A month ago, our family went to Colorado Springs for our summer vacation. It was a wonderful time filled with laughter, awe at the beauty of God’s handiwork in the vast mountains and scenery, joy, adventure, moments of relational challenges coupled with moments of such deep love and appreciation for our family, blessing, and most precious were the memories we made together. It truly was a special time and one of those trips we wished would have never ended.
On the way driving out and back, I listened to a three part podcast series from Ransomed Heart titled Relational Freedom. Over the course of three hours of discussion, John Eldredge and Craig McConnell discuss the impact and challenges of the following idea, “The truest expression of our Godliness is how we love others.” And the core question they asked was, “What kind of relationship do you offer to others?”
Have you ever had someone impart wisdom to you and then ask such a penetrating question that you can literally feel your heart sink and then feel the physical weightiness of it land on your shoulders? That is exactly what happened to me.
So let me get this straight, the measure of my Christ-likeness is based on how I love others?! I don’t even know where to start to dissect this statement, but judging by the stirring of my soul, I knew I was being called into exploring this challenging truth more. What does relational freedom even look like? It appears at first glance that relational freedom only happens when I learn to love as Jesus did, so I can live freely from his love and offer relationship to others based on his love. Sounds simple, right? If it is that simple, why is it so hard for me to do then on a regular basis?
I have struggled immensely in my Christian journey understanding what love is, especially being able to receive love. I think for most of my life, I have had a very distorted view of love. My childhood story and most of my young adult life is one of betrayal, abandonment, neglect, and a lot of brokenness in the form of my own sin as a result of not dealing with the wounds of my childhood.
The good news is, I have been dealing with these wounds and my brokenness a lot over the last four years. I have received such profound healing and encounters with Jesus through the incredible ministry of Ransomed Heart, at E6 Boot Camps, E6 book studies, and through the deep relationships with my brothers at E6.
I have experienced love from Jesus and love from others many times over the course of my Christian life, which has helped me understand more what love looks like. But how have those glimpses of love translated into how I love others? And therein lies the challenge for me of honestly examining the measure of my Christ-likeness in the quality of what I offer to others relationally. The scariest question I could ask others is, “What is the impact of my relationship on you?” And then be willing to hear what they have to say.
The truth is, I have not loved well consistently over the course of my life and thus have not experienced very much relational freedom. I would say far too often, I have experienced and offered relational entrapment. I have mostly “loved” from the motive of receiving love, which is not love at all. Now, I would be contradicting myself as to what I just stated earlier if I did not reiterate that I have learned and grown in how I love others over the last four years. But to really be honest about my life by taking a look at the heart level, I have far to go and much to learn. I am excited though to learn more about what love is and how to love so I can offer and experience relational freedom more consistently.
One of the recommendations from the podcast was to read Dan Allender’s book Bold Love. A really cool thing happened when I invited my wife into this journey with me. We both listened to the Relational Freedom podcast and are reading Bold Love together. We have had some powerful discussions and are continuing in this journey of learning about love. I have discovered during my life that a journey of this magnitude is more rich in experience if I take it with someone I love than to do it alone! One of the most profound ideas we have learned so far is that love does come in different forms.
To learn what the various forms of love are, we have to explore the various ways Jesus loved. You have heard it said that love is a verb. Love is not a feeling, although you can feel love. Love is action based. Love, at its core, is the setting aside of one’s own needs and offering to meet the needs of others without expecting anything in return.
How then did Jesus love? For example, how did he love the Pharisees? One time he called them “Sons of hell, and that they were like whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside, but inside filled with dead man’s bones.” That doesn’t seem very loving on the surface, but sometimes love is telling the truth of the matter at hand, calling it like it is in the hope it will stir others to examine their motives. How did he love sinners? On one occasion, a prostitute barged into a dinner Jesus had been invited to by a prestigious and well known pharisee. Jesus rebuked the pharisee who was offended by the woman’s presence and offered the opportunity for this woman to weep and worship him as she kissed his feet and spread expensive perfume on him. Jesus demonstrated such an act of compassion toward this woman. Sometimes love is doing something that society would say was offensive, challenging the social morays of the time. On another occasion, the resurrected Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times if Peter loves him, giving Peter a chance to redeem his three denials of Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest. Sometimes loving someone is forgiving them and inviting them back into relationship even though you were the one who the offense was committed against. These are just a few examples of how Jesus loved through his boldness, his honesty, his truthfulness, and his compassion.
One thing Jesus did well was love others, and because he knew how to love others, he offered and experienced relational freedom. Ultimately, the greatest example of his love was his passion and his death on the Cross for all mankind. The weight of this act of love on the cross alone should be enough to give us pause and reflect on how undeserving we are of love and yet be in awe of how unconditionally and radically he pursued us in love so that we could be in relationship with him. “No greater love exists than this, when a man lays down his life for his friend.”
What really hit me hard since starting this journey two weeks ago, was what the guest pastor asked during his sermon last night at our home church, “What is your hunger for the heart of God?” At the core of the heart of God is love. “God is love.” His question opened a door of conviction in my heart. Why was it so shocking to my heart when he asked that question? If the truest expression of my Christ-likeness is how I love others, then I probably should start with asking myself, “How do I love God?” As I weighed the magnitude of this question and examined my life, it occured to me that my ability to love others is tethered to and dependant upon my hunger for intimacy and connection with the Author of Life! It was as if I had not heard this truth before! Ah, therein lies the soul level revelation for me. Do I really have relational freedom with God?
I think I have allowed, far too often, the things of life to block, interfere, divert and distort my heart, and draw me away from experiencing his love or pursuing relationship with him. I was reminded of what Jesus has to say about that, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all other things will be added to you.” At the core of the Kingdom of God is the heart of God and at the core of the heart of God is love. The question is then, what am I seeking after, what do I want? I can answer now that I have been awakened to start seeking what I want, which is relational freedom with God and with others!!
There is so much more to explore about love, how to love others well, and how to experience relational freedom, but I want to learn. I want to offer what Jesus offers. My hunger for his love is growing and I want all God has to reveal to me in this journey. So, I have decided to linger in my exploration of love and relational freedom for a season, as long as Jesus deems necessary. I am going to dive head first into the deep end. I suspect if I really allow my heart to be aligned with and grafted into His heart then I will become more like Jesus and offer real relationship to others.
I will start first with a prayer so I can do what Jesus did:
Jesus I pray for you teach me how to love and how to have relational freedom. I pray you make the process uncomfortable for me. I pray you put people in my life that I have to learn how to love supernaturally, that only your love in me could make it possible for me to know how to love them. Father, show me how to love like you do. I pray Jesus I grow in my love for you. Holy Spirit, guide me in each situation. I surrender to your leadership and your power in my life. I ask you, Holy Spirit, to walk with me as I discover the Father’s love and how to love others as Jesus does. Help me to know, understand, offer, and experience relational freedom through your love!! In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!