Continuing our series on loving God, 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 choose to die to our self life that Gods unconditional Love can be manifested through us to others.
This is the whole meaning of the Second Commandment. If we love God first, above all else, He will then enable us to love others, before or instead of, ourselves. Because we are open and cleansed vessels, He will pour His Love through us giving us the ability to put others needs before our own.
An Example: Me, Wash His Feet?
Heres a beautiful example.
At the time of the following incident, Melissa and her husband, Walt, had four small children under the age of seven.
Melissa had become extremely exhausted caring for all the needs of her small children, and so had begun to pray that Walt would be more sensitive to her needs, helping out more with the kids when he got home in the afternoon. He was a medical technician who went to work around 6 a.m. and came home between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Melissa prayed this prayer for some time, without any visible results.
One evening Walt came home early only to find the house a total mess. He had to step over dirty laundry, broken toys, and what was left of lunch, in order to find his way upstairs to Melissa and the kids. She had all four children in the bathtub, washing their hair. Walt stuck his head in the door and asked, What on earth is going on? Why is the house such a mess?
Now, since Melissa had been entertaining such thoughts as, Why cant Walt help me more? and I just cant take this any longer! she immediately reacted out of those frustrations and shouted, Well, if you would only help me more with these kids, Id have more time to clean your house! Obviously, it was not a response out of Gods Love, but one triggered by her own built-up resentment.
Poor Walt was terribly hurt. He immediately became defensive and said something else about her messy house. She retaliated with another jab. More words were exchanged, and then Walt slammed the bathroom door and started downstairs, mumbling something like, Boy, its great to be home.
Melissa finished putting the kids to bed, shushing their inquisitive little questions of Is Daddy mad at us? and Why did Daddy slam the door, Mommie?
After tucking the kids in bed, Melissa went downstairs. Not wanting to be in the same room with Walt (ever felt that way?), she went to the opposite end of the house, got out her Bible and began to pour out her true feelings to God. She started to cry and told God how tired, how lonely, and how unhappy she was, feeling as if Walt didnt even care about her anymore. He seemed, at times, so distant and insensitive.
After weeping quietly for a long time, she told God, But, I do really love You and I want to obey You and do what is right. What would you have me to do? Gods still, small voice directed her to Matthew 16:24: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me. Melissa sat there for a long time contemplating how on earth this verse applied to her situation. Again Gods still, small voice said, If you will love me first, Ill enable you to love your husband.
Melissa immediately replied, But Lord, I do love You. How else am I supposed to show You? What else am I supposed to do? With that, God impressed upon her mind, If you really love Me, then get a basin of water and go and wash your husbands feet.
Well, you can imagine her reaction! If it were you, what would be your reaction? Hers was the same. Are you kidding? After what hes said and done to me, he should be the one to wash my feet!
God was silent. Finally Melissa began to understand, for the first time, what it really meant to love God: to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. God was asking her not only to deny what she wanted, but He was also asking her to get up and do something she absolutely didnt want to do, which was to wash Walts feet. God was asking her to do what Jesus would do in that situation.
Melissa had been studying about Agape Love and she knew if she didnt obey God and do what He was asking her, she would quench His Spirit (His Love) in her heart. She couldnt stand that. So she made the difficult faith choice, got up, got a bowl of water and a towel from the kitchen and went into her husbands study. Walt was lying on the couch, reading. She knelt down quietly beside him and began to untie his shoes, crying softly as she did. At first, she said, she didnt feel a thing, for it was totally a faith choice with no feelings. But, by the time she began to take off his shoes and socks, it had become pure, genuine love. God had aligned her feelings to match her faith choices.
Walt was flabbergasted when he saw Melissa walk into the room with that bowl of water. He was sure it was going to be thrown over his head! But when he saw her tears and felt her genuine love, he reached down and drew her up to himself. And they were reconciled"both emotionally and spiritually.
Holding and embracing one another and truly realizing how much they really loved each other, Melissa was able to share with Walt her deepest needs. Because she was at this point a cleansed vessel, Walt heard her from his heart and not his defenses. The next several months became a special time in their marriage where they both became more sensitive to each others needs with Walt helping her more with the kids, and Melissa trying to insure a loving atmosphere when he came home at night.
Another dear friend of mine just wrote me a letter sharing a similar story:
I have learned over the last several months as the trials have increased in our family, to personally apply loving as Jesus loved. When I choose to put myself and my selfish desires aside, things at home dramatically change. I now say to myself when I come home and see everything a mess, My wife must have had a rough day, I need to bless her. Thus, rather than walking in and commenting on what is not done (housework, cleaning, meals, children, etc.), I kiss my wife and children and tell them how special they are to me. My wifes reply immediately changes from, if you only had...then, I would have..... to Im sorry the house is such a mess. Its a phenomenal change of heart. Remember, its very difficult for a strong-willed man, like myself, to line up with what God wants. (I know what He wants, I just dont want to do it.) However, as I yield myself totally to Him, then all of us are blessed. And, even our sex life is impacted!
The Scripture that God gave Melissa that afternoon was Matthew 16:24: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Me.
Now, to deny ourselves in Gods economy doesnt mean to deny outward things (i.e., houses, cars, fashionable clothing, etc.). This sort of denial is actually a lot easier! Rather, to deny ourselves means to relinquish inward things (i.e., our own justified thoughts, our expectations, our emotions and our desires that are usually contrary to Gods). And, this step, at least for me, is much harder.
Also, to deny does not mean to push down and bury our real feelings, nor negate the existence of our true emotions and pretend that they dont exist. No, to deny ourselves means to bar ourselves from following these negative thoughts and feelings and to prevent ourselves from being influenced by them.
Were all human and we all will have negative thinking until we see Jesus. To deny ourselves simply means to look at these things, call them for what they are and then give them to the Lord. It means to bar ourselves from following what these negative things are telling us and, instead, do what God has asked. This is one of Gods purposes for allowing trials in our lives"to test our reactions. To see if we will obey Gods will and do what He wants or will we pridefully refuse and go our own way.
So, loving God is not an emotional feeling, nor is it an emotional high; rather its a complete surrender of our selves.
Loving God is the oneness, the union and the marriage relationship that He desires with every one of us. One heart, one will and one life. He wants each of us to be so at one with Him that what others see and hear through us are His Love, His wisdom and His power. His image only, not our own.
(If you would like to learn more about loving God, I would recommend our book The Way of Agape. Its a complete textbook on how to love God and others.)
To be continued next month: Loving God (Part 4). This article has been excerpted in part from Nans new book, Never Give Up: The Fruit of Longsuffering.