It’s All About Love, Love, Love
By Sammy Jordan, Project Lead HOPE For Every Home
In February, the shops and adverts love to romance us with the prospect of ‘love’. Here Sammy explores how real love is not simply a red rose and box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. It’s all about perfect love, love, love! God shows us love with commitment. Jesus shows us love with sacrifice. The Holy Spirit show us love with presence.
And this perfect love can fuel the fire of our prayers...
You know it’s February when supermarket aisles turn red, pink and fluffy! The seasonal aisle is one of my cultural reference points because it signals what people are immersed in, what’s already in the popular psyche, and what businesses think will sell products. I can’t help but wonder what the invitation is here? On my estate, there are many who need the Good News of Jesus’ love. How can we, The Church, build a bridge between the aspirational love of popular culture (albeit sometimes shallow, tacky and profit-seeking) and the divine love of God (freely given, challenging and self-sacrificial)? This is the question I’m asking myself in the lead up to Valentine’s Day.
I’m not big on Valentine’s Day. Cheesy, dramatic gestures of affection are not my thing; but love is. There are lots of people who won’t receive cards, flowers, or chocolates on February 14th, but I’d love everyone to know that they are loved – beyond a cuddly toy, beyond measure. I can’t help thinking how different the world would be if everyone knew who and whose they are; that they were made to be a child of the God who says to us, ‘You are my beloved child’ (1 John 3:1-3). If love shaped us, rather than looks, money, ability, skills, and a skewed sense of self-worth (thanks to social media)… the world would be transformed!
So many songs tell us that it’s all about love. As I write, I have these famous lyrics stuck in my head. But after a quick Google search to find the song, it appears that many artists have said it’s all about love! Everyone from Barry White and Earth, Wind and Fire to The Outfield and Lazy Boy. Despite centuries of cultural evolution, the centrality of love – as demonstrated by Jesus - has not been forgotten. The meaning has drifted and been watered down, but it's still always all about love.
As we plan for Hope 23-24, a United Year of Mission, the challenge is all about love. We love because of who first loved us (1 John 4:19). We can’t export and give away what we do not have in the first place. I think God is calling his Church, his people, back to their first love, back to a relationship with him. We need to fall in love with Jesus all over again, to experience the overwhelming love of God – our God who has, does and will always love us with an unshakeable, infinite love. Then, when we’re overwhelmed by God’s love for ourselves, we have something so sweet, we can’t help but share it around.
If God is love (1 John 4:16), then when we share the overflow of love (in whatever form that takes), it’s sharing something of God with others. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs. And Jesus also shows us that love is incarnational, it's missional. Our current culture, in its search for the Kingdom without the King,* is individualistic, entitled, consumeristic and hopeless. I wonder if an approach to mission rooted in love and hope is particularly powerful.
*See 'Disappearing Church' by Mark Sayers
On the estate where I live, we ran lots of community events before Christmas. A light switch-on, free visits to Santa’s grotto, free food, a toy and jumper exchange to name a few. I even had candy canes and tree decorations hung on the fence outside my house every day in Advent! And then there were the knitted stars of hope, all 850 of them! There was one for every house, inviting people to a carol event with refreshments around the community Christmas tree. Last but not least, (somehow) I drove around my estate with a car boot full of food to give away! You might be thinking that’s a crazy amount of work, but here’s why I did it… when I’m involved in these sorts of events, conversations spark…
This often leads to a further conversation about what they do or don’t believe. Many want to believe in something, or were brought up with some exposure to ‘religion’ (slight tangent, but when my neighbours talk, ‘church’ and ‘religion’ are kind of interchangeable!). My immediate response is to say that I’m not religious and BOOM - the conversation opens up! I explain that for me, religion is centred around rules and structures, but I have a faith centred around a relationship. And that relationship is all about love, love, love!
This is exactly the sort of conversation that people are interested in having, according to the ‘Talking Jesus’ report. The study tells us that 53% of non-Christians know a practising Christian (defined as someone who goes to church at least once a month, prays and reads the Bible). It goes on to say that these 53% of non-Christians actually like us and want a conversation with us about our faith!
The research goes on to suggest that once we’ve had a conversation, 1 in 3 non-Christians want to know more. This is HUGE! So, when I’m running around like a busy little elf in Santa’s workshop, giving away loads of free stuff, I know that the proof is in the (Christmas) pudding! I know that conversations will spark, and some will want to find out more about this love I have. Find out more about the Talking Jesus Report here www.talkingjesus.org
So, this month, as some pick Valentine’s gifts off the supermarket shelf, and others feel left on the shelf, can we be more intentional about loving our non-Christian friends and neighbours, especially those who might be feeling lonely at this time of year? Showing love through an un-Valentine’s gift or message, a hug, or a meal together could be the invitation some people need to receive God’s love.
Being intentional about loving others starts with praying for them. And that's the pattern followed by Hope’s United Year of Mission, from September ‘23 to August ‘24. There’s no point planning a mission until we’ve heard what God wants to say. Prayer prepares the ground for the seeds of mission. So, this February can I invite you to pray, as an inward act of love, to gear up for an outward show of love? Here's a few suggestions to get you started...
If you’ve never prayed for your community before, check out this great video from our partners at Local Houses of Prayer. Speaking a blessing over your community and non-Christian friends is a great way to start. When we bless someone or somewhere, we’re asking God for his Kingdom to come. We’re asking God for the shalom, wellbeing and flourishing of his Kingdom to come to our streets and everyday spheres of life. If you'd like some resources to help you and your community, check out 'The Father's Love and Blessing' as well as the 'Father's Love Letter'.
Pray for 5 friends or neighbours who don’t yet know Jesus.
Pray for your community - you might want to ‘prayer walk’ the area where you live - praying for God’s love to become known in the homes, schools, shops, offices along the way.
Download the OIKOS app - this free app plots where you have prayed, and there are resources from our partners at Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer, the Discover Bible app and others to help you.
Lisa Hutt and Wendy Thomas, from the 'Neighbourhood Prayer network' describe blessing as asking ‘What are the good things that God wants for your local area?’ Listen to God’s heart and then pray into it. God is a God of love and transformation! So, knowing our local areas and the needs within them, what Kingdom work do we want to ask God for? Where do we want to see his transformational love at work? Healing for the sick, food for the hungry, peace for the fearful, joy for the sad? For Wendy and Lisa, love and blessing are intertwined. I particularly love how speaking words of blessing can prompt words of repentance and break the hold of bitterness.
As I wrap up this blog, and reflect on all that’s stressful, volatile, challenging, uncertain and dark within the world, let’s be counter-cultural and embrace opportunities to love our world. Because, in the words of another well-known love song,
‘Love… love changes everything.’
For more information about the Hope United Year of Mission 23-23 visit Hope Together : Hope 23 - 24