The word Matthew uses for “love” in this passage is agape, indicating that believers will possess chilly, unresponsive hearts. (Agape refers to the unconditional, other-centered love of God). And I’ve seen this cool-down happen with increasing frequency as the days grow darker and terror abounds. I’ve felt the icy grip myself.
Fear seems to be the greatest culprit. Here in the West, we especially fear our privileged way of life being shaken, our freedoms being taken. So we shrink back and batten down the hatches of our hearts. We call for air strikes and more border patrols and we no longer welcome the stranger into our homes. The spirit of fear convinces us that we need to protect ourselves above all else, love of God be damned.
But friends, I need to tell you–those who wish to do us harm are already here. While we’ve been distracted by all the things, the Enemy has been gathering his army. There is only one weapon this Enemy fears–the love of God–and it has been conspicuously absent in recent days. If we truly believed in the power of this love, and waged it as a weapon at the first sign of terror, would we be in this pickle today?
I’ve worked with a refugee resettlement agency in Portland for many years now. About six years ago, I went to a volunteer training where we were all puzzled by the influx of young men from the middle east. Families were being more carefully screen and denied entrance, but the young men had no such trouble. Some of the volunteers complained about these refugees, saying they came from privilege and were not happy with their quality of life in the states. (By the way, the US government decides who gets in, the resettlement agencies just provide resources).
One day, the head of the resettlement program sent out an email asking if one of the volunteers could take food to a young Iraqi man who was recovering from knee surgery and unable to care for himself. No one jumped at the opportunity, so I volunteered, thinking I’d just drop off a pizza. But the Lord had other ideas and clearly suggested I look up a few recipes for Iraqi fare, so I ended up preparing quite the feast for the dude. Turned out he lived with three other young men, all from different places in the Middle East, and they were thrilled with my offering. I prayed for the sick guy, chatted up his friends for a bit and took my leave. I heard later from the volunteer coordinator how much they’d appreciated this act of kindness.
I never thought I’d see them again, but my daughter and her family just moved into the same apartment complex. Like almost directly across from where the guys lived! I’m praying for a chance to reconnect with them again, fully armed, of course, with the love of God. Who knows what kind of ambush He wants to set?
(It’s not just refugee resettledment programs that have screening issues. A few years back, I worked for a mission agency that recruited believers to work in Canada, Alaska and Russia. I was contacted by a couple from Egypt who felt the Lord was calling them to ministry in Alaska. As I began to process their paperwork (all done electronically), I noticed that some of their “references” gave responses that appeared to be cut and pasted. The only contact info for the references were hotmail accounts (no phone numbers or addresses). When I tried to contact their pastor reference, I couldn’t even find the town they said their church was in. With all my spidey senses tingling, I told them they weren’t a good fit for our organization.
TThe very next day, a group of “missionaries” were arrested as suspected terrorists. They’d been lliving in Mexico and then applied to (and were accepted by) a mission agency operating in the US. Pretty sure that wasn’t the first–or the last time–this tactic was used. All to say, every time we think we’ve secured our borders, the Enemy will figure out another way to worm his way in.)**
I think his sneakiest maneuver of all is using fear to neutralize the love of God in our hearts.
Today, I challenge you to invite the Holy Spirit to search your hearts and reveal any strongholds of cold love. Repent of any bitterness or unforgiveness or fear that holds you hostage. Then ask the Lord to show you the incredible heighth and depth, length and breadth of His love for you–and your enemies.
The Lord of Hosts is gathering His army as surely as the Enemy of our souls is positioning his. We are not helpless, for greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. We are not defenseless; we have the sword of the Spirit. We don’t have to cower in fear. In Christ, we have His love, His power and wisdom from above. We can receive our marching orders through prayer.
I love this quote by Rees Howell, a man called by God to war against Hitler with prayer. “God is preparing His instrument; a company to fight world battles on their knees.”
Lord, make us such a company of love. Teach us to fight on our knees.
**I am NOT saying we shouldn’t be wise about who we welcome into our country. Naivete is not our friend. But God’s mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13)