So I had to forward this great devotional on to you all. It is from Bible Plan (reading the Bible in a year) Today’s devotional was what I have been having on my heart, especially today. Hope you also get something out of it.
In February 1977, Bishop Festo Kivengere fled Uganda in fear for his life. A few days previously he had been part of a group of church leaders who had delivered a letter of protest to the dictator, Idi Amin. They had spoken out against the beatings, arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances taking place across Uganda at the time. The delegation had been led by Kivengere’s friend and leader, Archbishop Janani Luwum. Within twenty-four hours of delivering the letter, Luwum had been killed, and Kivengere driven into hiding and then exile.
Soon afterwards Kivengere published a book entitled I Love Idi Amin. In the book he explained the extraordinary title: ‘The Holy Spirit showed me that I was getting hard in my spirit … so I had to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, and for grace to love President Amin more … this was fresh air for my tired soul. I knew I had seen the Lord and been released: love filled my heart.’
Love is more than a feeling or an emotion. It is a decision about how we treat one another. As Bishop Stephen Neill wrote, ‘If a mathematical analysis of “love” in this sense were to be attempted, it would probably assign 10% to emotion; 20% to understanding; 70% to will.’
Jesus was the supreme example of love in the history of the world. He tells us to love God, to love one another (John 13:34-35), to love our neighbour as ourselves and even to love our enemies. He demonstrates all this in his own life through loving everyone (even Judas who betrayed him as we see in today’s passage), and laying down his life for us all in love.
1. Love God
When you are in trouble do you ever bargain with God? Do you ever make a promise that if God were to answer your prayer you will do something (… or you won’t do something ever again!)? The psalmist made such a promise – and when his prayer was answered he fulfilled his promise. He wrote, ‘I will … fulfil my vows to you – vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble’ (vv.13-14).
God loves you. He does not withhold his love from you. The psalmist praises God: ‘He stayed with me, loyal in his love‘ (v.20, MSG). Your love for God and others is a response to his love for you, ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).
God, in his love for you, hears and answers your prayers. If you want to enjoy God’s love to the full, experience answered prayer, and show your love for him, there is one thing you need to avoid. The psalmist writes: ‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened’ (Psalm 66:18).
If there is sin in the past, you can confess it and repent of it and be forgiven. What really blocks our relationship with God is if we deliberately plan to sin in the future. Then we cannot come into God’s presence with a clear conscience. This blocks the experience of his love.
It is because God, in his love ‘has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer’ (v.19), that in response the psalmist wants other people to listen to him. ‘Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me’ (v.16). It is so encouraging to hear other people’s testimonies about what God has done in their lives. It inspires the rest of us and increases our faith.
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness, mercy and love. Thank you for the many times when you have listened and heard my voice in prayer (v.19). ‘Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!’ (v.20).
2. Love one another
Nothing is more of a hindrance to the message of Jesus than a lack of love between Christians. If our nations are to be changed, if people are going to turn back to following Jesus, we must start loving one another. This means loving Christians of different churches, denominations, traditions and different views to us.
It means loving one another in the local church. Disunity destroys. Love unites. Love attracts others to the person of Jesus. Loving God and loving one another in Jesus’ name must be our overall ambition above all others. That is the kind of love that can change the world.
The author of John’s Gospel knew the love of Jesus in a very special way. Of all the disciples he was the one closest to Jesus. He was the one who ‘was reclining next to him’ (v.23). Four times in this gospel, John describes himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved‘: here (v.23), at the cross (19:26), at the empty tomb (20:2) and with the risen Jesus (21:20).
Perhaps, because of this unique experience of Jesus’ love, his gospel and letters speak so much about love. He records that Jesus told his disciples, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (13:34-35).
People fail to love for different reasons. Judas betrays Jesus in spite of being so close to him: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me’ (v.18). Satan entered into him (v.27). Here we see the very opposite of love. Yet Jesus continued to love Judas.
Peter loved Jesus. But he too failed. Peter said that he would lay down his life for Jesus (v.37), but Jesus tells him, ‘You will disown me three times’ (v.38). And that is what Peter did (18:15-18,25-27). Yet Jesus continued to love Peter.
Jesus sets before us this amazing challenge: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (13:34). Jesus loved us by laying down his life for us. He says that we are to follow his example and show self-sacrificial love for one another. This is the mark of a true Christian. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (v.35).
Love is the most effective form of evangelism. When people see real love they see God. The best way to tell people about Jesus is to love them and to love other followers of Jesus.
Generally, in the world, people get into groups with people they are naturally attracted to and who think the same way as them. The followers of Jesus are meant to be quite different. The church of Jesus Christ brings us together with a variety of people from different backgrounds, of different interests, different ages, ethnicities, races, perspectives, opinions and different views: all who love one another.
This is one of the reasons I love gatherings, such as Alpha International Week. The week gathers people from over 100 countries and numerous different churches and denominations, representing every continent, race and ethnicity. One of the features of these biennial weeks is always the extraordinary love that breaks down every barrier and unites us all in our love for Jesus and our love for one another.
Lord, help us to love one another as you have loved us. May we see a new love between Christians of all churches, denominations and traditions in the local, national and global church. May the world be changed by our love.
3. Love like God
There are times in our lives when we may feel outnumbered by problems – illness, temptation, attacks on our faith and so on – but God is able to save us, if he acts on our behalf. However much we seem to be outnumbered by our enemies, if the Lord acts on our behalf we will be saved.
We need to trust God not just when things are going well, but also in the difficult times. God is looking for men and women of faith.
Samuel said, ‘The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people’ (13:14).
God’s heart is full of love, compassion, mercy, justice and creativity. He is looking for people who are like him – like Jesus. Only the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts can make us like Jesus.
Saul failed. God had told Saul to wait until Samuel arrived. When Samuel was delayed, the people became restless. Saul cared more about what the people thought than what God thought. He became impatient and panicked (vv.6-12), just as we so often do. We need to learn to be more patient – to wait for God to act – and not panic if little things go wrong, such as Samuel being late. We must not rush into rash decisions in the heat of the moment.
Jonathan, on the other hand, trusted ultimately in God’s love. He said ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few’ (14:6).
Lord, please give me a heart like yours – a heart of love. Help me to trust in your unfailing love. Thank you that your love is poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to me (Romans 5:5). Lord, please pour your love into my heart today.