When I was young I did not have many friends. I had enough friends, just not many of them. For many years, I secretly wished to have more friends, to be more popular, to have more people like me. But that was when I “thought like a child, reasoned like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Fortunately, I grew up. Like the Apostle Paul testified, “I became a man and put childish ways behind me” (IBID).
Not everyone does grow up, you know; some just grow older. Aging is imposed; maturity is a choice. When I became a man – a Christian man at that, I began to actually mature. I began to follow One who called me “friend,” and the path we have walked is one leading to maturity. We are still walking; I am still maturing. I have not arrived! Still, something happened along the way, something of profound importance happened to me.
As profound as it was, I cannot tell you when it happened. I suppose it happened while my eyes were “fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Somehow, somewhere, sometime along the way my orientation to life changed. I ceased seeing myself at the center of the universe with everything revolving around me, and everything being about me. Walking further with Christ, I eventually came to realize that neither others nor even the “center of the universe” was the true Center. Rather, the One who made the universe was the legitimate center, the rightful focus of my life, of our lives.
As I lived this way, I ceased trying to have friends. I began to earnestly try to be a friend. I stopped hoping to gain more friends numerically; I began to try to deepen friendships I had. That is, I began to care more deeply about others, or stated differently – to love others better.
In my immaturity, my orientation was completely self-centered. My concern was, “how well am I being loved?”. Even more deeply I worried that I might never be loved as deeply as I desired. As maturity has grown in me, however, I have been motivated by this concern, “How well am I loving?”. And sometimes in quite meditation before my Master, I wonder if I will ever love as deeply as I ought. And He has assured me that “He will carry to completion this work He has begun in me” (Philippians 1:6).
Many years ago God caused me to pause a moment and look around at my life. He wanted me to see something in particular. I saw lots of friends, people I really cared for and who genuinely cared about me. It was amazing the first time I saw it; I have marveled at the sight many times since. As enjoyable as that experience is, it is not my normal orientation to look at that. As faithfully as I can, I am living from the inside out, engaging the world before me, not living as one staring in a mirror to see myself (where you might even be in that reflection, too).
I would not want to leave the impression that being grounded in God’s love for me, living with a passion to be a friend, to really love others, has made me immune to rejection or hurt in relationships with people. It has not. It has, however, made these experiences bearable, and the worst of these thus far, survivable. Neither would I want to leave the impression that I never return to the self-focused life. I have many times. But this I know, that is not the way I was made to live. By the grace of God, I have continued to come to my senses and live in harmony with God and His plan for my life – a God-centered life.
Nowhere in the Bible have I found the command to go out and get love or to find someone to love me. It tells us we are loved by the One who matters most; and then, it tells us to go love others. According to Jesus, the two greatest commandments, which He deemed inseparable, and which He proposed were an adequate summary of the Bible’s whole message, were these: we are to love the Lord God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). This is not natural. We, by nature, operate exactly the opposite of this. God is not our starting point; our neighbors are. And we are not trying to love our neighbors; we are trying to get them to love us. Furthermore, until we see this – and see it as wrong – we cannot turn from it.
In the 800 or so words you just read, there is potential hope and direction for living your life well. Jesus did not intend to be a mere spiritual addition to our lives; He came to be our lives (see Colossians 3:2-4). Do you need to change that orientation? Do you need to seriously begin following Jesus, our Friend who sticks closer than a brother? He is still extending His grand invitation: “Come, follow Me!” Remember, please, it is a journey of maturity! Everything will change when you really follow. You will change!
Note: All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.