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Treasure Love

Treasure is valuable.  It’s hard to get, but worth working hard for or even sacrificing for.  It is desirable, enduring, and not easy or common.  Someone in search of treasure would not let any obstacle stop them from obtaining it, even if the journey was long, difficult, and costly.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us about finding treasure.  He says,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

But what does heavenly treasure look like?  We know how to recognize gold and silver and jewels.  Fortunately, we have the Bible as a heavenly treasure map.  As we try to follow its directions, we find the greatest treasure of all—God’s love.

Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians,

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

God’s love for us is amazing.  Not only does He love us beyond what we can imagine, He has called us to act out His love to the people around us.

When the Jewish leaders asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Later, Jesus again instructed his followers to love, saying, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The love God gives us and wants us to have for one another is treasure love.  Like treasure, this love is precious and has lasting value.  It’s not easy, common, or convenient.  It requires hard work, endurance, and sacrifice.  Our love is our testimony.

Worldly “love” is self-serving, conditional, based on feelings and circumstances, convenient, fickle, and fleeting.  It gives up when the going gets tough. It’s not a treasure—rather, it’s a dollar store find, bought to be used briefly and carelessly, then discarded without a thought when it inevitably wears out.

In contrast, the treasure love God wants us to have for one another is based on God’s love for us, not our feelings or circumstances.  It is sacrificial, faithful, perseverant, lasting, and given freely.  It is tough and willing to stick through challenges, difficulty, and hardship in service of God and others.  In the words of 1 Corinthians 13,

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

We see an example of what treasure love should look like when applied to our daily lives in Matthew 25:34-46, where Jesus tells a story about the end times.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

One of the ways God wants us to show our love for Him is by serving others and tending to the needs of those around us—the hungry, the thirsty, the sick.  

Romans 12 says,

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another is showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought of what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

This passage adds some more facets to the love God wants us to have for each other in prayer, peaceful living, and humility.  When we rejoice with those who rejoice, we celebrate their joys unselfishly.  When we weep with those who weep, we walk alongside those who are suffering or mourning and help them carry their burdens.  Galatians similarly adds, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

To help create a clear picture of treasure love, I have a story for you.

When I checked my Facebook this morning, I got a notification from memories that said “Four years ago, you posted: Only four weeks until my first college Move-in Day! feeling nervous and excited.”  Seeing that status this morning was particularly meaningful to me because I am now a college graduate.  And for a while in college, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.  Things got pretty rough for a while.  I got some mental health diagnoses, and spent some time in the hospital, but I still made it through because of God’s work in my life, especially the many ways in which God’s love was lived out through the people around me.

Getting a mental health diagnosis seems to be one of the quickest ways to find out who your real friends are—who is actually living out the love of God and who is just there for the fair weather.  For some people, once I was ill, even if I kept everything I was going through to myself, I was suddenly perceived as a burden. Friendship suddenly became too much effort.  People were suddenly too busy for me, talked behind my back, and excluded me from groups where I had previously always been included.  They made excuses because friendship was no longer convenient.  Even though they had plenty of time for worldly things like online games, youtube, and social media, they no longer had time in their lives for someone who was struggling and in need of genuine, treasure love.  They didn’t stand to gain anything from me in my time of need, so they turned their backs on me.  That sort of friendship is fickle and based on worldly, cheap “love.”

On the other hand, though, I found there were people in my life who really truly did love the way God wants us to love one another.  My two roommates at college showed me this kind of treasure love.  They helped me remember to eat regular meals.  They took me to the grocery store to get gatorade and ginger ale when my medication was making me sick, and the health center wasn’t identifying the problem.  Once the health center did realize that it was a medication issue, they visited me in the hospital, even though 1. there is still a stigma attached to the psychiatric ward, and  2. they were both extremely busy with student teaching.  Not only that, but one of them did my laundry for me while I was in the hospital.  (You know someone is a real friend when they excavate an accumulated heap of dirty socks and other articles of clothing left from weeks of paralyzing depression and anxiety attacks and invest the time and effort to wash it!) When I got back out and was trying to catch up on work in order to graduate, they celebrated the little successes with me, asked what I needed, and supported me all the way.  They really did bear my burdens, weep with me when I wept, rejoice with me when I rejoiced, and help me when I was sick.

The love they showed me helped me to better understand the love of God, and that is what we are all called to do for one another.  1 John has a lot to say about treasure love, including “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  Our love for one another bears witness to the world of God’s power and love.  The way we love can lead people to Christ if it is different than the love of the world.  Finally, treasure does not only bless God and those around us, but the person giving the love.  God has invited us to love one another in order to be a part of His greater plan and share in His joy.  Jesus says,

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

God’s love is a treasure that is not meant to be hoarded.  Go out and share it.

