My husband is an Olympics junky. He counts the days until the Olympics, cries during the medal ceremonies, and, for the past two weeks, has been constantly updating me on medal counts and trivia from Sochi.
It’s the stories that really captivate my husband…the challenges that the athletes have overcome, the way they have pushed themselves to be the best, the daily discipline of training that so few are willing to submit to.
I assume that most of those athletes were born with some natural ability, of course. But no one gets to the Olympics on raw talent alone. This brings me to Love.
Love is one of the fruits of the Spirit. God is love. If we are born of the Spirit, if we are children of God, then His love is in us. We come by love naturally. Yet Scripture is peppered with verses like this:
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. – I Timothy 4:7b-8
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12b
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. – I Corinthians 9:24
It turns out that we have a part to play in our own spiritual development. We are called to discipline ourselves to practice love when we don’t feel it and aren’t good at it.
Practice turns into habit. Habits feel much easier than disciplines—whether it’s daily Bible reading, working out, doing a backwards somersault in the air on a snowboard…or responding in love to our neighbors.
Eventually, habits become a defining part of who we are. People who develop a smoking habit become smokers. People who develop a habit of practicing the piano become pianists. People who develop a habit of physical training become athletes. People who develop the habit of loving become Christlike.
What might training in the spiritual discipline of love look like? How do we begin?
First, let’s get two things straight:
1) It is Christ who works powerfully in us, not our own effort, that will give life to our discipline. We must pray without ceasing, praise Him for “our” victories and allow His grace to cover our failures.
2) Loving those who love me is no credit to me. The discipline of love means taking loving action toward people that I don’t know, am not comfortable with or are my enemies. It’s especially important to love those who are vulnerable (see Matthew 25:31-46). Loving our family and friends is important, but it’s not enough.
Now, here are some things we can learn from anyone who has ever dropped twenty pounds and, yes, the Olympic athletes:
Commit. Decide that, because God said it, you will do it. Don’t spend any more time wondering if you should or if you can or if you have time. Obey. If you need more inspiration about the power of obedience, read some of our TCT stories.
Accountability is key. Get a coach, a personal trainer or a workout buddy. Join a team. Is there someone at your church or in your family that would take this journey with you? Is there a social action small group you could join or organize? Here’s some ideas of how you can join team Reconciled World (http://reconciledworld.org/get-involved/).
Start small. This is what we teach our TCT churches. Your first attempts at love should be tiny, easy, and not very scary. Let your practice grow from there.
Practice every day. Your daily practice needs to be planned and specific. Saying, “I will exercise” doesn’t work. Saying, “I will go for a walk at 5pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday” works much better. The same is true for loving actions (check out Tessa’s February 14 post for ideas).
Finally, Bob Moffit from Harvest International (www.harvestfoundation.org) provides a helpful list of guidelines for our practice of loving action. Truly loving action will:
1. Point to God’s concern, rather than bring attention to yourself
2. Not impose something that would not be welcomed by the one being served
3. Cause you to go beyond what you would normally do
4. Require sacrifice but not divert you from your other high-priority responsibilities
“May God use The Discipline of Love to help us and those we disciple to become more Christ-like—more of a reflection of God’s loving, sacrificial, willing service. May it enlarge our ability to see and respond to the needs of those in our respective worlds, and may it help us develop lifestyles of service that reflect the image of God. May we grow in intimacy with our Father when we love others with the power and abundance of His love in us and when we obey the greatest commandment—to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds by loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-38). And may those we serve experience a fresh and more complete understanding of God and His love—through His image in us.” – Bob Moffit