Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: Growing in Love
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Oftentimes Jesus spoke with a one liner, “You have heard it said… but I say,” and what he said was refreshingly good news. If you follow a newspaper or some other media source, you will likely have learned to presume that the news will not be good. NPR reported on a study which researched the relationship between being well-informed with the news and being happy. Are people who spend more time and energy getting more news more happy in life? No. It’s largely the opposite, an inverted relationship: the people with more news are more unhappy. Well, I’m not about to suggest we become news Luddites; but I am saying that good news is remarkable, because there’s so much bad news, and that is as true today as it was in Jesus’ own day. Which is why the good news that people heard on Jesus’ lips was compelling… and people voted with their feet. If Jesus had been a political candidate, we could call it an enormous swelling of grassroots’ endorsement. They followed him in hordes.
So here are some good news clips:
- What’s so compellingly good is simply being found by Jesus. Called by Jesus. Included by Jesus. Loved by Jesus. No qualifiers are front-loaded into the relationship. At the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he meets up with four very ordinary people: the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James, and John on the Sea of Galilee. They hear from Jesus a profound invitation in real time. Jesus wants to be a part of their lives, and they his. Now. Not when they get their acts cleaned up, when they get their boats in order, when they get their spiritual disciplines well honed, when they change their disgusting fish-stinking clothes. No. That would be mixed news. Jesus’ compelling invitation is for now and with no conditions. And it’s true for you, too.
There’s no kind of pre-existing condition that you must satisfy before Jesus will call you, include you, make plans with you, love you. Jesus comes to us, like to these simple fishermen, and what Jesus finds in us he adores. We need not change to be loved by Jesus; but being loved by Jesus will change everything. Love makes us real. Love, only love, heals. And what we see and hear in Jesus is God’s love… for you: love without qualification. And that’s amazingly good news.
Jesus’ good news is repeatedly qualified by the word “repent.” The word “repent” has a little sting. And yet the Greek verb “repent” is actually a word of compassionate judgment. To repent is about changing your mind. Whatever you’re thinking, you don’t have it right. You need to repent, to change your mind and believe something new, namely, some good news.[i] You’ve unwittingly embraced bad news. All the bad news you’ve learned to think about yourself – your unworthiness, your hopelessness, your brokenness; how pathetic, inadequate, lost, and damned you are – is absolutely not true about you. Give it up. Change your mind. Jesus’ use of the verb “repent” implies a judgment on us all, but it’s a judgment of love. Jesus is this eternal change agent come among us to convince and enable you to change your mind and open your heart: that you are lovable and loved for all eternity. Jesus has come to personally deliver that good news to you. Not to the person you might think you could have been, or should have been, but the person you are. Who you are, what you are, how you are, why ever it is you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows and God loves. That’s Jesus’ good news for you.
- This is also good news because it’s new; it’s late-breaking news and renewed every day. That Jesus loves you may be old news stored somewhere in the archives of your soul. If pushed, you might say Jesus used to love you, when you were more innocent and less complicated, or that Jesus’ love for you is theoretically true for the most part, or that it’s true with a qualification; however that qualification – something you know about yourself – keeps you from completely embracing the truth of Jesus’ love for you today. Well, this is “the news.” It’s always true and it’s always fresh. Here is the news for you, today, now: Jesus loves you. If you didn’t wake up today with that awareness, I’ve got news for you. Actually, Jesus has news for you, good news. God loves you. Has big plans for you that span all eternity.
In the meantime, where will this good news lead you? Where will Jesus lead you? I wouldn’t know. His invitation to all of us is simply to follow. Your life will unfold one day-at-a-time. That’s pretty much all we can deal with. Just take Jesus at his word: he loves you, and he is with you always.[ii] And between the two of you – Jesus operating and you co-operating – your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength will be infused by Jesus’ light and life and love.[iii] The truth of that good news will absolutely change your life for the better; much better. It will give you strength and meaning for the present, and hope for the future, what you cannot yet see; and it will make a world of difference to you.[iv]
- Your saying “yes” to God’s love for you will make a world of difference to others, too. Saint Paul gives us a wonderful picture of this. He writes, “thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ.”[v] Recall the aroma that simply radiates from baking bread; think of the fragrance that simply exudes from fresh roses. You are the fragrance and aroma of Christ. This is who you are, an emissary of God’s light, and life, and love simply flowing out of you. We have been created in the image of God. God is love.[vi] Let God’s love flow into you and through you. Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek God the greatest adventure; to find God, the greatest human achievement.”[vii] Love living; live loving. Love the life that God has given you, and let God’s love flow through you to others. Let it flow. Let it flow. Let it flow.
- Where love will not naturally exude from you is when you face someone who is unlovable, at least by your It may have to do with their physical appearance, their nationality, their language, their gender, their sexual orientation, their politics, their education, their religious affiliation – whatever it is, you are triggered to notlove them, but rather to exclude or condemn them. Take to heart a kind of baseline understanding towards these people you encounter in life. For example, here’s my own baseline: four personal principles in my viewing others whom I do not love:
- God loves them, and has every desire of sharing eternity with them, as with me.
- They are doing the best they can. They may not have been loved enough in life. They may be acting out the lifescript they were handed. Pray God’s blessing be upon them. (Jesus said, “bless, do not curse.” Cursing someone does not help them change for the better, and it might well change you for the worse.)
