The Art of Loving Well—Part 2


In our previous blog we discussed how love, at its core, is a motive.  Yet we can be so self-deceived about our motives. We can think that our motive is to give so the other can flourish, yet really be giving in order to get something in return. In order to truly love well, we must first be ruthlessly honest about our own hearts so that our love is not hindered by self-centeredness. Will our love ever be completely free of impure motives? Quite likely not, in this life, but let’s not let that hold us back from loving as purely as we can to the best of our knowledge and self-awareness.

Once we have considered the state of our own heart and motives, the art of loving well requires considering the object of our love.  What is most deeply needed from us that would really help them to grow, flourish, and be the best that they can be? What from us would be a cup of cold water to their thirsty soul? What would most effectively counter the lies that draw them away from God and point them to the truth?

Indeed, these are not always easy questions to answer.  However, we have found that Scripture gives us two categories that are always helpful in thinking about how to love well.  Those categories are GRACE and TRUTH. We are told that these two elements were what Jesus was filled with and what came to us through him who was Love Incarnate (John 1:14, 17). Therefore, it makes sense that when they come to others through us we will be loving well.

So how well do these two elements characterize the way you love as you think about the needs of others?  So often we struggle to blend these two things in a way that genuinely shows the love of Christ. Left to ourselves, we might be great truth tellers, being quick to correct or confront.  However, we leave people feeling shamed, rejected, and judged and their souls parched for the water of acceptance, grace, and kindness. Others of us may be great grace givers. We easily affirm, accept, and meet practical needs yet leave people to the bondage of lies and sin.

The reality is that true, biblical, artful loving will always call us out of our comfort zone. We must be willing to go where it is difficult, where it is a sacrifice, and where it is risky in order to love others well. For some of us that means finding the courage to speak truth, to confront or say “no” to someone in addition to being kind, gentle, and compassionate. For others, it means learning to show tenderness and compassion; seeing life from the other's perspective while at the same time bringing truth in with gentleness and patience. 

It is only as we depend upon the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to exhibit both GRACE and TRUTH as we seek to love others well. There will be moments when what others need most is grace, but there will always come a time for truth. There will be moments when what others need most is truth in order to displace lies, but that truth must always be seasoned with mercy and kindness.

In the end, it is only as we ourselves have experienced both GRACE and TRUTH in the love of God will we be able to pass that on to others. We cannot give what we have not received. But when we have received it, we have much to give that can bless and cause others to bloom and flourish in our presence.

Consider these questions as you seek to grow in the art of loving well:

What aspect of God’s character do you need to experience more of in order to grow in loving well?

Are you naturally more of a truth teller or a grace giver?

How do you need to grow in being more balanced?

Who in your life could flourish and grow more if you offered them more of what they needed with both truth and grace?

Do You Know Your True Identity?—Part Three

Do You Know Your True Identity?—Part Three

Take a moment and imagine Jesus is thinking about you. If you were gut-level honest, what do you think he feels when you come to his mind? What do you think he would want to say to you?

Many Christians are convinced that their sin and failure are what catch God’s attention. Therefore, they assume he feels angry, frustrated or disappointed with them. They imagine Jesus would give them some kind of advice, correction, or rebuke to help them get it right. That simply isn’t true (Dr. David Benner).

Do You Know Your True Identity?—Part Two

Do You Know Your True Identity?—Part Two

Since the fall of mankind (Genesis 3), we've all gone into some form of hiding. As God came seeking relationship with Adam and Eve, Adam replied, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself (verses 8-10)." Adam's hiding was driven by more than his physical nakedness. He knew he had sinned. He knew something was wrong with him. So he fled and hid from God. Like Adam and Eve, we too live with a core fear that our core "nakedness" will be seen.

Do You Know Your True Identity?—Part One

Know Your Story, Embrace the Truth

Coming out of hiding

On September 11, 2001, Flight 11 and Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center. New York City was rocked to its foundations as the Twin Towers came crashing down. As tragic as that day was in American history, 9/11 was not the worst terrorist attack against humanity. The most tragic attack came by way of a simple, theological question asked in the quiet of a garden. The Serpent asked, “Can God be trusted?” Adam and Eve said no, and they, along with the entire human race, came crashing down (Gen. 3:1–7).

Prior to this spiritual 9/11, God's presence filled Adam and Eve with joy. But after that day, something changed. Genesis says, “The Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ [Adam] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’” (Gen. 3:9–10). Instead of running toward God, Adam and Eve fled in terror. They cowered; they hid in shame.

That’s the legacy of the fall. We live with a terror of being known because we fear that the shame of our inner nakedness will be seen. We know something’s wrong with us. We hide from God. We hide from each other. We grasp for safety in thousands of ways: being passive, passing the blame, staying busy, being tough, being shy. The list goes on. Left to ourselves, we survive by faking it. We pose. We pretend we’ve got it together. We work to manage and control people by keeping them at a distance. In one way or another, everybody lives like Adam and Eve. Just like them, three dynamics describe how all fallen people relate: We’re afraid. Why? Because we’re naked. Therefore, we hide.

But God comes looking for us. He seeks us out just as he sought Adam: “Adam, where are you?” God asked that question for Adam’s sake. For our sake, God asks, “Where are you? Will you trust me? Will you come out of hiding and be known?” But like Adam, we reflexively, foolishly, and stubbornly believe our life depends on hiding instead of trusting God’s good heart. John Ortberg has well said that, “Our tendency since the Fall is to hide as if our life depended on it. This is exactly wrong. Our life depends on getting found. There is no healing in hiding.” God’s help comes by way of being known. So he continually invites us to come to him by asking, “Where are you?”

