Love is kind of a gushy word. People use it often, but at the same time not enough. People sing about it, read about it, watch movies about it, and think about it sometimes constantly throughout the day. And yet, love is still hard to understand. Love, when talked about in the romantic context especially, can seem easy, automatic, almost an accident or something we can just “fall” into. But there is a deeper side of love that we also long for in the midst of the other loves we are surrounded by each day. A love that was demonstrated to us by God when he created the earth and everything in it, and then was confirmed as he journeyed with humanity demonstrating his love to the extent of sending Jesus to incarnate that love.
As John describes love in one of his letters to the early church, love is important because it is the way we display who God is in our everyday lives,
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
This sweet little line is important, and many Christians and non-Christians would agree that love is important, but I have found it is easier to talk about the importance of love than to live out that love on a daily basis. The kind of love that John is talking about takes practice.
For example if I told you to just go out and love your husband, or your brother, or your neighbor it might be easy for you to agree with the idea but there are moments when it is very difficult to actually do. It’s easier for me to love myself and do what I want to in the moment and get my point across rather than choose to love someone else. But when I choose to love in that way, where I have directed my love at another person made in God’s image, it makes way for God to use me in that person’s life.
My church here in Zambia does not have a pastor, so people in our community volunteer for everything from music to Sunday school to preaching on a Sunday mornings. A few weeks ago, we invited a mission group that has been here for a couple of weeks to speak in place of the sermon and tell us about what they have been learning through their work here in Zambia. These women are birth attendants, so they go into the large government hospital every day to help out in the labor ward. One of them talked about one day at the hospital where she and a friend visited a woman who was alone in her room and about to give birth. The doctors were already prepared to help the woman give birth, so the women visiting didn’t actually have to do anything, but they stayed with the woman held her hand during delivery. At the end she told the girls that they were her angels and right before they came into the room she was praying for someone just to be with her during the delivery process.
These women came with skills and knowledge that allow them to work in the hospital, but it was in their obedience to love this woman and to see her and to simply be with her that God used them to answer her prayer. Their simple action of practicing love through being present made a difference for that woman and God was given the glory through them.
After these women shared their stories, it freed up the floor for some other women in our community to share about how God had specifically answered prayers through another person. That is amazing. You can be that person; I can be that person. If we truly receive the gift of love that God has first extended to us, it should flow out of us in every aspect of our love.
Adam Hamilton, a mega church pastor, was quoted in a book I was reading, giving a similar instruction to his congregation,
“If 12,000 of us realize that we’re missionaries first and we go out into our workday world every day on mission to bless, to love, to heal, to bring justice, to serve God in the workplace — then we finally begin to do that, I tell you, the world is going to be different.” (The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, pg. 95)
It is not enough to know God’s mission and even to preach God’s mission, we have to practice God’s mission by bringing it to life through our actions in our communities. Look at your schedule, where can you practice extending God’s love today?
Are you going to the grocery store? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?
Are you meeting a friend for coffee? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?
Are you sending a bunch of emails? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?
It makes such a difference for me when I am going throughout my day and I realize my opportunities to practice God’s love. I don’t always do this, and many days I can get stuck in autopilot just making it from one day to the next, but it makes all the difference when I take the time to consider how God can use me, I obey, and trust God with the rest.
Ways for us to practice God’s love are endless. Our world has so many needs, and many of you may have heavy hearts thinking about the people and places in our world crying out for God’s love in their situation. Where are your opportunities today to be that answer? There is so much to do, God’s work is not yet done, but what is the one or two things where he has called you to participate in it today?
Peter Greer sums up this idea well,
“I don’t know why suffering happens, and trite answers are offensive to those suffering. But I do know what happens when people see the pain of others and respond with Christ’s love.” (The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, pg. 132)
Let us respond to our context in Christ’s love today. May we practice it where we have opportunities today. And when you are tempted to sit back and look the other way, pray for Christ to move in you and through you despite of you. Rely on his love when you don’t feel like you have any left of your own. May we open ourselves up to being his hands and feet right where he has placed us today. May Jesus work through us so that the words he read in the temple may again ring true,
“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
…And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
God is fulfilling this scripture today as well, many we pray for our eyes to be opened and for the strength to practice and participate in Christ’s work among us.