All of us at K-House want to wish you and yours a most blessed and joyous holiday season. Christmas is often a very emotional and sensitive time of year (and this Christmas will be no exception), especially for those of us who have lost loved ones, those who are struggling with financial burdens and those who are facing difficult horizons ahead. But as long as we keep our eyes focused on Him and the promises He has given us, we will come through the season victoriously. Let us remember, at all times, the real meaning of Christmas - His Gift of Love - and truly celebrate together His birth, His Life and His resurrection. Without Him, think of where we would be!
Last month, we began a new series called The Key - how to continually give over our "selves" to the Lord. The principles espoused in The Key have made more of an impact on my 44 years with the Lord than anything else - nothing else has affected my walk with Him as much. Knowing how to surrender my "self" to God (all my thoughts, emotions and desires that are contrary to His) so that He can love His Love through me affects every choice that I make. It really is the "key" to the abundant life.
Most of us understand that we have God's Love in our hearts, but how many of us, in all honesty, really experience that Love of God out in our everyday lives - in our marriages, in our relationships and in our workplace? We talk about experiencing His Love and we sing about it, but how many of us are really living an abundant, love-filled life?
There's a huge difference between simply knowing in our heads that we possess God's Love and actually experiencing that Love out in our lives. The key to being able to do this is understanding how to relinquish ourselves to the Lord, on a moment-by-moment basis.In Review
In last month's article, I began by sharing a portion of my own story, so that you could see the key that changed everything in my own marriage. In review, we had been married about 20 years when the crisis in our marriage came to a head. At the time Chuck was the CEO of a major electronics firm up in San Francisco. Chip and Mark were teenagers and Lisa and Michelle were 8 and 2 years old, respectively. We lived in a gorgeous three-acre ranch house with all the amenities, drove fancy cars and traveled extensively.
Anyone who might have seen our family from a distance would have thought, "Wow, the perfect Christian family." But, like I shared last time, we were like so many other families you see now, just existing together, with no love, no life and certainly no joy.
Our marital problems seemed to stem primarily from four areas. My Chuck was, and still is, a workaholic. Back then, he worked an average of seven days a week, 12-hour days and traveled two weeks out of the month. Because he was an absentee dad, our teenage boys encountered many, many problems, and Lisa and Michelle (who was often in the hospital with various medical problems), formed deep emotional scars. In addition, in later years, we encountered huge financial problems, which affected the whole family. And, finally, the thing that seemed to compound everything else, is that we continually moved. We moved 15 times in our first 20 years!
As my feelings of frustration, resentment and bitterness over the above circumstances became unbearable, I would go to the Lord and say, "Where is the Love You talk about in Your Word and how can I experience it? Lord, if You are the answer, why am I so miserable?"
What I didn't understand at the time is that Agape is not a human emotion or a human feeling, but God Himself loving through us. God is the One doing the loving, not us. All He desires from us is the willingness to set our "selves" aside, so that He can love His Love through us. Thus, all God wanted from me at that time, was the willingness to first yield and surrender my self to him, so that He could love Chuck through me. In other words, God's Love doesn't automatically flow through us just because we are believers. Anything that we choose to hold on to (bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, anger, etc.), even if it's justified by the world's standards, block His Love in our hearts and cause it to grow cold in our lives.
And this was the problem in my own marriage.A Hopeless Situation
Our lives just seemed to crescendo up to an inevitable explosion. We began to talk of separation and divorce, because we couldn't see any other way out of the pain we were both experiencing except to escape and run. This is why I can identify with so many Christians today.
I felt like I had tried every way I knew to save our marriage. I had read every book on marriage that I could get my hands on; I went to marriage counselors and marriage seminars; I tried the way of submission (which, by the way, I absolutely hated); and, I tried crying fits. None of these things ever worked, however, because they were simply temporary "outside" fixes. They were like bandages - only covering the outside but never touching or exposing the debris inside that was the real cause of our marriage problems.
Finally, things became so bad between us that I came to the point of leaving Chuck. Through a series of circumstances (all related in the little book, Why Should I be the First to Change?), God began to show me that He had a "more excellent way" - His way of Love - for me to learn.
God showed me that yes, some of the things that Chuck was doing were wrong and that some of his priorities were off, and that yes, He would address these in His timing and in His way. But He also showed me that the way I was responding to Chuck's sin was also wrong (and quenching His Love in me), and this is what He wanted to address in me.
God made it clear to me that if I would just trust Him enough (by faith, not feelings) to give my "self" over to Him and become that cleansed vessel, He would then show me how to initiate His real Love to Chuck.Why Should I Be The First to Change?
