What Does It Mean to Love God? Part 2

Way of Agape

I am so very excited to report that my new book Faith in the Night Seasons is almost completed. After living it for seven years and then writing it for almost a year and a half, you can't believe how thrilled I am to have it nearing completion. Several of the reviewers after reading the manuscript have called and asked for more copies to give to friends and relatives needing encouragement at this moment. Nothing could be more exciting than to see God use this work even before it is completed.

So, this article will be my final one (at least for the near future) on God's "Way of Agape ." Next month, Lord willing, I hope to begin a new "series" called Faith in the Night Seasons, based on the new book.

Over the past several months we have been exploring God's Love - what it is; how it differs from human love; and, how we can know that God loves us with this same kind of unconditional and unilateral Love. Last month we took a little different direction and briefly shared what it means for us to "love God." According to Scripture, loving God is not an emotional feeling, it's not raising our hands in church, it's not singing psalms of praise, it's not knowing Scriptures backwards and forwards or teaching Bible studies, loving God means to totally give ourselves over to Him. The Greek word is agapao and it means what we "become one" with. It means to completely surrender, relinquish and abandon ourselves to God, regardless of how we feel or what we think.

God tells us in the First Commandment we are to "...love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." (Matthew 22:37) What specifically does this mean? I believe loving God (agapao) includes three specific things:

1)To choose continually to obey God's Word (His Will) and not our own thoughts and emotions that are usually prompting us to go the opposite direction. 
2) To choose continually to trust God's Power (His Ability) to perform His Will in our lives and not our own natural ability. 
3) And lastly, to love God means to choose continually to worship and serve Him only, by following, cleaving and so binding ourselves with Him that we become one. (We "exchange lives" with Him. We give Him ours; He, then, gives us His.)

I compiled these three steps from Jesus' three responses to Satan on the mountain of temptation in Matthew 4:1-10, where Satan tries to tempt Jesus not "to totally give Himself over to God," but to do what He (Himself) felt like, wanted and desired.

Let's take a few minutes and review each of these three steps of loving God so that we can begin to agapao Him the way that He desires.

Obey God's Word

What does it mean to obey God's Word (His Will) rather than our own thoughts, emotions, and desires? It means to choose continually to set aside and relinquish what we think, what we want and what pleases us, and choose instead to do whatever God has asked us to do.

This is the denying of ourselves that Matthew 16:24 talks about. To deny ourselves does not necessarily mean to deny "outward" things (like fancy houses, flashy cars, fashionable clothing, cosmetic makeup, etc.), but rather I believe it means to deny "inward" things (like our own "justified" hurts, unforgiveness, bitterness, and other self-centered ways). These things are sometimes harder to give up than the other!

To deny does not simply mean to push down and bury our "real" thoughts and feelings, but to bar ourselves from following them. We are all human and we will all have negative thoughts and feelings until we see Jesus. The sin does not occur until we choose to follow what those negative things are telling us to do. If we can recognize that negative thought when it first comes in and give it to God, we will not have quenched His Spirit.

Obedience is the Only Answer

I've learned over the last 20-30 years that obedience is the only answer. I have tried all the other "ways" to respond and react, and none of them work! (Please see my book, Why Should I be the First to Change?) I've learned to obey God even when I don't feel like it, even when I don't want to, and even when I don't think it will work. Because obedience is the only way that allows God to begin to work in my situation. Until I choose to obey Him, the circumstances that I am in are still "my" responsibility. But once I choose to obey Him and relinquish myself to Him, then that situation becomes His responsibility. Here's a silly example:

Many years ago, Chuck and I had an evening planned at the Music Center in Los Angeles with some very important business friends. Because we lived at least an hour away from the city, we had to pick up these friends by five o'clock in order to make our dinner reservations before the show.

As it happened, that day was my carpool day for our youngest daughter, Michelle, who was probably 8 or 10 at the time. I figured if I picked up all the little girls by 3:30 p.m., I'd still have plenty of time to get home, get dressed and pick up our friends by five.

