Love Tested

A powerful lyric from the old Hymn, “How Great Thou Art” rings through my heart as I think on God’s love for us:

“And when I think, how God His Son not sparing,

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.

How on that cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died, to take away my sin.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. One can infer from Scripture that the source of that joy was in seeing us reconciled to God, people who were His enemies, forgiven, made brand new, adopted as His children, loved and brought into our destiny of holy intimacy with Him for the rest of eternity.

Jesus rightly said that there is no greater love than this – that a person would lay down his life for his friends. His claim of love was put to the test in being shamed, abandoned, betrayed, beaten, tortured, humiliated and killed … and He victoriously passed that test not only through enduring all of it, but also through rising from the dead unhindered by the worst that this world could throw at him.

When I honestly review the love in my own heart in comparison to His, I cannot help but to see that I cannot hold a match to the roaring fire of His love.

Oh, I love to speak of His love. I love to study the Bible and examine the character of God’s love. I passionately tell others about it and can feel my eyes get bigger as the excitement fills my heart at recognizing that God loved a formerly worthless, evil sinner like me so much that He would impart His worth to me through exchanging His Son’s life for mine.

And yet, though I love to speak of His love, I cannot help but to see the insufficiency of my own love for others, for God … even for my own self. I write nice, pithy sayings about God’s love and proverbs regarding His love’s perfection, posting them on twitter from day to day. I teach others, exhort others, encourage others to discover God’s love and exhibit it to a lost and dying world – yet do I neglect the attaining of such a treasure for myself?

The first descriptive of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is that love is patient, yet I look at my life and see a terrible lack of patience. I see next that love is described in that same chapter as “kind,” yet passivity and cowardice often replace kindness in my own life. Arrogance? Guilty. Boasting? Guilty. Rudeness? Guilty.

Love, Paul wrote, rejoices in the truth. It isn’t self-seeking, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… Love never ends. Yet so often I see the weakness of my own heart. How I desire to love like Jesus, my Savior and Lord – with wild tenacity, boldness and indefatigable courage. Yet I look at so many of my actions and see selfishness, impatience, laziness, fear and disbelief as the primary motivators in how I’ve handled relationship.

At this point I must stop to point out that I am not trying to throw a pity party – simply attempting to make an honest assessment … am I loving like Jesus loves me? In this I cannot help but to come to the conclusion that I am sorely lacking in the characteristics that are embodied in my Savior.

Yet here lies my hope: Not that I will love others as I should. Not that others will love me as they should. Not that by any effort of mine I will be able to undo the evils and damage I have done in the lives of those whom I have so strongly tried to love and yet failed in the attempt. My hope lies in this – that despite my great failures, despite my irregular attempts to love that blow up in my face, Jesus’ love is big enough to not only heal the hearts I’ve broken, but to change my heart as well.

I trust in Him not because He has instantly turned me from a coward to a knight in shining armor, but because this former coward who thought his survival was totally up to himself has discovered that Jesus will sustain me, provide for me, support me, strengthen me, hold me, heal me, love me and keep me in His arms such that when I am at my weakest, His strength becomes the most evident. As His strength becomes most evident, this former weakling disappears in Jesus’s arms leaving only Jesus behind.

As I cling to Him, all the evil and darkness that once defined me disappears, and my Messiah alone is all that remains – courageous, bold, trustworthy, strong, mighty, loving, powerful, true, dependable and alive. Thus, little by little, as each day passes, I can say as Paul once wrote:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV)

So, you see, I am not a follower of Jesus Christ because I am good enough. I trust in Him because I have realized that I can’t afford to go on without trusting Him.

“In this is love; Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

I say all of this not to excuse my sins, but to stand on the truth that by God’s grace through the faith He has provided me, He is stripping away my propensity for sin and replacing it all with the nature of His Son. In this process I find the truth revealed that I am truly a new creation in Christ, Jesus. The old has passed, and is passing away. The new has come and is coming.

Thank God!

-Phil

(originally published on November 2, 2009)

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