- Pray that “the eyes of [your] heart” be enlightened toward them.[viii] What is going on with this person? From what have they come? What are they afraid of? What are they asking for? What do they need? (My own litmus test is whether I find any compassion for this person. If I have no compassion, then I probably do not know enough about them.)
- Pray that “the eyes of [your] heart” be enlightened toward yourself.[ix] My difficulty with someone else might arise because that person is mirroring back to me what I find unacceptable about myself. They help me to see myself more clearly, especially perhaps the places where I need and deserve my own
- And finally, accept that sometimes you still won’t have enough of what it takes to love some of these people whom you would rather banish than love. You are powerless, or at least, you are not powerful enough to pull it off. Saint Paul has a wonderful turn of phrase. He speaks of “God’s power made perfect in our weakness.”[x] When you find yourself powerless to move in the direction of love for someone, rather than despair or condemn yourself, claim this promise of power, God’s power at work in and through your And then watch will happen.
Becoming God’s lover is the conversion of a lifetime. God has all the time in the world for you, in this lifetime and in the next. Ultimately, God will judge us all by love.
You might ask, will God judge us by our love, or will God judge us by God’s love? Hmm. God is the beginning and end of all love. It’s all about God’s love. It’s all God’s love. The founder of my monastic order, the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, was a man named Richard Meux Benson. He said, “We cannot bound into the depths of God at one spring; if we could we would be shattered, not filled. God draws us on.”[xi] You are a work in progress. Practice being filled with love into all eternity.
Here are some questions for your own pondering and prayer. You also may find this meaningful to share in conversation.
- Who taught you about love? What did they do, what did they say? Why was that, for you, an experience of love? In the scriptures, love is written about endlessly. In so many ways, love is described, but it is not defined. You define your experience of love.
- Where do you get in touch with obstacles to love – blocks within yourself toward being loved or lovable; blocks within yourself toward loving others or certain kinds of others? Why the blocks? Bring your awareness into the light.
- What else comes to mind about your growing in love?
I leave you with some words of George Congreve, who became a member of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in the 1870s in England. Father Congreve wrote, “The meaning of all my life is its capacity of receiving the infinite love of God, and of making the best return I can. Love is not only the source of our being, but the substance also.”[xii]
[i] To repent – metάnoia – from the preposition μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think; metάnoia means “a change of mind.” To believe – pisteuō – is to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to place confidence or trust, i.e., confidence in Jesus’ good news for you.
[ii] Matthew 28:20.
[iii] Mark 12:30.
[iv] Saint Paul writes, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25.
[v] 2 Corinthians 2:14-15.
[vi] 1 John 4:7-16.
[vii] Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, modern-day Algeria.
[viii] Ephesians 3:14-21.
[ix] “The eyes of your heart” is a riff on Ephesians 1:18.
[x] Saint Paul heard Jesus say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
[xi] Richard Meux Benson, SSJE (1824-1915) in the Cowley Evangelist, 1918, p. 53.
[xii] George Congreve, SSJE (1835-1918), a graduate of Eton School and Exeter College, Oxford, came to SSJE in Oxford in 1873.
I write quite a lot about the love of God and the brotherly love we must share to live in God’s Grace. The first word you say about Jesus is “But I say.” When we listen with our hearts what Jesus says and learn from HIs teachings, we can only accept all of God’s creation as important and worthy of love and caring. Too often, we tend to celebrate the life of Jesus and not His teachings. His teachings are the basis of love and life for all humanity throughout all the ages of individual lives and the eternal life of our planet. God hears us when we pray in Jesus’s name.
My early lessons of love were of judgement and images of going to hell if I did the wrong thing. I encountered love in helping the disabled volunteering at nursing homes and living in a christian commune and from the individuals who stood with me when my life was turn apart by bipolar depression. The hardest from me is to love myself but your words on God loving us touched me. I just need to accept that love.
I was very fortunate to encounter many different ways of loving in my life. My father and I were kindred spirits. We could communicate without talking, and yet we talked and truly delighted in each whenever we were together. I have greatly missed that communication for 19 years now. My mother communicated her love more covertly. She was not shown an open heart when she was young – only judgement. She provided for me. She provided for her community by being a Civil Rights participant and active in our schools and church. She is still evolving in communicating her love, and I am grateful to have time to learn with her and encourage her on this path. I have had mentors – one in particular helped fill the void that my mother didn’t know how to fill. She was my surrogate mother and her death almost 4 years ago has left a void that echos in my heart today. She was a recovered alcoholic whose faith was unshakeable. Her love and wisdom is soundly in my heart where it will remain until the day I die.
My mother taught me about love, not by what she said, but by what she didn’t say; she didn’t offer many comments or judgments about what was happening. She also taught by quiet actions, by doing kind deeds and not telling anyone about them. Years after she died a friend told me that during high school my mom had given her rides home, which otherwise would have meant a five mile walk. Mom never mentioned it to me. I believe that she knew it was a loving thing to do. Deep in her being, Mom knew that God loves everyone, and from that sprung all her loving actions. I am very grateful for this grace in my life.
Thank you for a message that needs many readings and much thought. There is so much here. This thought especially stands out for me tonight. You write:
“Jesus has come to personally deliver that good news to you. Not to the person you might think you could have been, or should have been, but the person you are. Who you are, what you are, how you are, why ever it is you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows and God loves. ”
As I look back at the “should have done” and “might have done” your words have deep blessing for me. This is indeed Good News.