Jay Blogs – It Starts with Love
For years, I’ve had a love problem.
One of the things that has frustrated me about my walk with the Lord in the past is my attempt to be more loving. I wanted to love others better and more, tried to love them better, even prayed that I would. Living through our divisive culture, COVID, political and racial unrest, and the challenges of being a head of school in this season, I’ve struggled with wanting to have the kind of love that cares for everyone, no matter what, and I’ve felt defeated at times in not having it.
Despite the fact that I was trying to love others, God has recently shown me that the problem was that my focus was still on me– my efforts, my failure, my remorse, my discouragement. And, I wasn’t going to be able to muster up the love to which God was calling me. Because that kind of love–the love of loving the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself, even people who aren’t your family, even people who don’t look like you or believe what you believe, even people who just don’t like you–is a supernatural love. That means a kind of love beyond my ability to muster, or conjure, or white-knuckle.
Which is totally the point. The ability to love the way God calls us to love, the ability to love those other guys (whoever they are) with transformative, gospel love, even when they aren’t at all loveable, even when they don’t seem to like us and are really hard to love, comes from a transformed heart. It comes through the cross, through brokenness, meaning that instead of just trying harder, I have to surrender my ability to love that way to Jesus. Instead, I have to dwell on God’s love for me, to realize how very much I am loved.
David Brennan describes the transformational power knowing how much we are loved has on our ability to love in his work, Surrender to Love:
“If God’s heart is to become mine, I must know his heart. Meditating on God’s love has done more to increase my love than decades of effort to try to be more loving. Allowing myself to deeply experience his love–taking time to soak in it and allow it to infuse me–has begun to effect changes that I had given up hope of ever experiencing…. It’s only when I give up trying to be more loving that God’s love can really touch me…only when I come to him in the midst of my failures in love that his love can transform me.”
Ever so slowly, I humbly come to Him, completely aware of my own inability and brokenness, taking the time to be still before Him and dwell in His love for me through prayer and silence. And, in that process, ever so slowly, is He changing me and teaching me to truly love.
And, how do we put ourselves under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that He can show you His love for us and transform us into one who truly loves? There are several practices we can engage in, any of which can help slow us down, step away from busyness and distraction, focus our hearts and minds on Jesus, and give Him the time and space necessary to transform us. Some of these aren’t as familiar to those of us who grew up in modern, evangelical churches, yet they are practices recognized and time-honored among Christians for hundreds (or thousands) of years.
- Surrender your day. Each day, at the beginning of the day, when you first wake up, or during a break in the morning, or after dropping off your kids, or even on the drive to work, surrender your day to Jesus. For years, and especially when I had kids in the house, I had to get up at 5 am in order to surrender my day. Some people read through the Bible in a year, some do what’s known as lectio divina– an ancient Church practice of praying through a particular short passage of Scripture, meditating on it and letting the Holy Spirit speak to you through it. I think you need many types of Bible reading at different seasons of your life- Bible study and application, reading the Bible straight through to understand its flow and context, and lectio divina and meditation on Scripture to let certain passages work their way into your heart. Combining this with prayer and surrendering your day to the Lord, letting Him be Lord of your day, is a great way to begin the day.
- Be with beauty. God speaks to us through His creation, like that moment I told you about last week on my spiritual mentor’s back porch. Creation is full of God’s presence, and it speaks when we listen (Ps. 19:1). Some of my most memorable and sweet times with the Lord, and when I hear His voice the clearest, is when I’m out at the lake, or at the beach, or just in my backyard in the morning stillness. So, get outside and be still, listening to Him.
- Be unified with Jesus. As a part of your time alone with Him, being still and silent alone with Jesus allows Him to do His transformational work in you, to restore you, and to allow you to fully experience His love for you. I don’t really think you can grow in union with Him until you can discipline your mind and spirit to sit still and silent in His presence, especially in this distracting culture. There are a lot of resources to help you with this. I use an app called Lectio 365. There’s a new one called Pause that John Eldredge has developed. Throughout the ages, the Church has advocated the value of training your body and mind to simply be still before the Lord.
- Let Jesus inhabit all of you. Ps. 51:6- “You desire truth in my innermost being.” For all of us, there are areas of our lives that may be uninhabited by Jesus, where truth does not yet reside. It may be anger, or addiction to something or someone, or control, or something else. These are things we’re still hanging onto, things that may be rooted in how we were raised, or ways we’ve been injured throughout our lives and how we’ve responded to them. For me it was both anger and a need to control, and the Lord has worked in my heart greatly over the years, bringing lots of healing and transformation. Ask God to help you release these areas, to help you reflect on them in your quiet times, why they are and where they come from, and ask the Lord to heal them. Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a great resource to helping walk through these areas; so is Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
- Seek Sabbath rest. God created you to rest, and He modeled rest. Sabbath is a part of our regular rhythm of life; it’s an act of trust before the Lord, in which we relinquish control over our lives and allow Him to take care of the details, reminding ourselves that we are not in control of the world, and that nothing hinges on us. It’s a gift from God, and an opportunity to delight in Him, in each other, and His creation. You may be a bad Sabbath-keeper, but God promises it as a way we were meant to live that heals and restores us. (I wrote a blog with more detail on Sabbath-keeping, the February 3rd entry in last year’s archives on the website). The Scazzero book has good guidance on it, as well as John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.
Once you try some of these things, and God begins changing your heart and revealing things to you, share these things with your children as is appropriate for their ages and stages of life. Live out what you’re learning, and find ways to guide them in practicing these things themselves as they mature and are able, so that the Holy Spirit can bring similar transformation in their lives.
In I Cor. 11, Paul encourages the church to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The way this is supposed to work is that we are to be transformed, not through our own efforts and energies, but by submission and surrender to the Spirit’s work in our lives, through all these practices we’ve discussed. Then, we’re to model that for those we love, those who God gives us, like our friends, our co-workers, and our spouse and kids, so that they can watch us, learn from us, and be transformed themselves. I pray that this will be the year you’ll be truly transformed by the Lord’s work in your life this year, and that your kids will grow and flourish because they have watched and followed you.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.