This year, I have decided to have another go at giving God space in my life to teach me and help me grow – all surrounded by one word. At the end of last year, I felt God lead me to the word love, and that is what my focus has been so far for 2014.
Looking back over January, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that love is hard, and that it hurts. But it’s not quite as depressing as that (although, ask anyone who knows me – I often pretend that it is!). Love as a feeling is something that is easy because we don’t have a whole lot of control over it (and the whole mushy butterflies-in-your-stomach thing can actually be sort of nice. But ssshhh, that’s a secret!). But actually doing love? That’s hard. And painful. Because I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that love as a feeling isn’t enough. Love is something that we should be showing to those around us every single day. And not just towards the people that we actually love, but towards the people who we don’t really like, and to the people who wind us up and the people who hurt us. We are still called to love them. And that’s the love that hurts. When it actually costs us something, because there’s no guarantee that we’re going to get anything back.
The thing about love is that it’s always about other people. The Bible is full of practical (and sometimes rather impractical!) ways that we can love people, and there are two passages of scripture that really spoke to me about love throughout January:
Love in Action
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is probably one of my new favourite verses of Scripture, largely because of the first four words: Love must be Sincere. This isn’t something we can fake. When we love someone, it goes deeper than the feelings and the butterflies and all the other ickiness that we associate with love. There’s an honesty about it, we need to be devoted to one another, and this isn’t just the whole husband-and-wife scenario – this is the way in which Christ loves us, the Body of Christ, and how we, in turn, should love our brothers and sisters – in a real, honest way. And this is what I want to get better at this year. I want to love people sincerely. I want to be able to honestly rejoice when they rejoice, and hurt when they hurt, because I think that’s a beautiful Christlike example.
The second passage of Scripture that really spoke to me was also from the book of Romans:
Love Fulfills the Law
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
I love the idea of loving people like it’s a debt you’re trying to repay, because when you have a debt that you need to pay back, the debt is there whether it’s convenient or not. We need to love people, both when it’s convenient (or when it’s easy) and when it’s inconvenient (or when it’s hard). I don’t want to love people for what I get out of it. I want to love people because I want to see people the way Jesus sees people, and as the end of this passage reminds us, love is the fulfilment of the Law.
It’s not until I have had time to stop and think over January (please kindly ignore the fact that we’re not halfway through February…) to really see all that God is teaching about this tiny four-letter word. If I’m completely honest, I was really nervous when I initially felt God leading me to this word, because I know that love makes you vulnerable, and being vulnerable opens you up to all sorts of hurts. But my experience so far is that being vulnerable, while sometimes painful, also creates so many opportunities for blessings. I’m seeing things in the Bible that I’ve read so many times but have never really noticed before. I’m looking for opportunities to show love to others. And I’m also beginning to understand more and more just how much Jesus loves me.