He Who Loves
by MW Cook
I read, many years ago, that real, lasting happiness is only found in the worship of God. John Piper calls it Christian hedonism. I latched onto this idea immediately. I had just become a Calvinist and Piper was one of my heroes. Not only that, but the concept looked sound, according to the Bible, which I viewed as a sort of instruction book for life at the time.
So I set about trying to find happiness in the worship of God. I was told, and I believed, that the two most important ways of touching God were reading the Bible devotionally and praying.
I gave it my all. I got up at six every morning to spend the first dark hour of the day ‘alone with God.’ I said prayers and wrote prayers and sang prayers. I tried all the spiritual disciplines. I fasted once every couple months. I preached in churches and on street corners. I studied old and new theological books. I did it all.
None of it worked.
Oh, I had some good times. Prayer would sometimes lift me into a deep level of connection with the divine. The Bible, especially the words of Jesus, would sometimes enrich my soul and wake up my spirit. But those times were exceptional. Rare. Adrenal, not coronary.
It became hard, so I tried harder. I did street evangelism and vowed to become a missionary to a scary Muslim country. But that made things worse.
I was not a hypocrite. I was honest. I honestly thought that true happiness could only be found in the ‘Christ centered’ life I was living. And that was my message as I preached in the churches and streets of Peterborough, Toronto, Welland, and, eventually, Pakistan. But I wasn’t experiencing it. I promised others that they would, and I made them believe I was. But I was mostly empty.
I don’t know when it changed. I don’t know when I started drifting away from the evangelical Calvinism I had so loved. But I eventually came to a startling realization.
He who loves, knows God.
Connection to the joy-giving source of life does not come from reading holy books a certain number of times. Spirituality is not measured by how many prayers you utter in the dark mornings while the world sleeps so sinfully. It does not come through sermons or songs or having the right theology or going to the right churches or temples or mosques. It comes from love.
And not just a general love. Not the effortless love that everyone has. Not the love that is willing to protect friends and family. It comes from the powerful, Christ-borne love that strives to protect enemies. The love that is never willing to punish, but to forgive and reconcile an infinite amount of times. The love that paves the narrow road that leads to life.
And then what happened?
When most people talk about their Christian journey, they usually emphasize their struggles. How they still fight against depression and sin and their commitment to live a Jesus life. How they still can’t seem to hold into the joy of God in a consistent way.
I don’t talk like that anymore. Because my happiness is finally real. I found it buried in a field, and I went out and sold everything I had for it. I took it home and put it in my heart. I no longer experience long periods of darkness and depression punctuated by flashes of joy. Now it’s long, extended flashes of joy, once in a while punctuated with down-time. It wasn’t religion or Christianity or positive thinking that changed me. It was love. Just love. It makes many of the old songs I sang in my fundamentalist Sunday School so much more powerful than I could have ever imagined:
And I’m so happy,
So very happy,
I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.
Simplicity of heart is to love one thing – Soren Kirkegaard. Love God – he’ll lead us to love people & all other lovely things.
Why either or? Why not both and?
We only love Him because He first loved us. I love these words in Ephesians: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” 3:14-19
I think that all of us start our relationship with God with good intentions. We want to please Him, and be a “good” and “successful” Christian. In my case, I think much of my zeal was (still too often is) ultimately self centred; likely the reason for many of my own “dark days”. When I left the “institutional” church four years ago, I experienced a release from the bondage of many perceived standards and expectations that came with following Christ. (Seems we love to take the principles in scripture and carve them into practices that rival the Ten Commandments in our estimation of importance). I have been overly-dogmatic about many of my personal convictions, both in and out of “church”. Much of my trouble has stemmed, I believe, from latching onto a certain doctrine or teacher/preacher as though it/they were the anchor of my faith. Again, this is only too common amongst us serious Jesus followers.
Soon after I stopped church attendance I made an observation that was disturbing. Many of those who had, like myself, “left the building” had also left their bibles behind in the pew. The seemed to have abandoned the written word in their efforts to find the Living One. This is, in my opinion, spiritual suicide. The two, written and living, are inseparable. God’s word is meant to, along with His Spirit, renew our minds and lead us into truth that will set us free. I continue to seek truth/Truth, and thank God for the grace that He gives as I stumble along, sometimes two steps forward and three steps back. Currently I do “attend” church, and a small group meeting through the week. I try not to judge how others interpret the command to not stop meeting together, but I would always caution anyone to rely on the scriptures, in tandem with His Spirit, in their efforts to live a joy filled and God honoring life on this earth.
I rejoice with you Matt if you have found the true Christ centered joy and peace
that only He can give. Blessings to you and Ruth and your beautiful children!