I am sure if you are involved in pastoral ministry in any way shape or form, you will relate to feeling “spent”, and like you have no more love left to give. Maybe you feel weary and like your heart is slowly growing cold and bitter towards others (or is that just me?!). Maybe you are thinking: Well, it’s okay for you to say all this, and I know I can’t be driven by feelings, but surely my feelings are important. . . .
- How can I love others sacrificially, costly & wisely without growing hard-hearted, weary and bitter?
- What should I do if I feel my love for God and others grow cold?
- How do I push through unloving feelings when it feels like I am being fake and hypocritical in my actions?
1. Go to Jesus
The first thing we must do when we feel like this is run to Jesus. First in confession. We may be able to hide our unloving hearts from others, but we can’t hide from God. Be real, honest and vulnerable with God (and I would add your accountability partner), confessing your lack of love, then ask Him for increased faith.
As Luther discovered, everything we do must begin in faith.
Miller said, “To begin with love is to begin with yourself, your power. That never works.”
The famous verse in 1 John 4:19 reminds us that “We love because He first loved us.”
To love others, or even to love God as we should, we must go to the source of love—to God Himself. We need faith to believe the gospel and be impacted by the love that Christ has lavished on us.
Are you overwhelmed by the love of God towards you? Do you know you are truly loved, more than you will ever comprehend? That you are precious and adored by the God of the universe? Do you have faith to believe Jesus has shed his blood for your sins? That He gave His life for you, loved you at your worst so you could be redeemed, forgiven and washed clean? Jesus is the source and the model of our love. We need faith to believe this.
If we try to “love more” without faith we will just be attempting to mimic spiritual characteristics in our own strength. Our outward “loving sacrificial acts” will eventually turn our hearts cold, bitter and hard. We will probably verge on burn out too. Fake love is exhausting.
In contrast though, John 15 gives us a beautiful picture of “abiding in Christ”. As we connect ourselves to the vine (Jesus) His life (love) will flow through us and produce fruit in us.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
As Spurgeon put it; “There is no light in the planet but that which cometh from the sun; there is no light in the moon but that which is borrowed, and there is no true love in the heart but that which cometh from God. Love is the light, the life, and way of the universe. Now, God is both life, and light, and way, and, to crown all, God is love. From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring. This must ever be a great and certain truth, that we love him, for no other reason than because he first loved us.”
How do we persevere in love beyond our feelings? Firstly, go to Jesus—confess our need and ask for faith to see more of His love. Remember, He is the source of all our love, be dependent on Him and know that without Him we can do nothing.
2. Choose to Love
When I was in Primark the other day, I saw a t-shirt that said “think less, feel more.” As already said, the world is teaching us (even through Primark t-shirts now apparently) to scrap thinking and tune into our feelings. This feelings-based love gets weird and floaty. It’s a hippie “go with the flow” type of love.
But we have seen agape stands in stark contrast. It involves thinking, planning and making hard choices even when we don’t feel like it. Agape takes effort, sacrifice and intentionality. As Shabba would say, it takes “engaging our brain.”
Miller gives the example of entering a room of strangers. Instead of instinctively thinking “Who do I know? Who do I feel comfortable with”, if we choose to love others and die to ourself, we can have the freedom to start asking questions like “Who can I love? And, who is left out?”
We move from searching for situations that “make us feel good”, to looking for ways we can sacrifice self to bless others. Do you see the shift? As our wants and needs “decrease”, we start to have the freedom to make choices that put others before ourselves. By doing this we accept the cost of love. Love and humility are inseparable.
And, guess what, as we make actual choices to humbly love others (whilst abiding in the vine), our hearts will change. Growing in humility creates soft, tender hearts with a new and freeing perspective on life.
Miller says; “When serving is combined with humility, the serving almost becomes pleasurable. You are thankful for any gift given to you. In contrast, pride can’t bear the weight of unequal love.”
So, to close; who can you choose to love?
- Maybe it is dropping off a meal for that neighbour who is slating you on facebook.
- Maybe it is choosing to speak kind words to your grumpy, unthankful spouse rather than constantly putting him down.
- Maybe it is the phoning that needy and draining church member to check in with them.
- Maybe it is having a hard conversation with a sister wandering from Jesus.
- Maybe it is practicing radical hospitality by opening your home to the stranger (the one your scheme ignores, the one who smells like wee and can’t return the favour) - eating a meal together. Asking them questions. Showing interest in their life. Making the first step.
Don’t wait for love, pursue it. This is radical Christ-like agape.
“When we realise death is at the centre of love, it is quietly liberating. Instead of fighting the death that comes with love, you embrace what your Father has given you. A tiny resurrection begins in your heart.”
Choosing to love when our feelings grow cold, is choosing to die. We die to our desires, our pride, our wants.
Remember though, looking to ourselves to work up this kind of love will leave us discouraged and exhausted. This love cannot be mimmicked, we cannot fake it. It can only grow as a result of the Spirit’s work in our life.
John Owen reminds us in “The mortification of sin” that things like prayer, mediation, fasting are considered by many as the fountain rather than the stream coming from the fountain. “These actions (says owen) are the means only, and are subordinate to the Spirit and faith.” The same with agape. It is a result of the Spirit and faith.
Owen goes on to say; “He does not so work in us that it is not still an act of our obedience” … So, whilst the Spirit is ultimately responsible to produce fruit in our life, we also must be obedient to God’s commands and make conscious choices to love Him & others.
Don’t forget, though, that your love (agape) is only the stream from the fountain of Christ’s love. We must always come back to him, by faith throught the Spirit, living obedienty in light of HIS immeseaurable love towards us, unworthy sinners. This is the only way we will be transformed to love others as we should.
I want to close with a prayer from an old, dead guy, John Stott. Apparently he was described by those who knew him as one of the most christlike guys they had ever met. What was his secret? Every single morning when he first woke up he would pray this prayer I’m about to pray …
“Heavenly Father, I pray this day I may love in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control. Amen.