Not too long ago I heard the elderly and well-known prophet, Bob Jones, tell of a time in his life when he actually died and was allowed to see a glimpse of heaven. After waiting his turn, he found himself before Jesus who asked him this question, "Did you learn to love?"
Life is a lot of things, but more and more I'm seeing that it is mostly about learning to love. Our pop culture has so cheapened the meaning of love with songs that contain confusing lyrics like found in Tina Turner's song "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
The journey to love is one that each one of us must travel and the bends and turns in the road are as different as the people who travel on them. But some things remain the same, and that is that a heart that can respond with love is a whole and healthy heart, and a heart that can't needs the healing touch of our loving Papa God.
So, how do you know if your heart is healthy? When you find yourself reacting to people instead of responding to people, you know you may need a heart check-up. Reacting usually looks like that list of behaviors you find in the New Testament where Paul is telling you what you shouldn't be doing. Galations 5:19 has such a list,..."idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like."
Responding to situations and people calls for us to draw from that deep place within called our "spirit". Gal. 5: 16 says, "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature". When we take time to "respond" instead of "react" we draw from our spirit which has been renewed and is inhabited by the Holy Spirit who always produces fruit. We know we are responding from our spirit when what flows out from us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.....the fruit of the Spirit.
Another sign that love has become difficult because of a wounded and hurting heart, is that you find it very difficult to trust. In Tina Turner's song "What's Love got to Do with It?", the following lyrics portray very well where a hurting heart is headed:
I've been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I've been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way
What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
When we cease to trust in relationships it is like we have set aside a portion of our heart and put up a "No Trespassing" sign. We adopt a "wait and see" attitude. The problem with this is that a heart that isn't fully engaged is always attached to a lonely and isolated person who longs for intimacy but never can seem to find it. They may present a "portion" of themselves and on the surface it can look pretty good. But, a closer look leaves you with the feeling that they're not all there.....and they're not. A "halfhearted" way of living is where many people find themselves because their wounded hearts fear the risk of trying to love and be loved again.
I am convinced that it is very difficult for an unhealthy heart to truly love. The person may try, but again and again will experience frustration through repeated episodes of failure to love.
So, what is the journey to a healthy heart? I believe it begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness first of all for yourself, and then forgiveness for others. Unforgiveness binds us and ultimately puts us in a place of torment. As we receive the Father's forgiveness, love, and grace for our sinful patterns, we experience a lightness and freedom that is liberating.
Sometimes the difficult work is forgiving those offenses against us, especially those of abuse and violence. We need to understand the high price we are paying if we hold on to unforgiveness against those who have hurt us. Many are trapped in mental anguish, physical infirmities and dysfunctional relationship skills because of their refusal or unawareness of the necessity of forgiveness. Many will live in denial for years, stubbornly refusing to face the humbling truth, and all the while they leave a wake of destruction to those in their path as well as to themselves.
The process of forgiveness may be simple for some and complex for others. Father may reveal layers of pain/unforgiveness patterns going back to childhood. But, in order to be fully free, the work must be done and the more thoroughly, the better. As you begin to forgive and taste the sweetness of being "out of prison", you will long for more freedom and the process gains momentum.
Another step in the journey to a healthy heart is learning to trust again. Actually, you begin to learn to trust again the moment you are willing to forgive. But, Jesus is calling us to a deeper place in this thing called love. The difficult person to love may be trapped in a cycle that is offensive and we are presented with a choice. Will we love? How will we love?
We, of course, cannot love the sin, and I am not suggesting that a person stay in a place of emotional or spiritual abuse, but I am suggesting that sometimes we are asked to be courageous enough to break our destructive "reactive" cycle by first forgiving and then beginning to love the offensive person by coming to see how Father sees them. Can we be unselfish enough to look past our own brokenness to see theirs? Can we give our whole heart to come into agreement with what Father intended for them to become? Can we join with Him in calling out the treasure? Can our heart be healthy enough to respond and not react to their sin?
When we begin to partner with the heart of God for the other person I believe a shift takes place in the atmosphere. Instead of perpetually stating the obvious and spotlighting their sin, we begin to hear from our spirit and state something entirely different. Love "always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres." This is love by a different definition. This is I Corinthians 13 love.
And love must walk hand in hand with trust. Not trust in ourselves, or in the other person, but trust in God who is big enough to change all of our hearts.
So, in answer to Tina's haunting question, "What's love got to do with it?", the answer is everything. Absolutely everything.