Christians have one job, but with all of the “holy” stuff that clutters our lives, you’d think that we had thousands of jobs.
In fact, if you’ve given up on Christianity or feel like you’re on the way out, there’s a good chance you are either sick of the thousands of jobs or you can’t believe in a God who would assign all of these jobs.
We have one job as Christians… one job.
These days I’m suspicious of anyone who wants to qualify that, add “nuance,” or say, “Yeah, but…” No, we have one job and one job only, and the more we obscure that, the more likely we are to miss out on what Christianity is all about.
I’ll bet you know where I’m going with this, but there’s a huge, huge catch. So stick with me for a moment.
Our one job and our only job is to love—love God and love others. That’s it. The teachings of Jesus are summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor, but the really, really big catch is this: Where does this love come from in us? How do we love God and love our neighbors?
Do we need preachers to command us to love others?
Do we need to read Bible verses telling us to love God?
Do we need to try harder?
This is where everything has run off the rails for me with Christianity. Look, there’s this invisible God who is generally only felt or sensed in some way. It’s not like you can invite God over for coffee and bagels, go for walks in the evening, or take a road trip to get to know each other better. And even if you want to love your neighbors, they can be mean, inconsiderate, and difficult to like. They drive too fast down your street and leave cigarette butts on your sidewalk that your kids chew on—not that I know about that from experience…
Here’s the rub: We are told that the whole sum of things is to love God and love our neighbors, but we all tend to be very unloving people. It’s really, really hard to love people, so why not aim for the lower hanging fruit of Christianity and call it a day?
I am selfish, controlling, and 100% the “get off my lawn” type. I like quiet. I want to mind my own business. And if I struggle to love my neighbors that I can see, who knows what to make of some unseen God?
So rather than wrestle with the mysteries of love and letting these consume my days and nights, I take the easy way out. I commit to Bible study, I try to live a moral life, I focus on explaining the Gospel, and I try to help other people even though I would rather just read a book.
In fact, I have long deluded myself with thinking that building a well-rounded and informed theology, cultivating good Bible study habits, and embodying the Gospel through my actions is really all there is to Christianity. I mean, of course I paid lip service to loving God and loving others and there were moments when I succeeded in loving others through these practices, but I was often running on fumes. I was driven by obligation and will-power rather than depths of God’s love that are higher, deeper, and wider than I can imagine.
It’s so much easier to read theology books than to delve into the mysteries of love.
How do you become a “loving” person?
How do you fall in love with an unseen God?
I won’t create a false dichotomy with prayer and scripture, but I do know that I have neglected prayer over the years to the point that I shouldn’t have even bothered with it. I should have just said I believe in the Bible, not the God of the Bible.
I hadn’t pursued God personally with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I primarily pursued knowledge of the God in the Bible.
Here’s where I’m at today: the stuff of Christianity is the pursuit of a loving God.
The love of God is where all of the action takes place, and it’s how we become loving people who can fulfill the heart of our faith: loving God and loving neighbors.
Moments of quiet, prayerfully meditating on scripture, and waiting for the Spirit of God to fall are the center and substance of our faith. Experiencing the loving presence of God is really all there is. Sure, theology is fine in it’s place, but it’s just a small part of a much larger pursuit.
I can only love as far as I’ve been loved.
I can only accept others as far as I’ve been accepted.
I can only forgive as much as I’ve been forgiven.
As Jesus said, those who have been forgiven much, will love much (Luke 7:47, NIV).
I firmly believe that any of my struggles to love others are rooted not in my knowledge of love but in my experience of God, which is another way of saying the experience of God’s love.
Christianity has one job: love.
Love has one source: the presence of God.
So, if you want to give this Christianity thing a whirl, seek one thing and one thing only: the loving presence of God. That’s it.
If you want to stick your nose in the Bible, pick out a single verse and meditate on it for a month. Brennan Manning suggests:
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
I am determined to stop making Christianity complicated. It’s not. The more I add to the pursuit of God’s loving presence, the further I find myself drifting from the center.
If we live in the center of God’s love, then we have freedom to add on additional pursuits, but I’ll say this… I have studied commentaries, I have read deeply and widely, and I have gone through the Bible countless times, even learning the original languages. There is value in all of these things, but none of them have led me to the very substance of Christianity and center that is the loving presence of God. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time thinking I had found the substance of Christianity, and the Christianity I had found was lacking.
I am no expert in the presence of God, but the times that I have opened myself up to God, I have experienced life-changing mercy and love as I confronted my pain, weaknesses, and failings. I have been accepted and held. I have found a shelter that brought peace and renewal. I have found a deep well of love to share with others that moves me beyond my selfish, controlling ways.
The times that I have centered prayer, using Thomas Keating’s sacred word method, have led me to the greatest moments of peace and gentleness as God moved deeper into my life.
I’m not here to tell you the only ways to experience the loving presence of God. I have found ways that help, but there certainly are many paths. The pursuit is what’s it’s all about.
If we aren’t pursuing the loving presence of God, we are missing out on the one and only thing about Christianity that has power and the promise to transform our lives.
The only thing that makes me a Christian is the love of God. If I’m not actively pursuing the love of God, then I’m just playing at dress up Christianity.
I’m not a Christian because I study the Bible, know church history, or engage in service projects, even though I value all of these things.
I’m a Christian because there’s a God who loves me deeply, has actively pursued me, and can be found if I make space in my life. There is an endless well of love from God that is waiting to be found in my life and in your life. How tragic it would be if I passed through all of my days convincing myself that moral living and Bible study made up the substance of my faith!
I have one job and you have one job: find the love of God.
Ruthlessly eliminate anything that can get in the way of God’s loving presence.
May we be forever dissatisfied with any other promise of satisfaction.
May we be forever restless with any other promise of rest.
May we be forever weakened by any other promise of power.
May we be forever agitated with any other promise of peace.
May we fall into the loving presence of God, even as a last resort, and may we become people who shower love on others because we have tapped into the endless well of love that surpasses all comprehension. Though we may feel like we’re calling water from rocks in the wilderness, we have the witness of saints who have gone before us beckoning us to follow along this way.
The silence and simplicity of pursuing God’s love is here for you and me today. May we find in this love the peace that we have longed for and the capacity to generously love others out of the depths of God’s endless love for us.
Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians
On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)