As I sit here in my bed, I realize just how much I love the night. It’s in those hours I find inspiration. I suppose for many, it’s a pause from the chaos around you as well a moment to think and relay the occurrences of daily life. For me, it’s less of a pause and more of an unrelenting burst of creative objectives. I do think a ton, don’t get me wrong. As I established before, my mind does wander dangerously at these times. However, I also experience an overflow of beautiful things such as musical inspiration and words teeming of spiritual contemplations (like right now). It’s a time I tend to stop and behold the gift of this life I’ve been given.
One thing in particular I often think of with immense gratitude is just how much love I’ve been fortunate enough to experience in my life thus far. God has placed some phenomenal people in my path that I’ve been blessed to be able to, as singer Nat King Cole so eloquently put it, “love and be loved in return”. I know this to be true and I do believe wholeheartedly that this is the heart of Father. In fact, I know it is. Jesus says in John 15: 9-17, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 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.”
Upon first reading this, to “abide in His love” appears easily done. However, I’m sure we all know that this is no simple task. I find myself repeatedly learning this truth daily. Even now I think, what IS love? There are various types. Romantic love, the love of a parent for their child, the love (or perhaps, passion) of a certain interest or hobby, just to name a few. But none of these hold the weight of the love of Jesus. His love is immeasurably more immense than I can even bring myself to think about at times. It boggles my mind to the point of insanity if I think of it too much, simply because it is too vast for my human brain to conceive.
1 John 4:8 states, “God is love.” To know God’s love for us is the closet thing to heaven on earth. I don’t believe God has only given this love for a handful of favored or seemingly “spiritual” individuals but outlines it as an ordinary part of the Christian experience. And fortunately, we can experience this affection in the same way as every believer to come before us. Romans 5:5 says “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” I immediately notice the words “poured out”. His love has been poured out like a flood to our hearts. This suggests that it is a free- flowing love, free of all reservation and restraint. This is what I long to exude in my life; a love so deep that no boundary could halt the outpouring of His love from my spirit.
However, I continue to notice with greater frequency that this love has been seemingly watered down over time. In society today, the word “love” is tossed around with irreverence and a sense of entitlement attached. His love is perceived by many as just something that will enhance one’s present situation. By all means, it something that will greatly increase the path of life. Well actually, it is the ONLY thing that has given us life to begin with and there are vital aspects not to missed. God exhibits an undeserving kind of love, and in order for that to stand true, that would assume, we as humans are not worthy of it at all. It has been given to us sacrificially. So if we are to follow Jesus’ example, shouldn’t we be living sacrificially, as was done for us? Shouldn’t we be not only receiving but repeatedly outpouring that same love onto others?
One of my favorite authors, Dietrich Bonhoffer, wrote in his book “The Cost of Discipleship“, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
God paid a great price to know and love us. It cost him his life, so why would we ever assume that loving in return would be free of any self denial? Would true love let one blatantly disregard the sin in their heart? On the contrary, our love should be reflection of the atonement made on our behalf which calls us to a much higher standard of living. True love means true justification of sin.
I also see two obvious attributes of God’s love. Firstly, God’s love showcases His goodness. His love is perfect and He treats his beloved his great affection, dealing with us kindly and generously. Secondly, God’s love shows his goodness towards sinners. He has given us his grace, as well as his mercy. He has shown love to who someone might deem unloveable. His kindness and goodness is extended through grace and His compassion and forgiveness shown by mercy. God’s does not love us because we are good, God will make us good because He loves us.
I have not always understood these principals adequately. Of course, we learn these lessons through experience and I can think of several that have revealed my inner struggle to truly love as Christ loved. One experience in particular stands out in my mind. I will try to make this brief…
I have been with the same man for 11 years. In its beginning stages, love is wonderful and you find hardly any fault in the other person. They are sanctified in your mind and nothing can come between you, or so I thought. My husband and I didn’t say ” I love you” until about two and a half years into our relationship (which I know is a very long time for most) and, I fully believed that I was in true, lasting love with him. I was so young and undoubtedly filled with great affection but as I got older, I realized that even after all that time, I hadn’t really meant (or rather, understood) what I was saying. I don’t think I would have laid my life down for him in the face of an impending tragedy. I don’t think I would have freely forgiven him if a problem had arisen. Back then, I might have thought I would because I thought I knew what love meant but I was in love with the idea of love and the idea that there was someone out there who was giving me his undivided attention. Selfishness really exposes itself here. I was only thinking about myself and what I had to gain. I once read the so- called “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. It reads “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”. I would think about my how proud I was of myself, that I was treating my boyfriend with these qualities. *so cheesy, I know. I was 15, ok?* But over the years, I would find myself crossing off a phrase one by one, until I was left reading a passage that defined everything I was NOT doing. It was a sobering moment. That was a turning point for me.
Now when I examine my relationship, not only with my spouse but with family, friends, etc., I have come to understand love’s meaning (or at least, in part). It requires endless sacrifice, forgiveness, humility, grace, and mercy. It’s about reversing the popular mindset from what God can do for me, to what I can I do to serve Him. Not to say that I understand it fully because I don’t believe I will ever have the capacity to do so. I make mistakes. I’m discovering in this particular phase of life, that love, in all its deep complexities, has the capacity to fill many spaces in one’s heart. But the one thing I know, with all certainty, is that God has called me to this charge: “to love one another as I have loved you”. (John 13:34)
I surrender to the fact that I am a daily work in progress. The cost of one’s own life for the life truly intended is a persistent struggle for me. But God, in His grace, is faithful to complete the work He has started. When I think of the cost of God’s love, I’m overcome with gratitude because it is “by grace we have been saved”. (Ephesians 2:5)
“Why do I let my loyalties be divided, so that God does not have my whole heart?” – J.I.Packer
“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” – C.S. Lewis