The last few blogs have been exploring the idea that loving God includes enjoying God. I'm trying to make a case that while serving and sacrificing are good and true manifestations of love toward someone, perhaps we don't go far enough if we don't include love as enjoyment of the loved one.

Revelation 2 may give some unexpected help in this regard. In the first several verses of this chapter Jesus is addressing the church at Ephesus. He commends the congregation there for their perseverance, their hatred of false teachings and their ability to ferret out false prophets. All good things to be doing when you're following the God of the universe. So far, so good. It sounds like these people are doing a great job of being Christ followers. But then he chastises them severely for losing track of their "first love." The language is strong: "Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent." It's as if he's saying that things done for God are not even in the same ballpark as being in love with God.

Here's the reason why. The move "in love" with God I am, the more I enjoy being in His presence. Being with God makes me desire the good that He is. I develop a taste, even a thirst for the goodness of God. The more I enjoy being with Him, the more I learn to appreciate what He appreciates, I see what He sees, I value what He values. I realize that He loves and values me. I soak up that love and begin to see myself through His eyes. I notice the gifts that He's given me, the intricate way I'm created, my unique ways of mirroring some of His many marvelous character traits. Then I start to see that this love doesn't stop with me. Rather, it encompasses every living thing that moves, and even the living things that don't move. I see that he values people (including my neighbors and children), the stray dogs and cats, the colors in fall leaves, the intricacies of clever engineering. I see that God loves what He has made.

I also see that it grieves God, because of His love, that his creation has fallen into disrepair. That his delight of all He has made is short-circuited, just as the love of a parent is pained when a child goes through a life-threatening illness. Or a teacher is troubled when a student with promise drops out of school and is caught up in a gang. The love of God moves me to action.

But the reverse is not true. Activity will not necessarily engender love and affection or a daily sense of what is in the mind of the one for whom you're working. I can be working diligently for a company, staying up late into the night, creating new marketing strategies, new improved products, watching out for competitors, etc. But this is not the same as having Thanksgiving dinner with the CEO. In fact, it may even keep you from accepting the invitation to come on over and enjoy the feast.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that they are not his "servants" but his friends. They no longer live out of obligation or obedience. Rather, their lives flow from a relationship where they know God and his ways intimately. I wonder if this is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks to the group of "friends" at Ephesus. In losing the connection - the joy of being in loving relationship with the Godhead - the Ephesians are in danger of moving backwards from friends to servants. And the fainter the connection, the less able they (and we) are to live in the Spirit of the God who loves us, and who loves other people.
 
Picture
I've been thinking a lot lately (although not writing much) about love. If I believe God is love and that we are called to live in love, what exactly does that mean? Two recent Bible studies, one this past summer with a group of women, and one currently with some college students, have emphasized the importance of love. But once that's been said, it seems like the conversation dries up. Or at least heads down wellworn and familiar paths that don't seem to take me anyplace new.

What I've concluded is that love manifests itself in three different directions. First, love is the act of giving. As Christians, we are very familiar with this type of love. We know that God loved us so much that He gave and that the cross is the greatest example of love that humankind has ever seen. We also know, from Paul, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Given that giving love is so well-documented and praised in our Scripture, it might be easy to think that it is the sum of love. But I don't think that is the case. Rather than the sum of love, I believe that "giving love" is the beginning point of love, or at least love as it appears to us humans,  who are created out of God's loving desire to give life. It is the starting point, because the next phase of love is love as receiving, or as resting, enjoying, appreciating. When I say, "I love sunsets", I mean that I appreciate, delight in, am nourished by sunsets. There is nothing that I do for the sunsets, yet I do not love them if I do not let them nourish me. If I ignore them, night after night filling my sky with amazing color and changing light, then I certainly do not love them.

In addition, if I say that I love my husband, and my love for him only consists in giving to him, encouraging him, serving him, even sacrificing my own well being for his good, then have I truly loved him in the fullest sense of the word? Maybe I have loved him in the deepest sense of the word (this is what I think Jesus means when he says that greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend) but there seems to be something lacking in our relationship. However, if in addition to serving, encouraging and sacrificing for him I enjoy him, appreciate him, rest in him, in short, allow him to give to me, then my love for my husband is expanded in a new dimension.

But what does this have to do with God? Can we say that God enjoys us? that He, the great giver of all things, who does not need anything and is self-sufficient unto himself can be a receiver, and that his receiving enhances his experience of love? Immediately I am reminded of the verse in Zephaniah "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph 3:17). God longs to delight, to take joy in us. This shouldn't surprise us. In Genesis 1, God says time after time of his creation, "This is good. This is good". Often the word "good" is set against evil, and has a moral ring to it. We think that God says, "This is good, there is nothing wrong with it, It passes muster." But what if we imagine God saying, "This is good" more like the "mmmmmm" that escapes your mouth when you lick the bowl of a brownie mix, or the "ahhhhhh" when you see an awesome fireworks, or the "ooooooh" of a child when they open a birthday gift.
 
To choose to love means to choose joy. To choose to enjoy, to receive the gifts of God, to nestle into His goodness and rest in His strength. As we do this, it continues the cycle, for God delights in our delight of Him.

More next time...