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A Painful Lesson in Love
April 7, 2014 by Larry Lazarus 0 comments
I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a long winter, so as the weather warmed up last week, I was eager to get back to my regular walks to my office in the Hope House, and back. It’s a 10-15 minute walk, and I’ve come to really enjoy those few minutes: I’ll pray, or listen to music, or recite a passage of Scripture that I’ve memorized, or just “do nothing”, looking at and listening to the sights and sounds of God’s creation.
Last Wednesday was a beautiful morning, one of the first that really felt like spring had arrived. So I was preparing to walk to the office, when I received a text message from the guy I was scheduled to meet at 9 AM. It said, “Can you pick me up at Broadway Auto at 9?” I read the text and felt inconvenienced; I had been looking forward to praying through some of the Scripture I had read that morning in my devotions. So I replied, “Sorry, I don’t have the car today!”
A Painful Walk with the Lord
It wasn’t exactly a lie. Our family only has one car, and I was not going to be using it that day. Like I said, I was planning on, and looking forward to, my 15-minute commute in communion with God. So I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my family, and headed out the backdoor to start my walk. As you could probably imagine, it wasn’t the most pleasant walk I’ve ever been on.
I wasn’t through my backyard when I started to feel conviction from the Holy Spirit. No, I hadn’t lied to the man I was preparing to meet with. No, I did not have the car today. But I didn’t have the car because I preferred to walk, and I could have easily taken my car and picked him up for our 9 AM meeting. But in the moment that I replied to his text message, and as I set out on my walk, I was choosing what I wanted for myself above what my friend needed in that moment. What made my attitude all the more wretched is that we were meeting to discuss a few chapters in a book we were reading called A Loving Life. I kid you not.
You’d think that at that point I would turn around and get the car, and pick him up. That sounds logical, but instead I decided to rationalize my decision. The mechanic was not that far from my office; it would only take him ten minutes or less to get there. We’d still be able to have our meeting. It was, after all, a nice morning; it’s not like he was walking through the rain. And it’s not like I was watching The Today Show or anything; I wanted to spend some time praying, and listening to God.
The Painful Gift of Conviction
So I continued on my way. But, as I said, it was not a very pleasant walk. I tried to pray, but my mouth was stopped. It was as though God was firmly, but gently saying to me, “You want to talk to Me? Let’s talk about your selfishness and lack of love. That’s all I’m interested in talking to you about right now.” And talk, He did. As I carried on, Scripture after Scripture came to mind, exposing my sin for what it was:
"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
"3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
"5The aim of our charge is love..." (1 Timothy 1:5).
"20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21)
Finally, I thought of Jesus, who left the comforts and conveniences of heaven, who was willing to forsake the eternal love and fellowship He had with the Father, in order to take the penalty for my sins (including the expression of my selfishness on this very morning), and restore me to God. Because of Jesus, I could be assured that, as hypocritically as I was living at that moment, that God was absolutely, 100% FOR me.
I arrived at the office and, fortunately, a co-worker was there, and I was able to take his car to pick up my friend at the auto-shop. I was grateful for God’s mercy to me in Christ, but I knew that truly receiving that mercy would mean humbly confessing my sin to my friend. Just because he was now getting the ride that he was looking for, I would not have been able to rest in God’s love if I did not own up to my sin before him.
So when he got in the car, I confessed my sin and asked his forgiveness for counting myself and my desires as more significant than him and his desires. My friend got the ride he needed, and I got humbled. We had a good meeting, discussing the chapters from A Loving Life, one of which happened to be about repentance. Go figure.
I share this story for two reasons:
1.It warns us of the danger there is in measuring spiritual health by Bible knowledge and spiritual activity. It is possible to attend the weekly Sunday gathering of the church, attend a Life Group meeting on Tuesday nights, be in a Bible Study on Thursday mornings, and meet with an accountability partner every other Saturday morning, and still not have love.
I was willing to justify my selfishness because my 15-minute “walk with God” was so important to me. But if the cumulative effect of all my walks with God, all my Scripture memory, discipleship meetings, etc, are not forming me into the sort of person who puts the preferences of others above my own, I’m not truly growing in Jesus.
2.It demonstrates that confession and repentance is part of living the Christian life. Though I wish the sin of my selfishness had never been an issue in the first place, and though it was painful and somewhat embarrassing to have to confess it to my friend, I was comforted in remembering that it’s one thing for us to discuss a book about love, but another thing entirely to actually practice biblical love. And until we see Christ face to face and the war with sin is completed, that means learning how to confess and repent.
Even when I totally blow it, I am being given an opportunity by our gracious God to show others how to honor Jesus when we blow it. The cultivation of the humility required to do that (as opposed to being defensive, critical, blameshifting, etc.) is a part of my discipleship, and walking it out before others is a part of my discipleship them.
The distinguishing mark of a disciple is love (John 13:34-35). As we strive to bring God glory through making disciples of Jesus who obey everything He has commanded, let’s not settle for counterfeits. Let’s pray for ourselves and for one another, that we would corporately look to the wonderful love of Jesus for us, and that in the power of His Spirit, we would love others as we have been so richly loved.
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