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God’s Love is Unconditional
Henri J M Nouwen says, “What can we say about God’s love? We can say that God’s love is unconditional. God does not say, ‘I love you, if. . . ‘ There are no ifs in God’s heart. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God’s love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related event or circumstance. Does that mean that God does not care what we do or say? No, because God’s love wouldn’t be real if God didn’t care. To love without condition does not mean to love without concern. God desires to enter into relationship with us and wants us to love God in return.
Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” (Bread for the Journey, Feb 5)
However, we often feel unworthy of His love because we cannot live up to His standard. We feel we cannot please Him enough. We are not good enough. But God loves us not because of what we do. He loves us because He is Love. Love is who He is. God loves every one of us. So He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world to reconcile us sinners with Him. By His grace anyone who believes in Jesus is put right with Him and has life more abundantly here and now.
Thus Henri Nouwen says, “Jesus came to us to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety. But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness and insecurity.
The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, “Perfect love drives out fear.”(1 John 4:18) Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.” (Bread for the Journey, Feb 29)
Even monks have doubt of God’s love. Henri Nouwen says, “one of the greatest temptations of a monk is to doubt God’s love.” (The Genesee Diary, Oct 27 1974)
So, how can we be conscious that God loves us unconditionally and have the faith to believe it? We can help ourselves to be aware of God’s unconditional love when we focus our 5 senses wisely on God by:
1. Listening to what the Bible says when we read (eyes), reflect and verbally repeat out loud what the Bible tells us about God’s love such as:
· "God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them"(1 John 4:16 TEV).
· “Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”(1 John 4:7 TEV)
· "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love"(1 John 4:8 TEV).
· “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 TEV)
· "God has shown us how much He loves us--it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By His blood we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by Him from God's anger." (Romans 5:8-9 TEV)
· "God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him"(1 John 4:9 TEV).
· “I come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)
· “He gave us His Son---will He not also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 TEV)
· “For I am certain nothing can separate us from His love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below--there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 TEV)
· “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”(2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
Henri Nouwen says, “Listen to the book. By that I mean read the Bible; read books about the Bible, about the spiritual life, and the lives of “great” saints. I know you read a good deal; but a lot of what you read distracts you from the way that Jesus is showing you. The secondary school and university offer you little in the way of ‘spiritual reading.’ That’s why it’s very important for you to read regularly books which will help you in your spiritual life. Many people are brought to God through spiritual literature that they chance or choose to read. Augustine, Ignatius, Thomas Merton, and many others have been converted through the book. The challenge, however, is not to read a ‘spiritual’ book as a source of interesting information, but rather to listen to it as to a voice that addresses you directly. It isn’t easy to let a text ‘read’ you. Your thirst for knowledge and information often makes you desire to own the word, instead of letting the word own you. Even so, you will learn the most by listening carefully to the Word that seeks admission to your heart.” (Letters to Marc about Jesus, 83)
2. Listening to the Church by attending Church regularly and listening (ears) to the sermons and homilies of the priests, pastors and elders.
Henri Nouwen says, “Listen to the church. I know that isn’t a popular bit of advice at a time and in a country where the church is often seen more as an obstacle in the way than as the way to Jesus. Nevertheless, I am deeply convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the church. The church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus there can he no church; and without the church we cannot stay united with Jesus. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the church. TO listen to the church is to listen to the Lord of the church. Specifically, this entails taking part in the church’s liturgical life. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost: these seasons and feasts teach you to know Jesus better and better and unite you more and more intimately with the divine life he offers you in the church.
The Eucharist is the heart of the church’s life. It’s there that you hear the life-giving gospel and receive the gifts that sustain that life within you. The best assurance that you’ll go on listening to the church is your regular participation in the Eucharist.” (Letters to Marc about Jesus, 83)
3. Listening to ourselves singing (mouth) praises to the Lord and having fellowship (communicate) with other Christians. We need to sing especially when we are troubled and weighed down. The singing will uplift our spirit for it is in worshipping God that we feel God’s presence. In His presence, our burden becomes light.
