Goals for Love

pureloveblogBut the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

In order to love, and as a result of love, we need to foster a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. That means living an intentional, authentic life of pursuit. It takes effort, which we often set aside, because it’s easier to respond in a way that’s more about what’s comfortable instead of what’s commanded.

That might not be our intention, but we can rationalize a lot, even what we say is and isn’t intended by God’s Word. If we want to support just about any point or perspective with Scripture, we can isolate a verse or two and do so. We can stay in our comfort zones and feel good doing so because “God says so.” But does He, really?

Do you really know what He’s commanding of you today? Not what He’s commanding of someone else. We can all spout off dozens of verses that condemn someone else, but what about you? How does He want you to move today? It could seem like a very small change or an enormous change, but when guided by God, we can be certain that all change is significant and essential for our spiritual growth.

We can’t always “figure out” Scripture. We’ve tried to comprehensively search it, pulling together all the possibilities and coming to a succinct conclusion. God reveals himself through Scripture. We seek; He provides. But He’s not a gumball machine. We don’t put in a certain amount of time, the right question, or an impatient demand and get a magical response just the way we want it. Sometimes we need to wrestle through something as part of the process. Sometimes we need to actively pursue and be patient as part of the process. God will never let us down or leave us. Yet we give up and move on to something or someone else.

Here are a few reminders of how to seek and know God’s Word.

Preparation. God plants and tends seeds we’ll need later. We might not know how we’re going to apply a lesson or even if we’re going to apply a lesson. One lesson builds on another in imperceptible ways until they collide with an experience. We might not recall all the details of the lessons, but we have a moment of recollection, as if we’ve been here before. God leaves a trail of breadcrumbs, and we know He has been purposefully walking alongside us on the path leading to where we are.

Conviction. God provides the truth we need at the moment we need it. Sometimes it feels like a cold cup of water thrown in our faces, like a wake-up call to jolt us from a spiritual slumber. Other times, it feels like a gentle nudge or an “atta-girl” encouragement. Either way, God lines up His truth with our perspective and reveals the difference and similarity. He superimposes His reality onto us, and challenges us to yield everything of ourselves into His presence. He has a better vantage point and shares a glimpse with us.

Correction. God reveals the truthfulness of past situations. He connects the fruit of our lives to our growth process, including how we responded to His instruction along the way. We might not have given much consideration when we ignored a gentle prodding or bold teaching, but when He draws the connections along the process, we learn about God’s desires and provision, as well as our obedience. Correction applies to the lessons of when we responded well, too. We often learn lessons more about God’s mercy and grace than any effort we could ever extend. When we trust God to shed His light on our pasts, we can believe what He sees in the past over what we’ve concluded on our own.

Dear God, I love Your Word. Thank You for knowing and guiding the plan and purpose for my life. I can get so caught up in my own goals, even when I think they’re consistent with Yours, that I lose sight and focus on You. Challenge me, and show me where I’m getting off track. I want my steps to follow Yours and only Yours. I trust You to guide me.

Direction of Love

pureloveblogMay the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

God directs us. He leads us. He pursues us. And He walks with us just where we are. He is with us, around us, ahead of us, within us, which is such an amazing reassurance. Yet we aren’t quite content. We are so thankful God directs our hearts into His love, but we get anxious to get to where we’re going and might miss out on where we are.

It’s like anticipating something just around the corner but not really knowing where the corner is. Is the corner three steps ahead or three miles? Life isn’t built in neatly uniformed city blocks. We don’t know if we’ll be rounding a corner in the next few seconds or next few months. There’s uncertainty and transitions in life.

When we’re in places or moments of uncertainty and transition, we can ask God to at least let us know when we’ll be at the “next place”—when will we move beyond the financial crisis, when will we finally get the job we want, when will the pain stop, when will we get to see the purpose in all of this. We want to know where the corner is. Well, unless it’s going to be a couple months or years or not in this lifetime, because we don’t want to know we’ll have to wait that long. But what kind of obedience is that?

When we think of God directing our hearts, we’re comforted by God’s perfect will and plan, but we can slip into a distorted belief that supposes the path will be straight by our standards. God’s will and plan are perfect, but we’re not. And our world is not. We look for a final goal and thank God for the steps along the way that we can understand and fit into the path logically, but we don’t have the view that God has. We get frustrated with not being where we want to be in the timing we prefer.

If we trust God is who He says He is and does and can do what He says He can do, we need to mature beyond only wanting to know that things will work out along the journey and preferring to leave out all the sticky details. If we live in obedience and faith, we yield as God works in us.

What a relief. We don’t have to figure it out. We can fully experience our walk to the corner. After all, if we stay on the sidewalk, we’ll come to a corner, however far away it is. And along the way…

We might stop to visit with a friend at an outside cafe.

We might help someone who spilled her purse contents all over the sidewalk.

