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Love is About Giving…Not Getting

Give Us This Day We have all been told this before: love is about giving, more than it is about getting. This ties-in with the description of love which Apostle Paul gave to the church at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 13:5.

[Love]…does not seek its own (NKJV); [Love]…is not self-seeking (NIV). Love does not demand its own way (NLT); [Love]…takes no thought for itself (BBE); Love is not forward and self-assertive (WNT); Love (God's love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking (AMP); Love cares more for others than for self. (MSG). [Love]…doesn't think about itself. (GW).

This description of love also ties-in with the admonishment of Jesus, when He said “Take no thought for your life”:

22 Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.

Luke 12:22 NKJV

It is the love of God which enables us to stop worrying about the everyday things of life. When we have the love of God in us, we know that everything that we will face that day is going to be alright, even when things do not go exactly how we would personally like them to go. If we find ourselves constantly worrying about things all the time, trying to work things out ourselves, then we might find ourselves becoming rather disappointed when things do not go as we planned them.

Love gives us the ability to “let go and let God.” However, if we do not already experience this love, it can be difficult to let go of worrying and to trust God in a given situation. We cannot “let go and let God” if that love is not already working within us. It is for this reason that we need to seek to identify the sources of sin which are hindering the flow of love in our lives. At once, Christians can take this to mean that they have to “try” to resist bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, pornography, etc. It is true that these things can play a part in hindering our relationship with God to an extent. However, it is best that we seek to identify what it is within us that are driving us to do such things.

Bad habits will usually be fuelled by a wrong belief or attitude which keeps us from experiencing God’s best for our lives. This attitude could be unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment. If we deny ourselves the presence of God, then we will experience a sense of separation from God, which will in turn, drive us towards the fulfilment of lustful cravings. Covetousness is often born out of this spiritually dead state. Lust will drive people to try to identify what it is that they are missing in their lives, what it is that is robbing them of peace, what it is that will make their lives whole again. Unfortunately, lacking spiritual discernment, people will identify sources of potential pleasure and fulfilment through the use of the senses. This leads to the typical activities which Paul calls “the works of the flesh”.

When a person identifies the true source of love, he comes to the realisation that the love of God is already in Him, ready for use:

5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5

Rather than seeking love via some external source, which is covetousness, we should seek love from within ourselves, knowing that through faith in Christ, we have become partakers of the Divine Nature. In fact, we should not “seek” this love, as such, but simply know that it is within us and cannot be generated through acts of charity or an effort of the will.

This love that is in us is for the purpose of allowing our personalities to be transformed so that God plays a part, a major part, in our daily conduct. With love in our hearts, our attitude can be like that of the Psalmist who said, “The Lord is the strength of my life.”

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalms 27:1

When we allow the love of God to dominate our lives, that love will divert a person’s attention from the issues of his own life and towards the lives of others. This does not mean that he becomes neglectful concerning himself, but it means that his focus has shifted away from himself. As a person submits to the subtle promptings of God in his spirit, the promptings of love, then he will not have to worry about himself.

The only “formula”, if you want to call it that, that Jesus gave to His disciples and the church, for the attainment of material needs, was that they do not worry. Jesus made no mention of paying tithes or doing good works as a means of achieving prosperity. It is only modern-day ministers who have turned the pursuit of prosperity into something that we are to do through the use of principles and formulas.

So it seems that the reason why people don’t get their needs met is because they worry: they try to plan and analyse things in an attempt to control their lives and make things happen in a predictable way. Our lives are more-often-than-not, unpredictable. For a neurotic, this unpredictability can be terrifying. But for a secure-minded person, the unforeseen circumstances of life can be exciting and challenging. The difference is of course all down to how much we abide in love or how much we abide in fear. Selfishness can therefore be seen as the character trait of an insecure person who seeks to control his life according to his own efforts. Selfishness is all-consuming as it absorbs all the time and energy that a person has, all in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment. If we could only learn to let go of that selfishness we could truly learn the unforced rhythms of grace – as Matthew 11:29 in The Message translation puts it.

