Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Loving God

Spiritual maturity is so closely associated with loving God, but how do we love God and fulfill this first and most important commandment? There are several possible answers. Perhaps the first response would be obedience. Jesus stressed that loving God was about keeping His commandments:

• “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." (John 14:21)

Obeying His commends even includes loving our neighbors as ourselves:

• I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:5-6)

In order to “love one another,” love has to begin with loving God and following His truths. Instead, we usually associate love with the magnetism of being drawn to another. While this is an important feeling – and it motivates love – it doesn’t tell us enough about how to love. Instead of promoting the best interests of the other, it therefore might only indulge and enable the object of love to pursue a course of self-destruction, when pursued independently of God’s truth. For instance, instead of inculcating self-control and a sense of responsibility, parents might simply give their children what they want, thinking that this will fulfill their needs.

Loving others has to be grounded in truth, God’s truth. However, this understanding also begs another question: “Why are certain people more diligent than others in keeping His commands?” Sometimes this diligence is attributable to a fear of loosing God’s love or salvation. Martin Luther had been the most diligent monk in his Augustinian monastery. In fact, driven by the fear that he wasn’t good enough for God, he almost died through his zealous practice of the spiritual disciplines on two occasions. In addition to this, he would resort to confession four hours a day with his beloved vicar and mentor, Johann von Staupitz. Finally, Staupitz, being fully cognizant of Luther’s torment, advised him, “You just need to love God.”

Luther thundered back, “Love Him? I hate him!” This was because Luther had no confidence that God loved him, despite all of his acts of obedience. Although a necessary requirement, obedience to God’s commands is not always the same thing as loving God.

Instead, we need to be obedient for the right reasons. Jesus had been loved by a woman who had the right reasons. He had been invited to the home of a religious leader for lunch of elegance. However, while they were reclining at his hosts dinner table, a prostitute entered and threw herself down at Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and then massaged them with costly oil.

Meanwhile, the leader was disgusted by this sight. He reasoned that Jesus couldn’t possibly be a prophet, if he allowed such a woman to even touch him. Knowing what he was thinking, Jesus asked the man if one forgiven a great debt would be more grateful than the one forgiven a minor one. Jesus then explained to the leader:

• "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:44-47)

The woman loved God much because she had been forgiven much. At last, she was free, eternally. She knew that no price was too much for her to pay in ministering to her Savior. Consequently, driven by gratefulness, she even entered the home of someone who would regard her with absolute contempt.

I therefore thank my Savior for His daily reminders about myself, that I am unworthy of even a “thank you” from Him (Luke 17:7-10). He shows me my moral failures, inadequacies, and inabilities. It hurts, but instead of this revelation sending me into a down-spin of depression, it now produces gratefulness and a sense of intimacy. It also reminds me that those who are forgiven much love much. So my prayer becomes, “Lord, continue to show me how much you forgive me so that I might adore You more.” However, this awareness is not nurtured apart from the daily revelation of my garbage.

Loving God also requires a Scripture-based knowledge of His love. We need to know how much He loves us before we can truly love Him. For Luther, Scripture opened a door to heaven as the Spirit illuminated Romans 1:17: “And the righteous shall live by faith.” Luther suddenly realized that it wasn’t about him attaining to his own righteousness – this was an impossibility – but about God freely giving him the gift of His own righteousness through faith, which He procured on the Cross (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:7-9).

However, many of us want to love the Lord more and recognize that it requires a greater awareness of our Lord’s grace and how much we need it. Yet we lack this critical awareness. Instead, we might perceive that we are critical and self-righteous, and that our relationships have suffered as a result of this. Here are some recommendations to deal with this problem:

1. Everything starts with asking and trusting in Him. Just know that everyone who comes to Him in truth finds Him (John 6:37; Romans 10:13).

2. King David asked the Lord to examine him to reveal those things that David needs to know (Psalm 139:23-24). We must do likewise.

3. Trust that God will reveal to you what you need to know and when you need to know it (Psalm 51:6; Phil. 3:15).

4. Meditate regularly on the Word. The Spirit is able to make it come alive for you as He did with Luther (Hebrews 4:12).

5. Prepare your heart for hardships. We naturally only want to see good things about ourselves. However, Christ will use pain to bring long-denied truths to the surface (2 Cor. 4:7-11).

6. There is wisdom among our spiritual elders (Eph. 4:11-14). Seek out those you respect.

• He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:31-33)

Just know that when you ask Him to teach you to love Him, you are asking according to His will. Jesus desires an intimate relationship with you based on sincerity and truth (John 4:22-24).

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