Way of Agape:
How Do We Love God Practically (Pt. III)by Nancy Missler
In Part One we began a series of articles on loving God. This time, we are concentrating on "practically" what it means to love Him. Do we love God daily by simply having deep emotional affection for Him? Are we loving God by going to Church regularly, by saying many prayers, by doing good deeds for others? Is this what He wants? Is this what He means when He says love Me, moment by moment? (Matthew 16:24)
I was a Christian 20 years before I finally figured out what it meant to love God. The way, I believe, God wants us to love Him is by constantly laying our wills and our lives down before Him. This is what it means to love God. But, the question still remains: How do we do this, moment by moment? What practical steps can we take to assure us that we are "daily" loving Him as He desires?
In Part Two we began to explore the "Inner Court Ritual" which, I believe, are steps that God has laid out for us in Scripture to help us, moment by moment, love Him--to totally give ourselves over to Him. These were the actual steps that the Priests' went through in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple in order to deal with their sin, thereby assuring them of God's Presence.
Inner Court Ritual
Here's an overview of these four essential steps:
In Part Two we expanded on the first step of the Inner Court Ritual, recognizing our negative and self-centered thoughts, emotions, and desires. Now we will explore the second step of, moment by moment, loving God: confessing and repenting of our own sin. (If you have not read it, I would strongly recommend reading Part Two, as each of these steps builds upon the last.)
Confess and Repent
Along with step #1 (recognizing and experiencing our feelings), we must also confess and repent of all that the Holy Spirit has shown us. In addition we must, by faith, unconditionally forgive anyone who has wronged us, just as God has unconditionally forgiven us. (This is what the Priest's did at the Lavers of Bronze in Solomon's Temple.)
This step of confession and repentance is our own responsibility. As 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, [then] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
It's critical to acknowledge that what we have done has quenched God's Spirit in us. We need to confess ownership of our negative thoughts and emotions and then, simply choose to "turn around" from following them.
Example: "I Confess I Am Depressed"
For example, if we are depressed (and I am assuming that the depression is emotional and mental and not physiologically caused), and we have been following this emotional way of thinking for some time, we can't just say to the Lord, "Help me with my depression," and expect Him to take our sad and brooding thoughts away.
We must say, "Father, I confess I am depressed (I own these feelings). I confess I have chosen to follow these morose feelings over what You would have me do (give them to You), and it has quenched Your Spirit in me. That's sin. I now choose to turn around (I repent) from following what these things are telling me to do."
Remember, we are not responsible to change our feelings. We can't do that. We are only responsible to put in charge the Person who can change our feelings, and that's God. And we do that by confessing we "own" the feelings and then repenting of them. God, then, is free to begin to change our feelings and align them with our faith choices.
In this second step of the Inner Court Ritual, we are not only to confess and repent of our own sins, but we are also to unconditionally forgive others of theirs. God is not free to work on us, or on the other party, until we have released them. And we release them by unconditionally forgiving them, whether they ask for it or not! (John 20:23)
Sometimes, however, it's impossible to forgive others in our own strength. 2 Corinthians 2:10 tells us that if that is the case, the way we forgive them is "in the person of Jesus Christ." Through Jesus, we can extend that unconditional forgiveness--because of what He has done for us. In other words, if we love Him, He will enable us, strengthen us, and give us the grace to forgive others.
Example: Justified Wrongs
Let me tell you a beautiful example of how it is possible to forgive and love someone with God's Love even in the toughest of trials. If we can just choose to lay our wills and our lives down to God, he can enable us in His strength to unconditionally forgive that other person.
I have a friend named Bill. Several years ago, Bill called and wanted to speak to Chuck. However, since Chuck wasn't home that day, the two of us began to share. He told me about his life, his family and how he came to know the Lord.
After that initial one-hour call, Bill began to call me every three or four weeks to bring me up to date on his walk with God and on his family. He loved the Lord and was truly seeking His abundant Life.
When his wife, Marie, became pregnant you would have thought Bill had found a million dollars. He was so excited! The morning his daughter Kristen was born was the most important day of his life! He called me from the hospital and talked for almost an hour describing his precious new gift from God.
I have never seen a dad so excited about his baby's birth. Kristen became "his life" and from then on, all the phone calls revolved around her, her growth (to the inch), her development, her eating habits, and so on. She was the light of his life.
A year or so later, Bill called and said he and his wife were having marital problems and he asked if I would please send Marie the Agape tapes. I immediately sent them.
A few months after that he called again. This time, however, he sounded absolutely devastated. Marie had suddenly left him and had given him temporary custody of Kristen. "Having Kristen is all that's keeping me going," he said. He sounded very angry and bitter, emotions I had never heard in Bill before.
