This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.” 1 John 3:19-24 (NIV)
Have you ever found it hard to love someone?
I’m going to venture a guess that the answer to this question is yes. We live in a world full of people who are hard to love. Most of us probably don’t have to look any further than our own families to have that person, or people, come to mind.
However, these verses and others like them don’t offer a way out of loving others, even when it is hard.
And just when you think loving the hard-to-love people in your life is challenging enough, Matthew 5:44 takes it a step further, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (NIV) This type of love is not easy, but it has to be possible or God wouldn’t have commanded it. So, how do we do it?
I believe 1 John 3:24 provides a hint: “And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”
The Holy Spirit is our constant Helper. He convicts, corrects, and comforts. He guides us, teaches us, and empowers us. He gives us insight into problems and the strength we need to do what’s right, even when it’s difficult. This certainly includes loving others, from the hard-to-love family member or friend to our enemy.
I may be alone here, but I find this notion quite unappealing.
Loving people that I feel don’t deserve my love is hard. Loving my enemies, harder still. But aren’t I so grateful that God loved me when I didn’t deserve it, that He loved me when I was His enemy? Absolutely!
Our awareness of this love should penetrate our hearts so deeply with gratitude, that we can’t help but love others the same.And, as we discovered before, this isn’t simply a suggestion God gives us, it’s a command. “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them.” 1 John 3: 23-24 (NIV). Is John really saying that if we don’t fulfill the commandment to love one another, God is not in us? I think if we find ourselves struggling to love, then we have to at least ask ourselves why.
For as long as I’ve been alive (and for many years before that) my mother battled drug addiction.
My husband and I had high hopes for my mom’s recovery and prayed for her daily. As a result of that addiction my biological brother was placed in our custody when he was seven years old. Her struggle continued, and when my brother was nine we had the absolute privilege of welcoming him into our family as our son through adoption. We told my mom that she was always welcome to be a part of our life if she was in a healthy place, but for many years she walked down a dark road in the opposite direction of us.
Through those years the moments of “not feeling like” loving and praying for her often outweighed the moments when I did feel like it. And while there were certainly times when I gave into my feelings and chose not to pray for her, to love her, to be patient with her, the Lord never let me stay there. My love for her grew stronger as my relationship with God did.
You simply can’t get to know the love of the Father without overflowing with that same love. Not truly.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9(NIV)
I’m so grateful that the Lord has always been patient and loving with me, and I’m so keenly aware that I haven’t always made it easy. I’ve struggled through sins and outrightly delighted in sins. I’ve turned my back on God for short periods of time and walked away from Him completely for longer periods of time.
All the while God was steadfast in love, despite my opposition.
Through my awareness of the Father’s love, in addition to Jesus’s heart in mine, I was able to extend love to my mom..
On June 29, 2019, my mom gave her life to the Lord while sitting in a jail cell. And the end of this month, February 2022, will mark the two-year anniversary of her sobriety. I never gave up on her, because Jesus never gives up on us. And through the loving, patient, and daily prayers for my mom’s sobriety and salvation, the Lord was faithful to answer and bring her back to us as a healthy, sober, and sold-out lover of Jesus.
Of course we will struggle to love people when it is hard; that’s why we need the compassion of Jesus. Of course we can’t do it in our own strength; that’s why we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Of course we may not feel like it; that’s why we need the love of the Father.
Because on the other side of the struggle and the resistant feelings is the choice we can make to love anyway.
As it says in John 15: 9-11 in the Message paraphrase, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love”
And I believe as we make ourselves at home in God’s loving presence, study His Word, and follow what He has commanded us to do, we will be able to love others as He has loved us, even when it is hard.
Loving Others When It Is Hard Together,
Heather Johnson, Reclaimer
Heather is a frequent guest writer for our blogs, one of our Story of Transformation contributors, and podcast guest. You can listen to her podcast Can Marriage Be Restored After An Affair? on Living The Reclaimed Life HERE .
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