As I was getting ready to preach this week, I was so struck by Psalm 112. This psalm describes a godly person, someone who loves God and neighbor and lives their life justly and lovingly. It reminded me of how much I would also like my life to look like this. I want to be someone who looks to God and loves freely. The psalm calls us to be that kind of person.
I preach this message quite a bit–the Bible is full of calls to love better, after all–so I’d like to do something a bit different today. Rather than just telling you to love, I’d like to talk about some ways that you can live that out.
Before I begin, though, I would like to remind you that the psalm calls us to love others while we are grounded in God. That is, this isn’t something we have to do alone, on our own power or strength. This isn’t a to-do list that we have to force ourselves to accomplish on our own–both of these leave us exhausted, even burned out, and frankly much more likely to be grumpy and unloving with the people around us. Instead, we are called to love while grounded in God.
Therefore, the first step is prayer, before, during, and after loving those around us. This isn’t just asking God for things, although that can and should be an important part of prayer. Instead, include too time to simply spend time with God. Sit and listen rather than doing all the talking: pray a psalm, or spend some time in silence. I heard a story once about someone who would put an empty chair by his bed, imagine Jesus in the chair, and have a conversation with it. Spend time with God, not only talking but also listening.
Remember that often loving people involves being uncomfortable. Listen to where God is calling you to, that is, what issues you feel deeply about and what makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean doing something you know you’d hate or be so bad at that no one would want you to come back, but it may mean doing something brand new, something you’re not sure you’re good at, or spending time around people who make you uncomfortable. Be willing to fail and try again. Remember that so often, it’s when we step out and do something we’re not sure we can do that God surprises us and shows up in ways we never expected.
And sometimes loving people is just a God thing. We are irritated or tired or angry, and suddenly we instead feel peace or God’s presence. We are able to love the people in front of us even when we don’t want to. God is present when we try to love each other.
Loving people requires building habits and doing the work WHILE still remaining grounded in God through prayer and worship and Scripture reading. Build habits by starting small: want to start reading the Bible more? Read five minutes a day. Want to pray more? Say a one-sentence prayer every time you get in your car. Want to start helping with a problem you’re passionate about? Start by volunteering for an hour once a month, or making one donation. Then build on that.
And have grace for yourself. You’re not going to be perfect, and God knows that. God knows we’re not perfect, and yet God still loves us, deeply and passionately and fully. God has the grace to forgive us, so try to do the same for yourself. When you make a mistake, take a breath, pause, and try again. You’re trying to do better, and that takes work and time.
We all can rest in God, because God for sure knows that we’re not perfect. We are loved, every one of us, no matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, no matter what mistakes we’ve made and people we’ve hurt, no matter how long or short of a time we’ve been trying. God loves us. And because of that love, we know that we’re free to make mistakes and grow and change and fall flat on our faces. We’re free to love.
Alleluia, and Amen.