Loving from a Heart Bigger Than Mine
Acts 16:9-15, Acts 16:9-15, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29, John 5:1-9
I had a hard time with this group of readings, deciding which text to write about, which one to allow to speak to us about the Father’s voice. As with the first reflection, there is such a wealth here. I could write for days on the way that He speaks peace into our hearts, “Peace I give to you, my own peace I leave with you.” Or I could write on the way His voice reassures, “I am going away, but I am coming to you again” or the promise of the Comforter. Or I could use the other reading from John that is offered in the selected readings, about the man from the pool of Beth-saida, and Jesus’ words to him. His question, “Do you desire to be healed?” (Never a given with us human beings…) or his command “Get up, take your mat, and walk.”
Such riches! But I am finally drawn to the opening of the first Gospel text for this day, and to Jesus, speaking in utter identity with His Father, His will so dissolved in the Father’s that there is no longer any purpose in asking who is speaking. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.”
We are prone to read this text sequentially, causally, as though it were describing a series of events. “If you do this, then you will do this, and if you do that, then the Father will do this, and then we’ll do this other thing…” Understandable, this way of reading. It’s the way we live the rest of our lives. It is the way the World works, the very same World that Jesus has overcome (John 16:33). But this is not the truth that Jesus seeks to convey. He is talking about a timeless reality, one that is most nearly understood by our notion of “simultaneity.” It is as though all these things happened at the same time, in the same moment, though for the Father this is a ridiculous statement, as every moment is bound up in His eternal now, His eternal “present.”
Still, we are bound in this world by our notions of time, and so we will try to read this sentence as though it were about things that all happen at once. These are all events that are both beyond our ability to cause them, and yet they are realities into which the Father longs to draw us!
“If anyone loves me…”
I can’t help but hear some caricature of motherhood beginning her harangue with this sentence… “If you loved me you would…” The “guilt-trip” is already in motion! But this “if” is not one that communicates guilt or shame, or praise either for that matter. It is a simple statement of fact. “These are the realities for folks when they love me…” You aren’t able to love Him unless he causes it. And so you aren’t able to do any of the other things, either! Oh, you may be fond of the idea of Him. You may be grateful for some of the things He’s done. You may even think you love Him, but unless you receive His infusion of love you don’t love Him in Himself. You may love His attributes, His actions, but not Him.
But when (which is actually a better translation of the Greek ean here than “if”), by virtue of His indwelling Spirit, we do love Him, then a lot of other things happen too.
First, we “keep His word.” One more time, this is not some test of love by means of a new measuring stick, “keeping His word.” Instead, it is a description of the way that loving Jesus and having His Word penetrate every fiber of our beings all runs together. We may or may not succeed in living up to His hopes for us as revealed by that Word, but the Word dwells in us, we “keep” it. This is another description of “hearing His voice.” This voice that speaks new possibilities into our lives becomes our own, something, someone who keeps us as we keep Him. Hearing His voice can be seen both as the cause and result of “hearing His voice.” (That’s the kind of confusion that comes with trying to fit God’s working into a timeline!)
In addition (I first typed “next” and had to delete it!) the Father loves us. When we love Jesus, we discover (not cause) the Father’s overwhelming love. When we hear the Father’s voice it speaks not only the Word, but love into our hearts. All the rejection that we have known in our lives is swept away before the tidal wave of an irresistible love. This love releases power in us. It releases comfort in us. It releases patience, all the fruits of the Spirit.
And best-but-not-really-last is that the Father and the Son come and make their home in us. Whatever identity I thought I had before Jesus took up residence in my heart means nothing to me any longer. I count it all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. I am most myself when He inhabits me, when my love and worship make enough space in me for Him to dwell.
All this as a way of understanding “Hearing His Voice.”
But before I close let me address one terrible, joyful question. If we are unable to love the Father on our own, if we can only truly love him with love that He’s first given to us, how do we set all this in motion? This is a good question, because many have spent lifetimes trying to love Jesus in a way that caused them to “keep his word” (in terms of obedience). They were better people than I am, I’m sure, and yet they all, without exception, failed. So, what do you and I do that they didn’t?
Ask the Father to give you this love, if you want these things to blossom in your life. Just ask, that’s all.
“Heavenly Father, I want to love You, but I don’t know how. I’ve tried, but my efforts all end in failure. Still, I want to know you, dwelling in my heart. I want to love You in the power of the Spirit, and I’ve finally come to the place where I realize that I can’t do this on my own. Please, take this broken heart, and restore it as you fill it with love for You, love that heals, love the reveals, love that comes to stay. In Jesus Name. Amen.”
This week’s thought on Hearing His Voice is one of many that will draw our attention to the primacy of worship. We will often find that “hearing His voice” either flows from or leads into worship. (Or both!) “If you love me…”
Does your time given to God lead you into the bridal chamber, as the Bridegroom ravishes your soul with His eyes of love? Does your time with Him leave you breathless with desire for His presence?
Is your time in the Word a time spent searching the streets for the lover who has left you? or is it time spent figuring out how to “keep” His commandments?
I test my life against that Word, to see how well I’m loving Him, but when I realize that I’ve drifted, I don’t try to fix the behavior, I go in search of Him. When I love Him, keeping His Word becomes almost second nature. No. Better than that. When I am loving Him, I have a different, new nature.
