by Tracy Fulford
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I Corinthians 13:13
We easily reduce the idea of holy habits to consistent prayer, Bible reading, and weekly church attendance. Vital to our spiritual growth and crucial if we are to abide in Jesus, but we sometimes forget that these internal things are meant to be poured out as a living sacrifice for the sake of Christ and His Church. Our purest form of service to our families, the Church and to the lost world comes when we choose to demonstrate love at the very moments our flesh cries out for the satisfaction of being “right.”
Recently, I spent an extended amount of time with family members due to a death in the family. In such a short time, I found myself going from quiet time with the Lord, only to have one of my family members push the buttons only they know how to push. The fleshly responses of anger, hurt, and desire for vindication only exposed to me how much I need to rely on the Holy Spirit and the grace of God to help me live a holy life.
Each time I met with a cruel remark or an untruth, the Lord kept whispering to me to, “Choose love.” It wasn’t easy. My Greek blood can easily boil around certain people. When someone hurts and is genuinely mean-spirited, it’s so easy to want to lash out or seek justice. To be able to respond in love toward that church gossip, that family member who hates you because of your faith, and that guy next door who is a menace to the neighborhood, requires sacrifice. Choosing love, agape love that seeks nothing in return, takes discipline and maturity. It means we have to continually see the Cross before us. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45a Jesus, our example “was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
During my week with my family, I was ever before the Lord, asking Him to help me to choose love. Desperately dependent upon Him, I needed the power of His precious presence. “Choose love.” The words constantly ran through my mind. “Choose love.” “Choose love.” Simple. Difficult. Heart changing. God did a work, not only in my family members, but in me as well. The holy habit of love—I am trying to maintain and develop in authentic ways. I want those acts of love to be true and from the heart, not mere acts of obedience, although the sacrifice of obedience is usually our starting point.
I challenge you to step out and choose love in a sacrificial way. Don’t just love those who love you. Find ways to express love to a person in church who gets your goat or an estranged family member. Take some cupcakes to that nasty neighbor as a peace offering.
When your holy habits include vows made to the Lord, consider finding opportunities to choose love instead as a part of your promises to the Lord. Find those opportunities where extending love and peace to someone actually costs you something. Sacrifice comes before the victory. Pain comes before the healing. Love comes before the reconciliation.
My husband and I went through Alicia Britt Chole’s book, Forty Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast for Lent. She challenged us to join Jesus in His cross-ward journey and to fast things much deeper than social media or a favorite food item. I found in these sacrifices, the dying to self, that true spiritual growth is accomplished. In and through these sacrifices we will see family members saved and the Church joined in unity.
What will you sacrifice and how will you die to your flesh through your holy habits? Will you “choose love” in the most difficult places where love is hard to find? Make a conscious effort to “choose love” and I promise you, it will become a holy habit which will change you and the people around you and in turn bring joy and glory to our God.