Today is set aside to celebrate love, and today we Followers of Christ step out on a journey to meet The One Who Is Love. Together, we will take 40 steps to the Garden, stand at the foot of the Cross, kneel before the empty tomb and ask “How do I love like Jesus?”
The truth is, I know I can’t. And in my own strength, maybe I never will.
Oh, but I will keep trying. I’ll follow the example of women like Beautiful Bonnie. My dear friend and her husband, Handsome Don, make their home in Florida these cold winter months, and even from a distance, B.B. (as she signs her cards) radiates her love across miles to the heart of one who is healing.
“You have been on my heart” she says. “Many, many people are praying for you and love you.”
She sends me tea because she says it is around tea time, when her energy is low, that she has times of weakness. “I wonder,” she says, “how our heavenly Father puts up with all of my inadequacies.”
Then she tells me a story of a child who was born with a severe handicap who suffered from violent seizures. The little boy grew, went to church with his family and developed a deep love for Jesus. One Sunday at church, as his Father was holding him, he experienced an especially hard seizure.
“The father gently but firmly held the little guy and went to the back of the sanctuary. There he held him to his chest, gently whispering into his ear. There was no hint of embarrassment or frustration on the father’s face. Only calm, deep abiding love.”
B.B. tells me that this is a picture of our heavenly Father’s love for us, for me — his agape love.
“In spite of our deep imperfections, He is not embarrassed to call us His children,” she says. “He tenderly holds us through the deepest, hardest part of our struggles and whispers words of assurance and encouragement while He clutches us to Himself saying “I love you, I am holding you in my arms. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
I drink in my friend’s words and picture The Father holding me while I flail. There is comfort in that. And there is hope — hope that through the strength of His arms around me, I will learn how to love sacrificially, with nothing held back, with no thought for self.
I find this as I study this week — the 13th characteristic of agape love is “hope”. Elpizo in the Greek, it means “to expect with desire.” This agape love also calls for me to persevere…..trust….protect…..and nine other expectations that on some days are just beyond my heart’s capacity for love.
But that’s the thing. God KNOWS it impossible for us to show agape love. In fact, only God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is able to show true agape — sacrifice. Still, scripture assures me that “God is greater than our hearts.” (I John 3:20)
So when He tells me in John’s hand “Beloved, agape one another, because agape is from God”, he also says “everyone who agapes is born of God and knows God.” Everyone — even imperfect, wounded, flailing me — can become a vessel of God’s divine love toward another because agape is possible through God.
Oswald Chambers says unfailing agape is “greater than prophecy — that vast forth-telling of the mind and purpose of God; greater than the practical faith that can remove mountains; greater than philanthropic self-sacrifice; greater than the extraordinary gifts of emotions and ecstasies and all eloquence; and it is this love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
No, in my sin nature I don’t have it. I can’t give it. I won’t find it in a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses or a Hallmark card. But because I stand at the foot of the Cross, I have been equipped by the Holy Spirit dwelling in me to love as God loves. Calvary made that possible. And the empty tomb sealed the promise.
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” I John 4:10-11