November 1st is my anniversary (the day I posted this marks 9 years). One of the greatest privileges in my life is to call myself Laura’s husband. Laura is sweet, compassionate, brilliant, and beautiful inside and out. When I married her, there is no question that I married WAY out of my league.
For our anniversary, we will go out to a nice dinner and do what we have done every year previous: spend some time reflecting on the previous year(s). As we do this, we appreciate and celebrate the gift we have in our relationship as well as rehearse the stories that create a mosaic of our lives. We will laugh, maybe cry a little, but ultimately feel a sense of gratitude for God’s grace in giving us each other.
Imagine that, as we sit down over dinner, I look deep into Laura’s eyes and say to her, “It’s been a great year, hasn’t it? I haven’t cheated on you. I haven’t lied to you. And, beyond all of that, I met all of the expectations that I committed to doing on our wedding day.” How do you think a wife should react to such a statement? Should it bring her joy? Of course not! But, why shouldn’t that bring her joy? I mean, isn’t that what I committed to do? I promised not to lie, cheat, and to meet certain expectations, didn’t I?
The reason why my wife should be disappointed by this response is because love is so much more than avoiding the “wrongs” or simply meeting expectations. It’s no less than that, but it is definitely much more. Love is a character or virtue that desires and seeks the good of another. The outward expressions of avoiding certain wrong behaviors (lying and cheating) as well as meeting expectations is good, but love is that heart commitment that is willing to give up everything for the other. This is about the heart; not about the actions. In the Bible, we see that God desires more than avoiding certain behavior, or simply meeting expectations; God wants your heart.
In Isaiah 1:12-20, God actually tells Israel that he despises their offerings, celebrations, and worship because they fail to desire what He desires (mercy and justice). Though they did an excellent job of demonstrating outward expressions, their hearts were not set on loving God. In Amos 5:18-24, God says he hates their feasts, will not accept their sacrifices, and considers their songs to be nothing but noise because their hearts were not set on what is good before God. Though they may have upheld some of the terms of the covenant with God, they failed to devote themselves to the heart of the covenant: love of God and people.
Jesus confronts the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8-9 on this very issue siting Isaiah 29 saying that they had worshipped God with their lips, but that their hearts were far away from God. Though they went through the motions of worship, their hearts were far away from Him. In Revelation 2:4, the greatest charge against Ephesus, who seems to be doing good works, is that they have forgotten about the love they had in the beginning for God.
A consistent theme of Scripture is that God does not desire mere outward expression; what God really wants from us is a heart of love. Please don’t be mistaken; when I say “heart” I am not talking about feelings. Feelings will come and go, but heart is about an undivided commitment to the good of the other. Heart is about giving all of yourself to all of another.
It is truly a great privilege to call myself Laura’s husband. Yet, I have an even greater privilege to call myself God’s child (John 1:12, Romans 8:17, Galatians 3:26). Our adoption into His family inspires us to live, not to merely avoid sin or meet the bare minimum expectations, but out of gratitude give ourselves to Him; heart and all. If you do find yourself in a place of merely “doing what’s expected” and lacking a heart for God, I encourage you to do a few things. First, talk to God about it. He can handle it and is eager to draw near to you even if your heart feels far from Him. Second, I encourage you to reflect on the passages of Scripture about God’s overwhelming love for you (read Romans 8, for example). Nothing inspires us to love God like realizing his unfailing love for us. Finally, I would encourage you to remember the times and stories when your heart did seem close to God. Celebrate those moments and thank God for them; rehearse them and share them with others (and maybe ask them to share their stories with you).
At the end of the day, every couple experiences ebbs and flows of feelings. Yet, as they commit their hearts to one another, there is a deeper and more abiding relationship that weathers the ebbs and celebrates the flows. The same is true in our walk with God. Though our feelings come and go, our heart commitment to Him can endure. And, having a relationship like that with the God who created the Universe is greatest privilege available to humans.