The reason why people worry is because they do not experience the sense of peace that can only be found in knowing the love of God. When we know the love of God, a sense of peace comes upon us that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to experience fear, and therefore, to worry.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

John 4:18

It should bring us a great sense of rest when we come to the understanding that we are not supposed to meet our own needs. If the burden of providing for ourselves and our families rests upon our shoulders, it is little wonder that we worry! We can therefore delight, marvel and give thanks to God for the reassuring Words of Christ in Matthew 6.

24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:24-26

One way of looking at Matthew 6:24 is that when we worry about material provision, we are actually serving mammon! According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, “Mammon” is defined as: A Chaldee or Syriac word meaning “wealth” or “riches” (Luke 16:9-11); also, by personification, the god of riches (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:9-11).

The Bible tells us that God will bless those people who attend to the needs of others:

24 There is one who scatters, yet increases more; And there is one who withholds more than is right, But it leads to poverty.

25 The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.

Proverbs 11:24-25 NKJV

24 It is possible to give away and become richer! It is also possible to hold on too tightly and lose everything.

25 Yes, the liberal man shall be rich! By watering others, he waters himself.

Proverbs 11:24-25 TLB

We should not seek to make a formula out of Proverbs 11:24-25, in that we seek to increase our favour with God and our prosperity, by serving others and by giving money to the church and to charitable causes. It is possible to do good works but with the wrong attitude and motive. I believe that there are many Christians today who pay their tithes and even give large offerings to their church - all because they read a book or heard a sermon that told them they would be rich if they did so.

So when it comes down to love, it has a lot more to do with beliefs, attitudes, desires and motives than it does our actions. I believe that right action will be the inevitable outcome of right beliefs, motives and so forth. However, don’t be surprised if someone who has a heart of love is not so eager to put a great deal of time and effort into the church related activities that ministers have told us that we ought to do as Christians. We have been presented with a church for centuries that has been steeped in tradition, rules, rituals and selfish ambition. It is therefore difficult to discern at times the church that Christ gave His life for and what it should look like. Furthermore, we all have our own lives to live and our own personal destiny to fulfil – what is right for one person might not be right for another.

So how do we get these right beliefs and attitudes? We have been presented, in the church, with a model of positive thinking by an effort of the will, as pioneered by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale when he published his bestselling book, The Power of Positive Thinking. I’m not entirely against this person, book or concept – by the way. But I have found in my own life that attempting to control my thoughts and feelings can be the most difficult thing in the world.

So far, I have found that the best means of knowing the love of God is to cease from my own efforts to please Him and to rest in the knowledge of the finished work of the cross. There is a peace that can be found when we consider the birds of the air, how they neither toil, nor spin, nor gather into barns – yet our Father feeds them. We should rest in the knowledge that we are more important than they and that our Father will meet our needs without our need to worry and to make things happen ahead of time.

Photo Give us this day... courtesy of Mr. Kris

Miracles and the Presence of God

For the past week or so I’ve been mulling over my next blog entry. I just wanted to convey my current thoughts and feelings on the area of miracles in Christianity and just getting a proper perspective on the subject.

I listened to the latest Free Believers Network podcast entitled Redefining The Presence of God, 2nd June 2010. The discussion on this podcast episode kind of dove-tailed with the topic which I had been thinking about this week.

The Charismatic Church

It seems that the institutional church, particularly the charismatic, Pentecostal environment, can really mess with your head. I have found that most, if not all, of the grace believers I have contacted, either face-to-face or on the internet, have come from a charismatic background.

The charismatic movement seems to be a blend of upholding the concept of a judgemental God, keeping principles (a subtle term for rules), together with miraculous testimonies. It is very much an Old Testament approach. Think about that for a moment – you have the concept of a far and distant God who will only come near to you if there is no sin in your life, in other words, if you follow the right principles, read your Bible and pray hard. But if you do get your life right – God will appear to you and allow you to approach Him – just like Moses and the burning bush. It is as if we are each expecting to meet meticulous, Old Testament style rules, with the prize of having Almighty God in our lives.

The image that springs to mind is that of someone wearing a bio hazard suit, cautious of what disease he might contract should he come near to you. I am also reminded of a “germaphobe” like the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who had particular requirements: his cutlery had to be sterilised and his milk had to be poured at a particular angle, and so on.

