The Gift of Love

The Way of Agape

"Herein is Love, not that we [first] loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10)

We all talk about God's Gift of Love and how much He loves us, but how many of us really experience this Love in our everyday lives? How can we intimately know that God loves us? How can we prove it? These are some of the questions that we want to explore over the next couple of months.

Do You Know That God Loves You?

Let me ask you personally. Do you have first-hand, experiential knowledge that God loves you? Now, I don't mean "intellectual knowledge" or "head knowledge"-I mean that moment-by-moment intimacy that only a loving Father and child can enjoy. Do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this kind of intimacy with your heavenly Father?

We all need to live in the security of God's Love, no matter what our circumstances, no matter what our color, our race, our creed, our financial status, our marital status, etc. If we really know that God loves us, then we can do anything, because we know who we are.

"Behold, what manner of Love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God..." (1 John 3:1) Without knowing this, however, we'll not only be insecure, but we'll also have no identity.

Before we can go any further in God's Way of Agape (His Way of Love), we need to know without a doubt that we are loved by the Father; that He has laid down His Life expressly to give us His Love through Jesus Christ; and, that He has called us to be His sons and daughters.

If we know, and have a living experience of these things, then we'll have the confidence and the trust to continually lay our wills and our lives down before Him and love others as He desires. As 1 John 3:16 states, "Hereby perceive (know) we the Love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Foundation of our Faith

Years ago, when I first began teaching The Way of Agape, I focused in on the two great commandments. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind...and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

After several years of hearing the reactions of the women, however, I realized that there is no way we can love God (or others) until we first know and experience God loving us. Knowing that God loves us is the foundation of our faith. Without first being able to experience His Love and acceptance for ourselves, we're not going to be able to move forward in our Christian walk.

In other words, we can't lay down our lives to someone and love Him if we don't really think He loves us. This principle is true no matter how long we have been Christians and no matter how many Bible studies we have led. If we don't know that God loves us personally, we'll be unable to grow simply because we don't trust Him enough to give Him our lives.

If we know that God loves us personally, then: 1) we'll have the confidence and the trust to continually lay down our will and our lives to Him and love Him in return (become an open and cleansed vessel); and, 2) we'll have that daily experience of knowing His Love, not only for ourselves, but also for others.

If we doubt His Love for us, then: 1) we won't have the confidence or the trust to lay down our will and our lives to Him (become an open and cleansed vessel); and therefore, 2) we will limit our ability to experience His Love, both for ourselves and for others.

Now, this doesn't mean that God is not in our hearts, loving us. He is! It just means that we won't have that daily, living experience (personal, touching, loving intimacy) of encountering and seeing God's handprint and His Love at every turn.

I think this is one of the main reasons why so many long-term Christians are not experiencing God's abundant Life. It all goes back to the fact that many of us really don't know that He loves us.

An Example

Sandy was a young Christian girl in her late twenties, whom I met at a retreat in northern California many years ago. She had been a Christian for a long time, but had come from a very troubled background of drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, physical abuse, and so forth.

When Sandy came up to the retreat in the mountains, her life was falling apart. Her family and friends had let her down, her relationship with her boyfriend had broken up and there had been some gossip in her church. She just felt that there was nothing to live for anymore. So, she had told God, "I can't go on anymore. Somehow, You have to show me this weekend that You really love me. I can't continue this way."

Saturday afternoon, Day Two of the retreat, Sandy walked the grounds of the camp, feeling like she was emotionally dying. She was so despondent that it showed on her countenance. Many of the women saw her and immediately began to pray for her. In particular, one brand-new believer named Jodi developed a special burden to pray for her.

That evening we had communion. Sandy, by this time, was totally at the end of her rope and she told God that she was going to refuse to take the communion cup until He somehow showed her that He loved her. (Now, in general it's not Scriptural to give God an "ultimatum" like this. But God knew Sandy's heart and the desperate state that she was in and He loved her.) After everyone had taken communion and had left the auditorium, Sandy moved from her seat in the audience up to the communion table. She quietly knelt down in front of the table, folded her arms on the top and put her head down. She was determined to stay there until somehow she felt God's Love.

After she had knelt there for almost an hour, the doors in the back of the auditorium opened and someone came in. Sandy couldn't see who it was because of the L-shaped room. The woman who entered the room didn't see anyone there either, so she quietly moved over to the fireplace, knelt down, and began to sing. The fireplace was still out of view from Sandy, but Sandy said later that this woman "sang like an angel."

Sandy kept her head on the communion table for at least a half hour. The woman continued to sing. Finally, Sandy couldn't stand it any longer, and came around the corner towards the fireplace to see who it was. The young girl singing seemed startled at first, but then in a somewhat authoritative voice she told Sandy: "Sit down, God has sent me to you." Absolutely shocked, Sandy sat down and they began to share.

The singer was Jodi. The Lord had laid Sandy heavily upon Jodi's heart all weekend, but because of Sandy's hardened and intimidating countenance, Jodi had kept her distance. After the Saturday night communion, Jodi had gone to bed. She was almost asleep, when God prompted her to get up and minister to "someone who needed Him in the main sanctuary." Never dreaming it was Sandy, Jodi rolled over and tried to ignore the Holy Spirit's voice, but because no peace would return, she finally obeyed, got up, put on her robe and went to the auditorium.

