October / November 2019 - Vol. 106

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Foundations of Christian Living
Practical Ways of Loving God
The following article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. It was developed as a teaching resource for Christian covenant communities and prayer groups in the charismatic renewal movement. - ed.

The meaning of loving God
Many Christians are confused about the place of loving God in their lives because they do not understand what loving God means. One common error equates loving God with an emotional experience: either a blissful "religious high" or a constant "nice feeling" about God. Christians who hold this view are in trouble; their emotions are variable. They will either rush between emotional highs and lows, loving God inconsistently, or they will settle into a state of chronic discouragement and hopelessness over their inability to love God all the time. A second error views loving God as a rigid obligation of obedience to be lived out with joyless severity. For these Christians, the love of God is essentially an abstraction, an impersonal command of duty.

Contrary to these views, the love of God is expressed and embodied in a personal committed relationship. This concept is especially difficult for many modern people to understand, for contemporary society offers few examples of successful committed personal relationships. The most common example of such a relationship is that of husband and wife. If a husband's love depends solely upon his positive emotions, he will probably love his wife more intensely before marriage than after, and the intensity of his love will certainly vary from day to day. To endure, a man or woman's love must be built on something firmer than their emotions. Similarly, a man or woman cannot view their marriage simply as a set of rules and responsibilities which they must dutifully fulfill. Their love must be deeply personal and all-encompassing. To sum up, the type of love that cements a marriage is committed; it is not based on emotions but on a decision to give oneself fully to another. This love is also personal; it is not an adherence to guidelines and regulations, but a profound and total commitment to a whole person. The personal quality of the relationship involves emotions, though the relationship is not based on them.

Similarly, the Christian's relationship with God should be a committed personal relationship of love. It is a committed love: one which binds each person to God in a firm decision, including but independent of their emotions. It is also a personal love: one which involves the whole person in a total bond.

The Christian's relationship with God differs from the husband-wife relationship in one significant respect: the Christian's partner is the creator and Lord of the universe. A human person and God do not stand together as equals, but differ more in power and wisdom than a human differs from a bird or an insect. We should respond with awe and obedience to this God of greatness, power, glory, and holiness. But God's love is as unfathomable as his holiness; he does not compel our obedience but calls us to offer it freely. He calls us to give our lives as "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1), to order our lives so that they revolve completely around the Lord himself.

Therefore, Christians should use all their time, money, and actions to serve and glorify God. This does not necessarily rule out a new car, attractive clothes, a trip to a holiday resort, or other desirable objects. However, the basis for having these pleasures should be God's plan and not the Christian's. God will give Christians some of the pleasures that they want. People should be concerned with pleasing the Lord, and let the Lord be concerned with pleasing them. When people are in a committed personal relationship of love with the creator of the universe, they can be certain that he will satisfy all their needs and many of their desires.

Practical ways to love God
If Christians are to understand what loving God means for them in daily life, they must take specific steps and actions to express and nourish their love for God. These steps are the goals which together serve the Christian ideal of loving God above all things.

Personal Prayer. The first and most important step in growing in our love of God is the regular practice of personal prayer. In prayer, Christians can begin to experience God in new and deeply personal ways and grow in appreciating his power, holiness, and glory. However, prayer is not always a moving emotional experience. Christians truly demonstrate their fervent love for God by remaining faithful to a personal prayer time regardless of their emotional state. As a Christian perseveres in prayer through times of joy and times of dryness, they express his deep committed love for God. They also find that God often works most powerfully at the times when prayer is most difficult.

Corporate Prayer. Christians should also express their love of God through the corporate prayer of the church. God has made the church "a holy temple" (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5). This means the church is God's appointed place of worship, the central sanctuary. Therefore, a Christian who wants to love God and live in his presence should meet regularly with other Christians for common worship and prayer. This can happen in large assemblies such as church services and prayer meetings. It can also happen in smaller gatherings, for Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them" (Mathew. 18:20; see John 4:19-23). Christians who belong to churches with a sacramental tradition should partake of these sacraments as a way of loving God. Corporate worship joins a Christian with others in loving worship of God.

Brothers and Sisters. A Christian can also love God by beginning to openly share their thoughts, experiences, gifts, and needs with other Christians. The first Christians quickly gathered together into a loving spiritual family: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said any of the things which he possessed was his own but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). In the same way, Christians today should express their love of God by relating to each other with trust, affection, and commitment.

Scripture. In prayer a Christian both speaks and listens to God. Reading Scripture is another way of listening to God. When a Christian reads Scripture regularly and with faith that it is God's word, God can reveal himself more fully and increase the Christian's fervor and dedication. Christians should also approach Scripture with a willingness to learn, with a desire to have the Holy Spirit form their minds according to the truths of God's kingdom. Christians can thus express love for God by reading Scripture regularly, humbly, and with faith.

Money. Another way to love God is using one's financial resources to serve his kingdom. Loving God involves surrendering everything into his hands including money and possessions. Two specific ways that a Christian can use their money to serve God's kingdom are the practices of tithing and almsgiving. Tithing is the traditional Christian practice of contributing one-tenth of one's personal income to the church. Almsgiving is the practice of giving money to the poor and needy. A Christian should also take responsibility for the financial needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Wise and generous handling of money is a concrete way of expressing a loving commitment to God.

Use of Time. Since people often guard their time more jealously than their money, surrendering one's time and energy to God is another practical way to love him. Christians should not spend all their free time on personal leisure and recreation. They should invest some of their time in Christian service whether in the body of Christ, the family, or directly to non-Christians. Regular prayer, Scripture reading, and Christian fellowship should also have high priority in the Christian's schedule. If a Christian has not surrendered to God in the concrete reality of his daily schedule he or she is neglecting an important way to love God.

Decisions. A person's method of making decisions reveals their values and priorities. If they are self-sufficient and independent, they will probably make decisions by asking "What do I want to do? What will please me most?" If a person depends solely upon other people they will ask "What does Frank want me to do?" "What would please Barbara?" Those Christians who have fully surrendered their lives to God will ask "What does God want me to do? How can I most please the Lord?" Loving God includes making decisions according to his will.

The Holy Spirit and Patience
A final question can trouble even the person who understands the importance and meaning of loving God: "How can I, with all my weaknesses, ever love God the way he should be loved?" We must remember that we shall grow in our relationship with God. A Christian does not learn to love God totally in one day, nor in a seven-week Life in the Spirit Seminar, nor in an eight-week course in Basic Christian Maturity. Growth in loving God is a process spanning a Christian's lifetime. God is patient with people, and calls them to be patient with themselves.

Most importantly, a Christian does not grow in love for God through their own efforts. Though human efforts are required, a person's progress in loving God depends primarily upon their openness to the workings of God's own Spirit living within them. If a Christian attempts to live an ideal of love for God on their own strength, they will become discouraged, frustrated, and impatient. Christians must believe that the Holy Spirit lives within them and is actively transforming their lives. To grow in loving God, Christians must learn to rely daily upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

This article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

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