A man's spiritual health is directly proportional to his love for God.
Whoa. Quote of the Week, hello!
The new book I grabbed this week turned out to be The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, and though I've only just reached chapter 3 I'm hooked (well, I was hooked since I read the Narnia series; I knew I was going to love this guy, regardless of what else he had written. But this is another, equally amazing side of C.S. Lewis, which I'm gradually discovering, and am excited to discover...)
This book is going to be fascinating. I'm constantly amazed at how Lewis can present such powerful insight so simply, so effortlessly. And it's not dry either. His quiet humor and grace peeps through every sentence; it's like a personal, even informal conversation (with an amazing person, of course!)
At any rate. The Four Loves is a fascinating discussion of love which I couldn't possibly condense here without ruining the effect of the book as a whole (and I wouldn't want to.)
But that line in chapter one really made an impression on me--not because I didn't know it before but because sometimes you need to be reminded of a truth, as simply as possible.
And Lewis put it so simply.
We'd all like to grow spiritually. But other than a hazy idea of having to spend more time reading our Bibles and squeezing another minute of prayer time into our schedule, or perhaps making it to a few more prayer meetings or taking better sermon notes--and other ideas which are vaguely unpleasant to our flesh--how?
These methods in themselves are not what actually make us grow spiritually, as we tend to think. Rather, they are means to help us grow in our love for God--and not the only means, either.
It's so much simpler than we think it is. Stop worrying about how much is enough, or how little you can get away with. Focus on actively taking care of, and growing, our love for God.
We should see our devotions and sermon notes not so much as a duty we'd better do to keep ourselves floating spiritually, but as opportunities to grow in our love for God. Spiritual growth follows naturally when love for God flourishes. This way, we stop seeing them as things to be done--boxes to be ticked--procedures whose end results are spiritual growth as long as we can survive the process. We won't be rushing through them, or getting a false sense of pride and security just because we ticked that box seven days running.
Gradually, we'll learn to treasure and enjoy them as the times we get to learn about God, think more about Him. Talk to Him more. Be awed by Him. And inevitably, to love Him more.
Reading the book of Isaiah has been an emotional journey--rather like listening to the beautiful music of an epic movie's soundtrack (by epic movie I mean something akin to Lord of the Rings or Narnia.) One moment unbearably, agonizing sad and heart-rendingly hopeless. The next, gloriously beautiful, gloriously joyful; like the first strains of major chords in the movie's climatic battle scene, where all seems lost and hopelessly dark until the first white crest of reinforcements come surging over the hill like the break of day.
It is such a contrast, the bleak extremity of man's sin and depravity, of how far he has distanced himself from God--and then the seemingly impossible, their reconciliation. The second chance. The redemption.
Isaiah 54 was one of those glorious, redemptive chapters where God calls His alienated people to repent, return, to all the goodness they had originally rejected. We see God's mercy despite having seen man's sin.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion. I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
9 “To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken,
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
God promises us so much. Security. Forgiveness. Fruitfulness. Joy. Comfort.
And we know that God will keep His promise, because He couldn't be God if He didn't.
17b "...This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord."
But there's another guarantee we have (thank you Search the Scriptures for this thought!)
These blessings are the heritage of His servants, His 'vindication'; something rightful, to be claimed, even.
And we know that we can claim to be His servants, claim these blessings--
--because Christ died to make us so.
Not because we keep ourselves from sinning (we can't.)
Not because we do all the right things (we don't.)
Not because of our own merit (we don't have any.)
Because of Christ.
And that's our guarantee--an infallible, absolutely secure guarantee--to the promise of God.
Everyone has people in their lives who are harder to love, harder to enjoy being with, than others. We have plenty of reasons to pull out and defend ourselves; she's hard to talk with, he's anti-social, she never returns things, he's always borrowing money, she gossips, he has bad breath. She always makes the conversation revolve around herself. He tells lame jokes and expects everyone to find them hilarious. She always exaggerates. He keeps asking you to do things for him. She's just 'uncool'...
At prayer meetings, people problems make up a sizable share of prayer requests. Difficult colleagues/employers/employees. Friends who don't actually behave as friends should. Bullies, enemies, siblings (it's sad to have to put all three in the same category, but they're often more similar than they should be.) Cliques.
Sometimes the reasons are legitimately bad habits; sometimes they're simply challenges to our comfort zone which we're too comfortably selfish to meet. Left to ourselves, we love with the world's love: when it contributes to loving ourselves.
Which is exactly the opposite of how Christ loved us. He loved us not because we were at all lovable, but because He was love, and He knew we needed Him.
Just take a look at the graphic above. If you want to be really analytic and impressive you can elaborate on how the heart, as the symbol of love, also represents the intrinsic link to SELF that our human love has. The heart, after all, is the center of Yourself, is 'You' in a complete, emotional sense that your brain isn't. We love, as flawed humans, with our hearts. With ourselves still very much involved.
Much as we use the term love today. We love a certain tool or object because it's so handy to use, or a certain food because it makes us so happy, or a picture because it's beautiful--or an outfit/hairstyle because it makes us look beautiful. All because it reflects or gives gratification of a sort to ourselves, or has a reason to make us love it. And we measure people and relationships, unconsciously, with the same ruler.
But Christ's love transcended our puny human definitions of love in a totally unimaginable and truly awesome way. In stark contrast to the symbolism of the heart, the cross symbolizes the sacrifice of Self, the death of Self. Christ's love is a whole new powerful, glorious definition of Love that our own human love can only feebly reflect some aspects of.
When God enables us to stop seeing people as a means of meeting our own emotional needs/gratifying ourselves, we are enabled to truly love them, the way Christ loved us.
Without the taint of self.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are