Every morning, my husband reads aloud the day’s entry in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest as I try to shake the cobwebs out of my still-foggy mind. Steve has a soothing reading voice, perfect for lulling children (and me) to sleep.
But one day last week, the words he read slapped me awake. I mulled over those startling words as I commuted to work, and off and on in the days since.
Here’s what Oswald writes:
“Discipleship means personal, passionate devotion to a Person— our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a vast difference between devotion to a person and devotion to principles or to a cause. Our Lord never proclaimed a cause— He proclaimed personal devotion to Himself. To be a disciple is to be a devoted bondservant motivated by love for the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not truly devoted to Jesus Christ. No one on earth has this passionate love for the Lord Jesus unless the Holy Spirit has given it to him. We may admire, respect, and revere Him, but we cannot love Him on our own. The only One who truly loves the Lord Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and it is He who has “poured out in our hearts” the very “love of God” (Romans 5:5). Whenever the Holy Spirit sees an opportunity to glorify Jesus through you, He will take your entire being and set you ablaze with glowing devotion to Jesus Christ.”
I always pray, “Father, I love you.” And I mean it, at least I think I do. I hope I do. But is it really love? Or is it more like admiration and respect? Like Peter, do I love Jesus like a friend when He asks if I love Him unconditionally, with everything I am and everything I have?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach,” but I don’t think mine goes all that deep or wide or high.
Even the noblest things that I do and feel and think are tainted by my self-protective, not-totally-pure and never-really-completely-selfless motivations. Love doesn’t seek its own way. Love puts the other person first. It may look like I’m doing that from time to time, but, if I’m being honest, in the back of my mind I’m hoping for some reciprocal goodness to come my way. Or maybe it’s a codependent “love” that’s more about needing to be needed than it is about what’s best for them. People who are praised for being self-sacrificial servants can get their motivation to serve tangled up in the strokes they receive when someone notices their selflessness. It’s messy. We’re messy. We’ll never do it perfectly.
I do know one thing. God loved us first. It’s only because of His initiative that I even have the slightest ability to love – whether we’re talking about loving another person or about loving Christ.
It’s impossible for us to love Jesus with our whole heart unless the Holy Spirit, the only one who loves Him truly and purely, gives us the love and the ability to love.
And He wants to do that. He longs for you and I to come to Him in humility, admitting our weakness, and asking Him to shed abroad in our hearts the unconditional, perfect love of God. He delights when we offer that love back to God, asking God to take it, purify it, and use it however He wants.
Isn’t this the key to the life of a Christ-follower? In our own finite ability and strength, we can do nothing. We can’t love on our own. We have no faith on our own. But here’s the good news: We’re not on our own! God lavishes all His love and faith and grace and strength and wisdom on us. He enables us to do what He calls us to do. All we have to do is ask.