That afternoon, however, one of the little carpool girls smashed her finger in the car door as she was getting in. Thus, we had to rush her back into school, soak her finger, call her mother and do some T.L.C. (tender loving care). Well, I lost half an hour there.

When Michelle and I finally got home, I noticed a horrible smell coming from the back of our car. As it turned out, one of the little girls had spilled her "spoiled" milk all over the back of the car. Since this was the car I was using that evening for our guests, I needed to do an extra special job of cleaning up so it wouldn't stink. (Actually, I think the "Lysol" smell from the cleaning fluid was probably worse than the original spoiled milk smell!) Anyway, I lost another 15 minutes here.

After I finished cleaning the car, I rushed into the house to make a soufflé. I was hosting a luncheon the next day for twelve ladies, and I needed to do some last-minute preparations. The soufflé needed to be made a day in advance so it could sit in the refrigerator overnight.

I have one special pan that I use for my soufflé - none of my other pans work. That day, for some reason, I couldn't seem to find it. After spending ten anxious minutes opening and shutting all the cupboards in my kitchen trying to find my pan, I remembered we had loaned our house to some people over Christmas. I thought perhaps by mistake they had taken my pan home. I called, and after several minutes of "chit chat" the wife verified that "yes," she had my pan. She said she could return it "tomorrow." "No, thank you," I said, "that's too late. I need it now. Thank you anyway."

By now it was 4:15 p.m. I wasn't dressed, the soufflé wasn't made, the kids weren't fed, and I was beginning to get a little panicked. I took out another pan, threw in all the ingredients and tried to stir. But the bowl was too small and I couldn't mix it properly. So, in desperation, I poured the whole mixture (a quart of milk, a dozen raw eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, etc.) into my new Cuisinart, not realizing that liquids cannot go above the two-inch tube in the center or they will overflow. Well, that's exactly what happened!

Twelve raw eggs and one quart of (brown) milk began to ooze out all over the counter, down the sides of the cabinets, into the drawers, down my legs, into my shoes, and onto the floor. It was now 4:30 p.m. By this time I was totally out of control! I began to scream, kick, and yell. Have you ever been there? Can you identify?

God gently tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Nancy, do you love Me? Will you choose right now to obey Me? Do you love Me that much?" God wanted me to choose, right at that very moment, to relinquish my anger, my frustration, and my anxiety to Him, and not allow my wild emotions to direct my actions anymore.

Do you know how hard that is, in the middle of a "fit," to stop, turn around and choose to act in a calm manner? It's impossible; it's totally supernatural!

But, as I said, I've learned over all these years that no other way works. So out loud, almost crying, right there in the middle of the raw egg yolks, I made that commitment to God that I would obey Him. Now I certainly didn't feel like obeying Him; it was totally a "faith choice" or a non-feeling choice. In other words, I "denied my self." I barred myself from following my wild feelings by not giving in to them but instead giving them to God and doing what He asked! Then I asked Him to help me get ready on time, to pick up our friends by five, and to be a genuine representation of Him that evening.

God is so faithful. I cleaned up the mess; ran upstairs; found a perfect outfit to wear; jumped in the shower and did what I could with my wild hair. I was only 15 minutes late picking up our friends, and yet (because of God's intervention) we were right on time for dinner and the show in Los Angeles. The best part of all was that by the time I picked up our friends, God had "aligned" my feelings with my faith choice and made me genuine (full of Him). (P.S. I can't remember what I did serve those ladies for lunch the next day, but I know it wasn't soufflé!)

"Obeying God's Will"-instead of our own emotions and desires - is the first step towards loving God the way He desires.

Trust God to Perform His Will

This leads us to the second step of loving God, which is trusting Him to perform His Will in our lives and not our own power to do so. This step must go alongside of "obeying God's Will."

