I’m on the wrong side of experience with this topic. Well, maybe that just depends on how I look at love. On one hand, I am on the right side, as I have no doubt I’m incredibly loved by an amazing God. On the other, I’ve come up way short of loving people the way God expects of me. Can anyone else relate?
There is so much to be said about how poorly we Christians set this example, and how incredibly wrong our culture is on understanding what love is. The truth is that it is too overwhelming to tackle in a simple post like this. I’m at a loss as to where to even start, which is usually where the Holy Spirit comes in…
“Ahem… can’t find all the right words? Don’t know where to start? Shocker. Do you really think you need to recreate the wheel? The scripture is already there. Just give a little reminder by putting it in front of them.”
Drive Love Home
Recently, I was in a meeting where a team was asked to provide suggestions on how to ensure that what was being taught would remain active in the workplace. One suggestion was to present the information to the team at each meeting, instead of moving on to a new training topic. Simply put, drive the message home until it has become second nature. So even though in the next meeting it will not be anything new, there will be a commitment to understanding and getting it right.
Maybe it’s time to make a commitment to understand love and get it right. Are we willing to make it a point to keep God’s instruction before us and drive love home before worrying about the other items on our Christian checklist?
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
The greatest of these is love! Where is our commitment to love in the midst of all the other topics we Christians are so passionate to defend?
What kind of Christian are you?
I’ve met some Christians who can quote scripture at the drop of a hat in one breath and with the next breath say the nastiest things about a brother or sister in Christ.
I’ve met Christians who will speak out against corrupt lifestyles that our society has widely accepted, but will tear others down for their own personal gain.
Now, if you know me at all and are reading this you know I’m not innocent of anything I talk about here. But none–and I mean none–of us can pretend we are. So please, don’t misunderstand me. This comes from a place of conviction, not a place of feigned moral high ground.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Love is hard, folks. It is so unbelievably hard. Why? Because it is work. If we do not labor to love, we do not love at all. That is the bottom line.
What love is: An act of obedience.
What love is not: A feeling. This is where our culture gets it wrong. (Now before we get all “amen sister” let us not forget how much room for improvement we have on this topic. Preaching about how society has a distorted notion of love comes second to the issue of us Christians not leading the charge, so let’s not deflect.)
Merriam-Webster defines love as:
a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
attraction that includes sexual desire: the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship.
a person you love in a romantic way
The mother of all face palms is happening right here in my living room friends. It is no wonder we don’t get it. We just don’t get it! Here is what the creator of love has to say about what it actually is:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (emphasis added)
Patience can look like not acting on frustration. Kindness can be shown by choosing to pick our battles. Jealousy, pride, and rudeness can be avoided when we ditch the sarcasm and the need/desire for validation from anyone other than God. Truth can win out when we bite our tongue. Love can persevere if we don’t get lazy. These are action items. Nowhere does it talk about feelings. It is how we respond.
Responding to “Feelings”
In Beth Moore’s Bible study Living Beyond Yourself, she notes four ways to respond that fly in the face of our feelings:
- Confront the situation.
- Admit to God we lack agape (love) for someone.
- Consider through scripture God’s response.
- Be obedient and respond like Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but to me it sounds like something that endures through every circumstance has seen some things. Every. Circumstance. That is a big deal; that sounds like serious work to me. I want to get love in a room and tell it to write a book because that’s gotta be one heck of a saga. “Oh Sara, I am love, and that saga is The Holy Bible.” Oooh snap, did anyone else hear that? Mother of all face palms happening right now in heaven.
Let’s Get to Work
All right. That is enough chatter. Let’s get to work on this love thing, shall we? I’m certainly no expert but can suggest to you a couple resources I’m currently using to help drive love home in my life.
- Pray your heart out. Ask God to help you get past your feelings and be moved into an active place of love. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we didn’t just know the following verses, but actually lived them?
John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone-especially to those in the family of faith.”
I’d LOVE to hear your personal experiences of how God has shown up in your obedient, hard and worthy acts of love. Brag about God in the comments section and encourage someone today!
A Dog’s Worst Day
Today might possibly be the worst day of my dog’s life. He’s endured surgery, stitches, pain on top of irritation, and now the cone of shame. It breaks my heart to see his pitiful face. I look at him and wish he could know that all this is because he is loved. It’s for his protection. I imagine he can’t possibly see how that is true. From his perspective, I’ve inflicted several forms of torture on him. But because he keeps attempting to escape the yard, he caused the misfortune resulting in this unfortunate visit to the vet.
A Cone of Shame from God?
As I sat on the floor with Max cradled in my lap, trying to soothe him, God began to show me how He has done this countless times in my own life. And he will continue to do this with me however long it takes to course-correct my escape attempts. I may not have had to endure bodily injury like Max, but God undoubtedly has performed surgery on my heart many times. Recovery for me looked more like forced humility, which I guess you could say was my very own cone of shame.