Stormie Omartian says, “One of the most powerful things you can do when you are being weighed down with negative thoughts and emotions is to sing songs of worship to the Lord. I know that may be the last thing you feel like doing. It’s hard to open up your mouth and sing when your heart is heavy. But that is exactly what you need to do. And it is the most crucial time to do it.
Remember, you don’t have to have a perfect heart in order to come to Him in praise. And you don’t have to have a perfect voice either. If that were true, how many people could come to Him? The great thing about the hidden power of praise is that God can purify your heart in the very process of you praising Him. And He can make you forget about your voice too. Your voice will come from a deeper place than your body, or even your soul. It will come from your spirit. It will be inspired and sustained by the Spirit of God in you. And it will be beautiful.
Negative emotions are never God’s will for you. Knowing that is half the battle. Praise and worship is one of your greatest weapons against them.” (The Prayer that changes Everything, 179-180)
4. Listening to God in our prayer (heart). Make use of our interior and exterior silence to listen to God speaking to us.
Henri Nouwen says, “Listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t thrust himself upon you. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world Jesus’ loving voice is easily drowned out. You need to set aside some time every day for this active listening to Jesus, if only for ten minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life.
You’ll find that it isn’t easy to be still for ten minutes at a time. You’ll discover straightaway that many other voices—--voices that are very noisy and distracting, voices which are not God’s—-- demand your attention. But if you stick to your daily prayer time, then slowly but surely you’ll come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.” (Letters to Marc about Jesus, 84)
Mother Teresa says, “It is difficult to pray if you don’t know how to pray, but we must help ourselves to pray. The first means to use is silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence. Therefore we shall take as a special point silence of mind, eyes, and tongue. (A Life for God, 21)
“To make possible true interior silence, we shall practice:
· Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing them to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul;
· Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, closing them to all other voices that come from the evil one or from fallen human nature: e.g., gossip, tale-bearing, and uncharitable words;
· Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the Truth that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope, and joy, and by refraining from self-defense and every word that causes darkness, turmoil, pain, and death;
· Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgment, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts, and desires;
· Silence of the heart, by loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and one another as God loves, desiring God alone and avoiding all selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, and greed.” (A Life for God, 24)
“To foster and maintain a prayerful atmosphere of exterior silence we shall:
· respect certain times and places of more strict silence;
· move about and work prayerfully, quietly, and gently;
· avoid at all costs all unnecessary speaking and notice;
· speak, when we have to, softly, gently, saying just what is necessary;
· look forward to profound silence as a holy and precious time, a withdrawal into the living silence of God.” (A Life for God, 25)
5. Listening to our memories (mind) by jotting in a note book the little and major things God has done for us, such as:
· Through the kindness of a stranger.
· Through the curious question of a child.
· Through a word well spoken or a touch well timed.
· Through the commitment of a spouse
· Through the thoughtfulness of our friends
· Through a book that inspires us
· Through the consideration of someone
· Through the support of family and friends in our major sickness
· Through the majesty of a sunset.
· Through the blessings of our friends
· Through the help from unexpected sources
· Through the comfort of words spoken in love
· Through the removal of anger, hate and bitterness in our hearts
· Through the reduction of envy and suspicion in our attitude
· Through the consolation we receive in pain or adversity
· Through compassion we receive
· Through the praises we receive from our loved one
· Through the many encouragements we get
Joyce Meyer says, “Keep a diary, a book of remembrance, of special things that God does for you. Include little things as well as major things. Read over your list at least once a week and you will be encouraged.” (Beauty for Ashes, 46)
When we use our eyes, ears, mouth, heart and mind to concentrate on God, we help ourselves to become aware of His living presence. In His living presence we become conscious of His unconditional love for us. This knowledge and acceptance of God’s unconditional love build and strengthen our faith. It also gives us the courage to live our lives loving and serving God and others.
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