When I asked him how he was handling it, Bill said he had such overwhelming resentment and bitterness towards Marie that he couldn't think of anything else but getting back at her. Mentally, he said, he was "keeping a long list of all the wrongs she had done to him and the baby." He said he was consumed with hatred for her. I tried to share with him some principles from the Way of Agape, but he was in no mood to hear. So I just listened to him.
I didn't hear from Bill for a couple months after that. But when he finally did call, he sounded like a new man. I couldn't believe it was the same bitter and resentful person I had talked to just two months previously. I listened as Bill began to tell me some of the incredible things that had happened to him.
Marie had evidently conspired with her brother and some of her friends. They had kidnapped Kristen and had taken her to another state. The police couldn't find a clue as to their whereabouts, the searching went on for months.
Bill, at this point, was destroyed. He was absolutely consumed with hatred, bitterness, and the thought of revenge. He justified his own hatred and anger because he had real cause, by the world's standards, to despise Marie.
In the meantime, when Bill went to church seeking counsel and help, his friends constantly asked him, "Is Marie ever going to come home?" "Is there any hope for reconciliation?" He couldn't believe they would ask him such things. Mentally, he said, he would bring out his long list of justified wrongs Marie had done to him, and think to himself, "There is no way in the world I'd ever take her back after what she has done to me!" Revenge was all he could think about.
One night, feeling such complete loneliness and despair, he spotted the Way of Agape tapes sitting on the shelf in the kitchen. Marie, evidently, had never even touched them. Bill was driven in desperation to pick them up and to listen.
One of the first things he heard was 1 Corinthians 13:5: "Agape Love never keeps track of injustices done to it (it doesn't keep lists); God's Love thinks no evil; is not easily angered; always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres."
As he listened, God began to pierce his own heart and expose his own self-centeredness and his own sin. Bill had never realized how his bitterness, hatred, resentment, and unforgiveness had covered his own heart and had prevented God's Love from coming forth.
He saw that he had been blocking God out of his life in the very moments he needed Him the most! Crying for hours, totally broken and repentant, he confessed that he had been entertaining those negative thoughts and mulling them over and over in his mind. He confessed those things were sin and he asked God to purge them from him and make him an open vessel.
Bill said he felt a freedom that night like he'd never had in all his life! It was as though God had taken a 1,000 pound weight off his shoulders. God answered his prayer and he began to experience the supernatural ability to pray for Marie and to genuinely forgive her.
Slowly, God began to instill in Bill a new supernatural Love (God's Love) for Marie. God also took the veil away from Bill's eyes, and Bill began to see and understand the reasons why Marie had acted the way she had.
By this time, the police had discovered a lead as to where Marie and the baby were. Bill anxiously traced it down and through a series of events (which I know God directed), he found Marie and they were reunited.
I wish I could tell you that they "lived happily ever after." Some of God's miracle stories do end that way, but others don't. Marie and Bill tried to work out their problems for over a year, but she finally decided that she didn't want to be married and obligated with a family. So she chose to leave Kristen and divorce Bill.
Kristen stayed with her dad, who had learned the Way of Agape and who was now free from any bitterness, resentment, hatred, and so on. He had learned how to love and forgive Marie unconditionally, in spite of her reactions and in spite of the circumstances. And, because he was a free man (not only maritally, but also spiritually), he was then able to pursue God's best for his life.
Three years later, God brought Bill another beautiful Christian girl who, like Bill, wanted a family. They were married two summers ago. His new wife continues to write me about all the beautiful things God is doing in their relationship.
So often we take for granted the miracle that God really does take our sins away "as far as the east is from the west," when we confess and repent of them. Do we realize what this really means? It means that we are allowed to begin each day with a clean slate a fresh start. Chuck and I were talking last night what an incredible gift this is. It allows us to "blow it badly" with each other and yet, if we confess and repent of those things and forgive each other, God does totally cleanse us--even with the memory of that sin wiped away. What a miracle this is!
As Christians we take this so for granted. Just think of it. If you were a nonbeliever, all your fights with loved ones, all your guilt, your failures, mistakes, ungodliness, errors, wrongs, immorality, every sin, would always be with you. You would bury them in the "hidden chambers" but they would always be there to motivate your actions. You could never get away from them or have a fresh, new start. No wonder so many relationships "without Christ" are doomed to failure. I weep at the thought, because that miracle is there for the asking.
"He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
In Part Four we will continue our study on loving God "practically," by exploring the final two steps of the Inner Court Ritual, giving over to God all that He has shown us and then, reading God's Word.
This article was first published in the December 1994 edition of Personal UPDATE.
This article was excerpted from Nancy Missler's study series on tape, The Way of Agape, which is also published in book form. Nan also has a sequel study series on tape, Be Ye Transformed, which is also in book form. This eight-tape study focuses on the Mind of Christ and on the "hidden chambers" of our subconscious.