Sacred echoes. Deep calling to deep. Hearts that were meant to be sustained in perfect communion with the very heart of God Himself seeking to find meaning and fulfillment.
Love. The very mention of the word strikes a dichotomous pull within the depths of our being. The love I want to receive; the love I am willing to give. The gratification I seek to make me feel whole; the degree to which I am willing to fulfill the needs and wants of those I say I love. Our words and actions are often filled with if/then and but…
What about unconditional love? Are any of us truly capable of expressing or even knowing unconditional love? Or is our very humanity so conditioned to the ifs of living, that we have lost the capacity for unconditional love?
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers expounds on the John 21 interaction between Jesus and Peter where three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” Each time Peter response is Lord, You know that I love You. But in the third response, he adds, You know all things. Is it possible that in the first two responses there is a defensiveness, an unspoken reference to all the things Peter has done to “prove” his love for Jesus? Can we possibly hear the whine in his voice, “Come on, Jesus, you know that I’ve followed You for three years. I’ve done everything You asked of me. Look at all that we’ve been through! Why do you ask me if I love you? Haven’t I proved myself over and over again?”
Is it that Jesus wants Peter to go deeper than the surface? To look into his own heart and see what Jesus’ sees? Is Jesus calling Peter to fully reckon with the duality within his own soul – to see the consequences of sin in his own heart side by side with the redeeming work of His Savior? Is Jesus calling Peter to go beyond his own self-righteousness and human love all the way to his desperate need of the coming Holy Spirit to take him beyond himself to be filled with the very nature and love of God? Isn’t that what each and every of us needs most in life? Everything that we do and accomplish out of our own human nature and strength will always be tainted with a touch of self-interest, of self-seeking, of selfishness and therefore spoiled by the nature of sin itself. It likely will not be expressly evil, but neither will it be expressly holy.
God has been working on me for some time now. Working to reveal my own selfishness and the broken regions of my heart that are yet to be fully restored, yet to experience the full redemptive power of my risen Savior. I long to love with a pure heart fully engulfed by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. And yet the old hurts rise up and demand justice and retribution. I so quickly forget the abundant grace showered on my wrongs and therefore forget to shower grace on those who wrong me. I am coming to not only “believe” as in acknowledge, but to “believe” to the point of being radically gripped and changed as the belief enters every part of my being and doing.
So what does this love look like? Is there a way to distinguish between the two? The difference is primarily an internal difference – an issue of the heart and motivation. We humans are so quick to look on the external and to judge by the external. But God, God looks at the heart! Remember when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel? (If you aren’t familiar with this story, check it out here.)
Even so, from the outside, it might be difficult for us or others looking at us to judge whether we are doing the things we are doing out of our own human love, or out of the overflow of God’s love in us. We might be giving to others’ needs. We might be praying for others’ struggles. We might be serving in multiple capacities. But if, on the inside, we are looking for acknowledgement, seeking to prove our worthiness, or trying to make ourselves feel better about ourselves or to look better to others, that is not God’s love, it can never be unconditional.
Or, we can say we love others, proclaim it loudly and emphatically. But if we fail to do the basics, to be a good neighbor, to be fully present with them when we are with them, to withhold what God has given us to share with them, or to fail to call them out to more fully display God’s glory as He designed them to do, then our words are nothing more than clanging cymbals.
It seems that God’s love is genuinely expressed through us when we are least aware of it. There is no pretense. There is no expectation for return. We love and so we just do what is needed and what we are directed through the Holy Spirit to do – whether is to come alongside and grieve and rejoice together, or it is to help meet physical or financial needs, or is to speak a word of encouragement and challenge to continue the walk of faith or an invitation to come and meet this mighty Savior who lives in us. We just do what is at hand without thought of reward or return of any kind.
It may be spontaneous. It may come as a result of hours on our knees in prayer. However we are directed, it comes from the heart of God, through the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is a fruit of a life surrendered to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
I recently received a thank you card from a precious friend of mine thanking me for the impact I have had on her and her family. Talk about humbling! The fact is that I would say that indeed she and her family are the ones who have given and given to me and my kids and brought such comfort and joy and encouragement and challenge to live my life more fully committed to God’s purposes.
I am so grateful when God brings evidence to His mighty work in the lives of His children! We are in such desperate need of His unconditional love! As we are in desperate need to know how and where and where not to do for others what is best for them and for their situations. We cannot possible see the whole picture, but God knows the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. When we are fully surrendered to Him, we can then say with Jesus, “I only do the will of the Father who sent Me!” So be it!
I know the transformation of living out unconditional love will not all come to pass overnight, so I hope you will be patient with me and stand with me to remind me of the truth of God’s Word and His proclamations over each of us. If you will let me, I will do the same for you.