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Why I Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Love

It started out great. She liked me and I liked her. We hugged and held hands and spent entire Saturdays together. It was great for about a month or so. But then I said something that triggered a downward spiral.

One day, I mentioned that it had been a hard day, and that I could really use a good hug when we met up. Then I added, “Sorry, I feel a little bit like a needy middle school girl.”

She bristled at the word “needy” and said that it made her uncomfortable. I had only meant it as a joke, but she has had bad experiences with needy guys, and was watchful for any neediness I might have. I reassured her that no, of course I didn’t mean it like that. But we soon discovered that something was lurking beneath my actions.

The further my girlfriend backed away, the more I tried to earn back her affections. I drove 40 minutes to her house whenever she had a rough day. I made her gifts and brought her milkshakes (which I knew she loved). I did all sorts of nice things for her. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t necessarily because I liked her that much. It was because I wanted her to hug and hold me again, I wanted to feel loved again.

Wanting to feel loved isn’t necessarily bad. But I knew something was wrong when I realized that every time I hung out with her, I left angry. I would go out of my way to do nice things for her, but she still wasn’t giving me her affection in return.

Of course my anger made her want to give it even less. She really just wanted to hang out with me and have fun, with no obligations. This eventually broke our relationship, and in our last conversation as a couple I realized what I had been doing. I was trying to earn her love, and I resented her when she didn’t give what I felt I had earned, and it was a big part of what soured the romance.

I’m not sure where my desperate desire to be loved stems from. But I’m guessing most of us have some element of this need and insecurity in our relationships, perhaps even in our relationship with God.

 

Love First, Then Obey

When we want to feel that God loves us, we often try to behave better so that He’ll love us more, or so that we can earn something from Him. For example, I try to abstain from lust because I think that maybe God would bring me a better wife if I did. But is that really the right reason for “obedience”—doing something for God so He’d do something for me? Is that really love?

As my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart, I remembered that God said in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” We don’t love God so that He will love us. We love Him because He already loves us. I was relieved but also a little convicted. My attempts to obey were basically an effort to earn something from God, instead of simply loving Him.

So how can we show our love for Him? 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” Our obedience isn’t how we earn God’s love—it is an outpouring of the love we already feel for God. So God doesn’t merely want us to obey, He wants our love. That’s pretty cool.

Like a parent, God encourages us to good actions because He knows it will bring us a better life. After God lovingly and miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He had Moses tell them, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).

God is saying, I want you to obey Me because it will make a very good life for you. We obey God not so we can earn His love, but because we know He loves us, and we trust that He gave us these commandments for a good reason. Obeying God’s commandments doesn’t mean that we will avoid all trouble or persecution, but it helps us avoid the natural consequences that irresponsible actions and sinful living can bring upon us.

In fact, a few verses earlier, we have what Jesus later cites as the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The commandment is simply to love God! But then you may ask, how do I make myself love something?

 

Hang Out With God

In the verses immediately following, we are given some specific instructions that seem to be placed right after the command in order to help us foster that love in our hearts. We are told to put God’s words before us and around us, and to talk about them always (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

God just wants us to hang out with Him and enjoy Him! For me, this sometimes means reading the Bible during little breaks, putting verses up around my room, and bringing up what I’m learning in my quiet time when I talk to my friends.

It’s like what my ex-girlfriend wanted. She just wanted someone to be with her, do life with her, and hang out with her. She didn’t want to be obligated to love me just because I was trying to earn it. When we read those verses in Deuteronomy, this sounds like what God wants us to do as well. Just hang out with Him, think about His words, and talk about Him with others. Maybe this is the right way to foster our love for God, and obedience comes naturally because we love Him.

But even in a worldly relationship, we don’t always feel “in love” with someone, yet we still treat them in a loving way. And we should try to do the same for God. So even when we don’t experience the mountain-top love of God at a given moment, or when our heart doesn’t automatically motivate us to stop sinning, we must still try. Because we know that, even during those times we’re not super excited about a relationship, we still love the person—and God—and we don’t want to hurt them.

When I don’t feel that passion, I try my best to wait faithfully until it returns. It also helps when I surround myself with God’s Word and other people who love him. At the end of the day, I trust that God’s love is always waiting for me. Even if I walk away in a moment of weakness, God is always waiting for me to return and again enjoy His love.

My attempts to earn what I want from people will probably be something I struggle with throughout my life. But acknowledging that it is my struggle helps keep me aware of it, so I can intentionally focus on enjoying God’s presence and fostering my love for Him again.

 

Pure Joy

Title: Pure Joy
Artwork by: Ross Boone (@rossboone)
Description: James 1 says to consider it pure joy when we have struggles because it is building perseverance into us. I made this picture to help us visualize how what seems like a burden may actually be a huge gift with which god is equipping us for something in our future.

