Have you ever felt that you just can’t stand someone? Many years ago, there was a woman at a mother’s group I attended who rubbed me wrong in so many ways. She annoyed me and made me feel threatened to the point that I became inwardly defensive and critical of her. I really couldn’t stand her. But I knew my thoughts and feelings had to change. This was not the heart attitude God wanted for me.
I had just come through a very dark season where I had learned that God’s ways alone lead to freedom and wholeness. I was very aware that every choice I made mattered. Would I choose my way or God’s way? My choice would be a matter of bondage or freedom. I could choose disdain, or I could choose love. With such strong negative feelings, the only thing I knew to do was to pray, and to keep praying, that God would change my heart towards this woman. A month or two passed by, and then it happened. I realized the work of God. I was standing in line for refreshments at one of our meetings when I surprisingly found myself being fond of this very same woman. I genuinely enjoyed and appreciated her. I was amazed. Because I had acknowledged that God’s will was superior to my feelings and looked to Him to change my heart, He did just that.
Loving others matters to God. Our choice to love or not love is, in fact, a matter of life and death. The apostle John wrote to believers about this truth: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14) The love in our life, or the absence of it, tells us how we are really doing. Whereas we tend to look at our performance and practices to determine our level of spirituality, God measures our spiritual state by the position of our heart. How are we doing at loving others? If we are loving others, we can be confident that we are in life, the very life of Christ. But if we are not loving, death has place in our life.
But what exactly does love look like? I have heard many Christians say that we are not called to like people but to love them. As with many of the cliché sayings we have, there is an element of truth in this statement while not being entirely accurate. When we believe we have to love someone but we don’t have to like them, we too often allow our hearts to remain in a place God never intended us to stay. As Christians we have been taught that love isn’t necessarily a feeling but an action. And this is true. We may not feel like loving someone, but we can choose to act in love in obedience to God. But if we are choosing to love, our feelings will eventually change. The love of Christ, defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13, is so robust that it will inevitably change our perspective and feelings toward others as we choose to walk in it. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
When I prayed for God to help me love someone I couldn’t stand, while obeying what I knew was right, God changed my heart to the point that I felt fond of this person. As I aligned my thoughts and will with Christ’s through prayer and submission, He did what I could not. This supernatural transformation is the hope we have in Christ. So while it is true that our feelings may not always be pretty, they don’t dictate our lives. We submit them to Christ by obeying His will over our feelings. And in our complete surrender, our feelings eventually begin to fall in line with the heart of Christ toward others. The love of Jesus is strong enough to change even our affections. We are capable of a far deeper love than we can even imagine according to the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit inside of us. But so often we settle for less. We make it about ourselves and our preferences, and we lean on our own understanding. We get caught up in all kinds of preoccupations, and we focus on lesser things. But love is the main thing.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Love is God’s top priority for us. In His Kingdom, love is the key to an effective, purposeful, and meaningful life. Without it, we are pretty much wasting our time.
If we love God, we will love others. We can choose love even in this strangely divisive time. And we should. This very darkness is where the light of love inside our souls can shine the brightest. This is our time to shine. We were created for this very hour. We can make a difference, not through our opinions and personal objectives but with love. God’s kindness leads to repentance, and we are the ones through whom God wants to share such grace. Will you extend that to others? Will you walk in love? Love is a matter of life and death!
About the author: Kimberly Vaughn has a strong desire for unity within the body of Christ, as well as for every believer to pursue God’s wisdom through His Word, prayer and obedience. Kimberly also longs for broken people to find hope and healing in Jesus. She believes that words have power of life and death, and she loves to speak and write words of life that build others up. Kimberly has been involved in a variety of ministries in and outside the walls of the church. She is a devoted wife and homeschool mother of two children.