenant they made with Him long before. In their somewhat long-distance relationship, it is God’s letters that keep His people feeling close to Him. His written words remind them of His character and keep them longing for their eventual reunion.
If the Israelites never had any letters from God, or never pulled them out of a dusty box in the temple to read them, it would be pretty easy to let their relationship slowly fade until it was a distant memory. Yes, the Israelites had prophets and leaders who would occasionally speak messages for God, but unless those words were written down, the specifics of the message would quickly be forgotten.
It is similar to my phone calls with Lew. As wonderful as all those phone calls were for our relationship, they didn’t last beyond the click of the “end call” button. I really don’t remember much of what we talked about, and what I do remember is faded and warped by time. Those letters, though, are the exact words that Lew wrote 12 years ago, with the same love, commitment, and promises he made then.
Now, we all realize that Lew has probably changed quite a bit since we were dating, but the book of Malachi and the entire Bible were written by the One who never changes, whose promises made at the beginning of time still echo true today. So every time we read the Bible, God’s love letter to all of His people throughout time, we get a fresh reminder of His love, character, and promises as we wait for the day when we won’t have need of letters anymore. Our long-distance relationship with God will become a face-to-face one!
Until that day, we can read and re-read His love letter. It is pretty exciting when we think about it! God wrote the Bible knowing we would read it someday! He wrote it thinking of you and of me. It sure would be a shame to leave it on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. It was meant to be read every day, so we can stay in love with God, who will keep on loving us into eternity. So, as we read Malachi this week, read it as a love letter from our Heavenly Father, and listen as He pleads with His wayward children to come back to Him.