By Daniel Bobinski
To live out the greatest command, we must first receive God’s love and let it grow within our hearts. And yes, it’s a lifelong process.
At the beginning of the year I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the foundational material of this discussion, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read my last two columns. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
Last month I started talking about the definition of agape love, which is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Specifically, I selected the first phrase, love is patient. Using simple logic, I said that if God is love, and love is patient, that means God is patient.
And so, one way we can acknowledge God’s love for us is by recognizing His patience toward us.
But recognizing God’s patience is deeper than saying, “Thank you, God, for being patient with me.” It’s more like, “Thank you, God, for being patient with me when I went about my day not acknowledging You nor seeking Your wisdom.”
Or, “Thank you, God, for being patient with me when I snapped at my child for breaking a dish.”
The more situations you can identify, and the more specific they are, the deeper your appreciation will be for the patience God gives. Chances are that the more you acknowledge and value God’s patience, the more you will sense gratefulness for His love.
As we explore the greatest command, it’s important to remember that God is always our example. And we must also remember that if we’ve invited His Spirit into our hearts, then His love is there, waiting for us to do something with it.
By way of reminder, the greatest command is:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
And the second greatest command is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s one thing to tell God you love Him, but how do we specifically love Him?
First up is patience.
A few paragraphs ago I asked you to identify several situations in which God showed patience toward you. Well, now I ask you to identify several situations in which you’ve been patient with God.
Perhaps there was a time you believed God was leading you into a new line of work or a new ministry, but it took much longer than you expected. If you were impatient and antsy during the waiting, it wouldn’t have been a loving stance. But if you exercised patience, trusting that the Lord would work things out in His time, that would have been a demonstration of patience.
Think of several times you’ve exercised patience with God. Be specific. Think about all the details.
Now I’d like you to think about something. Remember how you felt when you received God’s patience from the earlier exercise – how grateful you were for the patience He was giving you? That’s just a hint of how God feels when we are patient towards Him. It’s part of a godly relationship.
And here’s a golden nugget: The more you recognize God’s patience toward you and “own” how that feels deep in your heart, the easier it is to exercise patience back toward God and build that relationship.
But wait – there’s more. The second greatest command says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In terms of patience, this means “be patient with your neighbor in the same way that you’re patient with yourself.”
This part of the teaching occasionally causes hiccups. I’ve had people tell me, “You’re not supposed to love yourself. You’re supposed to deny yourself!” My response is simple: Yes, deny your flesh, but cultivate the Spirit’s love that God placed in your heart and commanded you to use.
Second, some people will say, “But I can’t be patient with myself! I can be patient with God and with others, but I can’t be patient with myself!”
To that I say, “God knows it’s okay to be patient with you. Do you know more than God?” After all, if God’s love is dwelling within you, you have the capability to do it.
To those who don’t believe they can be patient with themselves, I say if you acknowledged God’s patience toward you and realized that it enhanced your relationship with Him, receiving from yourself the gift of God’s patience will also enhance your relationship with God. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true.
Besides, loving your neighbor as yourself is a command, so really, it’s not an option.
When I first started studying this aspect of love, I thought about my woodworking hobby. I would make mistakes in the wood shop and get all impatient with myself. But when I set out to be more patient with myself, I’d stop after a mistake, take a few relaxing breaths, and mentally acknowledge the patience I chose to give myself.
I must tell you, it felt good. So, again, I say try it. As a bonus, when you’re exercising godly patience with yourself, others find it easier to be around you!
Finally, think about how you’ve exercised patience with others in the past. Be sure to identify specific examples. Then think about how you might be more patient with others in the future. One example might be when people are late. Or, when someone forgets to do something you asked. Instead of getting frustrated, you can relax and exercise patience.
Bottom line, the more you can recognize and receive God’s patience, and the more patience you can extend yourself, the easier it is – and the more fulfilling it is – to extend patience to others.
Through it all, you will be strengthening your relationship with God – because God is love and love is patient.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 375-7606.