This goes for my time in daily devotion as well as my time in church. It kills me to see how often we settle for a lecture rather than a love song when we gather for worship.
Today, take a few moments to remember what it is to be totally, crazily in love. Then, remembering that we cannot just love Him apart from His own self-revelation, pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, even when I don’t “know” it, I choose to believe that my heart was shaped to love You and Your Son. When I am satisfied, make me hungry. When I am hungry, give me hope and courage to seek You. When I seek You, let me find my heart’s only true desire, and let me worship.
In Jesus’ Name,
Jesus tells us in this week’s Scripture that, “If we love Him, we will keep His Word.” A few verses earlier, He says much the same thing. If we love Him, we will keep His commandments.
Once we break this statement out of the human (Paul uses the word “flesh” to describe this broken way of being) habit of seeing things sequentially, it begins to become clear that Jesus is describing what our lives look like when we love Him. We don’t decide to do things a certain way because we love Him, we discover that it is now our (renewed) nature to do things in a certain way because we love Him. His “commands” then become means by which we monitor not our obedience, but our love.
When my failures to “obey” yield accusation and condemnation, they are no longer serving His purposes. When they serve as sign posts that point me back to the first commandment to love His Father with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, then I am seeing them correctly.
This is perhaps the most difficult difference to accept about life in Christ. I suspect that it remains unfathomable until we see it from the place He holds for us in His heart. Once we do, “obedience” becomes a source of unending joy rather than a task to be accomplished. Each “keeping” of His Word or commandment becomes another tiny but deeply valued gift given back to the One who has given us ourselves.
Today, notice how you approach your decision making. Is it governed by a set of “shoulds” and “oughts” or is it mostly (I doubt anyone ever escapes the “shoulds” entirely on this side of the Kingdom) an act of abundance, flowing from a spring that seems to well up from your very center? Once you’ve noticed a pattern, pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I want to keep Your Word, but the more I try, the drier it all gets. Help me to turn to You when I discover that Your word and my life aren’t matching up well. Draw me to Yourself, so that I might find myself so rich in You that Your own life flows through my own.
In Jesus’ Name.
This whole “Hearing His Voice” project began with my realization that I was preaching again and again about the impact of His voice on our very existence. As He once spoke Creation into being, I have seen how He also speaks a New Creation into being in me when I hear Him. Today, I’d like to focus on His song. Most of you have heard Zephaniah 3 quoted before: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17)
I know that His voice needn’t be singing to draw me to Him, but I also know that song has a special ability to stir my heart. Can you imagine what His song of celebration over you might sound like? Can you accept that this is indeed what He is doing as you seek Him? Today, listen for His song, and see what happens in your heart as you hear it. Or maybe today what you can do is believe in the song you don’t yet hear. Let your love begin to swell up in response. (We’ll look at the changes this produces soon.) Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I can’t remember the last time someone sang over me. Just the thought that Your song echoes over me now stuns me. Open my ears, Father, to more and more of Your song. Let the resonances shatter all that is brittle in me so that you can make room in my heart for Yourself.
In Jesus’ Name,
When we “fall in love” those things that are precious to our beloved become precious to us. This changes our behavior. We don’t do differently in order to gain some affection or approval but because our own desires have been reshaped or enlarged to include those of the other.
This is the key to what Jesus is speaking about in this week’s Gospel text. If we love Him, we will keep His word, or His commandments.
Not because we love Him and desire His approval, but because His desires become ours. His self-giving nature becomes our own. His forgiving heart takes the place of our bitter one. His children become precious to us because they are ours.
Do you do what you do for Him because it’s what you think He wants? Or because in loving Him you have allowed Him to substitute His heart for yours? Ponder that a bit today, and then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I want to please You, but I am coming to realize that I can’t until I quit trying, and simply seek to love You. Remove as much of the stuff that keeps me from knowing Your heart as I can stand. Make me strong to stand more than I thought I could.
In Jesus’ Name,
Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Really? Do you love the despised one in your neighborhood as yourself? Really?
Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength? Really? You don’t keep a corner back for your spouse? Your child?
I know I don’t do either of those things. I want to, at least I think I do. But I don’t.
I feel no sting in that. Sorrow? Yes. Sting, no. But I look at that reality and I know that I don’t keep His word, His commandments. And so I know I don’t love Him fully.
No sting there, either. Sorrow? Yes, more sorrow, but no sting.
And so I go searching for the Bridegroom of my soul like the Shunammite woman of the Song of Solomon.
On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. Have you seen him whom my soul loves? (Song of Songs, 3:1-3)
In desperation I seek Him whom my soul loves, so that He might teach me how to love Him. And everything else will fall into place.
Take a moment today to ask yourself if you really love Him. If there is still more love to be had, pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I am convicted by Your word, but not accused. I know that I can love You more, and that there can be more room for You to write Your own desires into my heart. Father, I seek You, I thirst for You and Your presence. I don’t know how else to ask.
In Jesus’ Name,
If you’d like easier access to Hearing His Voice than looking it up on a webpage, it is now available as both paperback and Kindle book. (But it will always be free here.)