Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have dept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love … This is my command — Love one another.” I have often hesitated to dig into that verse because it sounds like abiding is dependent upon how well we do. Something about that just rubs me the wrong way.
But I think the key here is Jesus’ statement about what his commandment really is — to love one another. In fact, it would make sense to paraphrase the passage like this: “Loving one another is abiding in My love.” They are not two things, but one. We experience more of God’s love in us as we learn to give it away to others. I find this helpful. At the same time, it raises still another question.
If love is about extending myself for the good of another, how do I love without becoming depleted? I can think of a number of areas where I gave and gave until I ran out of steam and had to stop. What happened to abiding? I need to receive as well as give. So why do You tell us that giving unilaterally is such a good thing? Sure, God, You can do it, because You have no limits. But I am limited, and I cannot just give.
Yet Jesus says, “What good is it if you give to those who can give back to you? Anybody can do that! Give to those who cannot repay you.” Now this makes some intuitive sense to me if Jesus is talking about material things. But is He also talking about how we give and receive non-material things such as care and encouragement and prayer for one another? What about that small group I was leading that wore me out? Is that how we give?
There is room here for much reflection and learning, I think. One thought that comes to mind is that it matters where I place my focus. Hebrews 2 says that it was the joy set before Jesus (of restoring people to Himself, I believe) that encouraged Him to do what He had to do. My own experience is that where I place my focus makes a lot of difference. If I look at how much work is left to finish a book I am writing, I end up running errands instead. But when I am reminded of those who have told me how much my work has made a difference in their lives, I am drawn to my computer and want to write all day. Focus matters. And when we focus on the life we have been called to share, the work loses a lot of its weight. It feels a lot more like abiding.
The other thought that comes to mind today is that if I am burning out from leading a small group instead of experiencing the abiding presence of God’s love, then maybe I am missing something! Perhaps my focus is off, or my methods have superseded what God wants to do there.
Still, none of this dismisses the truth that I really do need others from whom I can receive life. But if that is in place and my relationship with God is feeding me, then my love for others will probably feed me as well and not drain life out of me. Our God is a generous, loving God. Our hope is that we might learn to love others in much the same way. As we do so, our experience of God’s abiding love will grow as well.