Aging has a way of mellowing you out. I don't get near as bent out of shape over stuff that doesn't matter as I once did. It's sinking into my hard head that only one thing really matters. Jesus said so Himself.
As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed Him and made Him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word He said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them.
"Master, don't you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand."
The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it -- it's the main course, and won't be taken from her." (Luke 10:38-42 MSG)
A renowned theologian was once asked the greatest revelation he had gleaned from all his years of study. He smiled and said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. That is the only essential -- allowing God to love us unconditionally so that we can love Him back and love one another. We love Him because He first loved us." (I John 4:19)
What does it mean to love someone "unconditionally?" I don't know about you, but I've never experienced it. I know in my heart that God loves me unconditionally, but my mind has a difficult time wrapping itself around that concept. No human being is capable of loving another person unconditionally all the time. Oh, we may get a glimpse now and then, and may even do it ourselves, but we don't have what it takes to sustain that kind of love. Only God is love.
The degree to which I let you love me is the degree to which you can love me, no matter how much love you have for me. The deciding factor is trust.
I cannot let another person, or even God, love me unless I trust them. And the world, the flesh and the devil, strive to destroy our trust in anyone other than ourselves. That's why the middle letter in sin is "i." I trust no one but me. People who are unable to trust God and people will never experience unconditional love.
Love transforms people. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. God demonstrates His love for us by entering our world and being empathetic with us. He is the only one who truly knows how I feel. He understands. I won't allow God, or anyone else, to try and fix me until they understand where I am and what I'm feeling. God is the only one who can fix me. When He loves me unconditionally, even when I won't let Him fix me, my trust increases and my chances of experiencing His love increases proportionately.
The world's love is so conditional. The world will love us if; God's love has no ifs, ands or buts. What a God to take such a great gamble. We could take advantage of His goodness and grace, and go wild. God knows grace is risky business, but He also knows trust comes only through unconditional love and grace. And grace is the unmerited, undeserved favor of God.
In essence, God says, "What if I tell them who they are? What if I take away any element of fear in condemnation, judgment or rejection? What if I tell them I love them and will always love them? There's nothing they can do to make my love go away. What if I tell them I don't keep a log of past offenses, of how little they pray, how often they've let me down, made promises they don't keep? What if I tell them they are righteous, with my righteousness, right now? What if I tell them they can stop beating themselves up? They can stop being so formal, stiff and jumpy around me.
What if they knew that when they mess up, I will never "get back at them?" What if they knew the basis of our friendship isn't how little they sin, but how much they let me love them? What if I tell them they can hurt my heart, but I will never hurt theirs? What if I tell them there is no secret agenda, no trapdoor? What if I tell them it isn't about their self-effort, but about allowing me to live my life through them?" (portion of excerpt from "True Faced" by Thrall, McNicol and Lynch, NavPress, pages 51-52).
If we really believed that, nothing else would matter, would it?
Kenny Ashley is pastor of discipleship and teaching for River Hills Community Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more thoughts from him at kennyashley.com.