Love has become nothing more than a cute word in our day and age. The word is so misused that it has lost its meaning and power to affect us. The pithy quotes about love I saw hanging in homes during our journey was a reminder of the hypocritical uselessness of the concept of love the world has adopted. Love has to go deeper than the saccharine, syrupy quotes that are bandied about. This is sad to see because love, real love, the sacrificial love that costs us everything, is more powerful than all the hate the world can aspire to.
Crying out for love
When Wanda and I had our spiritual renewal in the late 90s, we both began to hunger for Jesus. A desperate yearning rose in my heart that turned into a prayer that God answered. I grew up in a loveless home and spent much of my childhood and youth alone. With no friends, loneliness was my faithful companion. When God stirred my heart again, I cried out to know what love was. There was a song by the band Foreigner that became my prayer. “I want to know what love is. I want you to show me.”
In crying out to know what love was, I was asking to know Him Who is love. My misspent youth did not allow me to know love nor could I show love to others. Like all people God would have to train me in love if I was to be His. The only way I could learn to love would be to submit to His leading and let Him show me. Although I could not love, I could obey. That was enough for God to work with. It is also the first lesson of love I ever learned. “Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way for it is not self-seeking; ” 1 Cor. 13:5.
Obedience to His will is the first step I learned to do in the dance of love. If I was to learn what love is, I had to obey the One who is love.
The lessons of love
The next lesson I had to learn was to deal with my past. Since I had learned to drink harm from others God had to train me how to drink nurture from Him. This was a tough lesson and took many years. Over time God led me through a deep healing process over my past, setting me free.
When I learned to let go, forgive others and was forgiven, I was learning how to love. Despite what others had said and done to me I had to bring everything to Jesus’ cross. There was no act of ‘self’ done by me, or against me, that was greater than His sacrifice. Nothing. When God released me from my past, I found there was no root satan could pull on to pull me away from Jesus. I was no longer in pain in those areas of my life and I did not react as I once did. “Love is not touchy or fretful or resentful; ” 1 Cor. 13:5.
Jesus’ example of love when He was on earth and His constant love towards me kept teaching me how to love.
There is no love in ‘self’
I began to learn that I am not love, He is. I do not have love in me, I can only accept His love and reflect that love to others. It was only in letting Him destroy the ‘self’ in me He could create an ever clearer reflection of His love through me. This required that I continue surrendering my ‘self’ nature to Him.
Here I learned another basic of love, “Love is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. Love is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); ” I Cor. 13:4-5. As Jesus destroyed my pride in ‘self’ He set me free to love. My identity was to be in Him alone and not in anything I could ‘do’ for Him. Pride and love are mutually exclusive.
The journey of love
When Jesus began leading us on our wilderness journey, we had to make some very brutal decisions. Those raw decisions revolved around letting go of many things we held dear. Giving up is never easy, especially when that which you are giving up is precious to you.
We had a stark reality ahead of us and we had to decide if we would give up everything to follow Jesus or not.
It was at these moments of intense spiritual battle where we gained a great victory by letting go of the temporal so we could receive the eternal. After we had given up, Jesus rewarded us with another lesson in love. “Love never is envious nor boils over in jealousy,” I Cor. 13:4. In letting go of stuff we now could receive more of Him and the pull of the things of earth disintegrated. It was a revelation of freedom knowing that we would not have to lust over things as He would provide everything we needed.
Love in pain
As we journeyed in homelessness, we met many who abused us verbally. Their words cut into us deep. I cannot say those words did not hurt for they did, painfully so. Jesus, however, was leading us and we had to look to Him to heal the wounds others inflicted on us. This was a choice of either taking pain to Him and being set free, or holding the pain inside and becoming bitter.
We met many bitter people that thought evil of us and we did not want to be like them. We decided as a family to take our pain to the One who took our pain on His cross. By this act we learned another great lesson of love. “Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person,” 1 Cor. 13:7. We either had to forgive and love those who hated us or be consumed by hatred for them.
We had to learn to reflect Jesus’ love for others, even when they tore us to shreds with their words.
This did not mean we just took the blows smiling, we did not. Sometimes we had to stand up against the vicious attack and stop them but we did so carefully. “Love is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly.” 1 Cor. 13:5. On a rare occasion a person would see what they were doing and repent. It is very rare, but it happens. At these times we celebrated that they were sensitive enough to yield to God’s Spirit. “Love does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.” 1 Cor. 13:6.
There was one final lesson of love that we learned as we walked through many years of hardship, struggle and homelessness. This was the greatest lesson and the hardest to learn. Paul mentions it no less than 5 times in 1 Corinthians 13. The one lesson that only those who give up all and follow Jesus truly learn is the lesson of patient enduring love.
“Love endures long and is patient and kind; Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, Love’s hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and Love endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].” 1 Cor. 13:4,7-8.
This love of Jesus stood with us during our whole wilderness time. In standing with Him we learned to endure through every hardship and not quit. This love goes the distance when you are hungry, tired, cold, wet, alone and miserable. Jesus’ love held us tight when all of hell was unleashed against us. The love of the Father kept us safe during the dark stormy nights.
Jesus’ love endures long and never failed us so we did not quit following Him.
1 Corinthians 13
I have used Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 as a backdrop to describe a little about what we learned of love. Paul’s words have been our plumb line for understanding love for a very long time. His admonition to love is much needed today. There is a warning, however, for those who read our story and think they could repeat such a journey without Jesus’ leading.
In 1 Cor. 13:1-3 Paul states, “If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.”
No enterprise, regardless of how lofty the intent, will succeed if there is no love of God in it. Love is the beginning and the end. Without love there is nothing.
The deep love of Jesus
This love I have talked about here is not the love of the pithy quote or off-hand comment, no, it is the deep, practical, sacrificial love that gives up all for Jesus. This is the love Jesus showed us on the cross when He endured all for us and did not quit. His abiding presence with us is His love. He is the great Son to our reflective moon. We bring Him great joy when we are so aligned to His will that we accurately reflect His love to others on this earth. To gain that goal, you must allow Him to mold and shape you, to remove the dross, the ‘self’ nature in you, so you are pure before Him. Only then will you properly reflect His love to others.