The Yardstick of Love…

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, RSV).

Recently, I spent some of my prayer time dialoguing with God about this all-too-familiar Scripture passage. I decided to share some of the thoughts which came out of that challenging prayer session, hoping that perhaps they might be helpful to someone else in their own prayer meditation.

Love is “patient and kind”. When? When I don’t feel like being bothered, or being asked for anything, or being interrupted, or going out of my way. That’s especially challenging when I hold on to expectations of the other person: expectations that they “ought” to be able to do something themselves, or wait until a more convenient time (a convenient time for me), or even manage without my help or input entirely. My expectations sometimes make me impatient and unkind. Real love is costly, for it involves sacrifice: putting aside my will, my ego, my desires and demands, and instead looking to the needs of the other person, that which is best for his/her flourishing. My natural inclination – even with those I greatly love – is to be loving when it’s convenient or fits what I expect.

Love is “not arrogant or rude…[it] does not insist on its own way...”. That’s a tough one. Being realistically modest and humble means not just refraining from boasting or from thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think. It also means receiving life as it comes to me rather than pushing my own agenda. It means not demanding that reality conform to me, but instead constantly practicing being more adaptable, holding very loosely to those pesky expectations about life that I can so easily have. Allowing others to do things their own way in their own time – and not being so sure that my way is always the best way – is definitely key here.

Love is “not irritable or resentful”. That speaks volumes about the need to ask for and extend forgiveness quickly and freely. For as we know, God will “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Love is long-suffering, that old-fashioned word. It suffers in silence instead of complaining or falling into self-pity. It definitely does not search for others to chime in with me about my complaint, or share and magnify my outrage about some hurt or slight. Instead, I am to pray for my enemies and bless them, as Jesus did and as he prescribed for us as his followers. He bore his Cross for love of me; he looks for me to bear mine for love of him. How hard this is! Yet as I cry out for help, his grace comes to aid me as I make my way.

Love is always ready to cheer others on when they are experiencing something good, for I’m to “rejoice in the right”, and not be envious or resentful of another’s good fortune. I’m to applaud their good works too, and not be jealous of the kudos they receive. Conversely, when injustice or wickedness is right before me, I’m not to hesitate to “call a spade a spade”, for love “does not rejoice in wrong”. I’m to speak truth in love, and I’m never, ever to enjoy a rival’s misfortune, even secretly.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”. Love doesn’t just “put up” with people or circumstances; it believes that a good God is at work in everything. Love has a firm, persevering faith that God will cause “all things” to work for each one’s eternal good (see Romans 8:28-29). Love doesn’t quit, or give up on people in disgust; it doesn’t cut people off, even if a particular situation requires some reasonable limits with some folks. Love knows that God isn’t finished with me or with them yet, and so love endures with hopeful fortitude. It strives to keep an open heart.

I ended my meditation wanting very much to “grow up” in my loving, and not be stuck in “childish ways” (verse 11). I need to make this mature love my aim (1 Corinthians 14:1a) as I cooperate with the Holy Spirit. For truly, God is the only one who can fundamentally transform me. I can get only so far on my own efforts. As I abide in him and he in me that kind of love – His love – can begin to be expressed in my life. Only my Heavenly Father can “circumcise” my natural heart (see Deuteronomy 30:6), removing selfishness and self-preoccupation, and exposing a more tender heart, one like my Savior, Jesus.

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