Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Love God

Monday’s Meditation was downright belligerent. After quoting the first and greatest commandment, to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, I had the temerity to ask, “Yes, but how exactly do you go about doing that?”
The Bible-quoters were among the first to respond. It’s a good place to start: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me . . .” (John 14: 23) I memorized this verse when I was in college. It seems to indicate that Jesus measures our love by how well perform (“Really?” says Jesus. “You love me? Then why don’t you start acting like it?”) Keeping the Law is what the Father wants, isn’t it? Don’t eat that fruit; go where I show you; sacrifice your son; here are ten big ones; here are 603 more--until finally I begin to wonder if it will ever be enough to keep him happy. That’s how you keep him happy, right? This verse is straight forward: it tells us exactly what to do, whether we feel like it or not. Still, doesn’t love involve feelings along with will-power?
The worshippers responded, too. They remind us of the woman who shed tears on His feet, and dried them with her hair. Jesus tells everyone that this woman displayed “great love.” She’s not the only one: another woman lavished expensive perfume at his feet. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” rested his head on Jesus’ chest and heard his Lord’s secrets. Forget decorum. Forget the rules. Worshippers break through social barriers to grab him, kiss him, and generally make a scene. They don’t care. They have to be close. I respect passion; I wish I were more passionate. Yet I’ve seen many a passionate person veer wildly off course, led astray by those same passions. It’s not enough to feel things deeply if your mind and habits do not shape you into his likeness.
One final group said learning to love God is like any other relationship: we invest our time and attention. Husbands and wives grow to know each other over the years; so we learn to love God. This resonates with me as well: who could get to know God in a day? Perhaps love is more a learned behavior than anything else. I thought I loved my wife when I married her, only to discover I had a Kindergarten-version of love. In 27 years I’ve discovered just how deeply selfish I am. I’ve had to learn how to deny myself on behalf of my beloved--how much more with God? And yet (one more time) it seems that familiarity can become a way of life, apart from love, where we discover a comfortable identity that has very little to do with real love.
So how, exactly, do we love him?
I’ve discovered one passage of scripture that speaks to all three of these models. You might roll your eyes in disbelief when I tell you. You will think, “how cliché” when I point toward 1 Corinthians 13 as our model for loving God. But it has served me well: as child I received this passage as a description of God’s love for me. Later I saw it as a model for how to love others. Now it has become the Spirit’s leading on how to love God in return.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. ~ No ministry model, whether charismatic or socially aware can replace the need for me to love the Father. How many times have I replaced my love of God with my love of ministry? It would embarrass me to tell you.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. How many times have I proudly stamped my feet before God, impatient for him to act? I’ve been angry with God, because after all, isn’t he responsible for everything? I finally had to ask, do I trust him? Jonathan Martin, pastor of Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC, said, “Everything in my life changed when I finally stopped being suspicious of God.” How could we suspect the motives of the One we love?
Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~ Love is all that will last between the Father and me. There will be no need for ministry in heaven. My insights will mean nothing. And finally, I will know what love is.
I have faith in him. I hope in him, and greatest of all, by his grace, I am learning to love him.