Praying to love more

Valentine’s Day vies with Christmas as my favorite holiday. I’ve shared before why I think it’s worth celebrating and compiled a list of some of my favorite quotes, songs, etc. for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, everyone is free to celebrate or not celebrate the day according to their own preferences. And though I love the fun and even silly aspects of the day, today I want to take a different tack.

One of my ongoing struggles in my Christian life is learning to love as Jesus did, and my biggest obstacle is my own selfishness.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 14:4-7

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Let brotherly love continue. Hebrews 13:1

 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. 1 John 2:5

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:2-3 (This might be a surprising one to some, but Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we love someone we don’t disregard their words: we take heed and try to keep them. He also said all the law and the prophets hang on to the command to love God and our neighbor.)

I was just discussing with a friend earlier this week how we often hear that Christian love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling: rather, as one professor used to put it, it’s a “self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the cherished person.” I think of a mother being awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries. She might not feel lovey-dovey right at first: in fact she might feel a little irritable. But she knows her baby needs her, and often, some time during their nocturnal meeting, that warm, loving feeling rises up again.

However, the opening of the great love chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, warns us that we can make substantial sacrifices without doing so in love.

In my ongoing quest to understand what Christian love is and to grow in it, I compiled Bible verses which specifically spoke of praying to love. I sometimes use them for my own prayers.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19. (It’s interesting to note that right after this prayer comes Paul’s’ declaration, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think . . . “)

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Of course, it helps to remember that love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I can only be filled with love as I am filled with Him.

And since we’re to love as God does did, it helps to meditate on how He showed love to us. That would take more study and a different post, but here are a few ways:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Those verses don’t enlighten me as to the “feeling” part of love, but they show that God loved first, He loved people who were enemies to Him, and He made every provision, at the highest cost to Himself, to redeem them.

The more I think about the myriad ways He has shown His love to me, the more His love will fill me and overflow to others.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

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Laudable Linkage

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Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads on the Web:

How to Shipwreck Your Theology. ““What is the most brilliant theology good for if it is to be shipwrecked in one’s own house?”

Maybe Women are Some of the Worst Offenders.

9 Things to Know About a Widow’s Grief.

Love Letter to a Lesbian, HT to True Woman, from a former lesbian.

“Let Me Know How I Can Help!” (This Will, Because They Won’t), HT to Linda. Practical ways to ask for or offer help in a time of need.

How Breastfeeding Changed My View of God, HT to True Woman. “God’s love for us is no Hallmark sentiment. This image is not primarily a celebration of our newborn cuteness…Rather, this verse reveals God’s hard-won, self-giving, dogged commitment to our good, a refusal to let us go—however frustrating we become, an insistence on seeing his image in us—and a painful provision for our most desperate need.”

C. S. Lewis’s Wonderful Letters to Children. I love his manner with them.

A Pathway to a Full Life.

This is cool and somewhat mesmerizing to watch: magnetism in slow motion, HT to The Story Warren:

Happy Saturday!

Loving like Jesus

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Once a missionary was troubled because she didn’t love others the way she knew she should. For years she continually berated herself with the need to be more loving, but she continually failed, leaving her continually discouraged. Finally she started to meditate on God’s love for her, and without realizing it, her life was transformed so much that people asked her husband what had happened to her.

I’ve shared this story before. Though I’ve lost track of its source, it has always inspired me because I can identify with it so well. I’m frequently appalled at my selfishness and often tell myself “I need to be more loving,” but, like the missionary, I continually fail.  But when I meditate on His love for me, His love flows through me to others.

Since Jesus told us to “love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12), I decided to look at some aspects of His love for us.

An initiating love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). God loved us even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6), ESV).

A gracious love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV). He loved us when we were most unlovable and undeserving. He didn’t wait for us to “clean up” or get “good enough.”

A sacrificing love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). God gave not just a pittance, not just a fraction, but rather what was most dear to Him. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

A forgiving love. “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

A kind love. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6, ESV).

A longsuffering love. “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Numbers 14:18a, ESV).

A correcting love. “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12, ESV). God’s love is not indulgent. Sometimes love involves doing the hard thing of bringing sin to the surface so it can be dealt with.

This just barely scratches the surface of God’s love for us.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man was forgiven a massive debt. However, instead of extending that same grace that he had received to others, he withheld forgiveness of someone’s very small debt and exacted a penalty. That story opened up to me the realization that my forgiveness towards another isn’t based on whether or not they “deserve it.” I did not deserve forgiveness, either. My forgiveness of others should be based on the fact that God has forgiven me so much more than anything I have had to forgive.

It’s the same with God’s love. My love for others should be an overflow of God’s great love for me. He took the first step in loving me, so I should not wait on others to make the first move. His love came at a great sacrifice, so I should not be surprised when love costs me. He loved me at my most unworthy and forgave a multitude of my offenses, so how can I withhold love from others?

