All You Need Is Love

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

In a world and political landscape that increasingly seems to highlight division and is more interested in being known for what it’s against rather than for, it’s especially important this Christmas to remember love. Whilst others are set on fighting against each other we have to remain set on fighting with each other. With so many opinions that wish to divide, we have to find a cause that unites.

Jesus told His disciples that people would know that they are His disciples by the way in which they loved one another (John 13:35) He didn’t say we should always agree although scripture instructs us to work for peace and unity (Ephesians 4:3-6) He didn’t create us to look the same or have the same interests but He did command that we should always love, love God and love others (Luke 10:27) There’s definitely room for healthy debate as we work towards finding solutions and answers. There’s also room for differing opinions and preferences as we aim to live peacefully alongside each other but there is definitely ‘no room at the Inn’ for our misplaced hate, we have but one true enemy and whilst we fight against each other we miss the bigger picture.

Love undoubtedly is hard, it requires us to forgive when it’s undeserved, it requires us to show grace when we want to point fingers and place blame. It’s so easy to bulldoze our way through life and people as we each champion our individual causes, but it’s so much harder to do it in love. Fortunately, it’s not something we have to try and conjure up in our own strength by striving to be right or better. Rather, God is love. He gives love and He is love and His love freely flows through us as we allow it.

Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth for the Christian, isn’t the start of the account of His incredible love for us, but it’s a special reminder of the kind of lengths He and those chosen by Him went to on our behalf. It’s the love of a courageous young virgin. Due to her devotion to and trust in God, she risked her life to bear His holy child despite not seeing all that was to come. It’s the love of a carpenter who put aside his pride and the shame of marrying a woman already pregnant to allow her to bring God’s presence into the world. It’s the love of wise Magi who travelled far from a distant place, leaving the comfort and elegance of their homes in order to bow their knee to an infant dwelling in humble circumstances. It’s the love of a group of Shepherd’s willing to leave their night watch, their livelihood, to worship at the feet of a tiny babe born in a lowly stable. It’s the love of a Father who willingly gave His own son so that we might see the error of our ways and receive forgiveness and grace. It’s the love of a Son who gave up His position, His rights, everything, in order to walk alongside us so that we could have His friendship and guidance forever. It’s the love of the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God to dwell in a broken temple of flesh in order to deliver to us our saviour.

The time and circumstances in which Jesus was born were tumultuous, the Roman rule was oppressive, the greed of kings murderous, the plight of God’s people seemingly forgotten …. but God. But Love. Love risked it all for you, for me, to know Him, that we may find peace and unity in Him. Love persevered as it nailed Jesus to the cross for the sake of our mistakes, anger, jealousy and self-interest.  Hate and prejudice didn’t nail Jesus to the cross, it was love. His love for us.

I pray that as we enter into the festivities and fun of Christmas, the games, the presents, the protruding bellies, we would stop and remember love. Amidst the many issues and uncertainties of life, there is always something, more importantly, Someone to be grateful for. As we meditate on His love for us and others over Christmas may it see us into the new year also. Maybe just maybe, then, we can change our worlds, impact those around us and show the world that despite our differences love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Merry Christmas All!

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. “

Luke 2: 9-11

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Misplaced Joy

MISPLACED JOY

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months or even years when you feel like you’ve misplaced joy? No matter how hard you try to find it, to conjure up a smile and ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, happy moments pop up now and again but joy never appears to transpire. Circumstances don’t always dictate this joy dilemma, people can face the worst of seasons and still manage to retain an inner peace and positive outlook. Others whose life bears the appearance of outward success find that contentment remains elusive. Even I, as a Christian who believes with every fibre of my being in the goodness and power of God, have had seasons of scrambling around in the dark wondering where I’ve mislaid it. Such times can leave us dumbfounded, confused and weak as our downward spiralling feelings begin to inform our decisions rather than our beliefs.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an enemy whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10 v 10). Nehemiah 8 v 10 informs us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so it makes strategic sense that he would target our joy as part of his battle plan. So how do we counter his attack and take care not to leave ourselves vulnerable? How can we hold onto joy when dark clouds hover over the horizon. “In order to have joy, you have to sow joy” is a statement I heard recently during a preach. Easy right? Of course, we reap what we sow, it’s a foundational law of nature, I can’t plant an apple seed and expect to grow an oak tree. Yet despite this simple anecdote I couldn’t help but wonder why if it’s really that obvious, do so many of us regularly find ourselves lacking in real joy? Why is joy something we experience sporadically rather than consistently? More importantly, how do we actually sow joy? How is it that Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that he’s found the secret to being content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4 v 12) Paul could easily be forgiven for misplacing his joy given the many life-threatening experiences, beatings and imprisonments he encountered during his life. Yet despite all of these he closes his revelation in verse 13 with, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” So God is the source of Paul’s joy and strength, but what does enabling this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22 – 23) to manifest in our lives actually look like practically on a day to day basis?

Interestingly I have been reading Dare To Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book which is a compilation of her findings from over 20 years of leadership research. Whilst detailing the differences between what she describes as armoured leadership and daring leadership, joy is listed as a key attribute of the latter. Here’s what she discovered,

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members.” 

Dare To Lead, Brené Brown

According to Brené’s research, joy is manifested by gratefulness. As this truth leapt off the page and induced a ‘light-bulb’ moment, I was eager to look up all the verses I could pertaining to joy. As I circled back to Paul’s words in Philippians 4 and read the verses preceding his statement of contentment, I came face to face with one of the most well-known scriptures that I’ve no doubt read and indeed journaled many times over the years,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 8 (NIV, emphasis added by me)

Right there in the midst of Paul’s ancient encouragement to the Philippian church, he instructs them to always present all requests in every situation to God with thanksgiving. In other words to practise gratitude in our daily encounter and conversation with God.

Here are three quick practical tools we can take from Philippians 4 to help restore and maintain our joy:

  • Rejoice in the Lord – Or delight in the Lord. Whatever life throws at us we can always find something to be truly grateful for in Christ.
  • Give Thanks In Every Situation – Why? Because when we pray, speak, think, write and act from a place of thanksgiving our requests, thoughts, petitions, prayers and actions become focused on His goodness rather than our lack.
  • Think on Good Things – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23 v 7 (NKJV) As we train our thoughts to think on good things, they become our beliefs which in turn dictate our actions. 

Joy doesn’t negate difficult circumstances and it doesn’t require us to pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. Rather it forces our eyes heavenwards and makes way for the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.

Each morning Rich and I have started to text each other at least 3 things that we are thankful for. Taking the time to stop and think about what we are grateful for each morning determines our position and perspective for the rest of the day. What will you do to practise joy today?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)