 

 

 

Other Reasons Not To Have Sex Before Marriage

I was traveling cross-country with a friend when it came out that I was waiting for marriage to have sex. And I added, “and there’s no certainty I will ever get married.” He stopped the conversation right there, turned to me and said very sternly, “Promise me you will have sex before you die!”

I have a Christian friend who debated for the longest time whether to have sex before marriage like his culture was pressuring him to do, or to wait for marriage like his Christianity had raised him to. He couldn’t find adequate reasons why an ancient book would have relevant answers on this. Finally, one day he told me, “You know how I’ve struggled with it so much. Well, I finally just did it.”

These days, even Christians don’t understand why—besides “because an ancient book says so,”—anyone would choose to wait for marriage to have sex.

The Bible establishes the ideal situation for sex. God wants us to have it with only one person—our spouse, only after we are married. In the Garden of Eden, God says this is why “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It says “united to his wife,” which shows they are already husband and wife when they are joined in the flesh.

And then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” So the Bible says we are united in some deep mysterious way when we have sex with someone. The way I understand this, the physical bond is meant to solidify the verbal commitment we make to one other person for life.

And usually when people in the Bible do it another way, it doesn’t go too well for them. Like when Abraham sleeps with his wife’s handmaiden because they don’t have faith God will provide a son for them (Genesis 16, 21). Or when Solomon marries many women and they become his downfall (1 Kings 11).

But these aren’t very compelling reasons to the modern person who questions the Bible’s relevancy. The answer seems even more unreasonable if you’re dating someone whom you probably will marry.

So I’ve compiled a few reasons that I’ve come across and become convicted of over the years. I hope they can solidify your resolve, and equip you to have a good conversation if someone asks, just as they have done for me.

1. Set yourself apart from this world

In a world where it’s cool to do good, like starting non-profits and instagramming encouraging phrases, it’s hard to show what makes a Christian different. One way to show we’re committed to the God of the Bible, on top of engaging in social good (James 1:27), is by living by God’s design for our lives, for marriage.

In a world that shames those who finish high school without having sex, abstinence can be a brave move to show we mean what we claim to believe. When we stick to our resolve, it shouldn’t be hard for others to say, “Wow, she’s really living her faith; otherwise why would she wait?” And maybe they will even say, “Maybe there is something to that religion if she’d make a decision like that.” We’ll stand out. And that can be a powerful tool in sharing our faith.

 

2. Demonstrate your commitment to your future spouse

In a world where divorce is commonplace, wouldn’t it be good to have a way to show our potential spouse that we’re committed to staying with them and being faithful? What if, even before we were married, there was a way to show our future spouse that we can be trusted to stay faithful even through temptations or lust for others?

By abstaining before and during an engagement, even when our bodies are telling us otherwise, we offer trust and show discipline to our partner. It lets our partners know in a very tangible way that they don’t have to worry about infidelity. It shows we’re people of self-discipline whose convictions are stronger than our impulses. What a gift to give our spouses as we enter into marriage.

 

3. Shaping our culture

Of course, there are practical reasons not to have sex outside of marriage. These include avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. There are also emotional reasons. One is summarized in the old adage that you give a part of yourself away with each person you sleep with. But I want to say that this is much bigger than each person’s own emotional or physical wellbeing.

This has the power to shape society as a whole.

When we look at this modern world’s hookup culture, we see how it often leads to uncommitted fathers. When marriages are based on pleasure more than on commitment, we see they can lead to divorce when things are no longer pleasant. And we see how both situations can lead to single parent homes.

Then, I wonder, if young people explore vices to fill the hole left by broken households. And maybe, because they lack an example of a love based on a commitment, they take their cues for love from the world. And the cycle spreads and continues to the next generation.

I think much of this stems from our culture’s call for us to be people pursuing pleasure instead of purpose. Our culture tells us we each have a right to be happy and live how we want, as long as we don’t step on anyone else’s toes. Some might say that this is moral living. But our God knows we will grow into better, more complete humans like we were meant to be if we live by more than just “not stepping on others’ toes.”

God wants us to be people of internal depth, of fulfilled promises, self-discipline, and of love based on commitment. And when we live by the standards He has prescribed, it is a better plan for a life of peace and joy that the rest of the world tries so desperately to find. Jesus says He has come so we will have abundant life (John 10:10). And the fruit of the spirit include joy and peace right alongside self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Millions of joy and peace-filled Christians living lives of integrity, self-control, and commitment can set a refreshing example to our culture, which is overwhelmed by brokenness and pleasure-seeking. And abstinence before marriage at this time is perhaps the most powerful way we can exemplify this for our culture.