Let me hasten to say that exactly how this works out in individual lives will vary. I’m thinking particularly of people who came out of abusive situations. Though we’re still called to love and forgive, and we need God’s grace to do so, we also need His wisdom to know how to navigate all the factors in such a relationship.

I frequently pray for God to help me be more loving, and He graciously speaks to my heart from His Word. Just last week, one day I came across passages about God’s love from three different sources just in my regular devotional reading, without trying to coordinate a study on this topic at all (that’s part of what prompted this post).

So while I continue to pray that I might be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:14-19), that “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9-11), and that God would make me “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12), I also pray and seek God’s Word to “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV)

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Where Is God’s Compassion and Mercy in Job?

Image courtesy of Alex Bruda at freeimages.com

The first few times I read through Job as a young person, I was a little…dismayed,  or at least perplexed at how God responded to him near the end. I understood that God was displaying His wisdom, majesty, power, creativity, and other attributes. Job was humbled and repented and God restored him and blessed him, so the book had a happy ending. But I remember feeling that if I had been in Job’s sandals, I would have wanted an encounter with God that seemed more warm and comforting.

Then I discovered the passage in James 5 where James is encouraging Christians to be patient and stand fast in the face of suffering.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

I believed that God was compassionate and merciful: I had seen that in many other places in the Bible. But where did one find that in Job?

Our church has been reading through the Job together the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing my reading from the ESV Study Bible. Their study notes brought out some points I had missed.

Of chapter 38, verse 1, they say:

God reveals himself to Job in a display of both majestic power and relational presence: “the LORD” (Hebrew YHWH), the name most used to signify God’s covenant character and promises (see. Ex. 3:14-15), was used in the prologue where God describes Job’s relationship to him (see Job 1:8; 2:3); the fact that the Lord “answered Job” contrasts with what the friends…indicated he should expect (see 35:9-13)…It is a covenantal gesture when the Lord reveals his power and his presence as he speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind.” While he does not come simply to justify Job, the Lord’s presence shows that his reproof comes in the context of steadfast love toward Job and not as judgment for what the friends assumed was Job’s repudiation of the path of righteousness (p. 926).

The fact that God came to Job personally indicates His care, and the use of His covenantal name shows He is speaking to Job out of a loving relationship.

Part of what God is getting across to Job includes this:

Job had drawn conclusions about the about the nature of God’s rule from what was revealed on earth in his and others’ circumstances. However, [Job] did not account fully for what is hidden from him, and thus his words cast a shadow on the wisdom and righteousness of God’s rule. In his speech, God will question Job in order to remind him that, even in what is revealed of God’s powerful and majestic governance of the natural world and its inhabitants, much is still hidden. And if this is true for creation and its creatures, how much more is it true in relation to the wisdom and purpose of the Creator? (p. 926).

The notes point out later on that Job had experienced what it was like “to have what was hidden about him (e.g., the state of his heart before God) questioned and judged by those who had drawn wrong conclusions from what was visible in his circumstances. The Lord now questions Job for overextending his judgment of what his suffering meant about the Lord’s just governance of the world” (40:6-9) (pp. 929-30).

We don’t think of getting dressed down as a mercy, but it is if that’s what we need, isn’t it? A wise father corrects his child. He does not let his child continue in wrong thinking about God. Sometimes we need to feel our smallness contrasted with God’s immensity. When we’re questioning what God is doing in the world and our lives, we need to be reminded that He knows what he is doing, has everything under control, and has a reason for what He allows, even if we don’t know that reason.

All of those details God gives about the animals displays not only His wisdom, but His care of them. This reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-31: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Layton Talbert says in Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job: “The Lord is powerful and majestic and wise beyond man’s comprehension, but He is also compassionate…even towards beasts. He talks as if He has intimate knowledge of their nature and needs because He does. That’s the point” (p. 206).

God displayed compassion and mercy in many ways throughout the book:

  • His limitation of what He allowed Satan to do
  • His unseen presence with Job through everything that happened
  • His physical manifestation to Job
  • His fatherly correction of Job.
  • His vindication of Job against his friends’ accusations
  • His wisdom and care of the animal kingdom highlighted His care of Job
  • All was done within the context of God’s relationship with Job.

That last point is in fact part of what the whole book was about: that Job wasn’t serving God just for God’s blessings, that he wasn’t being “pious for pay” as Dr. Talbert put it (Beyond Suffering , p. 40).

Sometimes I think I’ll feel better if I know what God is up to and why, and sometimes He graciously shares that. But other times, as in Job’s case, comfort does not come from full disclosure of what was going on behind the scenes and why God allowed it. Job did not get all the answers he wanted, but he got God’s presence, a fuller understanding of Him, and a manifestation of His care. And he was satisfied.

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