Tuesday, July 3, 2007
ON LOVING GOD
by Rowland Croucher
Scriptures: 1 John 4: 16b; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15; John 14: 15; Psalm 31: 23; Psalm 73: 25; Psalm 42: 1-2a; 1 Peter 1: 8; 2 Thessalonians 3: 5.
Evangelical Christianity invites people to 'accept Christ' (a term, incidentally, not found in the Bible) but needs more urgently to encourage them to love Christ. We are ushered onto church committees, given church jobs, and are rarely asked 'How are you and God?' The great commandment is still to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength... Rather than seeking religion, even the Christian religion - we should be seeking God.
Believing in God is good, but the devils also believe, and tremble. Being acquainted with God is good, but you can be acquainted with someone without really loving them. When a little girl said, 'God's my best friend!', she was uttering something that is at the heart of true spirituality.
Brother Lawrence was a lame, clumsy man who went to a monastery to atone somehow for his disabilities. He was put to work washing floors and kitchen pots and pans. In the midst of all this he 'practised the presence of God'. When he was dying, his friends asked what he was thinking about. He replied, 'I am doing what I shall do through all eternity - blessing God, praising God, adoring God, giving him the love of my whole heart.'
The Bible suggests about seven tests to measure our love for God.
First, we love God by loving other people. As an old saint put it: you love God just as much as, and no more than you love the person you love least.
Second, Jesus said, you prove your love for him by obeying him.
Third, if you love someone you'll want to linger in their company. Sheila Cassidy in her Prayer for Pilgrims says real prayer is not just spending time with God, but wasting time with him. And real prayer is listening more than talking.
Fourth, our words are an index of our loves: out of the fullness of our hearts we speak.
Fifth, to love someone who's absent is to keenly anticipate their return.
Sixth, there's the test of idolatry. An idol is whatever you worship, whatever you've committed your life to achieving, whatever you get excited about, whatever turns you on.
Finally, there's the ultimate test - martyrdom. What am I prepared to die for? Jesus said you can't have any greater love than being willing to die for someone. The martyrs in the Apocalypse did not cherish their own lives even in the face of death (Revelation 12: 11).
Charity, says the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, 'is nought else but love of God for himself above all creatures'.
I love you, Lord not doubtingly but with absolute certainty. Your Word beat upon my heart until I fell in love with you and now the universe and everything in it tells me to love you .... (Augustine of Hippo)
A century ago, a hymn by John Newton was often sung in the churches, the first stanza of which ran like this:
Tis a point I long to know Oft it causes anxious thought: Do I love the Lord, or no? Am I his, or am I not?
The gravest question any of us face is whether we do or do not love the Lord... Jesus told his disciples that love and obedience were organically united, that the keeping of his sayings would prove that we loved him, and the failure or refusal to keep them would prove that we did not. This is the true test of love... Not sweet emotions, not willingness to sacrifice, not zeal, but obedience to the commandments of Christ. Love for Christ is a love of willing as well as a love of feeling...
Some quotes from the spiritual masters (and others):
If we would turn from fine-spun theological speculations about grace and faith, and humbly read the New Testament with a mind to obey what we see there, we would easily find ourselves, and know for certain the answer to the question that troubled our fathers and should trouble us: 'Do we love the Lord or no?'
A W Tozer, Love's Final Test
Perceiving, as [others] have not perceived, the burning love of God, the saint gives God love for love. He cannot help it. Certainly, it is not the fruit of labour. Having seen the love of God, his own love leaps in response. His heart is drawn out of him and lost in God's immensity. No mortal can love as God loves, but the saint loves with all that there is of him... It is by love that the saint becomes free - free of that awful self-centredness which is the mark of most mortals. . . It is by love that we come to freedom, and there is no other way.
W.E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart
He had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and having resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking him only, and nothing else, not even his gifts... 'I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God, and I have endeavoured to act only for him; whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, 1 will always continue to act purely for the love of God. 1 shall have this good at least, that till death 1 shall have done all that is in me to love him.'
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
0 God, 1 love thee, 1 love thee -
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Not fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me.
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesus, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven's sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst love me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
A fearful person said, 'I fear lest I should be cast into hell.' Another anxious person said, 'I dread lest I should be deprived of the joy of heaven.' A third was very happy and contented. [He was asked] 'What is the secret of your joy and peace?' He said, 'My constant prayer to God is that he may grant me to love him with heart and soul, and I may serve and worship him by love alone. Should I worship him from fear of hell, may I be cast into it. Should I serve him from desire of gaining heaven, may he keep me out. But should I worship him from love alone, may he reveal himself to me, that my whole heart may be filled with his love and presence.'