Becoming known sinners

There’s a story in the Bible about a prostitute (Luke 7:36–50). She was a "known sinner" in her village. Perhaps she was the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1–11). By law, she deserved death. Jesus rescued her. He forgave her; gently said he didn't condemn her and told her to sin no more. The affections of her heart poured out in extravagant, gift-giving gratitude.

We too must become known sinners if we want to worship God like that dear lady. We too have prostituted ourselves with the world by trying to find love and meaning in all the wrong places like sex, power, and money. When we’re fully known and we know we’re forgiven and loved with all our failures and faults, we’ll worship Jesus. Obeying Jesus will be a get to—not a have to. Being known means we come out of hiding and open our lives up to God. That happens by way of letting a few trusted people know our struggles, wounds, lies, and secrets. It means no hiding. It means we stop pretending we have it all together. We must become the fellowship of the broken. True community is a place of safety where our walls come down; where our secrets, lies, sins, weaknesses, and inabilities are disclosed; and where we are fully accepted. We must become known sinners together. This is where life in Christ can flourish. This is where we become connected heart and soul. As Ortberg says, "The irony of the masks is that although we wear them to make other people think well of us, they are drawn to us only when we take them off."

Being known is not optional

If we want to make Jesus Christ the treasure and ruling passion of our lives, we must have a safe place where we can talk about anything and everything that gets in the way of our devotion to him. We can’t become wholehearted followers of Jesus while hiding secrets and cowering in fear or shame. “Confess your sins to each other,” James tells us, “. . . that you may be healed” (James 5:16). The old slogan is true—The beginning of healing is revealing.

Secrets haunt us. They drain our heart’s passion. Hiding breeds loneliness and shame. Our Enemy hammers us with accusations such as, “If you tell anyone this secret, you’ll be condemned. People will be so hurt and disappointed in you. Hide. Take it to your grave.” Our loneliness begs for relief, making us vulnerable to further temptation. Our fallen nature, our Enemy, and our culture offer a warehouse of immoral options: have an affair, click on a porn site, masturbate to a fantasy, eat a couple more doughnuts, have another drink, buy one more toy you can’t afford to impress people you don’t care about. It’s insanity. Our lusts rise to a fever pitch. Our felt emptiness and despair deepens. We become like wretched Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, hating yet clinging to our “precious” that is destroying our lives.

Perhaps you don't harbor secrets. Many do. But we all struggle with failure and sin. We’re all in the same boat and we can only be loved to the extent we are known. When we keep our struggles or secrets to ourselves, our self-talk sounds something like this: “Yeah. You say you like me, but if you really knew me, you’d reject me.” Having secrets and hiding from others destroy intimacy with God and with each other, driving a wedge of fear and shame between a husband and wife, friends, or small-group members. We can never be one with God and others till we take off our masks. We’ll only do that when we get sick and tired of our lonely, dark, inner world. We must be so desperate for God that we take the risk of being known no matter how people may respond. Until then, we’ll never know God deeply. We’ll never be the man or woman God intends for us to be. 

God uses honest, broken people to heal broken people. Servants of Christ lead from their brokenness. That’s God’s way. Henry Cloud, in his book Making Small Groups Work, explains how the honesty and brokenness of their group leader helped him open up and grow during his college years:

The group was an informal combination of Bible study, discussion, and life sharing. . . . Dan, the facilitator, was a warm, personable student a couple of years older than the rest of us. I was drawn by his attitude and maturity. One night, however, he started the group by saying, “Hey, I am really struggling with lust and sexual temptation, and I need to let you guys know what is going on so you can help me and pray for me.” As he talked about the struggle, a chain reaction occurred; the rest of us started chiming in about how tough the sexual purity battle was for us, too.

This may be normal for your group, but for me it was world shattering. It was my first experience of sane, healthy, open discussion with other guys about sex. . . . That night Dan helped us open up our lives, hearts, and emotions. I came away pretty shaken up inside, but in a good way. I felt connected to the other guys in a way I had never experienced before. It was as if deeper parts of me had a place to go, where we were all the same.

. . . The people and what happened there became more important to me. Something changed within me. Though I still got . . . spiritual growth, learning, friendship—I began receiving another spiritual benefit I hadn’t signed up for. That surprising benefit was the possibility of being connected, heart and soul, to God and others without having to edit, pretend, or hold back.

In my next blog I'll share a clear and practical way to write and share our life stories so we can be known and embrace the truth of our true identity in Christ.

Questions for reflection

1. How do you feel about coming out of hiding and allowing yourself to be fully known by God and a few trusted others?

2. Are you fully known by someone such as your pastor, small group leader, friend, mentor, spouse, anyone? If not, would you prayerfully consider telling someone you trust or contact us through our website so we can help?

What to Do with Your Troublesome Emotions

What to Do with Your Troublesome Emotions

Often, when we feel troublesome emotions like anger, irritation, anxiety, worry, fear, jealousy, envy, guilt and shame we simply allow those emotions to dictate our choices and behavior. We kick the cat, text our child for the 20th time that day, avoid that difficult conversation, work harder to prove we are good enough, fight with our spouse or eat things we know we shouldn’t.