When she arrived, there was no one there. But the Lord made her stay and wait and finally prompted her to sing. When Sandy finally did appear around the corner, Jodi said at first she was scared to death. But she quickly gave her fear to God and He told her what to say to Sandy. Jodi and Sandy stayed up all night sharing. They cried together, they hugged, they prayed and they laughed. God had, in His unfathomable way, shown Sandy the extent of His Love for her. And He used Jodi, this precious, brand-new believer, as "His angel," to do so.

The next morning, both girls got up in front of the entire woman's group and shared what had happened. There wasn't a dry eye in the audience.

Personally knowing that God loves us is the bottom line. It is the only foundation, the only building pad our whole spiritual house can be built upon. We can't lay down our lives to someone if we don't think they really love us.

No Fear in God's Love

I think Sandy is typical of so many of us. In our haste to be "like Jesus," we have forgotten the first basic step, which is to really know the extent and the depth of God's Love for us personally. If we really knew how much God loves us, there would never be any reason to fear what He might allow into our lives. We would have the confidence and the trust to continually abandon our lives into His care, because we would know that He loves us, and that He will be faithful and trustworthy to take care of us no matter what.

Isaiah 49:16 says, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls [our souls] are continually before Me."

An Example

The most beautiful example of someone who knew that God loved her and therefore didn't fear what He allowed in her life was a precious sister in the Lord named Diana Bandtlow. Diana was only two years old in the Lord when she was diagnosed with leukemia and given only six months to live. At the time, she had a beloved husband who adored her and two precious children, Hillary, 3, and Stephanie, 1.

Diana, however, knew that God loved her and that He would not allow anything into her life that wasn't "Father-filtered" and that wouldn't eventually bring Him glory. So, throughout her ordeal, no matter what the circumstances were and no matter how much pain she was in, she continually chose to trust her God and lay her will and her life down to Him.

She was invited to teach a Bible study during those last six months of her life because everyone who knew her, saw an intimacy with Jesus that was unique and special. Now, if it had been you or I who were asked to teach, we might have chosen to spend those precious months at home with our families. But not Diana. She prayed about it and felt strongly that God wanted her out there sharing with her friends exactly what He was doing in her life. What incredible faith and trust she had!

The Bible study instantly grew to about 50 people, because we all saw in Diana a personal relationship with Christ that none of us had. At the time, I had been a Christian about 15 years, and yet I had never met anyone like Diana. She loved God and it was apparent to all of us that God loved her specially. Her life and walk reflected that knowledge.

Diana's leukemia was diagnosed in June and by November she was permanently confined to the hospital. At Thanksgiving, I wanted to give her something to show her how much I loved her and how much she had ministered to my life.

That day, I needed to run to the pharmacy to pick up some medication for my three-month-old daughter, Michelle. I thought it also might be a good time to get something for Diana. On the way to the store, I prayed and asked God to point out something that He "had in mind" for Diana-that perfect love gift to communicate His Love to her. I quickly got the prescription, and on the way out of the pharmacy I noticed a cute little bird's nest, all done in fall colors with two sparrows sitting in the middle. Well, I just knew it was for Diana. So I quickly bought it and raced home.

On the way home, however, I looked down at the little bird's nest sitting in my lap and began to wonder about the appropriateness of this gift. I asked God, "Is this really what You had in mind for Diana? A bird's nest?" The Scripture that immediately came to me was Matthew 10:29-31, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." Well, I was excited because that Scripture fit so perfectly. So, I wrote it on a little card, put it with the nest, and asked my Chuck when he got home to deliver it to the hospital for me.

About a half hour later, Diana called and she was crying, "Oh Nancy," she said, "I love the bird's nest and I know it's from God because He always tells me not to fear! But," she said, "What you don't know, and what no one else knows-except for God-is that I am losing all my hair. And God tells me right here that He loves me so much that 'all the hairs on my head are numbered' to Him."

That's our faithful and loving Father who is interested and concerned about every detail of our lives and who wants to personally communicate His Love to each of us.

My precious friend Diana went home to be with the Lord on Christmas Day, 1974. She touched more lives in her short life here on earth than many Christians I know who have lived long and healthy lives. (Diana made audio tapes at her church in those last few months that I know reached hundreds.)

In 1995, Diana's family found out that I was still talking about "my precious friend Diana" in my seminars, so they decided to mail back to me that 25-year-old bird's nest, with the two little sparrows. I cherished it and kept it for only a few months, when the Lord prompted me to pass it on to another dear friend, who is also battling cancer. She, like my dear friend, Diana, has no fear about what God has allowed in her life, because she too knows (experientially) that God loves her.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walkest through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord thy God and you are precious in My sight...and I have loved you." (Isaiah 43:2-4)

Hope for the Future

We can't go further in God's Way of Agape until we know (without a doubt) that God loves us and that He will never let us down, no matter what occurs. Experiencing God's Love is the only thing that will give us a consistent hope for the future, hope which leads us to faith and belief and the ability to trust God in everything, even though we can't see or understand where He is leading.

God's Love helps us endure, persevere, and hang on through the trials and the pain and the suffering. Hope in God's Love is what will give us the faith to look beyond the near term, beyond the current situation, beyond the horrendous problems, and look to Christ for our final victory (just as Diana did).

If we know without a doubt that we are loved by the Father, then there is always hope for the future! 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity [God's Love], these three; but the greatest of these is Love."