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Prayer, Perseverance, and Pit Stops

Spending time in a psychiatric ward was never part of my plan for my college years or my life as a whole; and for a long time I didn’t understand how it could be part of God’s plan for me either.  I had prayed so much for the strength to push through the constant exhaustion, the intensifying intrusive thoughts, the hours of seeming hopelessness, and the mental pain whose source I could not find.  I felt so incredibly weak, and that’s when God’s strength should have kicked in and started showing through me, right?  In the midst of my pain and prayers, I felt like God wasn’t listening or responding.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming God isn’t listening when the answer isn’t what we want to hear.

But God did hear my cries. He knew what I was going through and knew what I needed, even though it was not what I wanted.  Rather than giving me the strength to keep trudging through suffering, he brought me to a place of healing and renewal.  Despite my fear, shame, and lack of trust, God worked through my hospital stay to give me strength to go on in a better way than I had asked for.

Oftentimes in the Christian life we put pressure on ourselves to be strong in all circumstances, focusing on the concept “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” from Philippians 4:13 without a clear understanding of the ways in which that strength can be manifested or what it really looks like.  It’s true that sometimes strength means being able to keep going through a challenge, but that’s only one piece of the picture.  Sometimes God is saying to stop.  Sometimes the strength God gives is the strength to ask for help, and the strength to step back from fighting in our own power and instead be renewed in His.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is at a tough point in his life.  After many victories for God, he receives death threats from Jezebel, and feels alone.  1 Kings says,

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.”

Up to this point, I didn’t find anything particularly interesting about this story.  He’s scared, he wants to die, and he’s all alone.  Same bro.  I’ve been there.  Next should be the part where God wakes him up and tells him to get back to work because he’s being ridiculous, right?  But that is not the case.  Instead of being angry with Elijah, punishing him, or scolding him for his weakness, God has compassion on him and tends to his needs.  The account continues,

“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.”

At Mount Horeb the next morning, God tells Elijah to stand on the mountain before the Lord, and after an earthquake, a fire, and a mighty wind, He reveals Himself to Elijah not in any of those overwhelmingly powerful things, but in a still, small voice.

God knows what we need.  Sometimes He tells to stop running in our strength and start running in His; but other times He tells us to stopping running in our strength and start resting in His instead.  In the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

A race car driver isn’t going to finish a race by letting their tank run empty and ignoring flat tires.  Neither can we expect to finish the race if we burn ourselves out and don’t listen when God is saying “The journey is too much for you right now.  Come rest and be renewed.”  In the letter to the Hebrews, we are exhorted, “let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  A key part of that endurance is taking God’s pit stops.

What are some ways to take a spiritual pit stop?  I have four that God has been putting on my heart recently.  To help with remembering them, the first letter of each spells out PITS.

P—Pray, and actually listen to God’s answers, even when they aren’t what we want to hear.  Jesus modeled this one for us during His time among us, often finding a place to be alone and talk with God throughout His ministry.

I—Invest time in God’s Word to get to know Him better as a God who is not only found as the intensity of an earthquake or a fire, but in the peace of a still, small voice.  The psalmists often demonstrate this one in their celebration of God’s Word.

T—Take the rest and renewal God offers to us for our physical, mental, and spiritual needs alike.  If we look back at the context surrounding Philippians 4:13, we see that Paul is speaking of the peace God has given him no matter his circumstances.

S—Seek the support of fellow believers (and medical professionals when you need them!)  God has given us these people in our lives for a reason.

Like Elijah’s, my need for a pit stop had a happy ending.  I am here to talk to you right now because God had and still has a plan for my life, a plan that involved taking a pit stop in the hospital to give me the resources and rest I needed to continue my race.  And that’s okay.  Because of that experience I grew closer to a God who is not only powerful, but also compassionate, a God who knows what we need even when we can’t see it ourselves, and who wants to give us rest and healing as well as strength.  God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His plan is best.  2 Corinthians 4:7 says “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be from God and not from ourselves.”  It has been amazing to see how God has worked through my life since my hospitalization.

Psalm 116

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;

    he heard my cry for mercy.

Because he turned his ear to me,

    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,

    the anguish of the grave came over me;

    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;

    our God is full of compassion.

The Lord protects the unwary;

    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,

    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,

    my eyes from tears,

    my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before the Lord

    in the land of the living.