My life and my general attitude/feelings towards others have changed significantly over the last several years. When I began to realize the extent of God’s unconditional love for me, it couldn’t help but change my view of those around me. Think about it. Love with absolutely no conditions. Love secure enough and strong enough to just GIVE without demanding anything in return. As simplistic as it sounds, this is a remarkable revelation that has the potential for significant impact on our lives and relationships.
Of course I am growing in this, not having arrived.
At moments, I still can operate in frustration or impatience towards those (unfortunate enough to be) around me. It is sort of a circuit that my brain has wired as a “normal response” to misunderstanding, stress, or ignorance. As long as I am in the awareness of how deeply I am loved, I generally have great patience and tolerance toward others. However, I can be quick to fall back into that short circuited groove in my brain when confronted with my lack of control over others’ responses and opinions.
One good thing is that I am married to a man who does not enjoy complaining about others or their obvious faults. I remember one time I was talking to him, explaining my frustration with a friend of mine, and he looked deep into my eyes and said, “People are precious.” In fact, if I remember correctly, the statement seemed to be pleading for me to remember who I was, how OVER-LOVED I am, who God was and how much He LOVED and TREASURED this particular person. I was instantly stopped in my tracks and I knew he was right. I wanted confirmation that I had every right to be irritated, but he wanted me to see that this person needed the very thing that had transformed me… unconditional love. As my awareness shifted, immediately my attitude changed from one of disdain to willing excitement that I might be used in this volunteer assignment…spreading unconditional love to this person.
The problem with this kind of statement is that it is often misunderstood. If you are only familiar with the natural, human sort of love, then not only will this idea be overly simplistic to you, it will be unrealistic as well. Natural love has no power to transform. Only God’s unconditional love can transform. It is what gave Jesus the strength to love his enemies. When they were trying to kill him, He said, “They know not what they do.” What do you mean, they didn’t know? Of course they knew. They were purposely executing an innocent man because they misunderstood who He was and what His purpose was. In their religious eyes, Jesus broke too many rules, He ate with too many sinners, He had the audacity to believe He was loved and approved of by God, His Father. It was too much for them to accept. He had to be put to death. That was the consequence of sin (blasphemy) under the Old Covenant. But Jesus saw a bigger picture and knew they didn’t grasp the significance of what they were doing. He knew they actually BELIEVED they were doing the right thing. It was the best they could do. Driven by the requirements of the law, they thought they were doing what was necessary. Jesus saw through their actions to their hearts and loved them.
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has given each one of us this very same capacity to access the unconditional, life-changing love of the Father. He has released us from the “rule-following” system of the Old Covenant. The result of this rule-following system seemed to be hardened hearts (i.e. the Pharisees). It made people more concerned with living up to standards than being concerned about a human heart, getting involved in a life other than their own, and loving them with strength.
In the New Covenant, rather than following “rules,” we get to engage in an intimate relationship with the Father and live led by the Holy Spirit. As we grow, the Spirit reminds us of who we are, how loved we are, where we are (currently in the Kingdom of God). It allows for flexibility rather than unbending legalism. It allows for love to begin to grow rather than immediately being perfect. That was how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were. They upheld standards. They required perfection. They meted out punishment to those who did not live up to the standard.
If merely knowing the standard worked in changing our hearts, there would have been no need for Jesus to come and establish a New Covenant. What the Old Covenant did was showed us we were trapped in prison, but it did not help us in any way to get out…to change. The New Covenant empowers us to actually transform. We are made one together with Christ. It is by His perfection that we are made righteous and whole. We are literally released from the prison.
My friends, let us begin to really trust the unconditional love of God. Not our own natural love. Let us begin to recognize and contemplate the transforming power of God’s love. Let us see individual people around us as precious, worthy of our time, our investment, our kindness. Yes, even our enemies. Yes, even those who are ignorant, mean-spirited, or irritating. Yes, even when we are wounded for it.
My husband pastored a church for many years in Titusville, Florida. He has had his share of wounds inflicted by other Christians. Betrayals. Misunderstandings. Hurt. Unfortunately, it seems to come with the job. His young daughters witnessed the ugly mistreatment and asked their Dad how he could ever trust again. Why would he put himself through this again? He and Teresa sat their daughters down and explained that yes, it hurt, but they would choose not to protect their hearts, not to mistrust, but rather keep their hearts open, be vulnerable and trust again. It was the only way Rick could fathom because this was how he saw Jesus’ heart. Therefore, it would be what they as a family would continue to do. Because they were securely wrapped in an awareness of their Father’s love and approval of them, they had a strength that could endure hardship without retaliation.
How do you do this? With man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. By receiving and resting in His love, you will begin to become stronger in your capacity and elasticity to endure challenging people and situations. It will literally transform how you see people around you. What used to irritate and frustrate and anger will melt into a gracious understanding of how we have each been wounded and deeply hurt at some point in our lives. As those wounds are met with God’s love, an amazing miracle will take place. And even if we don’t see immediate results, we can know we are adding to their healing and not exasperating their wounds.
God sees each of His children as precious regardless of their unique wounds and/or specific issues. We can see this too, first for ourselves and then for those around us. May God’s unconditional love capture your heart.