I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with what it means to really love others. I’ve been following Jesus for 50 years, and I feel like I’ve barely moved the dial in being one who consistently loves like Jesus. In addition to loving God with our whole being, Jesus said nothing more important than to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. I still have so far to go.
As I engage people, especially difficult folks, I’ve been trying to ask a question Pastor Andy Stanely famously posed: What does love require of me? It’s a tough question. My challenge isn’t so much an unwillingness to answer it in the right way; it’s just difficult to remember to even ask the question. My natural response to so many people is to be thinking about how they should act or be rather than how I should respond – that’s called an agenda.
I came across a quote from Jimmy Spencer from Love Without Agenda: Moving Our Spiritual Goalposts from Heaven and Hell to Wholeness: We can stop focusing on an agenda for others and find the freedom to focus on a purpose for ourselves. While agenda is rooted in how we see others, purpose is rooted in how we see ourselves. While agenda requires us to conquer others, purpose requires us to conform ourselves. While agenda relegates us to coercing others, purpose releases us to appreciate others. While agenda reduces us to a sliver of life, purpose moves us toward a whole humanity. And we – as Christians – may actually start to look and live like Jesus.
My agenda for others is a huge obstacle in loving others the way Jesus loves. Whether it’s a bad driver or someone painfully slow in a check-out line, or someone I care deeply about, I have great ideas and plans for how others should speak, act, and live… if they would just care enough to listen!
Spencer’s quote reminds me to ask – What’s my purpose? It’s the same as the mission of our church – Loving people to Jesus! My agenda comes far too often before my decision to love others.
I have a simple definition of love. Love is to seek the best for others. What’s best for others may or may not fit my agenda. The point is that my agenda for others often snuffs out love and can, in fact, drive people away from Jesus.
This Sunday, we start a short two-week series called Story. We are going to look at how to share our story and God’s story with anyone, but especially with our “One.” Not long ago, I encouraged all of us to prayerfully identify that “One” person we would engage as we pray for and love them. In this series, we’ll look at how we can use our story and God’s story to help our “One” find hope in Jesus. But we have to be so careful that we are not just operating out of our agenda. What comes first and motivates our storytelling is love. Love first.
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It has been said that the shortest story ever written was six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This “story” has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but there is doubt about that (check out the full story here). The point of this story isn’t its author. The point is that those six words create in us various kinds of stories. Maybe the story you thought of, created, or felt was tragic and filled with the grief of loss. But, your story could have been one of joy, as the parents were gifted with too many shoes.
Everything is driven by a story… everything! Even our Bible. Our Bible is true. It is based in true historical reality. It conveys spiritual truth that guides how we live. But it also a story. Don’t hear “story” as a fable. Hear the word “story” as God’s story that helps us find out who we are, who God is and what’s important.
The short six-word story I started with isn’t a story told for the author or storyteller’s sake. It is told for our sake. A narrative isn’t primarily about information, it is about the values or what matters that are a part of the story. Stories are ultimately about us and they tap into not only our thoughts but more important, our feelings.
This is perhaps the greatest short story in fourteen words – “For God so love the world, he gave his one and only son…” (John 3:16). It is a story of rare sacrifice. It is a story of outrageous giving. It’s the best love story ever. It is a narrative of hope.
If everything is driven by story, then we have to look at our story. Are we letting others or situations write our story (think victim)? Or are we purposefully writing our story (think intentional)? What are the values that our story tells? Remember that a story is not for the storyteller, but for the reader and audience. What does your story do to and for other people? What values do others “read” or “hear” in your story? What impact is your story having on God and others?
This past weekend, Pastor Joe Stull taught in our adult services and opened our new teaching series, “Contrast.” I hope you didn’t miss it. As Joe shared the story of his struggle with PTSD, he invited us to see what was driving him. For a while, the story was about denial, hiding his wounds, and how it was destroying and defining him. But, that was not the end of his story. He is now writing a story that allows God into the deepest places of his soul. He is writing a story that lets others into those vulnerable places. He’s allowing God and others to help him write a new story, a better story, out of the trials he experienced.
What’s your story? Are you letting your story define you? Or do your godly values push against the story and change the narrative? Does your story allow God to have influence and presence? Are you writing a story that, because God is a part of it, is a story that’s different and worth reading and listening to? Take some time to reflect on your story. With God, you can author a better story!