 

Having said all this, this is not about shaming those who are not virgins. But instead, I hope the above reasons serve as an encouragement because each one of these reasons can be reclaimed by non-virgins. In fact, perhaps it is even more impactful when someone, who once lived a life like the world, goes back to the life of commitment and integrity of the Bible. We can choose to set ourselves apart from the world, demonstrate integrity for our future spouse, and shape culture.

I wish I could to tell you that things will be easy if you simply follow the instructions. But I’ll be honest: it won’t necessarily be easy. The bible has many examples of people who have experienced deep fulfillment but it was while travelling a hard road of commitment and dedication. I hope we can live our lives as a calling card for what God can do in our culture.

“Ross, promise me you’ll have sex before you die!”

If I were to give a response to our culture that says this, it would be “I’m promised to something deeper than my own pleasures. I have promised myself to my Creator who has included me in a plan that is building me into a more substantial, fully-formed human of integrity, promise, commitment, self-discipline, and joy. I am becoming a person built to thrive in heaven forever.”

How Do We Love Others If We’re Lonely?

I got into a great conversation with a girl at a party recently. She’s been a friend for a long time, but it went so well I started to wish she was more than a friend. But I could tell she didn’t want the same.

It’s hard to walk away from a party alone. No one’s hand to reach for. It’s hard to be turned down. Especially when the holidays could be so much sweeter with someone. It is then, that those little irrational questions drift in: What’s wrong with me? Am I not lovable? Why am I alone?

Last Christmas, I didn’t go home as I had traveled a lot last fall. But as I was thinking about being alone over Christmas I recalled the little bit of tension between my brother and me, and the argument we had had a month or so ago. I know we love each other and that tension helps us both grow to be better to each other. But my mind keeps going back to that and asking: Have I failed as a family member? Is this in some way an indicator of why I’m alone?

And sometimes, especially when I feel lonely, I find myself remembering the small failures I’ve had with friends. That time I accidentally stood up a new friend for dinner, and he hasn’t talked much to me since. Or when I showed my impatience to a friend who was just being kind and reaching out to talk. And again I start to ask myself: Am I alone right now because of stuff I’ve done wrong? Have I messed up my chances to be loved?

I need to remind myself that I have good friends, my family loves each other, and I haven’t ruined my chances of romance. I know at times I feel very loved and nothing has changed with most of those people. I know people love me—so why does loneliness trick me into thinking otherwise? It makes me feel empty of love. I’m like a dry pitcher no other pitchers have poured into for a while, and I’m drying alone in the sun.

Recently, however, I realized I was looking at this wrong.

 

It Starts With Knowing We’re Loved

God has given us a different way to look at love. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” We are not a pitcher waiting to be filled up by other pitchers. We are a pitcher that is filled up by the source of water itself. I must dip myself in the spring to receive His love first. Then I can avoid a mindset of scarcity, and act out of one of abundance.

This change in perspective is the most important part because all our actions flow out of it. Our beliefs dictate our actions.

Maybe it’s hard to imagine that type of love. It can be hard for those of us who have felt let down by God to picture God as good. Maybe there was a promise you felt God didn’t come through on. Or maybe God didn’t save you or someone you love from some horrible suffering. Remember that the hard things that have happened to you are a result of this worldly kingdom where God has allowed free wills to rule. God’s love and His kingdom is the opposite of that. He longs for us to know He loves us so much, even though it’s hard to see or feel through the fog and free will of this world.

Imagine how you feel when you see the cute innocence of your baby, or a nephew or niece, or even a new puppy, and how your heart wells with love because you want and hope so much for them. Now imagine that is a finite fraction of the love God wants to pour into you. He is your father. He has so many hopes for you, and so many things He wants to show you. He holds you closer than you hold your breath, and wants you to live within, and out of that love.

 

It Enables Us to Love Unconditionally

The next step is to act on that infinite love. When you are wondering why your family hasn’t called to check on you, or why your friend seemed distant when you last talked, you can be the one to love first. Act on your love for them. And do not make your love conditional on whether they love you back. If they are not at a place where they can give as much back, don’t require them to. For, as Acts 20:35 says, “It is better to give than to receive.”

When it isn’t reciprocated, we must remember that there are many reasons—some beyond our control—why friendships grow distant. Or that romance is not returned. Or even that fissures within families happen. After I have looked at each situation to make sure I have done my part to repair and learn from it, I must let go of the worry and turn to God to be filled again.

Even though it is an incredible blessing when we do experience love for and from other people, and we are meant to feed and cherish it, our love pitcher is not meant to be filled first by other people pouring their love into us. We are first meant to be filled with God’s love. And this is the place of abundance from which we love others.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.