Word of Faith

Then, Word of Faith comes along, with those who teach it telling you the most incredible things that happened to them. Naturally, you want to know how they did it, what they did to bring this awesomely powerful, yet judgemental, Old Testament God to come near you and participate in your life.

So you end-up reading a book by a faith teacher like Kenneth E. Hagin who did “A”, “B” and “C” – and then God did “X”, “Y” and “Z” – something miraculous and supernatural. These testimonies become the spiritual prize that we are all seeking after. It’s as if love, truth and good will to all men kind of takes a back seat to the pursuit of the weird and wonderful – all in the Name of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, of course. I’m speaking from personal experience here – please don’t think that I’m just assuming things here; and I know for sure that I’m not the only one! So what we do from there is that we naturally seek to somehow attach our own agendas to the faith teaching we have been given. The thinking is something like, “If God can do that for him – then he can do this for me.” But of course, this line of thinking assumes that we know what God has planned for us and that we really need those things to happen in our lives; it also assumes that we can discern the formulas and principles we need to achieve our aims, based on the faith teaching and testimonies that we read or hear.

So there is the assumption that we need something totally far-and-above our everyday experiences as part of our Christian experience. When you are in charismatic circles, there is such an emphasis on miracles that you almost feel like a failure, or at least that you are not doing things right, if you are not experiencing miracles on a fairly regular basis.

God’s Generals

In 1996 the American evangelist Roberts Liardon’s book God’s Generals was published. God’s Generals profiles the lives and ministry of men and women throughout the past hundred years or so who have experienced incredible miracles: people such as John G. Lake, Smith Wigglesworth and Aimee Semple McPherson. I remember feel rather awe inspired as I read that book (when I was still in my charismatic, miracle-hunting phase). There is something amazing about God performing miracles in the lives of people, and doubtless, people’s lives are likely to be changed as a result. But where do you and I stand in all of this? How are we to interpret all of this in the perspective of our own normal, Christian lives? Are we also to do the same amazing things as these men and women of God?

If you come to the conclusion that you are indeed meant to be just like these “God’s Generals”, performing miracles and changing lives around you through the supernatural – I think you will be caught-up in a flight of fancy. Miracles do happen and I have no doubt that they have had their place in the lives of people like Smith Wigglesworth. But we can easily conclude that if we are not “used” by God in the same way as Wigglesworth, we must be missing something, or worse still, God does not love us. Miracles are, by definition, rare; it is the height of folly to seek after miracles and to feel disappointed when they don’t happen. I believe that miracles happen as and when they do. When we attempt to identify and pursue formulas to manifest miracles – we just end-up wearing ourselves out as we are left “chasing the wind”.

The “Harvest Mentality” and High Expectations

As I said previously, many who come to the message of grace have first gone through the charismatic phase of miracles, praying for revival, following principles and so forth. What I find is that many such Christians carry some of these Pentecostal traits and expectations with them into the message of grace. There is still the expectation of miracles, wealth and reaping a “harvest”; there is still the anticipation of God “using” you: by that statement, believers hold onto the expectation that God is going to do something over-and-beyond the norm of everyday existence. All of these expectations are from an Old Testament mindset, in which we associate with Moses and the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea and so on. There were miracles performed in the New Testament, through Jesus and the Apostles. But these were all part of ministry, I believe.

The question of miracles in today’s society is a subject that is frequency discussed amongst Christians. We certainly should not use miracles as a measuring rod of God’s love for us or our level of faith. I believe that when it comes to living the Christian life in these New Testament times, it has a lot more to do with normal, everyday life than we could ever imagine.

I believe that the miracles we read about in the Bible are for the purpose of taking our limits off God, more than anything else. Miracles are more the domain of ministry: when I hear that grace preacher Bertie Brits has performed miracles during a crusade in Malawi, I don’t roll my eyes and say to myself, “Oh, here we go again, another miracle working preacher.” No, I am delighted to see the power of God in the life and ministry of this man; I delight in that fact that God is confirming His Word being preached. But what I don’t do is think to myself, “How can I do the same kind of miracles in my life? I should be ministering with an anointing like that man. If I had enough faith – then I’d be able to minister with the same anointing and power as that man.” There is a place for miracles, and I believe it is mainly in ministry to confirm the Word being preached. Although, if miracles don’t follow the Word being preached, that is no sign that the preaching was not powerful, accurate and relevant (despite what Kenneth E. Hagin wrote on the subject).

