I do not know a single true disciple of Jesus who does not long to love Him more fully. Sure, that desire waxes and wanes over time, but I am convinced that you cannot know Jesus and be content to have a stagnant heart. So, if growing in love for God is our priority, why do so many believers seem to struggle in that regard? Why do so many begin to doubt that their love for Jesus is real, becoming content to just “go through the motions” or even turning their backs on God completely?
Several years ago, a buddy of mine purchased a brand-new Chevrolet diesel pickup. He had wanted to make the switch from a gasoline engine to diesel for years, and when he finally pulled the trigger, he was so excited. He could not stop talking about his new “baby.” It somehow came up in every conversation, and his social media feeds were filled with photos. Honestly, it was a little annoying.
Then one day I saw a post that immediately changed my response from annoyance to compassion.
Since he had driven a truck with a gasoline engine for over two decades, my friend had obviously become accustomed to grabbing the nozzle for unleaded when he pulled into the gas station (you can probably tell where this is going). One afternoon he pulled in to fuel up, and sure enough, he filled his diesel tank with unleaded gasoline. The truck drove fine for a bit, but it did not take long for the performance to degrade significantly. Then it completely shut down.
Diesel engines are designed to run on diesel fuel. Putting anything else in the tank will eventually leave you stranded.
The human heart was designed to love God as a response to His great love for us. Putting anything else in the “tank” will eventually leave you frustrated, burned out, and doubting if you really love God at all!
Growing in Love for God Requires Growing in God’s Love
In Jesus’s high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, He prays, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26, NIV, emphasis mine). Jesus is saying that He has revealed the Father to us in fullness, showing us His incredible love in order to set us free to love Him in return. Not only that, but He asks the Father to impart to our hearts the same love with which the Father loves the Son.
The anointing to receive God’s love and then to return it back to Him is the greatest gift that the Holy Spirit imparts to our hearts. Paul tells us that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Love for God is a gift that comes to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, and it begins with a revelation of His love for us. In short, it takes God to love God, and He freely gives this love to all who earnestly desire it.
The second step in the God-ordained process for growing in love for God and other people is learning to love God out of the overflow of His love in our hearts. The degree to which we are able to accept and receive His love determines the degree to which we are free to love Him in return! With that in mind, I would like to wrap up this post with a brief discussion on what it means to “love” God and why it is critical that our love is born out of a response to His.
Motive is Everything
There are certainly a lot of facets to what it means to love God, and it would be impossible to fully explore that concept here. That said, since we seem to throw the word “love” around pretty freely most times – I “love” tacos, and I “love” my wife, but obviously in ways that are quite different – I think it is important to provide some definition and context for our discussion.
In John 14:15-24, Jesus defines love for God as being deeply rooted in a spirit of obedience: “‘If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words . . . .” According to Jesus, there is no such thing as loving God without seeking to obey His Word. This is not to say that we must get it right every time – in fact, we can’t (see my previous post about “poorness of spirit”) – only that we set our hearts to obey, making every effort to partner with the Holy Spirit as He works on making our hearts submissive to God.
While loving God is certainly more than just obeying His commandments, the two cannot be separated. We must set our hearts to obey. But there are several different “flavors” of obedience that we should be aware of.
The most basic form of obedience is fear-based obedience, which is obedience that is motivated by the fear of negative consequences. While this is not the strongest form of obedience or the one most desired by God, it is still very biblical. Jesus consistently makes mention of the reality of hell, the ultimate punishment for those who rebel against God and choose to ignore His love and leadership in their lives.
A second form of obedience is duty-based obedience. This speaks of a commitment to obey the Lord even when we do not feel God’s presence or have any strong inspiration to do so. This too is a biblical motivation for obedience, as God’s Word requires that we obey even when our feelings are contrary to the commandment.
While we will often find ourselves relating to God in the place of fear-based or duty-based obedience, both of which are healthy and biblical, the ultimate form of obedience is affection-based obedience. The reason I refer to this as the “ultimate” form of obedience is that it is the one that will stand the test of time. It is the obedience that flows from experiencing Jesus’s great affection for us and then giving it back to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts.
Love for God and the desire to obey will grow in us as we are moved by the truth of His greatness and by the gratitude that comes from seeing the full story related to how He is treating us. Affection-based obedience is the strongest, deepest, and most consistent form of obedience because a person who is lovesick is willing to endure anything for love. He or she will face any challenge and endure any hardship in order to experience the freedom and joy that is found in loving wholeheartedly.
We were created with a longing to be wholehearted and abandoned, and thus to know the joy of lovesickness. There is nothing more satisfying than having the power to give the deepest affection of our heart to God and to remain loyal in love, regardless of the consequences. We long to possess the power to be abandoned in love instead of being stuck in boredom, passivity, disloyalty and compromise, all conditions that leave us broken and discontented.
The power to love God is available to all of us, but it does not begin with us. If you find yourself frustrated, burned out, wondering if your love for God is real, and maybe even ready to give up, I encourage you to check your fuel source. Based on personal experience, my guess is that you are either running on empty, or you have filled your tank with the belief that God’s love for you is somehow a response to your love for Him. The opposite is true – your heart is not designed to be the initiator, but the responder!
Stop wearing yourself out trying to manufacture that which you are incapable of producing. You will never impress God, so quit trying! But you can move His heart greatly by simply responding to what He desires to pour into yours – His boundless and unconditional love! Draw near to God through time in His Word and prayer, but only with the intent to know Him rather than to impress Him. Let Him love you, and watch your heart come alive!