Now, of course, my response was, "Are you kidding? Why should I be the first to change? (the name of my first book) Chuck is the one not paying attention to You. If he will change, then I'd be glad to follow suit." God's answer to me is one I will never forget. He simply said, "Nancy, the reason you need to be the first to change is because your life depends on it." In other words, my life depended upon my own willingness to change first.
The basic goal and purpose of all our lives as Christians is to be conformed into the image of Christ (i.e., to let Christ's Love shine forth through us). Therefore, it doesn't matter who is the first to begin that transformation, because God desires us all to be transformed.
I finally said to the Lord, "I don't understand what more you want from me. I feel like I've already tried all the ways I can think of to save my marriage and none of them have ever worked. But next to You, Lord, my relationship with Chuck is the most important thing in my life and I'll do anything to save it. Therefore, do whatever You need to in my life to make me like You." In other words, I simply became willing for God to change me first.
And that's all God wanted from me: the willingness to give my self over to Him - all my thoughts, emotions and desires that are not of faith. This "yieldedness" is the KEY to the Christian walk because it affects every choice we make. God has all the Love, all the Wisdom and all the Power we need. All He needs from us is the willingness to set ourselves aside so that He can implement these things through us.
This outflowing of God's Life does not happen automatically, however! God will never violate our free will. In other words, all Christians have God's Love in their hearts because Jesus is in their hearts, but not all Christians are willing to set themselves aside to let His Love flow! And that's the bottom line.
Learning to give my self over to God - becoming an open and cleansed vessel - was the turning point in my marriage, because I finally became willing for God to show me all that He needed to do IN ME to accomplish this.
I had previously believed that in God's sight, I was pretty "clean." Wow, was I wrong! He lovingly began to show me my self-pity, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, bitterness and the list goes on and on. These were things that I had buried and stored for years in the hidden part of my soul, but never realized they blocked His Love in my heart and caused it to grow cold in my life.
Now, by worldly standards, some of these things might have been "justified." But, by God's standards, because I mulled them over and entertained them rather than giving them to Him, they became sin in me and quenched His Love in my heart. Thus, rather than operate on God's Love as I so desperately wanted to, it forced me to operate totally on human love.God's Love vs. Human Love Illustration
Speaking of human love and God's Love, let me emphasize that these two types of love are totally opposite, and getting them confused is one of the reasons why the Christian body is having such a hard time. I recently heard a wonderful story that graphically illustrates their dramatic differences.
Irene was a young woman struggling in her marriage. She, like me, had tried everything she could think of to make her marriage work, but nothing had helped. Nothing had changed.
One afternoon as she was in her bedroom crying out to God, He answered her in the way only He can and told her to "go get a thimble." "A thimble?" She thought she must have misunderstood Him. "A thimble," He responded by the Spirit, "and go fill it with water."
She knew it was God's voice, so she promptly obeyed. Once she found her thimble and filled it with water, God told her to "Go to the beach." She took her thimble full of water, walked two blocks to the beach and sat down on a rock overlooking the surf.
As she sat there contemplating why on earth God would bring her here, God again whispered, "Look at the water in your thimble. That's your love. That's human love. Now look out there at the vast ocean. That's My Love. Don't you think I have enough Love to give you so you can love your husband? You just need to be an open vessel so I can pour it through you."
Remember this story whenever you doubt you have enough love for someone. God always has enough Love for that other person, even when you don't. All He asks of you is to be clean and willing, so He can pour His Love for them through you.Characteristics of God's Love and Human Love
There are four major characteristics that define God's Love and human love. Let's briefly review them, so from now on you'll be able to spot which is which. (My book The Way of Agape covers all of this in much greater detail.)
God's Love is unconditional because it's based upon God, who is always reliable and trustworthy and always has Love for that other person, even when we don't; whereas, human love is conditional because it's always based upon us: how we feel, what our circumstances are and how the other person responds to us.
God's Love is one-sided because it doesn't have to be returned in order to be kept alive. In other words, it says, "I'll love you no matter what you do"; whereas, human love is a two-sided love because it always must be returned in order to be kept alive. It says, "If you stop loving me, I'll stop loving you."
God's Love is a freeing love because it frees the lover from expectations and presumptions and allows the one being loved to respond from his heart, not his defenses; whereas, human love is a bondage love because it puts the one loving in bondage to his expectations, and forces the one being loved to respond from his defenses, not his heart.
And finally, God's Love is an other-centered Love because it always puts the other's interests above its own; whereas human love is a self-centered love because it puts its own interests above the interests of others.
C.S. Lewis cuts through all of these things and gives us a very simple definition of the two loves: God's Love is a "gift of Love." Whereas, human love is a "need love."
The question is: This Christmas are you willing to lay down your will and your life so that God's Love can be released through you? 1 John 3:16 tells us, "Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because He laid down His Life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
Loving in this way is what Christmas -God's Gift of Love- is all about!
* * *