Seeing the Beauty and Value in Everyday Life

I think normal life is not exciting enough for some Christians; they want to way-out, over-the-top stuff that they hear some evangelists come out with. But the truth of the matter is that there is something truly amazing in everyday life. It really does come down to our own beliefs, attitudes and mindsets as to how wonderful life is for us. It is just like when we fall in love: before we fall in love with someone, we could be feeling rather melancholy, but then, we fall in love with someone, and all of a sudden, everything changes! All of a sudden we are transformed from a grumpy, cynical person, into someone who is smiling and singing. Love seems to make the grass greener, the sky bluer; we notice things that we never noticed before: the birds singing in the trees, the beauty of a single raindrop, taking a walk in a park as the leaves fall from the trees in the fall. Nothing has changed externally in your life – the only change has been internal – in your heart, in your outlook on life.

God Will Guide You

We read in the New Testament that God will lead you and guide you by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, Luke 12:12, Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:18). I think Ezekiel 36 makes it clearer and starker that any text in the New Testament:

25 "'Then it will be as though I had sprinkled clean water on you, for you will be clean--your filthiness will be washed away, your idol worship gone. 26 And I will give you a new heart--I will give you new and right desires--and put a new spirit within you. I will take out your stony hearts of sin and give you new hearts of love. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you so that you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 TLB

I think every Christian has a different take on what this text really adds up to and how we experience it in our lives of faith in Christ. But I must admit that right at this moment in time, I cannot help but feel that it is a lot closer to the normal, everyday existence that we are used to and perhaps often take for granted. I think this text points towards natural impulses, common-sense and intuition. There is no need to pray for hours on a holy mountain, waiting for the burning bush to appear. Neither is there a need to seek out a wise, all-knowing guru who will tell you the wisdom of God. The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

Emotions and Sensationalism

Likewise, we also expect something way-out and over-the-top when it comes to our emotions. We attend big gatherings of believers with musicians and preachers who have the ability to strike a chord in our hearts and move us to tears or feelings of ecstasy. Just as with miracles, signs and wonders – there is a sense that if God was truly in our lives, we would experience euphoria on a day-to-day basis. The natural assumption, when we don’t experience these dramatic feelings, is that we are somehow not getting the formulas and principles right: perhaps there is too much sin in our lives, we are not praying enough or we haven’t got enough faith.

There are sometimes moments of ecstasy in our lives: when we meet a loved one, we have not seen for a while, when your wife gives birth to your child or declares that she is pregnant, when you are given news of your promotion at work and so on. But those feelings often don’t last. I think a more realistic approach to the emotional state of the New Testament, Christian believer, is a sustained state of peace, happy, but nothing incredible; this is then interspersed by moment of euphoria and sometimes moments of sadness, whether those moments are triggered by an external experience or not.

I strongly believe that anxiety is something that we are not to experience as Christians, or if we do, it is on our journey into spiritual maturity and peace. In John 14:27 Jesus Himself promised us peace. The Gospel is called the “Gospel of Peace” (Romans 10:15, Ephesians 6:15). I’ve struggled with anxiety all my life and can vouch for the fact that it is horrid! I think that it is a true sign of spiritual maturity when a Christian comes to the place in which they see peace of mind as their one and only goal in this life (or at least their main goal).

There are also moments of euphoria when Christians gather together in large groups and God seems to be moving in your midst. But I often wonder if those feelings of ecstasy and the goose-bumps are nothing more than emotionalism: just like what you would experience at a rock concern?

For more information on the subject of feelings associated with the presence of God, check out the latest Free Believers Network podcast entitled Redefining the Presence of God, 2nd June 2010. For more information on the subject of Christians and their addiction to sensationalism in the church, check out The Free Believers Network podcast entitled The Lust of Sensationalism, 14th April 2010.

The Divine Nature | TNB