Life is a progression. It may not always be obvious, but we are continuously moving from one milestone to the next. For example, at the most fundamental level, we are all on a journey from birth to death. The wise ones learn from their experiences and encounters along the way, preparing themselves for what lies ahead. Those who fail to embrace each step in the journey often find themselves ill-equipped for the road they are traveling, making the journey much bumpier than it was intended to be.
Process is Paramount
I am by no means an expert when it comes to life, but there seems to be a natural order to much of it. When I have tried to circumvent that order, or have been forced to do so, the results have typically been less than ideal. To use the colloquialism, we suffer when we “put the cart before the horse.”
Like many others I have known, I was forced to grow up a little quicker than I probably should have. My parents divorced when I was an infant, and I was raised by my mother. Mom was the Vice President of a bank in my hometown, and her position required a significant time investment that took a considerable mental and emotional toll. She was a wonderful lady in so many ways, but she struggled with an addiction to alcohol that often made things pretty shaky at home.
I will spare you all the details, but suffice it to say that “childhood” was a relatively short window for me. Looking back, in many ways I was forced into adulthood before having the opportunity to enjoy life as a teenager and learn the lessons associated with that stage of life. In my college years (and even at times since then) I tried to go back and recapture a part of some of what I missed – let’s just say that what “works” as a teenager doesn’t work quite as well in your late twenties and beyond. My process was all out of whack, and while my journey has certainly been easier than many, there has been a price to pay.
Beginning at the Beginning
As with the natural progression of physical, mental, and emotional maturity, God has also created a process through which we mature spiritually, growing in love for God and those around us. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is not a process in the sense that we complete one stage and move on to the next. Instead, each stage is a building block that is essential to support that which follows. We are to live in each stage (for lack of a better term) simultaneously, but our “success” in later stages is contingent upon our development in those that precede.
The only place to start in our progression toward growing in love for God is at the beginning – understanding the incredible love that the Father has for us. It is impossible to truly love God without first understanding this reality. That is the reason for Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus (and for all believers):
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV
Paul prays that we would be “rooted and established” in our understanding of God’s love. It is the foundation, the starting point for everything that follows. In short, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). This is the truth that equips us to love God in a way that is steady and will stand the test of time and hardship.
The Love of God – A Firm Foundation
Paul also asks God that we would understand the fullness of the love of Christ – the width, length, height, and depth. It is difficult to wrap our natural minds around the fact that Jesus loves us with the same intensity with which the Father loves the Son, but Jesus Himself said that is the case: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9).
When we begin to understand the fullness with which our Father loves us, it gives us the freedom to stand before God with confidence and boldly proclaim, “He loves me! I am one of His favorites!” When we can honestly make that claim, our hearts are free to love Him in return. Contrarily, if we don’t grasp the reality of His love on at least some level, we will remain stagnant, and our love for God and those around us will quickly grow cold. Again, we are only able to love well because God first loved us!
So as not to “over spiritualize” this reality, let’s think of it in very practical terms. In our natural relationships, it is difficult for us to love and grow close to someone when we don’t believe they like us. In such a situation, we have two choices. We either give up on the relationship, or we go out of our way to try impress or force the other party to notice and appreciate us. Sadly, many have chosen one of these two paths in their relationship with God.
If you are struggling to connect with God in a meaningful way, pray along with Paul that the Holy Spirit will help you gain experiential knowledge of the Father’s love. I am convinced that there are few prayers that He is more excited to answer! If you have any thoughts, questions or just want someone to pray with you, drop a comment below or connect with me on social media. I would love to continue the conversation!