LOVE, PEACE AND THE STUFF THAT KEEPS US AWAKE AT NIGHT
Jesus said we should love one another, but what does that mean in practice?
The word love is overused and distorted today. It doesn’t help that we only really have one word for love in the English language and this has to be used from loving Nutella to loving someone enough to marry them.
We place lots of emphasis on emotion in life, and this can mess up our understanding of love. That’s where Jesus words in John 14 are so helpful – and so grounded. He says that those who love him are those who keep his commandments. Love may be an emotion, but it is most of all an act of will. A determination to do the right thing by someone
If we think our love for God is shown by how we feel at any moment, our love for him will feel very fickle, because we all have moods, feel low, have anxiety, get stroppy or are afraid at different times. If you are mentally ill, say with depression, you won’t have any good emotion at all to express to God. Thinking we have to feel good about God at any one moment just leads to self-judgment, which only makes things worse. But here Jesus is saying: we show our love for God by doing his will. And we can do his will no matter how we feel at the time.
And we show our love for people the same way. We don’t have to like them to love them. We all know people we don’t like, but we can still love them by doing the right thing by them. That’s what everyday faith means: figuring out, in the course of a day, how to do God’s will by giving our lives away; putting other people’s needs before our own.
St Paul uses these words in talking to the Philippians: the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds. That should ring a bell, because they are the words we use for the final blessing in Anglican churches. But we should read them in context, because St Paul qualifies it beforehand. He says: do not worry about anything…but let your requests be made known to God. It’s then he says: and the peace of God will guard your hearts.
To find peace, we need to be honest about what makes us afraid. That isn’t easy for some people, because they think it’s not brave to admit you’re afraid. But even brave people feel afraid. I am quite sure each of us is carrying things we are worried and fearful about today. We help God by bringing these feelings out into the open with him, naming them, and then naming Jesus, who has power over them. I don’t mean to downplay anyone’s fears. We all know, especially right now, there are things that spook us, that keep us awake at night, that shadow us through the day. Many of these fears loom large, and they can’t just be wished away. But in offering them to God, we are saying: I know you are here, Lord, though I may not feel you or see you right now. And I know you have power over everything in this world. Can we do this together?
There is an unearthly peace we can access, as the Holy Spirit fills us and tells us a different story about our lives.
We have a kind of default setting as human beings. And it’s around change. We can really struggle with it, usually feeling much happier with how things are, than how they could be. That’s why following Jesus is so hard, because it’s a constant process of readjustment, of being changed from within. Perhaps the reason why we find change hard is because we try to resist the biggest change of all, but can’t. And that is ageing. We are all growing older all the time, but the good news is that with the Holy Spirit within, we are being changed from one degree of glory to another – a story that
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