Love

Gods LoveThe destination of our spiritual journey is maturity, growing into the likeness of Christ. That doesn’t mean that we’re bound to change water into wine…though that might be nice. It means that our naturally self-focused character will increasingly resemble the character of Christ. We’ll experience (and others will see in us) more of what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:21-23). Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But you’ll notice that Paul calls these characteristics “the fruit of the Spirit” and not “the fruit of our effort.” These aren’t qualities that we can readily produce in ourselves, certainly not in a sustainable way. Instead they are the work of the Spirit who changes our heart and mind, revealing more and more of Christ who dwells in us through faith (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:26-27). While spiritual maturity is the work of the Spirit that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work for us to do. That’s where the spiritual disciplines (sometimes called spiritual practices) come into play. Last week I shared the following definition:

A spiritual discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort. [1]

Think about it. We all want to be more loving, don’t we? We all want to feel less bitterness. We all want to feel less reactive toward people who push our buttons. A few weeks ago I got into a conversation with someone who very quickly evoked feelings of anger in me. Unfortunately I let that anger control my response. The conversation didn’t end well and I lived the rest of that day with a sense of failure, a deep sense of guilt and shame. No matter how hard I try I don’t seem able to love people the way that I want. No matter how hard I try, I fail. That’s even true with the people I love the most!

Jesus once said that the two most important commands are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I want to obey those commands, but I can’t. I can’t make myself more loving. Sure, I can fake it, but not for long. St. Paul says it so well, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) Truth is, only the Spirit can change our hard hearts, our self-focused minds and our self-serving actions.

So what can we do? What spiritual practice opens us to the Spirit’s power to bear the fruit of love in us? While there are many, I would recommend dwelling in scripture, especially those sections which remind us of the promise of God’s great love for us. Most of us struggle with feelings of unworthiness. We’re all acquainted with conditional love and so we struggle to allow ourselves to be fully embraced by the central claim of the Gospel – that God loves us, not because we’re good but simply because God chooses to love us. If we don’t really believe that we’re loved and loveable we will find ourselves perpetually unable to truly love others. Let me say that again: those who feel unloved and unlovable find it impossible to truly love others. There is real power in the promise of God’s love, power to transform us and bear the sweet fruit of love in us. We’ll never love perfectly, but by God’s grace and the power of God’s Spirit we can love more.

Ready to get started? Spend time every day dwelling in Ephesians 3:14-21. Read it slowly, pausing often to allow the words to sink into your soul. Dwell in those words so often that you commit them to memory, which allows them to dwell in you. I especially love this prayer in a translation called The New Living Translation:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

The journey of more love in and through you begins and ends with the love of God for you. So practice dwelling in the promise of God’s love for you.

This week’s question: What’s has helped your roots to grow down more deeply into God’s love for you?

 

[1] The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, p. xxxiv, Harper, San Francisco.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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  • Ken Walter

    I pray for anyone else who struggles with that idea of the Spirit manifesting in my heart, what I am unable to do on my own. I believe it starts with being open to the Spirit and that is a spiritual practice that has been recommended to us. This reveals to me how strongly prevalent the ways of this world are in me. Lord God, Holy Spirit, help me to follow your lighted pathway, help me to leave and grieve this worldly path and find the joy of Your way.