A few weeks ago I had someone share Norm Wakefield’s “Equipped to Love” sermon with me. It was an extremely stirring and challenging message because it cut to some of the difficulties with following Jesus. Despite what many churches may say corporately, the true life Christians are called to live is not easy, nor is it a ticket to wealth or pain-free living. The truth of the matter is that when you really examine the teachings of Jesus Christ, you’ll find that the life he asks his disciples and followers to live is not comfortable, easy, or something you can do half-heartedly. It calls for a lot of self-sacrifice— doing things that we certainly don’t naturally do and in most cases, feel like doing the opposite of. With that said, I wanted to share some of my takeaways from the sermon below:
God’s love vs the world’s love
- Real love is the greatest proof we know God.
- God’s love is our greatest confidence in the day of judgement.
- The world’s kind of love is a counterfeit. It loves because it gets something that it wants or desires in return.
- Anytime you feel like you are walking on eggshells around someone, you know you are experiencing the world’s kind of love.
- God’s love has no expectations of getting or receiving. It is truly unconditional.
- In our sinfulness we drew out the love of God such that it would be defined in the world.
Intellectually I’ve never had difficulty with God’s love being unconditional. Also, I easily recognize that the world’s love is conditional. Accepting God’s love as unconditional is hard for me on sort of a two steps forward, one step back sort of way. Most days I feel like I have to earn God’s love through my behavior, i.e. if I screw up I have to reestablish a streak of good behavior before I feel I can approach God again. I have a feeling that a lot of people are like this to some degree.
I’ve certainly felt like I was walking on eggshells at various points in life. Looking back on those times, I think part of me was worried about being manipulated. At the same time, it makes me realize that I can do more to avoid manipulating others with my emotions or how I demonstrate love to other people
- Do we ever thank God for what we cannot use? God doesn’t have to get anything from us.
- The more useless someone is to us (i.e. the less we can get from them) the more valuable they are to our lives.
- You cannot truly love anyone you idolize.
- Instead of looking to God for life, we look to other things. This is the spirit of idolatry.
- There are lots of idolizers in the church who haven’t loved in their entire lives, yet think they have loved God and others.
I definitely don’t seek what I can’t use. No one does that. However, I don’t have a strong enough thought pattern built for expressing gratitude for the things God gives me that I don’t want. Few people I’ve encountered over the years do. However, I’ve begun to understand what it means to idolize someone. The fact that idolizing someone else is incompatible with loving them is a challenging thought. For example, I can’t both idolize my family members and love them at the same time.
Honestly, I have a hard time turning to God for sustenance. In comparison to the lives of other people I’ve met, I have a high locus of control. A strength of mine is to be purposeful and see opportunities where others don’t. This has benefited me in most areas of life. At the same time, it’s built a habit of relying on myself rather than on God.
Manipulation and Anger
- We manipulate other people to get something from them. Manipulation is how we idolize people.
- We can negatively manipulate them with anger, which is a symptom of idolatry. We get angry because it’s an effective manipulator.
- In order to get over our anger, we need to stop idolizing people.
Rarely do I think of anger as a form of manipulation. If I get angry, I typically don’t carry any regret for it later. This is another thing that few people do. The connection between idolizing people and anger was new for me, but it’s extremely helpful as I connect the dots for what causes me to become angry
Why change? Freedom
- We must know and abide in God’s love through the work of Christ. When you do this, you will be free to love without expecting anything in return.
- Therefore free yourself of your idols.
I get it. However, I struggle with the idea that I can rest in the work of Christ, but still need to free myself of idols. Do I have to do something or not? Where does God’s grace/work begin and my efforts end? I dealt with legalism throughout my youth and into my early 20s. I’m frustrated at the prospect of receiving another to-do list. To-do lists quickly turn into me trying to earn God’s favor or hitting a streak of good behavior. That’s not freedom at all.
If I’m honest, I’m not so sure that I like what God is asking his followers to do. We’re essentially being asked to give up our own plans and ideas for what we should be – our image – and instead submit to the image and the plan that God wants for us. For those of us who have very noble self-images and have tried to align them as best we can to God’s principles, completely letting go of the reigns and ambition is extremely difficult. Personally I don’t know how thousands of people can sit in churches every Sunday and not think, “You know I’m not sure I want to do this. God sounds kind of tough and hard to follow.” At the same time I know that God is doing this out of love. I struggle with the idea of love that doesn’t seem to be in my best interests at first glance. But at the end of the day, I also know that God is the only one qualified to orchestrate the events in my life.