“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
“If” is such a small word. Yet it carries such weighty meaning, especially as it describes my will toward loving Jesus. “If you love me…” Like a hinge, this small word holds up something far greater and larger than itself, allowing it to pivot and swing. My love for Jesus is like that — swinging, vacillating, and fluctuating between love of myself, others, things and Jesus upon the hinge of my will.
And yet, Jesus never describes his love for me with “if.” His love is rock-solid, unmoving, unchanging. There is no “if” in Jesus’ love as he eternally wills my good in the context of willing his Father’s good.
But unlike a hinge, the “if” of my will isn’t passive. It can be shaped and formed to exert pressure in a specific direction. So, I want to love Jesus as he loves. Yet, as I choose my love for him to pivot once again, I find that it can easily move too far into false ideas of love. One false idea is that love is feeling, from which I interpret Jesus’ words as saying, “If you feel something for me, then you will obey me.” Therefore, in order to obey what Jesus commands, I must somehow be “moved” by feeling. I must have fiery passion, which will in turn motivate me to obedience. So I pray, “Spirit, give me passion for Jesus.” And I try to work myself into a feeling that will fuel me in the moment to obey. But, what happens in the down times, those dry moments when the feeling is spent or absent?
Another false idea is that love is duty or obligation. My love for Jesus should have nothing to do with feeling, I easily tell myself. I show my love by doing what is right. So, I hear Jesus saying, “If you obey me, then I know you really love me.” So I try to obey regardless of feeling. By that sheer obedience, I will demonstrate my love, regardless of whether I ever feel anything or not. This may carry me a bit further in action, but at what cost?
What if Jesus is saying something different than these two options? What if love is “being” rather than “feeling” or “duty”? What if Jesus is saying, “If you are the kind of person who is naturally captivated by my good, then you will naturally live in alignment with my life”? What if Jesus is saying, “Become a person who naturally lives inwardly in alignment with my interior life and you will naturally live outwardly in alignment with my exterior life”? For if I become love as God is love and which is embodied by Jesus, then I will live love as God lives love and which is embodied by Jesus. In this way, his commands are more than just new rules to live by. They are surface descriptions of the deeper kind of life that I will naturally live. So, for example, I don’t have to tell myself “Care for the poor.” In fact, I probably wouldn’t have to think much about the command. Rather, I become the kind of person that the command describes because I would naturally care for the poor.
So how do I become this kind of love? How do I let the “if” of my will swing my love into alignment in Christ? I think Jesus answers the question in the following chapters — “remain” (John 15) and “the Spirit” (John 16). I need to learn how to truly remain in Christ through his Spirit.
For me, at this moment in my life, that means to develop greater awareness of Christ’s presence. I can’t love someone that I’m not aware of. Recently, I’ve allowed the hurriedness of my inward life to drown out my awareness of the soft and constant presence of Jesus. I could blame busyness, but hurriedness isn’t always linked to external busyness. Instead, it’s linked to inward restlessness. That restlessness can be fed by busyness, but it’s not caused by it. Restlessness of the soul is defined more by who I am, not what I’m going through.
So with the Spirit’s help, I’m reestablishing spiritual exercises that will hopefully engage God’s grace for the training of my body, thoughts, feeling and will back toward a constant awareness of Christ’s presence with the intention of my inward life developing further into the inward life of Christ.
Thomas Kelly states it wonderfully in his “A Testament of Devotion,” so I’ll end with his wisdom:
“What is here urged are internal practices and habits of the mind. What is here urged are secret habits of unceasing orientation of the deeps of our being about the Inward Light, ways of conducting our inward life so that we are perpetually bowed in worship while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs. What is here urged are inward practices of the mind at deepest levels, letting it swing like the needle, to the polestar of the soul…
“How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning all of our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward him who calls in the deeps of our souls. Mental habits of inward orientation must be established. An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we can achieve any steadiness in the process.”