The flourishing life is a life marked by love giving. In what follows, I want to take some time to provide you with some powerful revelations that I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter regarding the action of love.
Love Muscles Us Off The Center Stage
When I really love someone else it makes their narrative as important to me as my own. Christ said, love others as you love yourself. When I begin to love other people I begin to find myself out of the spotlight. I find myself promoting the work of others. I find myself giving energy to the projects of others. I find myself seeking the success of my colleagues and clients.
Putting others ahead of ourselves is revolutionary. Pulitzer Prize writer Jeffery Marx captured the story of what he calls the most remarkable sports team he has ever seen; a group of high school football players coached to love deeply. In Seasons of Life , Marx retells his time with Joe Ehrmann, the highly awarded pro bowl player who after retirement directed his energy into coaching the young players at Gilmore High. He built a championship team around love. “The coaches would gather the eighty boys together and shout out, “What is our job?” Biff asked on behalf of himself, Joe, and the eight other assistant coaches. “To love us,” most of the boys yelled back. The older boys had already been through this routine more than enough times to know the proper answer. The younger boys, new to Gilmore football, would soon catch on.
“And what is your job?” Biff shot back. “To love each other,” the boys responded. Marx said he came to realize that this standard exchange was just as much a part of Gilmore football as running or tackling. “I don’t care if you’re big or small, huge muscles or no muscles, never even played football or the star on the team – I don’t care about any of that stuff,” the coaches told the young players. If you are here, then you are one of us, and we love you. Simple as that .”
You have to admit, promoting the other person and love is not the norm that most successful sports teams are built upon. But pure love when it is released is catalytic in the hearts of those in its path. And with a long view love can become a shaper of more real success than perhaps any other instrument.
Love Sanitizes Our Motives
I touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating – our motives are shifty emotions. We, in fact, don’t even completely understand our own motives. As King Solomon warned, “We justify our actions by appearances; God examines our motives.” It’s easy to look at an outcome that appears positive and justify the reasons we’re doing this or that. But God knows our motives. If we’re not motivated by God’s love, then our intentions are necessarily less that what they could be.
If, on the other hand, we operate out of pure love, our motives become clean, they are purified. This truth is foundational to the Christian faith. If you and I follow hard after Christ, then something amazing occurs: we begin to look like him. I don’t mean we start to physically look like God. I mean our hearts attach to his heart. Our moral vision for life comes from his moral goodness. His ambition for us becomes our ambition for ourselves – to love and serve our fellow man.
My motives find themselves wrapped up in a big God-blanket that covers me completely. And when I’m wrapped in that, my life not only finds purpose, but also the security I find in being known by him.
Love Pushes Me Into a Deeper Dependence on Jesus
If I am serious about making God’s love the core of my being, then my life will and should look very different—it should stick out in a world of self-love sameness. God’s love demands that I daily walk the plank for my friends and family, dying to myself and serving others. God’s love demands that I give up the motives tirelessly driving me toward fame and success because if I love God I will trust him with whatever accomplishment or notoriety He might bring. If I love God then I will place my heart in his hands with regard to my relationships, even though it may feel unsafe at times.
But it doesn’t stop with just my friends and family. God command us love our neighbor as ourselves…and his understanding of neighbor extends much further than our comfortable cul-de-sac. If I love all people, then I will have to love people who aren’t lovable, who aren’t lovely and who don’t reciprocate love. This, though, is actually the love I was made for, a God love. The late writer Brennan Manning had this type of love in mind when he encouraged an audience to love more deeply – “Instead of being identified as a community that memorizes scripture,” said Manning , “why not be identified as a community of professional lovers that cause people to say ‘How they love one another!’ … When you interact with someone, you are going to leave them feeling a little better or a little worse. You may affirm them, or you may deprive them, but there’ll be no neutral exchange. If we as a Christian community took seriously the idea that the representation of our love for Jesus is our love for one another, I am convinced it would change the world.”
However, if we’re not depending on God, then we’re probably not loving him like we should. And if we’re not loving him as we should, it’s unlikely that we’re loving one another as we should, let alone the world? The flourishing life is a life totally dependent on God—cast at his feet in service to others.
Love is Transformational
Throughout this chapter, I have hinted that true love is active love. While this is certainly true, let me clarify just a bit. It is popular to say that “Love does” and that “Love wins,” but love is not just a wild blur of activity. It begins within our hearts. It begins as our soul responds to God’s love with affection and surrender and worship. God is jealous and wants us first for himself. He wants our faithfulness and our love for him. Our actions follows these affections. What begins in the heart finds expression in the kindness of human action.
It’s amazing just how many action-based assumptions accompany agape love in the Scriptures. In Paul’s famous love chapter alone, they are seemingly everywhere. We must remember, though, that the action does not come first. The action follows a heart filled with God’s love. He pours his love into us. He grants us graces, He gifts us with mercy, He anoints us with blessings, and from that overflow we love – in word and in deed. This is what love does, and this is what a life needs to flourish. Without such a love, we wither.
Consider the journey of a little seed to help frame the transformational power of a giving love. It must go down into the earth and experience a kind of dying. There it lies in the cold earth, but in its dying, in its “going down” something miraculous happens. It splits open and sprouts life. But not just any life, but a life that also gives life. As the sprout of life breaks through the topsoil it reaches for the sun in a tender climb of new birth. It weathers the heavy rains of spring, the heat of summer, the winds of autumn and the cold of winter. The seed, once buried deep in the earth, now climbs into the air, giving beauty, giving air, giving fruit, giving, and giving. It flourishes, even though the seasons come and go. It flourishes as it grows, spreading its roots into the same place that once acted as its tomb. It moves and reaches up, spreading out and digging deep. The flourishing life, is a life of movement, a life of love that digs, and reaches, that climbs and spreads for the sake of others. It is a giving life.
Without a love that rises from within, and then turns itself outward, we cannot flourish. We will not flourish.
1 John 4: 18-19 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear[e]involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.
1 Cor 13: 1-7 (Message) If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.