Friday, March 16, 2012

Learning To Be Loved

My friend Thomas Nixon once said something that I will never forget. He said that his house church family came together to discover how to love God and how to love one another. I remember nodding as he said that, not realizing that he was about to add something so intuitive and yet so unexpected to my mind at the time. He went on to say that they also came together to learn how to be loved by God, and how to be loved by one another.

The simplicity of that statement stunned me a bit. Of course, I thought, if you’re in a room full of people who are committed to loving everyone else, you’ll have to accommodate them by allowing them to actually love you. And if you’re honestly trying to learn how to love God, you’ll have to actually begin by learning how to let God love you.

The questions that began to whisper through my heart as I pondered my friend’s words were relentless. “How can I receive love from others like this?”, “What’s holding me back from receiving God’s love in my own heart?”, and most profoundly, “How could I possibly have missed such a simple truth?”

That conversation was years ago now. I’m still trying to answer those questions in my heart. If anything, those whispers have crescendoed into roars like a waterfall in my ears. “How do I learn to be loved?”

I have to admit, this is something I struggle with. Yes, I know in my mind that Jesus loves me, and I have experienced the love of God in my life many times before, but I’m learning lately that I have yet to really learn how to fully receive God’s love the way He intends for me to.

Why is it hard for me to accept God’s amazing love? I think it's partly because I struggle with pride. One of the ways I try to manage my pride is to avoid anything that is about "me" or tends to exalt my ego in any way. Somehow the idea of embracing the notion that Jesus is totally in love with me feels like a threat to my meager humility. It’s almost as if receiving His love would fill me with pride somehow. I don't know how to fully explain it, but it’s there.

At the same time, I am also constantly aware that I do not deserve His love, so to fully embrace His outrageous love for me is like denying that I am wretched, sinful, and unlovable.

So, because of my love for myself, and my hatred of myself, I am kept from fully receiving the exquisite love of God. I am boxed in on both sides by selfish pride and by awareness of my own sin. How can I receive the awesome love of a Holy God when I am too in love with myself, or too ashamed of my own unworthiness to let Him love me?

Intellectually, of course, I know all the answers for this. If I were counseling someone else I would know exactly which verses to quote, what illustrations to use to counter these ideas, but in practice, in my own heart, these do not erase the reality of my struggle.

I’ve preached sermons on this topic, I’ve memorized verses on the love of God, I know in my mind that all of these thoughts and attitudes are foolish and unnecessary, but none of that changes the fact: A large portion of my heart is still untouched by the love of God.

If you’re in the same boat with me then we are the people that Paul the Apostle is praying for in Ephesians chapter 3 when he says:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (v. 17-19)

What Paul says is that our ability to be “rooted and established in love” can only be accomplished if we receive “power” from God to do so. God’s power must be unleashed upon us to enable us to “know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

I love that Paul uses that phrase to describe the love of God - “love that surpasses knowledge” because what he’s emphasizing to us is that the love of God isn’t accessible via language, or teaching, or intelligence, or any other form of human knowledge. How could you possibly know something that surpasses knowledge? Even if you had all the knowledge in the Universe you would still not be capable of knowing this astounding love of God. Why? Because the love of God surpasses knowledge. It cannot be found in this way. It is too large for any human brain to grasp. Only the human heart can ever hope to receive it, and only then if it is apprehended by the impulse of God’s might power working in us.

My prayer for myself, and for you as well if you find yourself in this same place, is exactly what Paul says here. I pray that we might all have power to grasp how infinitely wide and eternally high and endlessly deep is the transformational love of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

True, there may be barriers in my own heart that I know must be broken down before I can finally receive His amazing love. But, it's good to know that Jesus has His sights set on destroying these barriers. Only He can do this work in my heart. I long for Him to crash through those two strongholds of mind and heart. I can't wait for that day to come.



Eli Chitaka said...

profound and so true.

Tim A said...

The zero self defense movement ignores many scriptures. It only sounds right if you don't know them.