Monday, February 2, 2009

Learning To Love Perfectly

Lately I've been chatting with lots of people. Well, less chatting and more or less counseling, consoling, and generally giving advice. I tend to pray for these people a lot and carry them in my heart. Typically these are youth who I've come in contact from various venues, but now always youth. But as I communicate with them, I undoubtedly get a word to speak over their situation. Sometimes that word becomes somewhat of a theme that breaks through in lives. So I would like to share this little "epiphany" I had.

We all desire love.
I think this is a generally common principal for all people. I am involved in a lot of social media groups such as Twitter, Twinkle, Facebook, MySpace, and have found that there is a lot of "crying out" for love that occurs. Sometimes it's a single mom just trying to make ends meet and deal with her kids. Maybe its a college student wanting someone to be proud of her. Other times, it's the high school boy wanting to talk to "sexy girls". It's a shame nobody ever taught him how to be a decent guy, I feel kinda bad for those boys. Or it's a high school girl "wanting to chat". These are all calls for love, for affirmation, or for someone just to take an interest in their lives. Everyone one of them is desiring love, and nearly everyone one of them is looking for it in the wrong place.

We are all capable of love.
This is another generally accepted principal as well. Most people invest huge amounts of time into finding love in other people. I observe my youth group. They constantly worry about how they look or smell or act or say to attract the opposite sex. They worry constantly about finding their parent's acceptance or affirmation. It is such a confusing time for most of them. Once again, they try to find their source of love in other people, and those other people constantly let them down. It seems that to our hearts, their is love to be had in people, and yet it seems to be a bait and switch routine. So what is the problem with seeking love in others then?

There is an order to perfect love.
This is the discovery I think I found. We all know that God is love. We also know from Song of Solomon that God chases after us. In fact, the whole body is a love story of a God who is madly in love with His people (aka, the Bride). He transcends into the realm of the physical to be with us and to reconcile us to himself. Whoa. Mindtrip I know. But the most interesting thing while Christ is doing all this impossible stuff is what he says. He is very specific when he gives us the command above every other command.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:30-31

We've all heard this command I'm sure. But what I find particularly interesting is that there is an inherent order of operations at play here. I don't think that it is an accident that certain things are given order as represented by the placement of words. I believe that there is truth inthe general concept yes, but also in the way we are to carry out this command. I believe this because the more I see love at play in the real world, the more I see a specific pattern emerging, and that pattern is written down as the spoken words of love Himself, Jesus. Let's take a look.

We have to love God first.
This is the most crucial step, and one that we often times completely forget. We try to fast forward to loving others, and just happen to forget to love God first! This is this first commandment. So before you read verse 31, let's get verse 30 right. What does it mean to love God? I think the vast majority of people think they love God, but I think it's all in their heads. In otherwords, it's an intellectual activity. It's like trying to will yourself to love someone. This doesn't make any sense. It's like being obligated to love someone and just looking for the logic as to why you continue. It's like constantly searching for the reason to love someone. But we find this is backwards.

The verse above is mentioned in three of the four gospels (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27). Each time, the way we are to love God is spelled out in detail. Most importantly we find that we must love God with all of ourselves. We must love God with our heart, soul and mind. We must love God with an order of operations.

With all our heart.
Think about love. Do you remember those days when you were madly in love with someone and it made absolutely no sense? Maybe you know a young person who is in love. The ability to overlook faults, distance and compatibility? The kind of love where you just want to seek after that person? You know what I mean, that person envelops your consciousness to the point that he or she is all you can think about. That person is "in your heart". They consume your heart. The pull on every emotion you have and you live for them. Well guess what... that's our first step in loving God. We need to just fall completely in love with the God who chases after us no matter how many times we screwup. We need to give Him all our heart.

I think it's important to note that we shouldn't try to first rationalize God before we love him. Think about this in the real world. If you are a man and a woman is thinking of loving you, what would you think if she asked how much you made before she married you? Or what if you are a woman and the man asked if you could cook or if the women in your family tend to get fat or ugly. That's not love! Yes, the person has every right to think of these things, but that is trying to invent love with the mind. It is not unconditional. It is love that is being withheld and reserved.

So our first step is something for us to do. It is something for us to risk. How many times have you seen someone in love just act like a fool? Loving God with all our heart is an outward pressing of our emotions towards the object of our desire.

With all our soul.
This is the next step in our process for loving God. What is a soul exactly? It is the part inside of us that communes with another being. We frequently hear about people finding their "soulmates", and that is typically that person with whom you have so much in common, you can nearly read each other's thoughts and finish their sentences. There is such a closeness in a relationship where souls are involved. Do you love God with your whole soul? Do you share His thoughts and desires?

I think for most of us, we never get to that pace of perfect soul bonding with our God. We keep him at a safe and convenient distance, or we take him with us inside of that convenient little box we place him into. Interestingly enough, God will stay far away, or be available in that box because He desires to be as close as we allow Him to be, even though He desires to touch the soul of our being. Our second step is to let God in to a place where we commune with Him on a soul level; where we share His thoughts, see what He sees, and generally can finish His sentences. That is what God desires.

Loving God with all our souls is an internal commune with God. It is a connection that is formed between us and the creator of the universe where we become one. It is something that we cannot explain with our human intellect.

