|Image by Gabriella Tooth @ Pinteres|
At a church service a few years ago, I
listened to a brilliant young youth pastor preach a sermon about his frustration with the commercialisation of Christianity.
While Jesus railed against the traders in the temple who dared to defile God’s holy place with their profit making schemes, the young pastor railed against the proliferation of contemporary Christian music that posited Jesus as a bro’ or boyfriend figure who you “hang” with or “crush” on, thereby negating his holy status as the Son of God.
“Right on!”, I thought, all this lovey-dovey business is ridiculous. “It cheapens Jesus just like the consumerism usurping the true meaning of Christmas and Easter!”. It made me feel good to think that I was above this sycophantic Christian pop culture – I was the real deal! But since then I’ve come to see that words of love for Jesus – whether sung, written or prayed – can make even the manliest of men (and I’m married to one) weep.
Didn’t David cry out to the Lord? Didn’t he dance for him in the streets? Is there nothing more beautiful than the Psalms? Why then this qualm with expressions of love and adoration for Jesus?
Have you felt the touch of God's hand? The gentle caressing of Christ that meets you in your direst state of being, reaches down to your lowly state and lifts you up again? It’s very easy to forget those moments of unparalleled joy and thankfulness, the lucidity of Christ’s love; they are not contained in photographs. But we would do well to remember them.
Jesus is in the habit of taking to the hearts even the toughest feminists, the most self-centred careerists, the most stubborn atheists, the most prideful intellectuals, the most respectable pastors and the worst of sinners with a giant meat mallet until any sense of self-sufficiency, self-love, self-righteousness and self-belief is dealt with, leaving a mumbling, bumbling mess in his wake, which is then miraculously transformed into something unimaginably beautiful; restored to a wholeness that cannot be broken.
A genuine expression of our thanks for this restoration – and our ongoing sanctification – is perhaps what we should be focusing on this Valentine’s Day. Is there anything sweeter than the touch, the taste, the sheer relief of salvation upon reflection? All the roses, chocolates and stuffed toys in the world pale in comparison. But what gift can we bring out of our store of gratefulness?
Complete and utter devotion.
There's a very cute episode of The Simpsons titled "I Love Lisa" in which the socially inept Ralph Wiggum receives a Valentine's Day card from Lisa bearing the words, "I Choo-choo-choose You". It's a sympathy gesture, because Ralph is the only one in class not to receive a Valentine's card, but Ralph is smitten. In return he heaps adoration and chocolates on Lisa and takes her to the Krusty the Clown show. She is embarrassed by his public displays of affection and wants to just be friends.
Often we keep God at a distance because the world says, "That's so not cool", or because it's not convenient – we can get on with things without him just fine, thank you very much. But then one day we wake up and realise that God is missing and we want him back because in actuality we need him more than bread and water. It is nothing to be ashamed of; our need for him, and receiving his love and care in return, is inbuilt into our very being. Who or what has your heart?
God chooses us first, and everyday we have the choice to choose him or not. When we choose the Lord, and acknowledge his undying love for us and the presence of his Spirit within, we find peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations. Our world takes on a brighter hue. We make wise choices with our time, our money, our actions, our thoughts. Our loved ones are loved more. Our marriages blossom. Our prospects open. Challenges appear less cumbersome. He purifies, protects and perfects.
In his book Absolute Surrender: How to Walk in Perfect Peace, Andrew Murray explains that as Christians we are capable of demonstrating the love of God all day long. “It is a love of God to me that leaps back to him in love, and overflows to my fellow-men in love – God’s love to me, and my love to God, and my love to my fellow-men. The three are one; you cannot separate them.”
This incomparably sublime relationship is what we are designed for. As Jesus instructed, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” And we know what God wants us to do to show him our love: submit to his will, abide in his word, and nurture his church, our fellow Christians and others through neighbourly love.
And, yet, we are so easily distracted. Many are the provisions made by man to fill the God void; to distort or bury or negate the act of love Christ showed us. How easily the mind wanders to things material, self-serving, sinful and inconsequential – to idols and worries of the world. Anything, even very good things, like work or study or church duties, can easily lead to a distancing from God (he is there, of course, but we fail to show up), which in turn limits our access to his loving power in our lives.
Recently I have fallen head-over-heels for the works of C.S. Lewis, including his challenging literary critique The Allegory of Love. I could quite happily spend all the day long in his company, paging through his wonderful works of fiction and non-fiction barely coming up for breath or to eat. Given he was a man of God, this seems all the more permissible (coincidentally Lewis died on the same day as JKF, the object of many female affections).
But when you find yourself wanting to spend more time with a deceased author, and less time immersed in Jesus, or in God’s word, or in the company of fellow Christians (including your husband), you’re at risk of creating idols who threaten your most important relationships. The flow-on effect of this state of affairs can’t be underestimated. Indeed, the fidelity of the heart and mind to Christ can be more challenging for Christians than the physical.
When the magi visited the baby Jesus, they carried with them, from afar, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The humble shepherds, by comparison, who were also led by God to the stable, had no such gifts in their possession. How did they honour him? By showing up. When we show up, Jesus takes care of the rest. Even if our lives look like a complete and utter mess.
Perhaps what the young pastor was getting at in his sermon was the idea that all things done in worship for the Lord need to align with him in heart, mind, body and soul – that everything else is superficial, idolatry and, frankly, not doctrinal. But it needn't be contrived, as so much pre-packaged romance can be; when Christ and his unfailing love is at the centre, it flows naturally.
As David demonstrated, when we choose to accept what God did for us through Jesus Christ, and in exchange give him our hearts, souls and minds, we are forever protected from the perils of unrequited love, loneliness and despair and find ourselves, in turn, expressing love in the most strange and beautiful ways – a dance, a song, a perfume wasted on someone’s feet.
Let’s not be embarrassed or afraid to lavish our affection on the Lord this Valentine’s Day.
This post originally appeared at Eternity magazine.
Girl With a Satchel