I felt like a failure. All around me, people were praying, weeping, wailing—overcome with love for God. I sat like a stone. Sure, I wanted to love God. I tried to love God. But never in my almost 40 years of being a believer have I ever felt the overwhelming emotion of those surrounding me at the prayer conference I was attending. Dry eyes, dry thoughts—there must be something wrong with my faith.
After all, I usually feel quite emotional when my thoughts turn to my husband. Sure, we have our moments, but overall I’m even more in love with him now, after 30+ years of marriage, than I was the day we said our vows. Why couldn’t I summon those same emotions for God?
Intellectually, I could list off dozens of reasons to love God. He loved me first. He’s perfect, and he loves me perfectly. He’s my provider, my healer, my source of meaning, strength, and joy. Jesus died for me. How could I not love him?
So many times I’ve sat in small group meetings, Sunday school classes, church services, and listen to people talk about how much they love the Lord. It’s the most important commandment in the Bible—we are to love the Lord our God with all our strength and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength. If I failed at this, I was hopeless as a Christian.
Over the years I’ve read a number of books (such as When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper). While they were excellent books, they weren’t really all that helpful in alleviating the guilt I was feeling. I’d have times when I lay awake at 3 a.m. begging God to help me love him, and times when I admit I gave up.
I was burdened by Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 13:3—“ And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Every time God asked me to do something—visit a friend, write a blog post, sign up for a mission trip—I’d question my motives. Was I doing this because “it was the right thing to do”? Or was I doing it because I loved God?
Then I read 1 John 4:2-3,
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
It was if that verse was highlighted in glowing magenta. The words leaped off the page at me. How simple. There isn’t any mention of emotions. No talk about weeping and wailing. We show our love of God to him when we keep his commandments. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all along!
The next thought that popped into my head was, “But you don’t keep his commandments! You mess up all the time. You know that sometimes you lie, or covet, or act selfishly. See? You aren’t loving God!”
I’m pretty sure I know where that thought came from, and it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. That’s why I’m so glad John included the last part of that verse: “And His commandments are not burdensome.”
God knows that I mess up. He knows me in my weakness. My sin is no surprise to him. As much as I’d like to be perfect, it isn’t going to happen this side of heaven. So that can’t be what this verse is talking about. Otherwise, no one could love God. He’d be asking an impossibility.
It’s more a matter of the heart. Am I trying to please God? To be honest, I’d have to say “most of the time.” (Sometimes, I’m more interested in pleasing myself.) Pete likes to make an analogy with a football game. Imagine I’m the ball carrier. Now, which direction am I running? Sure, there are setbacks. I get tackled. I run out of bounds. I fumble. But overall, I’m heading toward that goal line.
It’s all right if I’m not very emotional. It’s not all about feelings. Rather, it’s my day to day intention to get it right that shows God I love him. He knows I do. He’s known it all along.