We might listen to the street musician, who is talented enough to play in a concert hall.

We might pry the gum off our shoe.

We might be startled by the sudden honk of a passing car.

We might lift our face to feel the warmth of the sun.

We might get preoccupied with the bee buzzing around the flowers.

We might hear bits and pieces of passing conversations and wonder at the diversity of people.

We might see a couple walking hand in hand and appreciate the simple joy of relationships.

We might feel the achiness of our muscles.

We can appreciate the ability to continue walking.

When we’re too focused on the corner, we miss a lot along the way. We avoid some messes but many joys as well. We can anticipate the corner but can also savor the journey. We need to keep moving and stay on track; movement is essential to a journey. But we can certainly appreciate the details along the way.

God has a journey planned for you—today. You woke up this morning and started walking. You’ll stop this evening. In the obedience of one today after another, you will reach the corner—not in your timing but in God’s. Letting God direct your life and heart is a more manageable, less stressful, and much more beautiful path than even one step you can take on your own.

Dear God, I want to anticipate all that You have planned for me in the future. There is joy in the anticipation. Yet I don’t want to miss anything along the journey. I get frustrated at times because I really don’t like all the steps along the way. Life is messy. I don’t like the pain. I don’t like the uncertainties. But I know it’s not about what I like. It’s not about what’s comfortable to me. And even those experiences along the way that feel yucky? Yes, I know even those can lead me closer into Your presence. Help me to see You in absolutely everything around me today. I will look for You and trust You and take each step in obedience, one at a time.

The Bond of Love

pureloveblogBeyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:14)

When we come together in the bond of unity, we serve together and we search together. We search because we passionately pursue God. We honor Him with our love by pursing His. And seeking Him, asking questions, is part of the journey of faith.

Questions are good…most of the time. When they lead us to search, discover, and respond, questions can build our faith and build community. However, there are many questions that indicate a lack of clarity that deteriorates community. When uncertainties abound, unity in community erodes. We need to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

We might easily fall into the trap of answering questions such as “What information should be given? When should it be given? How should it be given and by whom?” according to what we most want.

We might want more information, so we fault the person who hasn’t shared it instead of walking up to the person and asking.

We might be comfortable with the information we have, so we don’t really want additional information. It might contradict what we think we know and reveal any misconceptions or false assumptions we have. More information might just make us more uncomfortable.

We might think that by not asking questions, we’re eliminating the questions we have, when we’re actually just letting them stir within us, sometimes in unhealthy ways that stir more confusion. Just because we think we’re the only one impacted by the questions roaming around inside us doesn’t mean what we’re experiencing doesn’t impact others around us.

We might want more information for the wrong reasons. It’s a power thing for us. We don’t need to know, but we certainly feel as if we need to know. It’s our right. We deserve the information. We seem to know what’s best for ourselves and for everyone else. But do we, really?

Questions aren’t just about gathering information. Questions are for clarification. If we’re asking questions in a way that creates more confusion, provides ammunition we can use against others, or digs much deeper than we need to go…if we’re asking questions in our own preference and reasons, we need to pause. We need to replace the questions we were about to ask with one ongoing question:

Am I allowing God to guide me?

In order to gain the clarification we need, we must pursue God. He will give us what we need when we need it. He clarifies what we need when it needs to be clarified because He has a much better perspective than we have. He knows when we need to continue asking questions for clarification because He wants to take us to a better vantage point, revealing Himself to us. He knows when we need to be content in the answers He’s already given us, because He wants us to develop and experience contentedness.

Trusting God for clarification isn’t just about our personal faith; it’s about living in community. People can get stuck with questions. They can get distracted by questions. When questions become the norm, discontentment often follows. I’m not suggesting we stop asking questions. When we build a culture of questions that lead to clarification, when the questions we ask lead to a greater dependence on and faith in God, we are growing together. We’re seeking and finding God together. But when the questions we ask are not united in pursuit of God, we end up dividing our communities instead.

When we ask questions, we need to be respectful of both God and others. Ask what, how, and when God guides. Answer what, how, and when God guides. You will never be more clarifying than when you trust and respond to God in obedience.

Dear God, please strengthen the bond of love between me and You as well as between me and others. I know that the bond of love honors You. I want to grow toward You and in biblical community by growing with Your love and familiarity and knowledge of You. Please guide me in the question I ask of and about You. I know You treasure constructive dialogue. You’re not offended or defensive when I’m seeking You with pure curiosity and a desire to know You more completely. Thank You for my personal relationship with You. I am so thankful that we are not distant.

Knitted Love

pureloveblogFor I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)

When we are knitted together, we share burdens, and our hearts are encouraged. We live life together. Like rooftop friends we get to know in Luke:5:17-20.

One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

Do you have friends like the paralyzed man?