Loving Protection from Ourselves
I don’t wish to go through any of those surgeries again, but looking back I am certain that they really were because I am loved. The cone of shame is meant to protect. However, it is so blatantly indicative of a pet’s inability to keep from hurting themselves even more. In the same way, God’s methods of protecting us from ourselves can also be hard to hide. Sometimes the unfortunate downside to that is that people will see it as weakness, or worse we become subject to judgment. It can be easy to ask God why, and feel vulnerable, ashamed, and even feel alone. But nothing could be further from the truth! So often what we see as hardship is actually protection. It is because God really loves us!
If there is a circumstance in your life that feels too painful to see how it could possibly be good, ask God to show you how he is using it for protection. It may not seem to make any sense at the time. But how often have you been able to see what God was doing before he did it anyway? If he does not reveal the purpose of the pain to you, are you willing to trust him anyway?
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Trusting the Master
My sweet Max has managed to trust me anyway. He is sitting as close to me as he can while I type this. I’m praying for you to trust God just as obviously as a sweet pup depends on his master. Talk about true submission. Sometimes love hurts. It might do some good to remember that Jesus knows that better than any of us…
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
” If he does not reveal the purpose of the pain to you, are you willing to trust him anyway?”
Ten years ago I was learning to navigate life while raising a child alone. Through that, God used my circumstances to change my heart which led to major life change. I found a new friend and mentor, found a new church, and found community I never knew I could have. I was overwhelmed with life-changing friendships focused on God. I had no doubt that God had brought me to that place in life.
The last year and a half has looked a bit different than I would have imagined ten years ago. I attend a different church now, my community is much smaller, and as a result my God is much bigger. I often think about several people that I no longer do life with. I’d be lying if I said there isn’t some lingering pain from that. But it took being removed from that life to gain the perspective shift necessary to grow closer to God. I can see now how God orchestrated it, even though it wrecked my heart. He had to remove something good, so he could do something better. Why? Because I had placed people and culture above God, and He was having none of that.
The Message Changed My Perspective
Now that I’m on the other side of the heartache of the past year and a half, I’ve been able to gain some much needed perspective. I realized I had placed people’s influence and opinions above God’s influence. Yet somehow, even after learning that hard lesson, I’ve slowly slipped back into that trap. It just looks a little different this time around. The “trap” is in taking something good and making it an idol. And once again, God is having none of that.
This all came to light when my anxiety was through the roof about a changing relationship. He showed me that I’d placed my sense of security in the wrong place…again. His solution? Remove the person I’d put in his place. Here we go again…
The Message Opened My Eyes
God began to speak into this situation over the course of several days. First, he used the fact that I was a week behind on my bible study homework. When I picked up where I had left off, I read these words:
“Do you have peace in times of alone-ness, or do you tend to require the security others provide?”
Um, 10-4 Jesus. You have my attention. There was no ignoring the timing of these words.
The very next day I was still trying to absorb what he was trying to tell me. I picked up My Utmost for His Highest and this was just a snippet of that day’s entry:
“Over and over again God has to remove our friends to put Himself in their place..”
By this point I was a mess. I tried to compose myself at work while totally overwhelmed by how abundantly clear God made himself. I barely managed to get it together and enter a meeting that same morning. Someone always opens with devotion before we get down to business. Do you see where this is going?
Same. Devotion. The struggle was real at this point friends. There were no tissues in the room, just me hiding behind my laptop, desperate to keep the tears from falling.
Despite the very clear message from God about where to find security, I felt anxious. I wrestled with worry and fear. Later that same day I got a text from a friend:
“Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matthew 6:34)
The Message was Clear
The message was clear. God had woven his message through that entire day to teach me. Yes, God would be moving relationships, because he has something much better for me.
Have you experienced God weave a message together for you like that? Has he spoken to you through multiple different sources to confirm again and again what he is trying to tell you?
Maybe you too have someone in your life who holds far more influence than they should?
Take a moment and ask God to show you what blessing you have turned into an idol.
Holy Spirit, Come.
This is how I beg God to save me from myself, and to save others from me, for that matter. When a situation arises and I know that the only reaction I have in me is mean, prideful, and/or impatient, or I feel spontaneous combustion around the bend, I’m learning to stop and pray, “Holy Spirit, come.”
Here is the thing: as Christians we have a responsibility to be a good kind of different, especially when we are in positions of authority/leadership. This does not mean that we will get it right all the time. It could be really easy, and equally awful to throw my hands up and decide not to touch this subject because I’ve failed others with this in the past. But if I’ve learned anything it is that it is never too late to start walking in integrity. So how do we get there? How do we get to this place that Paul talks about in Philippians 2?
