Love Begets Love
Vital Sign #4: Loving God
A mother gazes into her baby’s eyes, and he responds with a smile and cooing sounds of happiness. A man asks a woman to marry him, and she throws her arms around him, kisses him, and says “yes,” her eyes filling with tears. An elderly woman in a nursing home is visited by two close friends, and her vital statistics show immediate and unexpected improvement.
Each of these examples illustrates a universal truth: When we know we are loved, it shows. Or to put it another way: Love begets love.
This truth applies just as much-and perhaps even more strongly-to our relationship with God as it does to our human relationships. And that’s exactly the way God intended it to be. His love is meant to beget love in us. Knowing that he loved us before we even knew him is meant to warm our hearts and make us want to spend-time loving him in return and sharing his love with the people around us. Experiencing his mercy should humble us, fill us with gratitude, and move us to be merciful toward those around us.
St. Augustine is a perfect example of this truth. For years, he had sought the meaning of his life through academic study. But it was never enough. While he tried to satisfy his mind with learning, his heart still yearned for a love that was deep, strong, and passionate. He tried to fill this longing through sexual pleasure and even the beginnings of a family, but he still felt empty. In his studies, Augustine had learned the teachings of the gospel, but it wasn’t until he experienced Jesus’ love that he finally found the peace he had longed for. From that point on, Augustine saw his spiritual life grow in a continually deepening relationship with Jesus and a greater growth in holiness and purity.
This is what makes loving God one of the six “vital signs” we began examining last month. If we want to get an accurate reading on our spiritual life, all we have to do is ask: “How is my love for God? Is it strong and active? Is it compelling me to live according to the gospel? Or has it grown cool and quiet?”
What Can Separate Us? What is it that makes God’s love so powerful? First and foremost, it is unmerited. We didn’t have to do anything-and we still don’t have to do anything-to convince God to love us. Long before we were created, our heavenly Father loved us and decided to bind himself to us in an unbreakable covenant. Scripture says that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and that he “destined us for adoption as his children” (Ephesians 1:4,5).
We belong to God, and-even more incredibly-he belongs to us! He has claimed us as his children and has committed himself to be a father to us. This means more than just teaching us and disciplining us. It also means supporting us and providing for our needs. It also means lavishing us with signs of affection and affirmation and forming us to take on his own philosophies of love, mercy, justice, and peace.
It’s the experience and knowledge of this love that moved Paul to cry out, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
“As Strong As Death.” Not only is God’s love unmerited, it is powerful and passionate. It has been described as being “strong as death” and having “passion fierce as the grave” (Song of Songs 8:6). It’s powerful enough to move a wealthy man to pull up his roots and set out for a whole new life in a foreign land (Genesis 12:1-4). It’s a love that converts the sinful (Luke 7:44-48) and encourages the despairing (Isaiah 43:1-2), a love that moves people to take heroic risks 0ohn 21:18-19) and to adopt awhole newvision for their lives (2 Corinthians 5:14-18).
Let’s look again at the examples we used at the beginning of this article. If the love shared between a husband and wife is strong enough to move them to such a life-changing event as to have children to whom they are binding the rest of their lives, how much more powerful must God’s love for us be? If the love between a husband and wife is said to be “a mystery” that reveals Jesus’ love for his church, how much more powerful must that original love be (Ephesians 5:25-33)?
St. Bernard of Clairvaux once explained his experience of God’s passionate love in this way: “He stirs my sleeping soul. He moves and soothes and pierces my heart, which was as hard as stone and riddled with disease. He begins to root up and destroy, to build and to plant, to water the dry places and light the dark corners, to open what was closed, set what was cold on fire, and to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth-all so that I can bless the Lord and so that all that is within me might praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1).”
How Can We Possibly Love God? God’s love is powerful and life-changing. It is meant to move us to love him in return. But how can we-limited, fallen people-possibly love the almighty and infinite God? Below are three key ways.
1. A Heart of Prayer. just as a married couple grow in love for each other as they spend time together, so too will we grow in our love for God as we spend time worshipping him, resting in his presence, and pondering his word in Scripture. It’s in prayer that his passion for us can spark a passion in us for him. It’s in prayer that we can come face-to-face with a Father who is completely committed to us and respond by pouring out words of love, adoration, and worship.
As that passion for Jesus grows in us, it will spill out into the rest of our day. In difficult situations-and in everyday situations-we will find ourselves turning to the Lord to ask for another touch of his love. We will find ourselves breathing silent words of gratitude and honor to him. We will find ourselves wanting nothing more than to please him with our thoughts, words, and deeds.
2. Laying Down Our Lives. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend Qohn 15:13). There’s something about the nature of love that it evokes from the beloved a determination to do everything possible to honor and serve the lover. All the more, then, will our experience of God’s love for us draw us to lay aside our own agendas and take up his plans and purposes instead.
Many years after the Last Supper, one of Jesus’ closest disciples wrote, “The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (1 John 5:3). In a sense, John was saying the same thing Jesus said earlier. For John, obedience was a matter of love and devotion, not of drudgery or enslavement. Loving God is a vital sign of our spiritual lives for precisely this reason: Every time we say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus, we are performing an act of love and dedication. We are telling God how valuable he is to us and how important it is that we live in a way that pleases him.
3. He Fills Our Hearts. Finally, we can show our love for God by dedicating our lives to him every morning. As soon as you wake up, try to remember to invite God to sit on the throne of your life. Let the first words out of your mouth be words of love and worship for him. Echo the words of Moses, who begged the Lord not to let him or the Israelites take one more step unless his presence went with them (Exodus 33:13-16). It’s amazing how a prayer as simple as this can set the tone for the entire day, filling it with love and honor for the Lord.
God’s Work and Our Work. This vital sign of loving God emphasizes the fact that the spiritual life is not something we can produce or sustain by our own effort. It shows us that spiritual health is a combination of God’s presence in us and our efforts to stay close to him. So this month, as we continue to take our spiritual vital signs, let’s be sure to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Copyright Word Among Us Feb 2004
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