In the last several newsletters, weve been studying obedience and what it really means. We confirmed that there are three essential parts to obeying God. 1) Learning to love (agapao) God; 2) learning to renew our minds; and 3) learning to have unshakable faith in all circumstances.
At first glance, one might think, ''Oh, those are easy! Im already doing them!'' However, as we learned last month, not one of these three principles is easy! As an example, we learned last month that to love God does not mean having only affection love for Him. The Greek word for love, used in both of the great commandments, is the verb agapao (Matthew 22:37-39), which means to totally give ourselves over to something; to be totally consumed with it; or to be totally committed to it. In other words, to agapao something means to bind ourselves to it so that we become almost ''one'' with it.
We also found out that this commitment love can be to something good or something bad - either to God, to man or to things of the world. We, of course, obviously think we are totally committed and loving God first, but if I asked you, Can you honestly say that you desire His will above your own happiness? What would your answer be? That alone will tell you a lot.
A Corn of Wheat Must Die
To love God the way the Bible desires means to lose self - to surrender, relinquish and give the Lord anything in our lives that is not of faith. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) I dont mean losing who we really are and becoming some sort of a mindless robot, but simply setting aside all our own thoughts, emotions, and desires that are contrary to His and becoming a cleansed vessel so that His life can flow from our hearts.
John 12:24 explains it perfectly: ...Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. The glorious fruit of Gods Love!
Again, many of us have deceived ourselves into thinking that were in great spiritual shape and that the problem really lies with the people around us. Consequently, in order to reveal our true heart condition, the Lord must often push us into a corner where we come face to face with what we truly are. He wants us to see our self-life for what it is, so that we will recognize the necessity of giving it to Him.
An Example: ''There Was Not a Me There.''
Heres a great example of this:
I have a dear Christian friend named Sue. Years ago, after a painful divorce, Sue decided to move to the East Coast. Her estranged husband Jim, who was Jewish, continued to live in Southern California with his new girlfriend, Joy.
A year or so after the divorce, Sue had to come back to California on a business trip. She could hardly wait to see all of her old friends again. She found out that there was a party being planned and she was so looking forward to seeing ''the old gang,'' most of whom were Jewish.
After she arrived in California, one of her old friends called her and told her that Jim and Joy were also going to be at the party. Feeling extremely angry and upset, Sue thought to herself, ''How dare they invite Jim and his girlfriend as well as me. There is just no way in the world I am going to that party now.''
For one entire week Sue argued with God, knowing that God would have her give Him her hurts, resentments, and bitternesses, and then trust Him. Sue knew in her heart that God wanted to use her at that party. She knew He wanted to pour out His Love on these precious Jewish people who didnt know Him. However, sometimes its just hard to do what God wants immediately. Sometimes it just feels good to feel sorry for ourselves for awhile and wade in the muck and mire of self-pity. Have you ever been there? I know I have!
God is so wonderful, though. He loves us even through our temper tantrums and even when we are being brats. He patiently waits by us, never leaving us or forsaking us, until we just cant stand the ''pig sty'' any longer and we give in and choose to do it His way.
Thats just what happened with Sue. After an entire week of wrestling with God, He convinced her that it was His will that she attend the party and be a vessel of His Love.
After finally reconciling herself to the Lords desires, Sue told God, ''Okay, Im willing to go to that party; Im willing to give you my hurts and my past memories and become an open vessel; but its totally impossible for me to extend love to those at the party. Youre going to have to do that for me.''
Thats all God wanted. When Sue arrived at the party house, the first person she met at the door was Jims girlfriend, Joy. Sue said later, ''Nancy, it was absolutely wild! My body stayed outside the door when it opened and she was standing there, but something deep within me stepped inside, reached out to her and in total genuineness said, I am so glad to meet you. I really have heard so many nice things about you (which was true).''
Joy and Sue sat on the couch talking comfortably for about an hour and a half. Jim must have sensed Sues openness and genuine concern, because he, too, later asked Sue if they could go into another room and talk privately. Sensing her genuine compassion, Jim felt free to share from his heart many intimate things about their marriage and breakup.
When Sue was relating this story to me over the phone, I stopped her and asked, ''But, Sue, how did you feel when Jim began to share all those painful things?'' Her immediate response was: ''Nancy, it was incredible, there was not a me there.'' Sue was so completely one with God at that moment that it was Gods character and His life that flowed through her, rather than her own. 1 John 4:17 declares that, ''...as He is, so are we [to be] in this world.''
This is just a little example of one who chose, for one small moment, to really love and become one with God. Now, it may only be for a moment that we stay open and cleansed so Gods Love can flow through us. But, thats okay! Because, perhaps, tomorrow it may be for five minutes and the next day, ten.
So remember this story: to love God means to lose self.
This kind of love is different than what you thought, isnt it?
Isnt There Any Other Way?
Many years ago, a couple of young moms came running up to me after a seminar and said, Oh Nan, were scared! Is it only through trials and tribulations that we learn to walk as Jesus walked? Isnt there any other way that we can learn this? These two young women were very content with their lives as they were. They had prospering husbands, beautiful homes and young families. They were frightened as to what God might do.
''First of all,'' I told them, ''Remember God loves you. And, remember, He loves your husbands and your children far more than you could ever imagine and, thus, He wont allow anything in your lives thats not Father filtered.'' Then I quickly added, ''I do believe that we can learn to walk as Jesus walked without any trials in our lives if we only would be willing to totally give ourselves over to Him in every situation. If we did this, there would be no need for trials in our lives.'' They understood this completely and went away at peace.
The real truth, however, is that very few of us will ever voluntarily make this kind of total commitment. Our human nature is to preserve ourselves and to hold on to ourselves at all costs. In fact, our human nature constantly screams to get its own way. Selfishness and self-centeredness seem to rule the day! And unless we are cornered by God through difficult circumstances, we probably would just continue going our own way forever. Thus, brokenness is Gods way of turning us around and making us see for ourselves the need for transformation.
Love As Jesus Loved
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus commands us not only to love Him, but also to unconditionally love others. In fact, it says that the whole Bible is summed up in these two great commandments. Consequently, a part of our obedience in learning to love God must be learning to totally give ourselves over to others. Well talk more about this in later newsletters, but learning to love others will increase our capability to patiently endure our trials.
Jesus says in John 13:34: ''A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.''
How did Jesus love us? He laid down His life for us! He loved us so much that He died for us. This is the example that God has set down for us. It was only because of Gods voluntary death on the Cross that His Agape Love could be given to us. And its only when we freely choose to die to our self life that Gods unconditional Love can be manifested through us to others.
This is the substance of the Second Commandment. If we love God first, above all else, He then will enable us to love others before, or instead of, ourselves. Because we are open vessels, He will pour His Love through us and give us the ability to put the others needs before our own.
''But I say unto you, love (agapao) your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you...'' (Matthew 5:44)