Feeling loved?

“How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?” – Philip Yancey

Do you remember the feeling of euphoria when you first fell in love?

I think being in love is a picture of what God feels about us every day. He loves us just as we are, not just on our good days, but every single day. He loved us before we were born and will never stop.

The prophet Daniel, a Judean captive serving the Babylonian king, was praying for his people, pleading for God act on their behalf. While he prayed, the angel Gabriel appeared telling Daniel he had come to give him insight into the things he was praying about. And he gave the reason: “. . . I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (Daniel 9:23a). Can you imagine an angel saying to you that he showed up because you were greatly loved – by God?

Maybe we don’t hear it from an angel, but, if I’m reading my Bible correctly, we are as greatly loved as Daniel was. John tells how Jesus loved his disciples. Jesus declares his love for them, too, and for the whole world. Even before Jesus’ time, God said many times how much he loves his own people.

So why don’t we feel the “in love” euphoria every day? Maybe because we don’t really believe it. Think about that. The one who says he loves us is the eternal truth, the God who loved us into being. We can trust him. We can love him back. He will never turn us away. Never.

 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”. – 1 John 4:16a

The Gift of Hope

“I claim the gift of hope. I have hope, not in the glorious achievements of man, but in the ever-glorious providence of God.” – Dwight Longenecker

I like to pride myself in being an optimist – you know the “glass half-full” kind of person. You, too? Optimists are surely more fun to be around than pessimists!

But in a world full of problems that seem unsolvable, optimism falls short. It usually is unrealistic and is ineffective in addressing the challenges of life. Instead, I suggest we turn to hope. Not the weak, “I hope so” kind, but a strong biblical hope based solely on the providence of our almighty, all-loving God. It’s a hope that is an assurance God will act, good will come, and justice will prevail, even though we may have to wait for its complete fulfillment. If our hope is based on biblical promises, what we hope for is as real as the ground we walk on.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul assigns hope with faith and love as the three main values that endure. Why, I wonder? I think because faith is needed to access hope. When we learn to trust God’s promises and his character, we will be filled with hope. With that in place, what can we do but love him and love others? Godly hope energizes love because we know we are and will be taken care of – there is enough of God’s provision for everyone. Hopeful people are loving people.

Once we get a taste of that kind of hope, we realize the shallowness of mere optimism. Hope based on God’s providence is not optimism. It’s reality.

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5

What was he thinking about?

“Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” – Jerry Bridges

Jesus hung on the cross for a long time. In horrible agony, with time slowly passing as the minutes and hours wore on. What he was thinking as he chose to persist, even though he could have called the whole thing off? He was thinking about joy!

Hebrews tells us he endured because of the “joy set before him” – the joy of saving broken humans.

“I’m doing this for Peter though he argued that this wasn’t going to happen. He denied me multiple times last night, but I love him and want him to be with me forever.”

“I’m doing this for Thomas, too, even though he won’t understand right away. What amazing things he will do for my kingdom.”

“Oh, I’m doing this for Mary, whose heart is breaking right now. I can’t wait to let her know the rest of the story.”

It brought him joy to think about those he loved and about those who would come to know him in the centuries after his death and resurrection. Maybe my name came to his mind. Or yours.

We’ll never fully understand what Jesus did for us or why he was willing to do it. But it seems he had such great love for those who would believe that he wouldn’t quit. That’s who he is. He still doesn’t give up. He supports us in our struggle, encourages our faith, responds to our prayers, and stays with us no matter what. And that gives him joy.

“. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

Sing me a song.

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Martin Luther

Does your church sing praise songs? Probably. Hymns? Those, too, I imagine. I have some favorites such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” I would think that, by now, you’re thinking of your favorites, too.

But, there are times when I am going through my day and I just want to sing a song to Jesus. Sometimes I choose the standard fare from church, but there are other times when only a good old-fashioned love song will do. Here’s one I’m singing to him lately:

“This is where I want to be, here with you so close to me –
until the final flicker of life’s ember.”
*

It says so much: I like having him close. I want to stay in that space where I can sense his presence until the day I die.

Then there I times that I imagine he sings to me, too – maybe something like this one:

“Call me, don’t be afraid you can call me. Maybe it’s late, but just call me.
Call me and I’ll be around.
“**

A friend confided recently, “Sometimes I sing him songs – and not always the ones I Iearn in church.” I found out there was someone who showed love to Jesus in the same way I do. How about you? He might like to hear a love song from you right now!

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
– Psalm 13:5-6

*From “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees

**From “Call Me,” written by Aretha Franklin

How’s your love life?

“The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love.” – Henry Drummond

I had a pastor years ago who said that, when we stand before God, he will have one question, “How was your love life?” I still think about that because I believe he was right.

Loving is good, but we have to be very careful where we direct our love. Read this ” . . . in the last days people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (from 2 Timothy 3:1-4). Paul is describing people who are good lovers, but they are loving the wrong things! He mentions three areas:

Self: We should value our lives, appreciate the unique way God has made us, and live with confidence. But we go wrong when our focus is on ourselves, what we want, where we are going.