With all our mind.
Most of us live a life where our mind gets in the way. I know I do. I have a saying that I keep for such an occasion. "The greatest chains that bind are within our own mind". But that is because we let the grey matter jiggling in our skulls control our lives by leading with reason and doubt.

When it comes to loving with the mind, it can be a tricky thing. In order to truly love, we need to engage with our mind. We need that intellectual connection with the object of our desire. We need to know for real and for certain that the love is there. But purposefully reserves this form of love until after we have learned to love God with our heart and soul. Why? Because true love is not rational, but once the mind is engaged into a transformed life, it can be a powerful thing.

God doesn't want us to blindly love Him either. My whole life I have been taught to love God. I know a lot of bible verses, and have studied the scripture. I have been to countless sermons and read books on theology. But no matter how much I cram the knowledge of who God is, or try to rationalize God, I was still left short of something. But then somehow I accidently began to experience God and love him with my heart and soul first. I fell madly in love with God for no good reason. But now, my mind is engaged in loving Him. Now, doing His will becomes the only thing in life that truly makes sense. It is an altering experience.

So we must remind ourselves that loving God with our mind is important, but it is third on the order of operations list. If we try to love God with our human intellect, we will never truly experience God. When we love Him first with our heart and soul, and then engage our minds, that's when the really cool stuff happens.

With all our strength.
Strength is mentioned in two of the three gospels, and I figured that it was an important element. Whenever I discuss this topic with some of my youth, I combine mind and strength into a general "body" concept. It seems to me that the body functions on it's own three part system comprised of the mind, mouth and actions. So it's not surprise that strength is mentioned in conjunction with the mind.

One of the verses places strength last, and the other one places it before the mind. I think the order of operations at this point is adaptable for different people. For me, I know it is difficult for me to engage my body in something if it does not first make sense. Others have no problem laboring towards something based on love. But strength is one of those things that finishes our concept of perfect live that is attainable only if we first love God.

To love God with all our strength means to make this love tangible. In other words, loving God is not a simple mental exercise, no! It means getting off our duffs and actually sweating and putting physical labor into that which Christ has called us to. If you are reading this blog post at this point, I have a secret for you. Christ already called you, but its a matter of you responding to His call.

Not only should we make our love for God tangible with sacrificing of our time, talent and bodies to God, but we should do it with perseverance. To use up "all our strength" means doing something until we are exhausted and hungry. Imagine the difference in this world if we could tangible love God.

Wait a second. How can we tangibly love something that is unseen? Good question! Luckily Jesus provides the answer to us, but also the second half od this verse leads neatly towards the "how" part of our love for God.

Love yourself.
Where a lot of Christians get mixed up with this verse is that they "fast forward" to the "love others" part and skip over the important details. We've already covered the fact that we should love God first and foremost. I believe that's because with out loving God, and consequently, receiving that love from Him, we will always be loving others on our own power. This kind of love will not last. We need an eternal and true love that only comes from God.

But the other part that we miss out on in that verse is the "me" aspect. We are to love others "as ourself". This means that the magnitude with which you are capable of loving others is directly correlated with how much we love ourselves! Too often, we Christians, believe that loving ourselves is selfish or prideful, but the bible makes clear that we need to first love ourselves before we can help others. We are only able to love ourselves because God has first loved us. We can only love ourselves once we have irrationally and rationally fallen head over heels for God. At that point, he gives us the ability to love ourselves.

Many of us live lives of unforgiveness, but that unforgiveness is to ourselves! How can we forgive others if we cannot forgive ourselves? How can we convince others of the power of God when we have not allowed that power to change us? This is a huge and important step in loving others. If we are not able to truly love ourselves, then we cannot show perfect love to others because we will constantly be looking to acquire that missing love from others.

So if you are not able to love yourself, you need to look at your love relationship with God. If you have fallen in love with God with your heart, soul, mind and strength - then maybe you need to fall on your knees and repent of everything in your life that keeps you from God. Then, you need to "receive" His love back.

Love others.
Love is an interesting because it increases as you release it. The bible calls on us to love others, in fact, this is the most important thing we can do as Christians. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, expresses that without love, we are nothing. But to get to the place where we can truly love others and obtain that perfect love, we most follow the steps. If we fast forward directly to loving others, we will constantly fail. Why? Simple. We will be looking for love in others and be incapable of loving them in a selfless, unconditional way.

Remember how we are suppose to love God with all our strength and how weird that seems? Well, loving God in a tangible form comes when we are able to love others on this earth with this true and perfect love from heaven.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus teaches us that loving the "least of these" is the way that we show love back to God. Fortunately for us in an unfortunate way, there is always a "least of these" category of people on earth.  Once you have fallen madly and deeply in love with God, and then yourself, find these people and pour into them that love until you don't have strength to do it any longer. At that point, God will fill you with His strength. In our weakness, He is made strong.

The love that Christ calls us to is agape. It is selfless. It is unconditional. It is the kind of love that God has for us and it is intense and powerful. There is power in this kind of love. Power to transform lives and to heal wounds.  The other lesser forms of love can come after it, but if we can love each other in this perfect way, we will have an abundance of love - we will have an abundance of life.

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