Worship Through It, Together

Day 3 of 5 • This day’s reading

Devotional

Has there ever been a time where it is harder to love people than right now? 


We have either been cooped up with those we love the most for weeks or separated from them for weeks. We’ve seen friendships torn apart on social media because of politics, race, and wearing masks. Personally, I’ve found myself apologizing to my wife more in 2020 than I have in all of our other years of marriage combined. It’s not been easy to love me, and I’ve struggled to love others. 


Recently, a passage of Scripture I’ve been overly familiar with caught me in a new way. Before I share the passage, I want to encourage you to set aside your experience with these verses and ask God to use them in a fresh way in your life. 


The passage is Matthew 22:37-39, where Jesus replies to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”


Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 


Previously, my sense of the text was that it focused on how I was to love God and how I was to love people. But now I recognize that Jesus was talking about the greatest commandment, not our greatest experience. 


We know this passage as The Great Commandment. It’s often summarized as Love God and Love People. But as I was meditating on this passage, a thought came to me. We have another experience with God before we love him with all our heart, soul, and mind. That experience also precedes us loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. 


Before we love God, God loves us! In 1 John 4, we read these words, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” Loving God is a response to being loved by God. 


I struggle a lot more with being loved by God than I do with loving God. It’s not difficult for me to understand why God is worthy of my love (heart, soul, and mind). Earlier in 1 John 4, we are reminded of why. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.“


But instead of skipping right to our response to that act of love, Jesus coming into the world to offer us eternal life, can we pause for a second? 


Most days, I struggle with believing that I am worthy of God’s love and that God’s love covers all of my worst flaws. As a pastor, I’ve heard this sentiment from so many of the people I serve. One of the most common questions I am asked is, “how do I forgive myself?” That question often leads to others like, “How do I give myself grace?"


These questions are super important, especially in the year we’re navigating. If we’re going to love well through this, then we’re going to need to learn to love ourselves and receive God’s love. Those are VERY connected. When I receive God’s love and accept the reality that I am worthy of God’s love, it becomes easier to love myself. If God gives me grace, I can give myself grace. 


If we say we can’t give ourselves grace, that we can’t forgive ourselves, then we are putting ourselves ABOVE God. At that moment, we’re saying we know better than God. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of places I don’t want to be in this world. At the top of that list is ABOVE God. 


A Simple Practice


As someone who genuinely wants to love other people, especially through a difficult time like we’re currently experiencing, I’ve adopted a simple practice. Twice a day, I get an alert on my phone to pause in silent prayer. Whether for 1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes, this pause invites me to disconnect from the world and connect with God. During that time, my palms sit on knees, and I try to focus on receiving God’s love. 


Some days, I feel “worthy” of that love because of my productivity, while on other days, I feel extremely unworthy. This simple practice reminds me that my worth is not found in my productivity or my performance, where I succeed or where I fail. God showed me love before I loved Him. Today, I receive that love as a gift He has declared me worthy of receiving. 


Choosing to embrace God’s love is the first step in the process of loving other people through it, whatever “it” is. If we’re going to love people in this difficult moment, we’re going to need a love that is greater than our natural human love. Before we can give that love away to others, we must receive it.