What do you do when you’re low on love? Do you try to conjure it up by the sheer force of will? As if there is within us a distillery of affection that lacks only a piece of wood or a hotter fire. We poke it and stoke it with resolve. What’s our typical strategy for treating a troubled relationship? Try harder.
“My spouse needs my forgiveness? I don’t know how, but I’m going to give it.”
“I don’t care how much it hurts, I’m going to be nice to that bum.”
“I’m supposed to love my neighbor? Okay. By golly, I will.”
So we try. Teeth clinched. Jaw firm. We’re going to love if it kills us! And it may do just that.
Could it be we are missing a step? Could it be that the first step of love is not toward them but toward him? Could it be that the secret to loving is receiving? You give love by first receiving. “We love each other as a result of his loving us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT).
Long to be more loving? Begin by accepting your place as a dearly loved child. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us” (Eph. 5:1-2 NIV, emphasis mine).
Want to learn to forgive? Then consider how you’ve been forgiven. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32 NIV).
Finding it hard to put others first? Think of the way Christ put you first. “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God” (Phil. 2:6 NLT).
Need more patience? Drink from the patience of God (2 Pet. 3:9). Is generosity an elusive virtue? Then consider how generous God has been with you (Rom. 5:8). Having trouble putting up with ungrateful relatives or cranky neighbors? God puts up with you when you act the same. “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35 NIV).
Can’t we love like this?
Not without God’s help we can’t.
If we haven’t received these things ourselves, how can we give them to others? Apart from God, “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9 NIV). A marriage-saving love is not within us. A friendship-preserving devotion cannot be found in our hearts. We need help from an outside source. A transfusion. Would we love as God loves? Then we start by receiving God’s love.
We preachers have been guilty of skipping this step. “Love each other!” we tell our churches. “Be patient, kind, forgiving,” we urge. But instructing people to love without telling them they are loved is like telling them to write a check without our making a deposit in their accounts. No wonder so many relationships are overdrawn. Hearts have insufficient love. The apostle John models the right sequence. He makes a deposit before he tells us to write the check. First the deposit:
“God showed how much he loved us by sending his only son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (John 4:9-10 NLT)
And then, having made such an outrageous, eye-opening deposit, John calls on you and me to pull out the checkbook: “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (vs 11 NLT).
The secret to loving is living loved. Many people tell us to love. Only God gives us the power to do so.
Excerpted from A Love Worth Giving
W Publishing, 2002