Utilizing a beautiful turn of phrase, the apostle Paul urges believers to “walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Kenneth Wuest (Word Studies in the Greek New Testament) puts it this way: “Be constantly ordering your behaviour within the sphere of love.” The Message (The New Testament in Contemporary English) states simply and succinctly: “Learn a life of love.”
“Learn a life of love.” This phrase has so gripped me, it now represents ‘true north’ on the spiritual and moral compass of my life. As Paul admonished the Corinthians, I am trying to ‘make love my aim’ in each and every moment of my life (1 Cor. 14:1).
But that begs the question: what is love and how do we practice it? Unfortunately, love is somewhat like revival – a mythological creature that everyone believes in but no one has ever seen. I would, however, like to offer four descriptions of love which, hopefully, will expand your thinking and inspire you to compile your own list of definitions.
I would hasten to point out that none of the four definitions are actions; they may well lead to actions, but in essence they are attitudes – a way of being. We often think that love consists of giving gifts, sending flowers, buying chocolates etc. But true love begins at a subliminal level with the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Love is being aware
Love is being aware of others; not just being aware of their physical presence, but being aware of them as people. Being aware of their hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows, desires and apprehensions… Being aware of what they are thinking and feeling right now.
It’s possible to live with someone and not be aware of them. Sure, you may hear them clattering around the house, but do you actually know what is going on in their life? It’s possible to be married to someone and not really know them. Too many times I’ve heard people say, “I had no idea my wife was unhappy in the relationship.” Or, “I never suspected my husband was seeing someone else.”
Love is awareness – a moment in time when the light goes on and you see right into another person’s heart. You see them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. Another word for this is connection – a dynamic and spontaneous connection with another human being at the level of the soul.
The enemy of awareness is busyness, and busyness is the product of self-absorption. Does that mean we should stop working in order to cultivate a greater level of awareness? Of course not! Rather, it means we should slow down and take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what their hearts are saying.
The apostle Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The ‘burdens’ to which he refers are the weaknesses and shortcomings that cause us to stumble. The ‘law’ of which he speaks is the law of love. Thus, Paul’s exhortation could read, “Be sensitive to one another’s needs, for that is the true meaning of love.”
Love is being fully present
Love is being fully present in our moment by moment dealings with other people; ‘Fully present’ in terms of mental focus and emotional commitment, as opposed to disinterest and distraction.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about God, it’s this: He loves zealousness and hates indifference. Jesus said to the church at Laodicea: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).
On the other hand, David, a man after God’s heart, prayed: “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Give me singleness of heart to fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore” (Psalm 86:11-12).
For this reason, the Scripture admonishes us: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccles. 9:10 Sept.) and “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col. 3:23). When you are talking to someone, give them your undivided attention. Don’t look over their shoulder for someone else to converse with, and don’t let your mind wander to another subject (such as food). Look them in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Especially if it’s your wife!
We all know what it’s like to try and talk to someone who’s not listening and who doesn’t seem to care. It’s demeaning and diminishing. It makes you feel like a piece of driftwood, washed up on the beach. Why do people act like that? It’s usually because they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. They’re so busy running the universe they can’t stop and talk to someone for five minutes.
Conversely, what an impression it makes when someone takes the time to show interest in us and value our opinion. I’ll never forget visiting Bethesda Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas one Sunday night in 1979. Juan Carlos Ortiz, the celebrated preacher from Argentina, was teaching on the New Covenant. After the meeting, Dr. Ortiz came up to me and asked me what I thought of his message: did he explain it clearly and was I able to understand it? I was overwhelmed that this great man of God would seek my evaluation of his ministry. After all, I was only a teenager at the time.
Love is letting go of fear
According to the apostle John, love, not faith, is the antithesis of fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). True love is letting go of fear.
We often struggle to experience intimacy with loved ones and ‘significant others’. The reason for this is simple: intimacy is a case of ‘into-me-see’. The price of intimate personal relationship is unqualified transparency. And in order to self-disclose, one must run the gauntlet of fear … fear of rejection, fear of misunderstanding, fear of ridicule, fear of betrayal.
Love is letting go of the fear of disapproval in order to gain the prize of relationship based on honesty and respect. Love is taking off the mask, setting aside the pretense, terminating the calculated behaviour, and being our true selves in the sight of God and man. The apostle Paul said it best in Ephesians 4:15; “Let our lives lovingly express truth in all things – speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly” (Amplified Bible).
Love is yielding to the flow
Love is taking the path of least resistance. In other words, it is setting aside the stringent demands of the ego, and recognizing that the whole is more important than the part. It is, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:21, “submitting to one another in the fear of God”, or as J. B. Phillips puts it, “fitting in with each other because of your common reverence for Christ.”
The Bible depicts life as a river, insofar as it follows an inexorable path or course, and is impelled by a mysterious agency or force called a ‘current’. The apostle John said, “He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1). Take note of the word ‘proceeding’. In other words, ‘life flows’ when we come under God’s authority, when we align ourselves with his throne.
Love is discovering and yielding to the current of the Spirit, the divine flow, in each and every situation. For example, imagine that you are going to meet up with some friends that you haven’t seen for a long time. The plan is to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a leisurely lunch. You’ve been looking forward to it all morning.
However, when you arrive, someone says, “Why don’t we buy some bread rolls and have lunch by the river. It’s a beautiful day to be outdoors.” To your surprise, the others all agree with the suggestion. Now you are in a quandary. Do you insist on doing things your way – going to the restaurant for lunch – or do you submit to the will of the majority and have lunch by the river?
If you take a moment to detach yourself from your emotional investment in the situation, and step back and view the unfolding events as an independent observer, you might recognise that life is flowing in a certain direction – it’s just not the direction you anticipated! That’s why I say that love is taking the path of least resistance and going with the flow.
I’m not suggesting that we should compromise our moral values or ethical standards; rather, that we should surrender our desires and expectations in favour of the greater good, especially when we recognize that the flow of the Spirit is moving in the opposite direction.
It’s possible to win the argument and lose the relationship.
It’s possible to get our own way and end up feeling destitute and lonely. But if, in a spirit of love, we yield to the spontaneity and creativity of the moment and allow ourselves to be carried along by the river of life, we will experience the joy of discovering the things that God has prepared for us – things that eyes haven’t seen, our ears haven’t heard, and our minds haven’t even imagined! (1 Cor. 2:9).
The Psalmist declared, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). There is a river. There is always a river. There is a river in each and every situation, if we will just look for it. What worked yesterday may not work today. We have to find the flow in the present moment. There is a flow in family relationships. There is a flow in business. There is a flow in everything we put our hands to.
I learned many years ago to look for the flow of the Spirit when leading worship or preaching the word of God. There’s no point stubbornly sticking to your prepared script when you sense that the Spirit of God is moving in another direction. In situations like that it’s better to throw your notes away and go with the flow.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” The flow is a place of joy and contentment. It’s not fun to be fighting all the time, trying to swim upstream, trying to force the issue and make something happen. In light of the fact that there is a river – a divine flow, a dynamic current – in each and every situation, the Psalmist advises, “Be still and know that I am God!”
The Emphasized Bible puts it this way: “Let be! And know that I am God.” R. K. Harrison says, “Stop your striving, and recognize that I am God.” Let go and relax. Let it be. Just walk in love and let it be.