Sadhu Sundar Singh, The Spiritual Life
'When thoughts come, welcome them; and when they do not flow freely, simply rest back and love, and grant me the shared joy of being loved by you. For I, too, by my very nature, am hungry with an insatiable hunger for the love of all of you, just as your love reaches out at your highest moments to all the people about you.'
'So child, I, even I, God, whom people have foolishly feared and flattered for my gifts, I want love and friendship more than I want grovelling subjects. So while we love each other, child, my share is as keen as yours.'
Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic
Thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. . . this darkness and this cloud... hindereth thee, so that thou mayest neither see him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel him in sweetness of love in thy affection. And therefore shape thee to bide in this darkness as long as thou mayest, evermore crying after him whom thou lovest. For if ever thou shalt see him or feel him as it may be here, it must always be in this cloud and in this darkness. Smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love.
The Cloud of Unknowing
When the next step comes, you do not take the step, you do not know the transition, you do not fall into anything. You do not go anywhere, and so you do not know the way by which you got there or the way by which you come back afterward. You are certainly not lost. You do not fly. There is no space, or there is all space: it makes no difference.
The next step is not a step... And here all adjectives fall to pieces. Words become stupid. Everything you say is misleading - unless you list every possible experience and say: 'That is not what it is', 'That is not what I am talking about.'
What it is, is freedom. It is perfect love. It is pure renunciation. It is the fruition of God. . . It is freedom living and circulating in God, who is Freedom. It is love loving in Love. It is the purity of God rejoicing in his own liberty.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds Of Contemplation
To the few who are converted, goodness is pleasant and needs no sanctions. It needs no authority, for it has been verified by experience. But when people have to be coerced into goodness, it is plain that they do not care for it.
Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals
Marvellously close, God, help me to keep thinking of you all day today, as love crowding gently as the ether, warm as the sunlight, into every nook and cranny of my thoughts, words, looks, acts - love pressing in, and oozing out, floating like perfume out to others.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
'My child, this makes me happy. Now let love flow out to my world of needy people all about you. Despise not one of the least. Do not see colour or clothes, just souls and my children. Do not hear titles or languages, just hear me speak through them. I call from behind every eye, I float upon every wave of speech and song and sigh. See me in people, for I seek to make them grow in Christlike love.'
Frank Laubach, Learning the Vocabulary of God
In Graham Greene's novel, The Heart of the Matter, Scobie is torn between love for his wife and his mistress, and decides to commit suicide. Sitting in his car, he holds a very moving conversation with God, acknowledging that he is guilty before God and that he can no longer face the altar. 'You'll be better off when you lose me once and for all. You'll be at peace when I'm out of your reach,' he tells God.
God replies. . . 'You say you love me, yet you'll do this to me - rob me of you for ever. I made you with love. I've wept your tears. . . and now you push me away, put me out of your reach. I am as humble as any other beggar. Can't you trust me as you'd trust a faithful dog? I've been faithful to you for 2000 years... Can't you trust me to see that the suffering isn't too great?'
Ivor Bailey, Live and Let Love
I no longer want to build empires, to ascend thrones, or to be number one in my little kingdom. I want to love you, and to respond to your love for me by communicating such love to others. This is what I want, 0 Lord, but you know my soft spots, my hang-ups. May the victory be yours today, 0 Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Leslie F. Brandt, A Book of Christian Prayer
I arise today Through God's strength to pilot me God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me... Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise. Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Lord, I am your child. In some mysterious sense, my Father, you are hungry for my love. Your love is mediated through words and the Word, through sunsets and rain and the whispering trees, soft shadows on the water. I was created for friendship with you, my Creator. I was redeemed for friendship with you, my Saviour. I am cared for for friendship with you, my ever-present Friend. Lord, it's not a self-improvement course I want, but you.
We taste thee, 0 thou living Bread, And long to feast upon thee still. We drink of thee the fountainhead, And thirst our souls from thee to fill.
I have tasted a little of your goodness, Lord, and it has both satisfied me and made me hunger for more. My desire is to desire you more. Give me a gift of love - for you and for others. And to journey towards the final self-forgetfulness to revel in your love forever.
Keep yourselves in the love of God, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life. May God's grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love.
From Rivers in the Desert: Meditations and Prayers for Refreshment, by Rowland Croucher. Published by Lion (U.K.), Albatross (Australia), 1991/1993, Chapter 5.