God With Us: Love

Perhaps there is no word more overused in our culture than ‘love.’ 

Love my family.
Love chips and salsa.
Love Jane Austen.
Love Hallmark Christmas movies.
Love a good mystery.
Love my Christmas tree.
Love my friends.
Love a good cup of hot tea.

You get the idea. We tend to L.O.V.E. everything. In all our loving, we lose the potency for the kind of love God has for us. We miss its depths, its sacrifice, its unconditional and long-suffering character–so that when we hear John tell us “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son…” (3:16), we nod, but the familiarity of those words often prevents us from entering into all that God has done for us–out of His love for us.

God’s Brand of Love

Paul helps us in our attempt to grasp what God’s brand of love is truly like.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT

In short, God’s love never flows from a divided, unsure, fickle heart. His love is pure and good and righteous. And it never changes. 

Throughout the Old Testament we get glimpses of this chesed–God’s loving kindness that pours out on a people who vowed covenant love for God yet who consistently turned from Him in every way. They failed to love Him over and over and over.

But God never gave up. He constantly forgave and rescued and demonstrated His love.

  • When humanity’s hearts were only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5), God didn’t fully give up on His creation. He cleansed the earth and started over with the one righteous man. Because of His chesed.
  • When His own people’s hearts turned to pagan idols and practices–like burning babies and twisting the love between a man and a woman into a fertility god’s orgy (Ezekiel 16:20-21; 2 Kings 17:10, 17; 23:4)–God didn’t completely turn His back. He always saved a righteous remnant (Genesis 45:7; Ezra 9:8). He always kept up His end of the covenant because of His chesed.
  • When the Jewish leaders held a list of laws higher than their love of God and oppressed His people with legalism, God still loved them enough to keep His Messianic promise.

Just as in the days of Noah and David and Jesus, God’s love is never dependent on our actions. It’s always there for the giving, for the filling of our hearts. It’s forever ready with forgiveness and grace. It’s unchanging and undefeatable. And there is nothing, not one thing, that can separate God’s love from us (Romans 8:38). 

God’s Love In and Through Us

Paul’s description of this love that is both feeling and action helps ground us in God’s way of loving others, as well (ref. 1 Corinthians 13): 

  • It’s practicing kindness when we’re tempted to want our way–right. now. 
  • It’s patience with the people around us even when they’re missing the mark or flat out failing. 
  • It’s a persevering persistence that chooses to believe and hope and endure no matter the circumstances or situation.
  • It’s putting ourselves second.
  • It’s placing someone else’s needs before ours.

And this way of loving looks much differently than the way the world loves. God’s way is selfless; the world’s way, selfish. God’s way is motivated by hope; the world’s, desperation. God’s way is driven by generosity; the world’s way, greed. 

This patient, kind and unconditional way of loving is the way to love as followers of Christ. However, it’s not all on us to pull this kind of love out of ourselves. Rather, we have a pool to draw from–because He loved us first (1 John 4:19); because love is from God (1 John 4:7); because God is love (1 John 4:8).

Photo by Mauro Sbicego on Unsplash

Love Made Flesh

Our challenge this season, especially as Christmas gets closer and our hearts start pounding with stress–I mean, ONE WEEK TILL CHRISTMAS (gulp!)–is to keep the priorities and perspectives aligned with Jesus’ heart. 

How many times have I had to stop and say to myself: 

  • “This is good enough,” when not one package has a ribbon or bow. Or if all the gifts are stuffed hurriedly into gift bags–reused from last year.
  • “No one else expects this event to be perfect–just me.”
  • “The boys have enough gifts.”
  • “Larry knows I’m doing my best.”
  • “It’s not about how much we spend but the love we give with.”
  • “It’s okay if it doesn’t all get done before the family arrives.”

How many times? Every year. I get so caught up in all the doing or the guilt or the pride that I have to get my heart and mind back where they belong, every single year. In fact, every day I have to return to the source of love.

The love that left the safety and power and glory of heaven to enter earth as the most fragile, dependent creature–a newborn baby. In a barn. On a cold winter’s night. To a teenage mom who was far from home. In a country where a power hungry king killed baby boys to prevent Jesus from growing up to be the King of Kings. This, my friends, is the true love that sources all of creation, that sacrificed EVERYTHING to be here. On earth. With us. 

The One who left His immortality to become immortal.
The One who left His home to become our refuge.
The One who left His glory to become our shelter.
The One who left eternity with His Father to die for His children.

This. Is. Love.

So, when I give myself space to stop and sit in the truth of such love, I am transformed. My temptation to earn favor and love settles into a peaceful relationship of mutual affection. Jesus and I, we just share all the feels. We gush with our gratitudes. We let the tears fall because as we abide with one another, true love is shared.

It’s like nothing on earth.

The change in me is purer motive, kinder actions, fuller heart, more patience, and more holy hope for all those I love so dearly. To pull from that pool of love that exists in me because I dwell in Him is to draw on the living water of love that never ever runs out. It’s a pool I can return to every moment of every day. 

And, so can you.

Father God, You are love. You are full of perfect love, and You love us most and first and best. Your love never ends and never changes. Your love motivates You to keep your promises–even when it means allowing your one and only Son to leave your heavenly presence to come to earth to suffer, to become the bearer of all our sin, and to die on our behalf. That is true love. Lord Jesus, You did all of that for us. You are love incarnate, love divine. You are the living story of amazing love. And now your love dwells in us. We can abide in this love, allowing it to soak into every pore, every bone, every fiber of our being so that fear is cast out and we are made whole. Thank You for this love You have so freely demonstrated and given. Holy Spirit, help us to be good receivers of such love. May all this love that courses through our veins transform us into generous God-lovers who go into our homes and work spaces and churches and stores and restaurants and gas stations–to be love to others. Remind us that loving others is not a box to check off but a heart status that allows your love to overflow from us and splash onto all we meet. We pray, Holy Spirit, You would help us keep love as our highest goal! In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(inspired by 1 John 4; John 3:16; Lauren Daigle’s song “Noel;” John 15:9; Ephesians 3:18-19; John 15:12-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1)

  • In all this talk about kindness and love and forgiveness toward others, it’s important to differentiate in abusive relationships. We need to always have Jesus’ brand of love for our standard to love others AND to be loved by them. Never abused–physically, mentally, emotionally. One place to reach out if you are in an abusive relationship is the National Domestic Abuse hotline: 800-799-7233. Or let your pastor know. Or a friend.
  • Rhythms: When I say that Jesus and I get together and share all the feels, I do not exaggerate. I am a feeler for sure. And getting in His presence is a rhythm I treasure because it keeps my mind aligned with His and my heart full of His love. I can always feel it (of course) when I neglect this rhythm–stress reigns and joy is fleeting. So is my love for others… Today I turned on my Lectio 365 app and just sat with Jesus. LOVE!
    • We’re looking for organic ways to keep our focus on Jesus this Advent by tapping into what’s already around us. Like Christmas trees. So…Week Four Praise Rhythm: Anytime this week you see a Christmas tree, speak a word of thanks to God for the love displayed on the cross.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • Lauren Daigle is a constant on my playlists, making an appearance twice on our “God With Us” playlist. But one is kinda sneaky because it says “Chris Tomlin.” I’ve listened to “Noel” so many times that it’s become one of my all time favorites. And it captures so beautifully Jesus as love incarnate, love divine!!!
    • The Lectio 365 app really is a great way to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and presence–through prayer.
    • I’m still enjoying Annie F. Downs’ podcast this Advent. She’ll be diving into LOVE all week.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s love needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Jesse Goll on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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