Pouring Out No Matter the Personal Cost
Bedtime stories were a highlight of my childhood. Some of my favorite memories contain the rhythmic cadence of my father’s reading voice and evenings spent snuggled up on the couch. There is one tale we used to read that has come to mean more to me in adulthood than it ever did when I was young. The main character is a plush rabbit, made of the softest, creamiest velvet who is on a quest to be made “real.” One day he seeks counsel from the wisest toy in the nursery and receives this, rather unusual, reply:
“’Real isn’t how you are made … It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit…
’When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt. … That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”
Real. Being made real by … love, sacrificial love. Being brought to life … by the love of another. This deep and wide concept explained whimsically in a children’s tale, reminds me of the love story of the ages authored by the Almighty who, “…sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9, emphasis added).
The price of our living came at the cost of His dying — the process in which He loved by suffering excruciating pain and yielding His own life that we might find our own. Flogging. Scourging. Abuse. Mockery. Scorn. Spearing. Suffocation. And worst of all, a broken heart. Jesus endured it all to prove the wonders of His fathomless love. This is how God so loved the world. (See John 3:16.)
Beholding the manner of love God has lavished upon us in sending His only begotten Son may not have the warm fuzzies of a snuggly bedtime story, but this true story of everlasting, undying love stirs me deeply, reminding me that I am called to love in like manner.
God has given me opportunities when loving others has been effortless. But to be honest, in His goodness, there have been many times when investing in certain relationships has been difficult, and I have found myself shying away from loving others in an attempt to carefully preserve my own heart. It is here that I need to remember that the love that requires little to be given is not the brand of love that makes us “real.” Demonstrating sacrificial love brings His life to others and to ourselves. The Word states that God first loved us. And it is Christ’s love at work on our behalf, redeeming our sin-deadened souls and raising them to new life, that we are able to shine God’s love to this world … one individual at a time.
Still, I think if we were honest, we would have to admit that there are times when we would prefer if love cost us little. We are sometimes inconvenienced when love cuts into our time and crosses our plans for the day. We would prefer our love to be neat and tidy, picture-perfect, well-scheduled, and catering to our personal comfort. But this is not Calvary love. The manner in which God so loved us was not a sterile, safe love that carefully maintained its own image. No, the love of God risked everything to redeem a renegade Bride and pledge His undying love by pouring out His very life. The love of Jesus looked like open hands and an open heart that was willing to be made a public spectacle and to remain obedient to the point of death. And He speaks to us through His living Word and commands us, “…love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12, emphasis added).
In light of this truth, I wonder, How can I love others with half of my heart, in light of the wholehearted love of God?
While there are times when I feel as though the process of rubbing the velvet from my heart has just begun, I want to share with you how loving wholeheartedly supplies the canvas for the love of Christ to come cascading through! Yes, loving others can be hard, heart-wrenching, or even inconvenient — but these concepts have transformed my perspective, enabling me to see challenging situations unfold for the furtherance of the Gospel! (See Philippians 1:12.)
Loving No Matter the Cost
To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain … But it is so happy to love … It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.
— Hinds’ Feet on High Places
Love Himself did not count His own pain too significant to refrain from giving His life to pour out His love. Agape love is more than willing — it is happy to go through agony for the object of its affection. Jesus beautifully exemplified how to suffer selflessly in bearing His Cross for the joy set before Him. At the pinnacle of His own trial, He remained outward-focused — praying for His persecutors (Lk. 23:34), taking care of His loved ones (Jn. 19:26), and seeking to save the lost (Lk. 23:39–43). When we love regardless of cost, we enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in a unique way, finding sweet consolation in the One who knows exactly the level of pain we are experiencing in the moment we are called to love.
For example, while I don’t naturally gravitate towards hospitals or anything involving the medical scene, I have found myself in the company of heart monitors and beeping machines many times, visiting loved ones, dispensing ice chips, and once changing bandages that took every ounce of strength I had to come out victorious instead of flat on my back. I don’t visit hospitals because it’s comfortable, safe, or easy — I do so because there is someone behind those glass doors that I love. And so — tunnel vision and all — I put myself aside to say in words or in actions, “I love you. I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere.”
For your heart: Romans 12:9–10; John 13:35; 1 John 3:16; Philippians 2:3–8
Loving with Longevity
The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.
– Elisabeth Elliot
Love suffers long … while remaining kind. Paul was emphatic about that. It can seem quite impossible when up against a stone wall of “interpersonal relations,” but as Christ’s own, we have His Spirit within who cultivates the fruit of righteousness in our inner life. And this inner life can’t help but overflow the banks to the outer life. The fruit of the Spirit is love … and we are reminded that the fruit of the Spirit is also patience. These two are inseparable. If we love, we will be patient.
In order to live in stride with His love we must remain sensitive to His gentle prompting upon our lives. The single most thing that has helped realign my stride with His has been prayer in the midst of trial. As I wait before the Lord in prayer, bringing Him the requests closest to my heart, He reminds me through His Word that He is working all these things together for good. Pray, ponder, and prepare your heart for how God is going to move in your situation! Patience will have its perfect work as you do.
For your heart: 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7; Galatians 5:22–23; Romans 8:25; Romans 5:3–5; James 1:4
Loving When You’ve Been Wronged
Love through me, Love of God;
There is no love in me.
O Fire of love, light Thou the love
That burns perpetually.
— Amy Carmichael
When we have been hurt, the natural inclination of our old man is to offer judgment, unkind words, or the cold shoulder. However, this is the opposite of God’s nature. Simply put, God is merciful … and that means we should be too. There is nothing so powerful as true forgiveness motivated by sacrificial love. The cause and effect relationship of mercy is that since we have received mercy from God, we are to extend mercy to others.
The next time you are tempted to lash out when someone you love has hurt you, take a moment to check your emotions against the Word of God. Would Jesus endorse your feelings? Or would He prescribe a different course of action that would better communicate His love to the other person? Instead of flaunting someone’s mistakes, be a gracious woman who covers over that sin by extending grace and forgiveness as an outflow of love for her Lord. The result is a stunning, striking representation of the Gospel!
For your heart: Lamentations 3:21–23; Proverbs 11:16; 17:9; Matthew 5:7; Colossians 3:12–14; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 5:46; Luke 7:47; Matthew 6:14–15; 2 Corinthians 12:15
Years ago, if you had asked me if I were prepared love to the point where my velvet rubs off and my frame creaks with the wear and tear of a life spent in the service of displaying Christ’s love to others … I may have shied away. But now I see the soft beauty that accompanies selfless love and displays the loveliness of Christ. May the cry of our hearts ever and always be, Love through me, O Love of God!