What good is it, once God has told us what His Will is, if we go out and perform that Will in our own strength? Trusting God is relying upon Him and His ability to accomplish His Will in our lives, no matter how we feel, what we think, or what the circumstances are. This is what Matthew 16:24 means when it says we are to pick up our cross daily. This second step is probably the hardest part of loving God, because we must do in action what God has asked of us, regardless of how we feel or what we think.

Trusting God to perform His Will through us is much more difficult than just choosing to obey Him. For example, it's relatively easy for the wife of an alcoholic to choose to obey God in the privacy of her own prayer closet. Trusting God to give her the wisdom and compassion she needs to genuinely love her husband when he comes home "drunk" is a whole other story. That's the moment we must trust God not only to perform through us what He has promised, but also to align our feelings with what we have chosen. God is the only One who can change our feelings and make us genuine, and we must trust Him to do so.

Trusting God is cleaving to Him with unreserved confidence , being fully persuaded that what He has told us to do, He will perform in our life actions. One of my favorite Scriptures is: "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5)

God wants us - with the big as well as the little opportunities - to not only choose to obey His Will, but also to trust Him to perform that Will in our lives. We can't serve God with our words only; we must put our lives alongside. I love Romans 4:20-21, which says, "He [Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was also able to perform."

Worship and Serve God Only

This leads us to the third and final step of what it means to love (agapao) God, which is to worship and serve Him only. Worshiping God is usually something we do on the "inside." It means prostrating and bowing ourselves before God, so that His Life can freely be manifested through us. Serving God is usually something we do on the "outside." It means to present our bodies as a living sacrifice and our members as instruments of righteousness, so that God can be glorified in all that we do. ( Romans 12:1)

Worshiping and serving God, I believe, is the same thing as following God. (Again, Matthew 16:24) Following God is not merely walking in the same direction as Jesus. There are many, many Christians today who are doing just that, slowly meandering behind Him. This is not what "following Him" or "loving Him" means. "Following Him" means cleaving unto Him, binding ourselves with Him, so that we actually become one with Him; one heart, one will, and one soul. ( Matthew 22:37)

Cleaving to God is analogous to those little two-inch squeeze dolls that open their arms and legs (when you squeeze them in the back) and grab hold of whatever is in front of them. I think of following God in the very same way. It's almost as if we are clinging to God, binding ourselves so closely to Him that we actually become "one." Remember John 12:26, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be." We will be there because we'll be tightly wrapped around His leg and hanging on "for dear life"!

Ephesians 5:1-2 exhorts us to, "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children: And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour."

He Is Our Life

This is the union, the oneness, and the marriage relationship that God desires for every one of us: One heart, one will, and one life. He wants us to become so "at one" with Him, that what others see and hear through us is His Love and His Wisdom and His Power. In other words, it's His character coming forth through us and not our own.

Loving God is not a feeling, nor is it an emotional high; rather, loving God is losing self to the point where we can say, like Paul, "Jesus is not just in my life; He is my Life." ( Philippians 1:21; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:4)

In John 21:15-17, Peter is asked three times by Jesus, "Do you love Me?" The first two times Jesus uses the word agapao: "are you able to totally give yourself over to me?" "Will you become one with Me?" Peter, however, could only answer back, "Lord I phileo You." ( I have friendship love for You.) The final time Jesus asks Peter, "Do you have love for Me?" He comes down to Peter's level and uses the word phileo. "Peter, do you at least have friendship love for Me?" Upon hearing this, Peter was grieved because he knew that Jesus knew that, at that particular time, he was not able to relinquish and surrender himself completely (agapao).

If Jesus was standing right beside you now, asking you the very same question: "Do you love (agapao) Me? Will you totally give yourself over to Me? Will you become one with Me?" How would you answer Him?

Would you be able to say, "Yes, Lord, I agapao You?"

Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:14

Will you be one that does?

This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book, The Way of Agape.