They went to a lot of trouble. Not only were they working together to carry him on a mat (instead of one or two people scooping him up) but they weren’t easily deterred. They were persistent in getting to Jesus. When they couldn’t push through the crowd, they looked for another access point: the roof. It wouldn’t have been an easy task to get a man on a mat onto and through the roof, but they worked together and got it done.

This man could do nothing to help. He couldn’t make himself weigh less. He couldn’t limp along, sharing only part of his weight. If they had put him down, he couldn’t have proceeded unassisted. He was dependent on his friends.

Jesus noticed “their faith.” He saw compassion in their little community. He noticed mercy in their relationship. He knew that it came from a faith in Him so intense that they weren’t willing to stop. They pursued Him even if it meant going through the roof to reach Him.

We’re often willing to be the kind of friend who does the lifting. We’re willing to help. We’ll sacrifice for others. But are we willing to sacrifice our pride to accept the same kind of help? Are we fostering relationships that invite us to humility, accepting and trusting the sacrificial help of others?

Friends come and go through seasons of our lives, so sometimes we’re in the process of letting go of friendships while we’re in the early phase of planting seeds in other friendships. But we should always be cultivating. We might not know who is going to be in the group of rooftop friends when we need them, but we always need to be intentional in not only investing in others but also letting them invest in us.

Dear God, thank You for my rooftop friends! I know I don’t rely on people as often as I should. I am usually more than willing and ready to help others. I find it to be a joy and honor to serve, but I don’t give others that same joy. I’m sorry. I know that I not only rob other people of the joy but also rob You of the joy. You have knit us together in love to encourage us and to know You better. But we need to yield. We need to let You guide every step of the way. Please forgive me and continue to challenge me to trust Your provision of community in my life.

Love and Joy

pureloveblogTherefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2)

Joy is a firm confidence that all is well regardless of the circumstances. God is the source of joy, and God is the object of joy. We’re joyful because God is who he says he is, and that means we can trust him, fully relying on his guidance and provision through any circumstance. Our joy isn’t circumstantial, because our faith isn’t circumstantial. We’re joyful because of God but also with God. As we live close to God, we experience life with the glimpse of his perspective. Because God has the big picture, we can trust there is always hope, and if nothing else, we can find joy in hope.

We can always find joy in love. The two are inextricably woven together. Just as God is the source and object of joy, He is the source and object of love. In today’s verses, the focus of love and joy is on unity. God says that as we remain united in His love, we have complete joy. Remember joy isn’t simple happiness or pleasure; it’s deep-seated. It’s confidence. Unity in God’s love, which is also unity in God’s Spirit and purpose, stirs joy, and it bubbles up, fills, and overflows around us. We don’t maintain unity in love for ourselves. We do so to honor God. In the process, we share in His joy.

Consider some of the words included in these verses: encouragement, consolation, fellowship, affection, compassion. Do these words characterize Christian community? Is everyone who you know to claim to be a follower of Christ living in and with all of these characteristics? Is the Christian community as a whole characterized by these things?

Of course, we want to be able to give a resounding, “Yes!” But it’s not the truth. Sometimes we have a skewed view of unity. We think it means we have to look and be the same. We get unity confused with uniformity. God created us as individuals, and He fosters personal relationships with each of us. We are different, yet united.

In our unity, we celebrate our differences. With our differences, we strive toward unity. We don’t need to respect others’ differences just because they’re different. Instead, we respect people because they’re created by God. We don’t have to accept every difference, because not every difference is God-given. We measure each difference with God’s guidelines, then respond with His love, which includes encouragement and compassion as well as discipline and accountability.

The same applies to similarities. We might connect with somebody who is similar to us, but what if we’re similar in ways that aren’t God-honoring? Unity includes a willingness to extend and accept encouragement, compassion, discipline, and accountability. Unity involves trusting God enough to let Him work through others in our lives—using His standards—not mine, a friend’s, or society’s.

It takes effort to confront along the path toward unity. It takes effort to understand someone’s perspective and extend compassion. It takes effort to accept and offer forgiveness. It’s easy to find turmoil and dissension. The effort toward unity is worth every bead of sweat and minute of time, furthering the gospel and maintaining unity in our relationships. In it, we find complete joy.

Dear God, I know You strive toward unity. You long for unity. You want Your body of believers to wrestle through the messiness of relationships to come out closer to You at the end of each struggle. It’s difficult, but You already know that. I am going nowhere that You do not know or You have not been. I am so thankful for Your insight as well as Your investment. You care. You want me—and others—to experience Your complete joy. I commit myself to coming together with others in Your name to love You and others and to honor You with our pursuit of unity in community.

Abounding Love

pureloveblogAnd this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9)

Abounding love is embedded into real knowledge and discernment. Knowledge and discernment create the environment that fosters abounding love. Knowledge is both intellectual and experiential. Discernment is moral sensitivity, based in God’s standards of morality. When we abound in love that is enriched by knowledge and discernment, we experience what matters. We experience life as God intends. When we abound in love, we overflow with love.

