Late last fall, my church had a mini retreat on love. I left with a profound feeling that I needed to work more on my heart. I had, for example, spent the previous three years reading through the bible — first chronologically, then in order, then by genre. Each year I also had some devotional content to accompany my reading. But after the retreat, I realized my devotions had become dry. I was gaining knowledge about God, but I was not really loving Him or others more. God was living in my head.
One recommendation from the retreat was to read Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence. The essential point of the book was to cultivate 5, then maybe 10 and maybe even 30 minutes a day in which I would simply sit and listen for God. No distractions. No reading. Being quiet, in solitude and waiting for God. Nothing else.
So now I have a brief devotion to prepare my heart, and I sit for 26 minutes in quiet, waiting for God. Emptying myself of my raging mind and being quiet is nearly impossible. But truthfully, I have realized that I am not capable of this approach, and I have come to understand that it is only by God’s grace that I can sit for even a minute and wait for Him.
And He has begun to cultivate my heart. In big ways. In small ways. I am almost ashamed, really, to say how much I have felt God’s love for me and in comparison, how little I love Him.
I never read Love Wins by Rob Bell. But a week ago I was reminded how quickly the church turned against Bell, and so I felt a need to read his book. Honestly, I don’t know why people vilified him so much. He never denies Christ’s divinity, or His work on the cross, or that God is the creator of everything. I thought his views on Universalism were interesting, and in fact I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce (and no one I have met vilifies Lewis). Who and how God saves is still a mystery to me.
But this is not a blog on whether or not Bell is right or wrong in regards to eternity. Instead, this is about something else he said in his book. He said that one of the reasons evangelism has fallen off so much is that Christians have a really hard time expressing what it means to love God. Put another way, to express our love for God really requires us to understand just exactly who it is we are loving.
Sadly, I think a lot of Christians portray God as a rule maker, one who will chastise you if you fall away from the proscriptive direction of a church, and a God who has no tolerance for alternative theological viewpoints. Witness the liberal versus conservative debates that rage online and in churches. Or even look at the fallout from Bell’s book.
Unbelievably, God placed this issue on my heart months ago. And as He has worked on me, the words “I love you Jesus” and “I love you Father” and “I love you Lord” have become more natural to me. In many situations, I am seeing that the language of God’s love is becoming more and more a part of my everyday conversations. And I see more and more, as Bell put it, that being an effective witness for God is directly tied to my ability to express who it is that I love.
So who exactly is the God that you love? Ask yourself this seriously. And then really, really ask yourself honestly, can you without a doubt say that you love God? Does this God shame you or forgive you? Do you see this God as joyful or harsh? Is there room in your relationship for ambiguity, or do all the rules have to be defined? Sit quietly, alone, and say the words, “I love you Lord.” How do you really, honestly react to that?
When you genuinely love God, you can’t help but talk about Him. And that’s what evangelism is all about. Love.
Love does win.
Sadly, I think this is where a lot of Christians are missing out.