A number of years ago, maybe five or so, I was at home one day, immersed in my morning routine. Playing praise and worship music while sitting in the living room, I had completed my daily Bible reading and devotions, but was not yet ready to move on to household chores. Caught up in the spirit of the music, I turned the volume even higher and remained in the living room for some time, singing and praising God. With a joyful heart, I declared the Truth of the songs’ words with an unaccustomed boldness that arose from my spirit, welcoming God into both my heart and my home, denying God’s enemy access to either.
Then, in the midst of my adamant celebration of faith, God made His Presence known, filling me with what I can best describe as tangible love. The love felt something akin to liquid warmth or glowing embers, only much richer and more pervasive. Far more than just a glorious sensation, the love seemed to be comprised of unseen substance that infiltrated every minute part of my spirit, soul and body, encompassing me completely. Try, though, as I may to describe the experience, I can’t do it justice. Words are insufficient.
Fully enveloped that morning in the love, I was sent into my day to go about doing what normally would have been routine. But on this day, the ho-hum was accomplished from a new perspective that gave increased significance to everything. Harmony reigned in both “doing” and “being.”
Though functioning normally by outward appearances, I was anything but what I had known “normal” to be. My mind performed its duty, getting my work done, but my consciousness was caught up in euphoria. I can only compare the experience to having always lived in a light that had been unknowingly set on dim, only to have someone suddenly switch the light to a much higher setting, greatly increasing its intensity.
That afternoon, as my husband returned home from an outing, he walked into the kitchen where I was working. Instantly, without thought or effort, the love that continued filling me to overflowing ratcheted up another notch, intensifying even more.
I cannot explain how something so complete could become even more so, but it did. The love multiplied not only itself, but also my joy that was a part of it. I am convinced that had anyone else entered the room with my husband that day, both the love and the joy would have compounded even more.
For fourteen hours, I remained in this extraordinary state. Every moment of its continuation felt like a “triumph” of sorts. Knowing that I had done absolutely nothing and could do absolutely nothing to deserve, create or sustain the experience made me nothing but appreciative. The love was a most generous outreach from the Heart of God, handed to me free of charge. With an excitement that was too great either to contain or to share with others, I celebrated in thanksgiving with God alone—the way that I now imagine that He had planned it all along.
Since that day, I have heard two well-known Bible teachers attempt to describe what must have been similar events in their own lives. Even though their personal experiences lasted much longer than mine—one having lasted several weeks and the other one a couple of months, they too had a great deal of difficulty conveying their experiences.
One of the individuals could only describe the event as a time of walking around in “La-La Land,” an apt description for what I consider to have been an out-of-this-world experience. Likewise aptly put was the other individual’s description of an imaginary scenario of the top of one’s head being removed to have warm honey poured in to overflowing capacity.
But my personal experience contained an aspect that I have not heard addressed by anyone. For during the fourteen hours that I was immersed in God’s love, I had not a single symptom of disease in my body, verifying that the experience was not solely an emotional high, but was physical as well. The love was a real and a powerful entity.
At the time that I experienced the love, Parkinson’s disease had been knowingly present in my body for about thirteen years. Having moved in and taken up residence, it took no vacations and offered no reprieves. The absence of symptoms that day cannot be explained as remission, for Parkinson’s disease has no remissions. Rather, the disease was in submission to the overpowering perfection of a love that allowed no room for anything less than itself.
Feeling fulfilled in every sense, I had no concern or needs, including the need for medication. I took not a single pill that day, never even giving the matter consideration. Medication would have been superfluous, meaningless compared to the perfection of the love that had freed me from the plague of infirmity and disease. As love flooded my body, as well as my heart and mind, I was made whole, aware that love was all that mattered.
A story is told regarding the Apostle John, who, in having had recently returned to Ephesus in his later years, was recognized during a worship service one day as the last living Apostle. As such, he was begged to share his personal knowledge of Jesus and, hence, God the Father. Acquiescing, John made his way to the front of the group, causing quite a stir among the people present. As they awaited John’s every word with great anticipation and expectancy, they could hardly believe their good fortune in having access to the wealth of John’s first-hand knowledge.
But when John spoke, he stunned the crowd, condensing the entire Gospel into one simple statement. In essence, John declared love to be the focal point of everything. Then, having said all that needed to be said, he sat back down, leaving the crowd speechless. True or not, the story’s point is both well made and well taken.
Though I say this with admitted conjecture on my part, John perhaps had the greatest personal comprehension of any apostle (while in this world) concerning the love of God. Having had lived with Jesus, experiencing Jesus’ compassion first-hand, witnessing Jesus’ Self-sacrifice, receiving revelatory knowledge of King Jesus and then living longer in Holy Spirit guidance than any other original Apostle, who is to say with certainty that John did not experientially know far better the perfection of God’s love than most, if not all, others?
