Choosing to Love

“If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15

Do you believe in soul mates? Please don’t hate me for this, but I don’t. I promise I don’t hate love. I promise.

There are a few reasons why I am the way that I am about this, but one of the biggest reasons is very simply because I believe it’s a choice to love. To love is to choose to love. Love is not just some bubbly feeling. It’s a choice. Whether it’s a spouse, friend, classmate, or colleague, every day we each have to choose whether or not we will love. For us, the love we show others is not a constant, it’s a choice.

Still with me? Good.

Lately, God has been challenging me to examine my motives for so much of my life. Why do I do the things that I do? What’s leading me to the actions I take? We should ask the same questions of love. If love is a choice, not a feeling, there must be some underlying cause for why you choose to love. What is that underlying cause? What cause is leading me to love (or not to love).

This gets to the heart of what Jesus said in John 14:15. He didn’t say, “if you fear me, keep my commands” or “if you want to impress me, keep my commands”, he said, “if you love me, keep my commands”. What he’s saying is that we should choose to follow his commands because we love him. That makes all the difference. If we’re following Jesus’ commands to impress him, or to earn something from him, we’re missing the point.

I’ve struggled with this a lot in my walk with God. Doing things for God instead of doing things with God. Balancing duty and delight can be like walking a tightrope. Too often I obey God because I think it earns me something. Some special status with him that I get from following his orders. Culture and experience have formed this in us all to varying degrees. Work hard and you’ll earn status, money, value, significance, etc. That’s the American dream, right? Yes, it is. But it’s not the Gospel of the Kingdom. Everything we strive for has already been earned in Jesus and what he has done. Because of this, God’s invitation to us is to live a life of doing things with him, and doing them out of love. Not out of fear, or of pride, or of self-seeking desire.

I’m at the stage of life where many old friends seem to be getting engaged or married. When one of my newly-wed friends does something nice for their spouse, what motivates them to do it? It’s surely not fear. And it can’t be to acquire enough goodwill that their partner agrees to the status of marriage. After all, they’re already married. It must be done out of pure and simple love. There’s no more status to earn, and there’s (hopefully) nothing to fear. So it is with serving and obeying God. God is constantly leading me to reassess the root of my obedience to him. He’s always pruning. He’s always preparing our hearts for more.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Last Christmas break God showed me something key about this whole conversation. I was convinced that revival, awakening, healing, etc., weren’t happening to the degree I expected them to in different areas of the community, because the people of God (including me) didn’t love God enough. I thought that the more we were in love with God, the more we would be moved by love to serve him in the community. I still think that’s true. We certainly can always love God more. But I was missing an extremely important part.  

I thought we should grit our teeth and manufacture love for God that leads to good works. But that won’t get anyone very far. You can’t give away what you don’t have. You can’t run a car on an empty tank. Love for God pulled out of thin air, love that isn’t rooted in something deep and real, is like building a foundation on sand. It won’t hold up. Thankfully, God offers us a better way. Instead of being moved by a self-initiated love for God, instead of our love for God starting with ourselves, God invites us to sit and receive the love that he has for us. He offers that our love for him begin with his love for us.

This too comes back to our underlying motives. By trying to manufacture love for God, we are essentially saying “I love God, because I love God”. By allowing ourselves to receive the love God has for us, to sit in his presence and dwell on his love and goodness, we are answering the “why”. Instead of just saying “we love God”, we can say “we love (God) because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Often I will try to imagine that God is right in front of me when I close my eyes to pray. I imagine that I’m looking right into his eyes. Let’s try it. Close your eyes and imagine that you’re looking at God directly in front of you. Tell him you love him.

Great.

But have you ever tried the opposite? Have you ever closed your eyes to pray and imagined that you’re seeing through God’s eyes as he looks at you? Do you ever see yourself the way that he sees you? I don’t enough. I’m working on it though. Now let’s try this way. Close your eyes and try to see how God sees you praying to him. Try to feel what he feels as he watches you pray. Now tell him you love him. Feel different than before? It does for me.

If we understood how God sees his children, if we understood how God feels for his beloveds, we wouldn’t struggle nearly as much with impure motives and forced love for God. We would be fueled by the affections of the Father.

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As we become convinced of the love of the Father for us, and are moved in love to act, the contrast between duty and delight fades away. No longer is it one or the other. As we grow closer to God and fall farther into the depths of his love, what once felt like duty is now delight. We keep his commands, because we love him. And our love for him is fueled by his love for us.

Author | Jake Stephens

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