“People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.”

The above quote by John Harrigan has become a principle of life for me.  At the same time, it’s one of the hardest things for most of us to do, in our humanness, to love someone when they deserve it the least.

Have you ever had times when your behavior was so out of control that you couldn’t stand yourself?  When I was a young mother and wife, there would be one day most months when I was “PMS”ing, in which I would find myself either yelling and screaming uncontrollably all day, or crying all day.  I was so miserable I couldn’t stand myself, I felt just plain unlovable!  It’s times like that when I think if someone had been able to just grab me and hug me it would have helped to get me out of that nasty mood, in spite of the hormones that were working against me.

I believe that loving someone to that extent takes a supernatural love. It takes the love of Christ flowing through us to be able to reach out to the unlovable.  Jesus was criticized often for associating with “sinners,” those people who others thought of as unlovable, not worthy of their time and attention – tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc.

The Bible says in 1 John 1:19, “We love because he first loved us.

Christ died for the ungodly.  Romans 5:6

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Luke 6:32 & 35.

PrayerMost gracious and loving Lord, how grateful I am that the you loved me enough to die for my sins, so that through you, I am able to stand before a just God and live in His presence throughout eternity.  I thank you that your love compels me and pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit within me, you will enable me to love those who seem unlovable, as you have loved me.  Through your power grant me the grace to extend mercy to all. Amen.

Provoked to anger, but what about being provoked to Love???

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the  fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” Hebrews 10:24

Asher, our German shepherd, is as docile as a dog can be. He lounges on the couch most of the day, runs only when the rare mood strikes, and is largely unmoved by other dogs nipping and pawing at his face or by my stretching it into comical expressions. Although he has snarled or clapped his jaw in anger (usually a rawhide chew is involved), it’s exceedingly rare. The best descriptor for Asher might be indifferent. It’s his nature.

In his book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund mentions that while the Old Testament refers to God being “provoked to anger” a number of times, he’s never “provoked to love.” This is because he doesn’t need to be. He is “slow to anger and abounding in love.” When he faces provocations like his people’s rebellion and wickedness, love and mercy “abound” from him easily and naturally. As Asher reacts with indifference and only rarely erupts in anger, God’s grace is constant and it takes much to incite his wrath.

We are just the opposite, though. The Greek word translated “provoke” or “stir up” refers to an irritant or something that incites reaction. Think of the person who cuts you off in traffic or a sudden blow to the funny bone — your reaction (anger, annoyance, wincing, etc.) erupts almost without thinking. If God is “slow to anger and abounding in love,” we are too often slow to love and abounding in anger (or similar sharp reactions).

Interestingly, Hebrews 10:24 uses this word—“provoke” or “stir up” — not as something inciting anger or annoyance, but love and good works. God needs little provoking in order to show mercy and love; we need much.

Just as interesting, the sentence continues into verse 25, which encourages God’s people not to neglect meeting together. One of the chief functions of Christian community is to stimulate one another to live in ways that are so natural to God’s good and gracious character.

Lord, I’m so grateful that you are slow to anger and abounding in love. Your mercy to me is light years beyond what I deserve. Build me up so that I might reflect your loving mercy to others, and provide for me people who can stir that up so that it flows out of me without thinking. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Consider what others have done that have “provoked” you toward loving and doing good. A surprising display of forgiveness? An unexpected kind word? An inspiring example? Look for an opportunity to do the same for someone else today.