About thirty of us from our church’s career group wee packed into a living rom, listening to our friend Ellen share insights from her nine-year career as a single missionary in Cameroon, West Africa. When Ellen had concluded and a thoughtful silence hung in the air, she asked, “Does anyone have any questions?”
From the corner of the room, a girl spoke up, “What’s the best way to reach the heart of an African?”
Ellen didn’t have to think about her answer, “Love,” she said with a smile, “If they can tell you love them, they’ll listen to you. They know when you don’t love them.”
I wrote down her last sentence and stared at the words: The know when you don’t love them. That’s true in America too, I thought. That’s true everywhere. People know when you don’t love them.
How is it that the absence of love is so glaringly obvious to others? Perhaps it’s because true Christlike love is what everyone’s heart most hungers for. Love is the essence of Who God is (1 John 4). Love is what He demonstrated in sacrificing His Son on the cross for a world full of unlovable sinners like us (Romans 5:8). And just look at the way this love is described in I Corinthians 13! It is unfailingly patient and kind. It refuses to envy or to display an arrogant attitude. It never seeks its own way. It is not easily provoked or offended. It is pure-minded, rejoicing in truth and righteousness. It’s a love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures to the end. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it isn’t. Love is what everybody wants in his heart of hearts – and what can only be perfectly found in God.
The absence of love renders every “good deed” null and void. Its absence leaves people empty, dry, and disillusioned. Why? Because a failure to display true love is a failure to show the world a true picture of our God.
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, wrote often of her frustration with the sin she called unlove. She illed a small volume entitled If with her meditations on what it would mean to apply the standard of Christ’s love in all her realtionships. I’ve never read even a few pages of this book withouth being humbled by the intense, razor-sharp candor with which she examines her heart. Near the end, she muses about what she has learned through her writing these “scorching” words:
“The more we ponder our Lord’s words about love, and the burning words the Spirit gave to his followers to write, the more acutely do we feel our deadly lack. The Searchlight of the Spirit exposes us to ourselves, and such a discovery leaves us appalled.” – Amy Carmichael
I certainly don’t have to look too deeply into my heart to find unlove lurking. But to how many others is it showing? My elderly neighbor sees it when I rush past her with the briefest “hi,” avoiding conversation so I can get on with my all-important agenda. My family sees it when I pour out my own problems first during our phone calls rather than asking them about their lives. My fellow church member sees it when I hold myself aloof from her wstruggles rather than shouldering her burdens and praying for her. My coworker sees it when I take offense at his careless comment instead of casting it in the best possible light and then forgetting it. My friends see it when I’m irritated with their weaknesses, envious of ther joys, or dry-eyed and preoccupied with my own concerns while they are hurting. And God sees it when I hurry out into my day without taking time to yield my heart to His Word and draw near to Him in fellowship. Too often my unlove shows in all its horrible ugliness.
God’s way of loving does not come naturally to us. If your unlove is showing too, you are only human. We are all by nature hopelessly unloving people. Does that mean God’s standard of love is impossibly high for us? Apart from the power of His Holy Spirit, yes. But with Him, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). “The light is not turned upon us to rob us of hope,” Amy Carmichael writes. It is the kindness of God that revceals the sin of unloce to us so that we might hate it and forsake it. “If only we desire to be purged from self,…if, hating unlove from the ground of our heart. we cry to be delivered, then our God will be to us a God of deliverances.”
As believers we have God’s Spirit, and this love is part of the fruit He produces in our lives. The ability to love is present within us if He is. Let your prayer echo the truth of Romans 5:5:
“May the love of God be shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit which is given to me.”
A love shed abroad is a love that will be obvious to all.
Written by Eileen Berry. This article was published in the Summer 2007 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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