John has been the brunt of many jokes regarding his references to himself in the latter portion of his Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23, 21:2, 21:20; see also John 20:2) But the statement isn’t a joking matter. Though to the world at large, John’s terminology sounds like bragging, it is anything but. The statement is one of Truth, displaying genuine humility, acknowledging the greatness of God’s love that supersedes by far every lesser form of imitation.
By restructuring John’s description of himself, we more readily see the statement’s message: “Jesus loved the disciple.” Jesus is the subject; the disciple is merely the direct object of Jesus’ affection. The emphasis is on Jesus and what he did, not on John, the disciple. We may think that saying “I love Jesus” is being humble, but the statement focuses way too much on us, instead of upon Jesus.
Following the Last Supper, when Peter earnestly declared that He would willingly lay down his life for Jesus, Peter effectually proclaimed a “love” for Jesus that would see him through to the end. Many of us valiantly proclaim likewise, declaring complete allegiance to Jesus and/or to one another.
But Peter’s “love” failed before the rooster finished crowing, and our imperfect love doesn’t last much, if any, longer than did Peter’s. (See John 13 & 18) More than anyone else, we let ourselves down, unable to love as we want to love, trying all the harder to be more lovable in a perfection that we can’t attain.
In the end, God’s love laid down Jesus’ life for everyone, including Peter. In the reality of what true and perfect love is and what it is not, the story couldn’t have unfolded any other way. God loves wholly; we love in part.
As Peter experienced, people fail to love perfectly time and again, creating pain and regret. To expect differently is to create even greater havoc in the world, demanding impossible specificity from others and ourselves in a desire to feel good about ourselves always.
But, as seen with Peter, fear and pride sometimes interfere with our ability to love, concealing themselves even from the ones who harbor them… until they do their damage. Daring to hide even in good sounding intentions, fear and pride eventually rebound to show their true colors, betraying both self and others in a breeding ground of guilt, shame, disappointment and sorrow.
Peter, like most of us, envisioned himself to be a “good” man, true to his word. He expected to act honorably, being a source of fulfillment, meeting his own and others’ needs. But in betraying himself, Peter fell short in striving for the self-preservation to which he had yielded: a love for his own life that exceeded his love for others… even Jesus.
But Jesus, knowing beforehand the restoration that Peter would need following his betrayal of Jesus, made Himself present later to be Peter’s Provision, specifically going out of His way more than once to be so. After first meeting with Peter privately following His resurrection, Jesus then met Peter publicly on a lakeshore, Esteeming Peter during Peter’s time of confrontation with the Truth, Jesus remained steadfastly loyal to Peter, fully loving him in the ways that Peter best needed to be loved. (See John 21)
By the love of God that dwelled in Jesus, Peter was strengthened in his weakness, empowered by forgiveness to face the future with honor and dignity. In personal restoration, so loved by God, Peter was prepared for his life and ministry that were yet to come. Forever changed by God’s merciful forgiveness, Peter was made ready to love others more fully through the love of Jesus that he personally received.
Likewise, each and every Apostle had to face the same truth about his own shortcomings, meeting the Truth of the love of God in Jesus head on. So must we today. To learn what love is, we must first admit what love is not. Only then are we enabled by our acceptance in Christ to pay forward the love that we receive from Him.
Jesus is our One and Only Example when it comes to eternal love. Knowing that He was fully loved by God the Father, He fully loved us, giving us relief in the present and hope for the future. In handing Himself over to death for our sake, Jesus showed the world what love looks like.
This is what Jesus did: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
He died—“died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6b)—right in the middle of all of our wrong thinking and hurtful actions. Even knowing that all men would continue sinning after His Sacrifice, Jesus gave Himself, also knowing that we would need all of the love that we could get.
Jesus didn’t require us to be lovable before He loved us. Nor did He expect us to perform acceptably before He accepted us. He just plain loved us as we are.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:10-12)
Perfect love, fully applied, fully perfects. Nothing else comes close. Only the love of God provides proper perspective, building futures upon hope in Jesus.
Never wavering or diminishing, never extinguishing, the love of God is eternal reality. It is without beginning or end, for “God is love.” (1 John 4:16b)
Is… right here and right now, in each and every moment, God is loving us perfectly, because “God is love.”
John was right in reminding us, as well as himself, that he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Unable to fully comprehend or explain the love of God, John could only accept it, keeping his words to a minimum and letting love speak for itself.
In understanding the limitations of men’s words, God drew a self-explanatory picture that would explain His love. He drew a Self-Portrait, using the Cross.
With that Cross, God “spelled out” His love, using the blood of His Son to give love a whole new dimension.
“Greater love has no one than this:
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
When we truly see the picture that God has drawn for us personally, we become “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
The realization leaves us speechless. It always has, and it always will.
“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1b, c)