Money: We have to have money to live, but when money becomes our primary focus, not for survival, but for prestige, affluence, or luxury, it’s a dangerous love.

Pleasure: We work hard and we get stressed. So, there are times when we should throttle back and enjoy the good things life offers. That’s great, but only if we are not living just for pleasure – the next thrill or trip or indulgence.

Jesus told us where our love should be directed: Toward God and toward others. We will never do it perfectly, but when that is our goal, God will give us contentment, confidence, and joy – and when we stand before God, he will be pleased that we loved wisely and well.


“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

Practice on Humans

“. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20b)

We can’t see God. Or sit across the table with him. Yet we are told that the greatest commandment is to love him and the second is to love our neighbors. I wonder if it has to be in that order.

Praying about loving God one morning, a thought came that I believe was from him: “Practice on humans.”

Maybe it is easier to love someone we can look in the eye, or touch, or hear. And maybe loving humans better will help us love God better, too.

We can start with those who are easy to love – babies and small children. Right? Then other family members, people at work or in the neighborhood. The next step is when God asks us to love someone who is dirty, angry, clingy, selfish, or arrogant. We start with those we can love easily, and then God moves us on to bigger love challenges. When we accept those challenges, allowing God’s love to flow through us, we become better lovers and, as we do, we find our love for God and love for human beings are closely intertwined.

Mother Teresa was ministering to lepers one day when a visiting American businessman saw her put her arms around a sick and very dirty man. Cringing, the American visitor commented to the person with him, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.”

Overhearing him, Mother Teresa responded, “Neither would I. But I would do it to show him the love of Jesus.” She had mastered the love lessons. Let’s find someone to love today!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

Be good news!

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

I recently was reading a book by Richard Foster and came across this statement, “We cannot preach the good news and be the bad news.” I had to think about that. Have I ever been a “bad news” Christian? Judgmental, critical, dissatisfied, unaccepting, arrogant, stingy, or uncompassionate? Yeah. Probably. Sometimes.

I think you will agree there’s a lot of bad news in the world today. It’s easy to find it and to react to it. But, if we have a relationship with the eternal God and his Son who is the redeemer and ruler of this world, that bad news should not make us into bad news Christians. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be able to rise above the rhetoric of the day and be the most gentle, wise, loving, stable, compassionate, honest, confident, humble, and generous people on the planet.

Jesus commissioned his followers to share the news of his life, death, and resurrection and of his promise of new and eternal life to all who would believe and follow him. We are told to go into all the world to share this message and to invite people everywhere into relationship with the God of creation. That’s the best news anyone could hear. Few will listen, though, if we’re reflecting more of the bad news in our world than the good news Jesus told us to share.

We all want the same things, don’t we? To be loved, listened to, understood, and accepted. And that’s what Jesus did for the people around him. Maybe to share the good news, we first have to be the good news, just as he was.

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Just come.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” – Matthew 11:25

When we approach God as little children, we don’t have to worry about what we look like, how we feel, or whether we’re worthy. We just come – hopeful and open and a little scared. And then. . . we are welcomed enthusiastically into his embrace just as Jesus welcomed children when he lived on earth.

What happens when we are accepted flaws and all? We keep going back to people like that because we feel comfortable with them. That’s definitely true in our relationship with God. It takes only one soul-electrifying connection with his great loving heart and we are addicted. We’ll do anything to get that feeling again and again until it sinks in: He really loves us. Just. As. We. Are.

In the family of God, we don’t remain children. We keep returning to his presence, knowing we will never be turned away. And the more we hang out with him, the more we change. We grow up in God’s family much as we see our children grow up in ours.

But to mature spiritually, we have to maintain the attitude of a little child, remembering each day to be humble, teachable, not trying to take control, accepting what comes, trusting our Father, and treating those who come across our paths with joy, curiosity, and welcome. Little children know how to do that. Most of us grown-ups need to learn it.

“Christ wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” – C. S. Lewis

Am I the answer?

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” – Job 6:14

Most of the time, we don’t know what’s on another person’s prayer list, do we? Sometime they share their burdens with us. More often, they are silent about what keeps them awake at night. We might not even know they need help.

But God does. He knows, as well, our relationship to this person, and it just may be that he wants to use us to answer a prayer request we aren’t even aware of. So what do we do?

First, as friends, we should learn to listen with sensitivity and to observe behavior. Often a person in need will give clues to what he cannot seem to verbalize, but we have to be aware and watchful. The Spirit will often reveal what we would not see on our own.

Then we can come in a little closer and try to help – sharing from our resources, offering our skills, giving biblical counsel, and standing alongside until our friend’s burden gets lighter. If we are willing, we can make a difference – one act of kindness at a time.

We usually aren’t called to solve other people’s problems, but we are called to respond in whatever way the Spirit shows us until they, with God’s help, can solve their own.

We may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. That, dear friends, is one of the greatest joys of the Christian life. Serving God. Loving others. Sensing God’s affirmation. And being reminded of Jesus’ own words, “. . .It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b).

None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that? – Max Lucado