In the previous post we noted the two foundational skills to move from being a successful-based follower/church to a faithful-based one are our abilities to submit to God and to love others and then briefly examined what submitting (surrendering) to God means. In this final post of A brighter path, we will briefly examine the second skill of what loving others actually means.
First, understand that our ability to love others is the fruit that happens when we surrender ourselves to God. In other words, if you desire to increase your ability to love ALL others, then spend your time submitting to God. Loving those you consider “other” will become the natural product of your discipline.
That ability to love is much more than how friendly you act to people you pass on the street. It is not measured by the value or frequency of gift giving to friends or family. And it does not focus on those who already love us or with whom we want to spend our free time. When we talk about our ability to love others as foundational to how we follow Jesus, we are talking about meeting people, especially and in particular all those we might see as “others,” right where they are and accept them for who they are (just as Jesus modeled for us).
One of Jesus’ traits in the Gospels is that every teaching and encounter He had was an implied or explicit invitation (or corrective) on how to “enter the kingdom of God.” If we fail to learn how to fully love all people in this manner, we risk hindering their access to “the kingdom of God.” By meeting “others” right where they were and accepting them just as they were, Jesus simultaneously disregarded his own status in favor of elevating the status of others. He never assimilated to religious traditions that unjustly hurt others or denied their ability to be part of God’s “kingdom.”
We see this over and over again throughout the Gospels: the woman about to be stoned, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman suffering from hemorrhages, lepers, demoniacs, Gentiles, religio-political outcasts (tax collectors), at least one political extremist (Simon the Zealot), and the criminals sentenced to death alongside Jesus. And Jesus also met those already with great status right where they were such as the rich man, Simon the Pharisee, and Nicodemus who was a religious leader from a group staunchly opposed to Him.
Beware that one of the chief ways we hinder our ability to love is by consuming ourselves with the spiritual judgment of others. Constantly distracting ourselves with the spiritual validity or not of other persons and groups will negatively impact our ability to submit our whole self to God. Instead, focus on how God is saving (healing) yourself to live in God’s reign and not on how you judge others to be outside of it. Henri Nouwen’s meditation on judging others from Bread for the Journey has convicted and challenged me on this:
We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments about it can be quite oppressive.
The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy. Let’s remember Jesus’ words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
A final note on our ability to love others— when we feel anxious that yielding in surrender to God and love for all others may put us in uncomfortable situations, we need to remind ourselves that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). The original Greek for “perfect love” comes from the words teleos and agape, literally meaning an unconditional love that hits the mark. Fear and love cannot co-exist. As we love unconditionally, any fear will dissipate.
There is a fuel to drive our abilities to submit and to love. It is the passion with which we desire to learn and then do what God desires (as opposed to a passion for what we desire to do for God). A passion toward God, even if raw or somewhat directionless, is what drives us to be followers from the first time we hear Jesus’ call to follow Him.
When Jesus came upon the fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew “casting a net into the sea fishermen” and said “Follow me,” the scripture states that they “immediately left their nets and followed him.” Jesus then makes the same call to the fishermen brothers of James and John who responded exactly the same (Mark 1:16-20). Since all four disciples “immediately” left their livelihood to answer Jesus’ call, we might assume the suddenness might be due to the overwhelming charisma of Jesus. But if that were true, then why did the rich man (Mark 10:17-22) not respond similarly instead of turning away? The two sets of brothers must have had something more going on inside themselves. I believe a strong passion toward God was already at play, a passion that apparently was constantly open to any moment that might be God’s call to follow some place they had never been.
Having such a spiritual passion does not guarantee full understanding just as it did not for the four of them (who Jesus would later admonish multiple times). However, an authentic passion is the difference between starting that journey and going “away grieving” as the rich man did.
Finally, abiding in this training for both your personal journey with Jesus and your church’s journey does not guarantee a problem-free spiritual life. But the type of problems you experience will be directly related to their source as Oswald Chambers notes in My Utmost For his Highest (December 14 entry):
When I do obey God, problems come, not between me and God, but as a means to keep my mind examining with amazement the revealed truth of God. But any problem that comes between God and myself is the result of disobedience.
The journey to follow Jesus will be filled with various forks in the road between living successfully or faithfully. Finding our identity in surrender and love will best train us for choosing the right path.
The New Revised Standard Version titles the section beginning at Proverbs 4:10 as an “admonition to keep to the right path.” I close this series with excerpts from that passage as a prayer for the Church to walk the brighter path of a faithful-based journey:
I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers…
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.