Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ – Matthew 22:37-39
Lately, I have been challenged in this command. What seems like one of the most simple commandments given to us has actually been one of the most difficult for me to carry out genuinely.
It’s hard for me to love others the way I’m commanded to. If I’m being brutally honest, family can sometimes irritate me, friends can let me down, guests at work can try and test my patience, and on the list goes… For the longest time I would wonder how in the world I’m supposed respond with love in both insignificant and and significant circumstances — like when I’m cut-off on the freeway, when my brother doesn’t replace an empty toilet paper roll, or when something I shared in private has been compromised to other ears publicly. I would wonder, “how, Lord? How do I react according to Your Word in circumstances like these? How do I make love my natural response?” Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen God reveal some things about myself to me. I’ve had several convictions / revelations / realizations and they are reshaping the way I love.
1. Realize that I cannot do it by my own strength.
I don’t know about you, but most times I hone-in on something I want to work on, like loving others, I often try to do it by my own, sinful-nature, human ability. When I start, I’m motivated and determined to do better. the first time I’m challenged, I go right back to that unloving, impatient, person. Why is that? I’ve seen that it is because I am trying to do what is unnatural for my sinful-self. Love is not the natural response to hurt. This is why I must lay this struggle down in prayer, and further, I have to turn to prayer when I’m faced with a situation where choosing love is a hard response. When I realize I cannot do it by my own strength, I access the strength that Jesus equips me with when I spend time with him.
2. Recognize that I can be hard to love.
For the most part, I consider myself relatively easy to get along with. But when I take a closer look at myself, and the not-so-publicly-known things about myself, I discover I can very easily be a challenge for those around me to love. For starters, I am incredibly impatient… as in, so impatient, I change lanes about every 20 seconds on the freeway during rush hour according to which lane is moving faster at that given moment… (yeah, its that bad.) I am an awful listener, I talk far too much, and I can’t remember anyone’s birthday to save my life. I’m always late. I can be very selfish and have to make a conscious effort to serve others. I have a short temper, and have a hard time forgiving when I’ve been wronged. When I take a closer look at myself, I realize that I very easily could be that person people have to pray for the ability to love. With all of these flaws, I must be hard to love. When I recognize the love that is lavished on me, it suddenly becomes a lot easier for me to extend that same response.
3. Stop expecting perfection.
This point is such a simple concept but completely changes my way of thinking. I am so often disappointed when someone is impatient with me, is rude to me, isn’t as happy as I want them to be, etc. BUT, sometimes, I am going to be on the receiving end of someone who is having a bad day, a bad week, or is just in a bad place. Not everyone is always going to be as nice and patient as I expect them to be. Heck, a lot of the time, I’m not what I expect others to be. That’s why its important to realize that people are imperfect and will sometimes act imperfectly too. If I can accept that people aren’t perfect, I will be a lot less likely to expect perfection out of others.
4. Equip myself with scripture.
So often, I find myself having a shorter temper, shorter patience, and a lot more sinful reactions when I am not spending time with Jesus on a daily basis. The further away I am from him, the more alone I feel in this journey. The unnatural response of love is just that – NOT natural to my flesh. Spending time in scripture and in solitude, I can surrender these things and ask for God to direct me to specific scriptures that will give me the strength I need. Memorizing these scriptures will come in handy when I feel tempted to choose a reaction that is not love. My prayer is that the more time I spend with Christ, the more I start to look like him. Suddenly, responding to conflict with a Christ-like response, like love, becomes natural. When I spend daily time with the Lord and equip myself with scripture, choosing to love becomes less of a choice and more of a response.
Right now, this lesson of loving others is far from learned. I’m sure as soon as I close my laptop I will be challenged with a situation in which love is a hard response. But I know if I stop expecting perfection from others, recognize the the love that is extended on me, and use God’s strength + Word to mold my responses, I can start to bear this fruit of the spirit. I begin to love the way I am commanded to. I can love the way Jesus has loved me.