Every time I consider abounding love, I remember a visual example used through Outflow by Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping:

“Imagine your life as a fountain—the old-fashioned, four-tiered kind of fountain. God is the source and your heart is the first level of that fountain. God is pouring his blessings into your life—filling you to the brim with his love, hope, and love. Then the moment comes when you are so full that you can’t possibly contain it anymore. Maybe it’s a drip at first—a small bit of hope trickling from your life into someone else’s—but it isn’t long before the water is flowing freely and spilling into the next level of the fountain, and then the next, and the next. God’s love unabated—overflowing from you into the lives of your family, friends, neighbors, community, and the world.”

The care of that center tube of the fountain is critical for good water flow. It’s what carries the water to the top of the fountain and begins to fill it. Without water in the top, no water will overflow onto the tiers below. Likewise, God’s love will not abound in and through us—overflowing into those around us—unless we take care of our relationship with Him. We must pay attention and give intention to the upkeep of our communication. We need to make sure nothing clogs the primary water source. It’s central to our lives.

In order to be vessels for God, we must be willing to be filled. Once we’re filled, we don’t shut off the water main valve. We don’t get filled and say, “That’s enough! I don’t want to waste any!” We waste God’s love when we don’t let it flow through us. We have a constant supply, so we don’t have to worry about running out…unless we turn off the valve and refuse to receive it or give it. If we let it sit for too long because we want to savor it or are frightened it will run out, it will stagnate. God’s love is alive. It remains alive by flowing through others. When it stagnates, it’s becomes tainted or freezes.

From the perspective from the top tier, you can’t really see the totality of the tiers below you. You don’t know for sure what’s happening beyond your tier. It’s the same with God’s love. You don’t control it. You yield to it. You let God make the impact and decide where every drop goes.

There’s a beautiful fountain in an old town square that I walk by every now and then. One day I walked within a few feet of the fountain, and a gust of wind carried a spray of water and showered me. I smiled, thankful that God can use His love beyond the limits of where we expect. He’s got it all under His control. We are simply His vessels.

 

Dear God, I am your vessel. I am not the source of love; You are. Help me to stay vigilant in the care of our relationship so that You can use me well. I want to strive to be sincere and blameless in my faith journey with You.

Incorruptible Love

pureloveblogGrace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love. (Ephesians 6:24)

We need to love Jesus with incorruptible love—love that is strong, vibrant, hopeful, undying, and life-altering. We’re going to love something with that kind of passion and strength, because we were created to love. God is love, and we’re created in His image, so that pursuit of love is in us. But if we love anything other than God Himself, the love is corruptible. We can actually even love God with corruptible love by skewing the truthfulness of His love when we return it to Him. But at least living His love gives us the potential to love with an incorruptible love.

Whatever we love most sets the trajectory of our lives. We glorify what we love most. We treasure what we love most. Whatever we love most gets the primary focus and goals.

Is it money? Then you’ll focus on decisions that impact how much money you make and what you can do with it.

Is it children? Then you’ll focus on decisions that determine best education, environment, provisions, activities, etc.

Is it career? Then you’ll focus on decisions that lead to the most success, experience, and position.

Is it pleasure? Then you’ll focus on the entertainment and personal enjoyment value of everything you do.

Is it comfort? Then you’ll focus on decisions that minimize risk.

These things aren’t bad things, but they don’t deserve your incorruptible love. That kind of love is reserved for God and God alone. Skewed focus leads to skewed outcomes.

So what can you do if you uncover a misguided weight of love? You can blame whatever it is that you’re trying so hard to love. It’s not measuring up. The results aren’t what you expected. But blaming isn’t going to help. After all, you shouldn’t be surprised. Just because you’re displacing love doesn’t mean God is going to honor your selfish desire to shift it from Him.

Or you can blame yourself. But self-loathing and shame aren’t going to be productive. You’re never beyond the reach of God’s love and correction. You could widen the circle of blame to include the world. “The world is against me this week.” “Do you know what’s wrong with the world?” (Fill in the answer: economics, liberalism, conservatism, world leaders, sports, men, women, and so on.) But you’ll end up cynical and empty.

Or you can reorient and reprioritize your life toward God. We need to be fully yielded and surrendered to God. Only He is intended to be the primary object of our love. Only His love is incorruptible. That means, only in our relationship with Him can we actually live out incorruptible love authentically. Why try anything or anyone else?

Dear God, convict me of any area of my life in which I’m not loving well. I want You to be my priority. I know that doesn’t mean ignoring everything else in my life. That’s not Your will. But I don’t want to mis-assign value that is only intended for You. Encourage and challenge me through every situation and relationship today.