5 Practical Ways to Grow in Love

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 by AJ Hall

Last week I shared about my own personal struggle with giving and receiving love, and how marriage only confirmed to me that I needed to grow in my ability to love. (Marriage has a way of doing that!)


To read  “Building a Loving Marriage” click here.


The truth is: I’m not alone. We ALL have issues. We all need to grow in love. And each of us must have the courage to change. How about you? Do you see areas of your life where your love is lacking? What should you do when you recognize areas of brokenness in your life?

Here’s 5 practical tips to help you drive out shame and grow in love:

1. Surrender to Jesus.

This cannot be overstated. No matter how you cut it, our brokenness goes back to a “sin problem”. When man disobeyed a loving God, he was cut-off from self-worth and dignity; he was cut-off from Life itself! As human beings, our value is found in God; it will always be tied back to our Creator. God is the source, not us.

And as soon as we turned our back on Him, shame and fear flooded our souls. Adam’s first words after the fall were “I hid” and “I am afraid”. Shame and fear had gripped him.

We were lost to sin, and to win us back God acted out in love; The Father sending His son because of love. Jesus stood in our place for love. And now this Resurrected Savior welcomes us in. He invites us to share in His value and worth; All because of love!

I first experienced this love as a 19-year old club DJ watching my father die. In the days up to his death, I watched dumbfounded as this once hard hearted and foul mouthed man asked me to hold these little crosses and pray with him—I was witness to many of the genuine experiences he was having. I was also the one that came out to find him gone, a thin smile stretched across his gaunt face now so ravaged by two forms of cancer. The only way I can describe it is that I could almost see what my dad had seen—somehow I could see Him, the One my dad was waiting for, and I loved Him and knew His love.


But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 NKJV


2. Realize EVERYBODY is jacked up.

I have struggled with this one a lot. And I know many people struggle with comparison. So let me hammer this point: Everybody is normal… until you get to know them!

Did you get that? Everybody is weird. Yes. It’s true.

Everybody is broken. We all have our junk and hang-ups and issues—freaky areas of mistrust, pain and unforgiveness. Why? Because we live in a world full of hurt people, and those hurt people hurt people.

If you’re still not convinced that you’re broken, just ask God. He’ll gladly answer, and show you some areas where you still harbor hurt and selfishness and mistrust. Not to shame you. But because He loves you and wants you to be perfected in His love! He wants you free to love!


All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Isaiah 53:6 NLT


3. Don’t Blow this off.

For years, my wife tried to get me to see some of the strange ways I was closed off to her and others. “No man, that’s just the way I am”. Or some people think having issues with intimacy and love is not that big of a deal. These folks hear me talking about “inner healing” and emotions and they roll their eyes. Well friend, that’s a problem! Because this love thing is a BIG deal to God. Remember God’s greatest commandment? It was to love. In fact, Romans 13:10 tells us that ALL of God’s commandments can be boiled down to love.


Love does no harm to a neighbor;

therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10 NKJV


And here’s the deal: you can’t love staying all broken and hurt—walking around all wounded.

The Bible says, “Love is not touchy”. Or bitter, resentful, and irritable. No, it “bears all things”. How can love bear things? Because it’s not so easily offended. And why is it not so easily offended? Because it’s not walking around with all these wounds—harboring pain and hurt and unforgiveness. When somebody touches that wound, we lash out or pull away, or even worse, we say forget it with this whole love thing.

Don’t pull back! Have courage. And let God bind up your wounds!

4. Know the difference between guilt and shame.

Guilt is a healthy emotion. If you do wrong, you feel guilt. That’s a good thing. Don’t suppress guilt—a guilty conscience causes soul rot and leads you to accept more and more depravity into your life. Guilt can be productive.

But shame is not guilt. Shame is a spiritual force released through the power of sin. (Remember Adam?) Shame attacks our identity. It steals our hope.

Guilt is “I DID something wrong. Shame is “I AM something wrong.” You see the difference? There’s no hope with shame. You can’t fix the problem, because you are the problem. Shame is hopeless and leads to despair.

But God is bigger than our shame! He will deliver you from it’s grip. If you do something wrong, just repent! Ask God for help! Go to God. He’s not embarrassed of you asking. And He already knows what you did, and loves you anyways. He will help you. Trade in your shame for His loving embrace!


Instead of your shame, you shall have double honor, And instead of confusion, they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs.

Isaiah 61:7 5


5. Pray and Read His Word.

We need revelation. We must ask God Himself to give us understanding. To really come to know and believe that God loves us. That’s how we change. We change when we experience God’s love and forgiveness in Christ.