“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” –Philippians 2:14-16 MSG
The how is with God’s help, with the Holy Spirit that lives in us. This is how we will be a good kind of different. Without it we are lost.
A breath of fresh air…I instantly see the faces of people in my life who have been just that! I wish I could say I’ve been that to more people. This piece of scripture is a tall order! Thankfully, I don’t get this wrong ALL the time, but I sincerely want to get it right much more than I currently do. It does not end with, “except when someone really annoys you” or “unless you are having a bad day”. It does not contain a list of exceptions, period. The Bible tells us what evidence should be visible in our walk and character here:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! –Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
Think for a second about the people in your life, home, work, and church, whether they are just an acquaintance or someone close to you. Would they be able to attest to seeing the fruit of the Spirit in you? I don’t ask the question to invoke guilt or shame. And I certainly am not asking you to hone in on that rare incident you want to torture yourself over. I’m asking you to look at recurring themes in your relationships and life. Is there a theme of love and kindness? Or is there a trail of hurt that is easy to write off as other people’s fault? If you are anything like me, this is the part where you want to click that little red X at the top right hand corner of the screen and move on to a subject that doesn’t require one to deal with self-examination. I bid you adieu. If you are not like me and are still reading this, I’m so glad you are still here!
Can we be honest with ourselves and admit that every one of us has room to grow when it comes to walking out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control? The Bible does not say that the Holy Spirit produces some of these things in us, it should produce all of these in us! People should see these in us as a whole, but sadly many of us are falling way too short of this. People may look at us and write us off because of our actions, but thank goodness God allows us the grace to keep growing. Will you ask God to help you turn your heart to Him, and be ready and willing to do the work required when He responds?
Holy Spirit, come. Father, we ask that we would experience the fullness of joy that comes from being marked by you. We ask that you strengthen our integrity and help us to not miss another opportunity to display how we are a good kind of different because of your work in our hearts. Let those in our lives be able to testify to the change taking place in us, and that they would know you as the source of anything good in our lives. Amen!
I’m sitting here at 10:59 pm on a Saturday night asking myself, “What could I possibly have to say to readers about faith and spirituality? I’m no teacher, what am I doing here? People will think I’m a hypocrite. They will surely regret asking me to be a part of this if they don’t already!” (Mind you, all I have submitted up to this point is an about me survey.)
That is precisely what happens when who the world says I am takes over in my mind. The voice in my head gets ugly. I can either drown in these lies or swim towards the warm light of God’s grace. So I pause, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and open my bible. I choose to swim even though I want to hide. There will be no drowning today because I trust Him.
I pray and ask, “What do you want to say?” This question reminds me of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” While flipping to this passage a previously underlined verse catches my eye in chapter four. I read on a little and find 2 Corinthians 4:13: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.” There it is. We speak because we believe. Simple, isn’t it?
My assertion of not being a teacher is still correct, but thank goodness I’m not unable to share what God has done in my life just because I am not a teacher. I confess I deeply regret not having journaled all the amazing things I’ve witnessed God do in my life. Because now I sit here and kick myself for not being able to articulate them well since so many details have faded.
But what never fades is the awe that has filled me each and every time He has shown up. From seemingly small things–like placing a hand on the dying washing machine last week while begging God to bring it back to life, and before I can finish my plea it is spinning again! (You laugh or roll your eyes, but it totally happened and I stood there for a whole minute with my jaw on the floor)–to big things like finally having independence as a single mother who for several long years didn’t see how that could be possible. The people in my life got to watch that play out right before their eyes. No need for me to figure out how to share that story, everyone saw! It wasn’t possible without God’s grace and intervention. They knew it and I knew it.
When paying attention to God’s work in my life, it becomes clear that my imperfections are a great platform to use when talking about what an amazing God we have. I don’t need to be embarrassed or afraid. That would be to assume that only some of us fall short of the glory of God and that I happen to be in that category.
News flash–we are all in that category! Despite all my past and present failures, shortcomings, and flaws He loves me. He forgives and continues to show up in ways that continue to surprise me. Shouldn’t we all be able to and want to share these works with each other and the world? Yes! Are we supposed to keep them to ourselves because we let the condemning voice of the world we live in tell us we are hypocrites? Nope! Isn’t our weakness the very thing that makes His work so incredibly amazing and worth talking about? Absolutely!
Great! Now that we’ve established that, let me ask you:
- What opportunities are you missing because “that is for someone more qualified”?
- Can you identify ways that the enemy will capitalize on you succumbing to that lie?
- Can you identify ways God will use those opportunities for your good and His glory?
- Will you choose to swim today and ask God to help you keep swimming tomorrow and the day after?
Feel free to share your answers in the comments section below, I’d be honored to pray for you!