People are a fact. We may not always like them and appreciate them but they are part of our tiny universe. They may get on our nerves at times, they may cause us to become angry, or frustrate us, even provoke us to hatred, but they are still part of us. People are not going away so we had better learn to cope.
In fact, if we are Jesus' disciples, we need to go far beyond cope, we need to learn how to love. I don't mean learn by reading books and attending classes. I don't even mean learn by being determined to be loving. That's the strange thing, as a disciple of Jesus, the only way we learn to love is by dying to ourself and allowing Jesus to love through us. The first step is to acknowledge that people are important to Jesus.
You can't hate someone and love Jesus. Apostle John knew that and told us that hatred is a sure sign that we are not disciples of Jesus. In fact, John is rather blunt about it:
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar." (1 John 4:20)
People are important to God and he has made them the second greatest priority, right after loving God. We cannot make any spiritual progress as long as we hate, even our enemies. Jesus was blunt as well when he told us:
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 sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)
Of course this is all part of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. In our natural we do not have the ability to love our enemy and to evict hatred from our life, but the Spirit does. However, the Spirit is gentle and will not force himself upon us. He will convict us of what pleases and displeases God but he will not make us do anything. He will give us the capacity to love but he will not bind us with something we are fighting against. The Holy Spirit requires our cooperation.
The best thing we can do to make our heart open to the Spirit is to be grateful. It is how we allow all the blessings of our Lord to flow through us, by being thankful for everything. Even worship comes from the overflow of a thankful heart. It is the same for the love of people. It rises up from a heart that expresses thanksgiving for the people in our lives. Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you,remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15-16)
Paul heard about them long before he met them. I am sure he heard the bad along with the good. Today we emphasize the bad reports we hear, forming an opinion about someone from one little thing. Paul grabbed hold of the good that he heard and he filled his heart with thanksgiving for these people. In this thanksgiving he also prayed for them, petitioning the Lord on their behalf. It is really hard to hate someone for whom you are praying. It is hard to be frustrated with the person you see good things in. It is hard to be angry at the person for whom you are thanking God.
We need to desire the best for people. Even for those who would consider themselves our enemies we need to desire God's blessings, out of love. By blessings I refer to salvation, grace, mercy and such. Over the next few days we are going to examine Paul's desire for the Ephesians in what he prayed. We will do this in the hope that we can discover how to cultivate a heart that allows the Spirit to love through us. If you have never been a people person it is time to give up that thought of yourself so that the Spirit can make you what you aught to be.
It has nothing to do with preference and personality and everything to do with God's will. Love God and love your neighbour, that is what our life here is all about and that is how we please God. So examine your heart, see if you are giving way to the Spirit of God and ask yourself if loving people is your second greatest priority. If not, join me over the next few days as we learn how to open our heart to people.