Achieving physical fitness is a process that involves exercising, stressing, and stretching muscles to new capacities.
We don’t often think of relational fitness in those terms, but love is also like a muscle requiring exercising, stressing, and stretching in order to become stronger.
In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul prayed this prayer for the followers of Jesus in Philippi, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul prayed, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The knowledge he speaks of here is not simply a knowledge of more facts—not even Bible facts. Instead, the knowledge he’s talking about is an intimate, experience-based knowledge that comes with the exercise of our love in the context of relationships.
Love can only be learned, stretched, and stressed within relationships. It’s simply not possible to exercise our love muscle outside the context of relationships. And just like a hard physical workout, stretching and stressing our love muscle is not always a pleasant experience. This is especially true when we have to interact with people who aren’t behaving in a lovable way.
I believe there are times when the Lord gives us opportunities for an extreme relational workout like cross-fit or basic training. These extreme relational workouts serve to help our “love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
The Lord provided me with such an opportunity some years ago. I was a pastor at a church at the time and we had a very needy family in our church. Late one week in the Spring, I got a call from Dan (not his real name) telling me that their family of four had been evicted from the home they were renting. The landlord demanded that they move by that weekend. He asked if we could help with the move.
With so little time to recruit volunteers, I was skeptical whether we’d be able to muster a moving crew. Indeed, we only found two others besides me. Furthermore, I was the only one that could start early on Saturday. The other two volunteers couldn’t come until mid-morning.
Prior to Saturday, I asked Dan to have everything packed in boxes and ready to go. He assured me that they would.
I arrived Saturday morning at our agreed-upon time and knocked on their door—no answer. I knocked again—nothing. I knocked harder and longer and Dan shuffled to the front door in his pajamas. His wife and two teenage children were still sound asleep. He invited me in, and as I stepped inside, the odor and sights assaulted all my senses. I mean no disrespect when I say that I could not tell their trash from their belongings. They were obviously hoarding junk, and nothing was packed in boxes!
And as I walked through the house assessing the amount of stuff they had, I knew there was no way we’d be able to fit it all in one load in a 26-foot U-Haul truck. I was really developing a distaste for this move and resentment toward Dan and his family.
Dan came out of his bedroom dressed and suggested we go pick up the U-Haul truck. This is when he informed me that he didn’t have a driver’s license and would I please drive the truck. Fine. So, we drove to the other side of town to U-Haul. But when we arrived, Dan discovered that he was wrong about their opening time and we had a 40-minute wait.
Now I was seething inside! We sat in the car not saying a word. I’m sure Dan perceived my sour mood. But then, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “You know, Rob, I love Dan and his family.” I became ashamed of my attitude and determined to do something about it, so I asked Dan to tell me his story.
As his story unfolded, I began to understand why they found themselves in their current situation. In that 40 minutes, the Lord stretched and strained my love muscle in new and painful ways. God gave me a deep love and compassion for Dan and his family.
That move was fraught with difficulties and setbacks and was protracted over three days. But I wouldn’t trade those three days for anything! By loving Dan and his family, I experienced depths of God’s love for me and others in ways beyond anything I had never known.
In what ways is the Lord stretching and straining your love muscle right now. Sure, it’s easier to let our love get flabby and lethargic, but that’s when we need to look in the mirror of God’s Word and realize the abundance of love He offers us and wants to express through us to others.
May Paul’s prayer be ours as well, “that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”