On this Valentine’s Day, I am struck by how different true love (as pictured in the Bible) is from the love that our world promotes every day. If you were to believe the media, true love is found when you find a person who gives you everything you want and makes you feel great no matter what you do. If you find that this person is not fulfilling your needs, you move on to keep looking for that illusive idea of true love. The idea of true love in the Bible seems to be the complete opposite. As pictured in the life of Christ, true love is completely sacrificial even to the point of death for another person. Among the many ways that Christ demonstrated his love for others while on earth was his unbelievable commitment to serving them. The gospels make it clear that he even got on the disciples nerves by taking the time for people, whether it was the woman with the issue of blood or the 5,000 hungry people. As I have been reflecting on this issue in my own life, some key principles seemed to stick out:
1. Loving through service takes time – serving others effectively cannot normally be done quickly. This alone is a reason that I often avoid opportunities to serve as I deem certain things just too “time consuming”. While I do advocate having balance in your life and not saying yes to every opportunity, saying yes once in a while is probably a good thing. Some of my most meaningful times of connection with others have come during intense times of service like a short term missions trip, working in the nursery or serving meals at the annual women’s banquet at our church.
2. Loving though service requires commitment – as a new missionary anxious to get to know the people I was serving in urban Philly, I asked many people what I could do to get to know the community better. More often than not the feedback that I got was to involve myself in people’s lives – go to their church, eat a meal with them and most importantly stick around. Unfortunately, too many missionaries come and go quickly and do not stick it out. A few years into my time at our store, I was stopped on the shop floor by a customer who simply said “Thank You”. I asked her what she was thanking me for and she said for staying. She went on to say that many others businesses and people had moved out of their community and CLC had chosen to stay. I realized that day, that real love and community impact required commitment to service over long periods of time.
3. Loving through service requires active listening – Jesus always seemed to be able to hear the voices in the crowd whether it was Zacchaeus or the boy with the loaves and fishes. Too often in the hustle and bustle of my daily life, I do not listen very well even to those I love the most. Once many years ago, I was serving customers at our store on a very busy day and a woman came to the counter and seemed to want my attention. Unfortunately (from my perspective) she had ignored the long line of people that were in front of her and seemed to be barging in. As any good customer service person would do, I ignored her and helped the people who had waited patiently in line until the Lord began to prick my heart. After a few minutes I stepped over to ask what she wanted and she said that she needed a small white Bible. At first I began to quickly survey our stock of Bibles for a small white Bible and assumed she meant it for a wedding gift. Somehow, at that moment, the still small voice of the Lord prompted me to ask her what she needed the Bible for and she said with a sad voice that she wanted to put it in her husband’s hands. I must have looked a little mystified and then a light bulb went off – she did not want this Bible for a wedding, she wanted it for a funeral. After confirming that this was her true need, I was able to find her the exact Bible that she needed. How I wish that I listened that well and asked the right questions in every situation like that in my life.
4. Loving through service can be costly – True love does not cut and run when the going gets tough. This was never so poignantly displayed than in the Robertson McQuilkin’s beautiful book, A Promise Kept about the years that he spent taking care of his wife after she became ill with Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually she becomes totally dependent upon him, unable to perform rudimentary tasks or even converse. I pray that I would have the strength to do the same if this ever happened to my precious wife. So often, I am ready to move on to a new relationship when someone simply annoys me. True love as defined in the Bible calls me not just to love those who love me back, but to even love my enemies – what a high standard. Praise God that I have a powerful Holy Spirit living in me who can enable me to do things and love in ways that are not humanly possible.
5. Loving through service is worth the effort – there is very little that has affected my spiritual growth as much as serving others in order to demonstrate my love for them. Many of the disciplines of the Christian life such as prayer and Bible reading are solitary endeavors. Serving almost always means getting into the mess of other people’s lives. More often than not, this seems like a daunting prospect at first, but is deeply stretching and ultimately greatly fulfilling in the end. As my grandmother would say, “Actions speak louder than words”.
Consider how you can love someone this week by serving them – you might actually enjoy it.