Look at the New Testament Epistles. The Apostle Paul prayed for his churches to “experience” the love of God for themselves. We need this same revelation. We need God’s grace and affirmation to sink down deep into our hearts. Head knowledge is not enough. You must pray and seek, speak and confess, and chew on His Word, until the love of God becomes real to you! You need a personal encounter with God’s loving acceptance. Allow your heavenly Father to become a reality in your life!


When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father… [that] your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Ephesians 3:14, 17,18,19


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Building a Loving Marriage: The Courage to Change!

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by AJ Hall

I can say confidently: I love my wife more today than the day I married her.

Not only do I feel more in love with her, I actually love her more. I’m able to love her more because my capacity to love has grown—my heart has become more open to her; I’m more devoted to her, I’m more sensitive to her touch, and I have a deeper appreciation for her.

When we first got married, I had all the same feelings of attraction. I’ve always been attracted to my wife—how could you not be? She’s beautiful!

But I also had a 25-year-old, established practice of closing myself off to any deeper kind of relationship. My walls were up. My mask was on. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had shut myself off to any form of intimacy—I couldn’t tolerate anything that got to close to me. I had engineered safeguards against ever having to experience the sting of rejection.

Isn’t it amazing how we human beings can craft such intricate, interpersonal systems of behavior to keep people out—without even being aware of it?

But here’s the truth: We all have our junk. We all have strange tendencies. We all carry pain and hurt from our past.

Doesn’t marriage have a way of drawing our pain to the surface?!

But you’re not stuck where you are! You can change! You can grow! You can be free!

Let me encourage you today: YOU can build a great marriage! I don’t care how jacked up you are! If I can have a good marriage, anybody can have a good marriage!

Doesn’t matter how much pain and fear has been jam-packed into that soul of yours, you can learn to love and be loved. You can learn to let people in!

It just starts with one simple thing:

the COURAGE to change!

 


Click here for “5 Practical Steps to Grow in Love


 

God Doesn’t Need You, but He Does Want You

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Why being wanted is better than being needed.

Back when I was a college pastor living in Gainesville, Florida, I had the privilege of hosting and ministering alongside a remarkable missionary from Vietnam. This man was a pillar of faith! In his late 70’s and suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for years, he had comforted dying street children in his arms and washed the feet of real, modern-day lepers.

Known as Uncle Charlie, this man had built an orphanage and outreach ministry to the street children of Ho Chi Min City.  Under communism, he had smuggled Bibles into the country for the underground church and now spent his days preparing and delivering peanut butter sandwiches to all his “kids”. When he spoke to my students, I remember how he pushed himself slowly around in his walker and laid hands and blessed the young people hungry for a word of encouragement.

This great man once lamented to me about the attitude of many of the ministers he came across in the United States. He noticed that far too many acted as if God needed them and their great talents.

He leaned in: “AJ, always remember: God doesn’t need you. You need God.”

I’ve found this to be a true saying.

God does not need you.

In other words, you do not impress God. You’re not that big of a deal. God is not (and never will be) awestruck by your gifts, talents, skill-sets, religious effort and/or achievements. And to act as if God needs you belies a considerable amount of self-importance—I’m obviously pretty impressed with myself when I secretly think, deep down somewhere, “You know, God should be pretty happy to have someone as great as me.”

It’s pride. And pride never ends well.

The truth is when we travel along the path of pride we end up in one of two places: feeling like we’re awesome, or feeling like we stink. Really high or really low. I’m amazing… I suck.

Back and forth we go— arrogance and despair become the vicious cycle of religion. I’m amazing: it’s time to judge everybody else! Oh no, I’m terrible: I’m the worst person ever. Yah, God is impressed with me! Oops, oh no. God thinks I’m an idiot!

Ever feel trapped in this cycle?

Here’s the good news:

God doesn’t need you, but He does WANT you!

He never intended for you to impress Him. God is not some secret admirer from afar; He’s a loving father looking down into the eyes of His child. He’s an up-close and personal God. He’s intimate.

God will settle for nothing less than intimacy. He wants relationship. He wants you.

He’s not content to sit back at a distance and let you try to impress him— He doesn’t want you out there performing for Him, He wants you close. Don’t you see? The merry-go-round of religion has too much relational distance for God’s taste. He’s intimate. He’s intense. He’s a father who will not stop with a pat on the back— He’s coming in for a hug. God’s not interested in feeding your ego, He wants to feed your soul with affirmation and love.

Why would we seek to impress God when we can be loved by God?

Don’t short-change yourself! God gave up His very own Son so that we could be loved. Jesus died so we could be counted as sons and daughters. So we could know God as Father.

Embrace the call to be a son or daughter. To be loved like a son or daughter. Don’t settle for the lonely and empty path of pride and religion.