The discipline of love

Published 6:56 pm Thursday, March 14, 2019

By Nathan Decker

Now faith, hope, and love remain — these three things — but the greatest of these is love.”

– Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13

During Lent we often talk about taking on spiritual disciplines. Some people practice the spiritual gift of fasting. They fast from certain foods like chocolate or sweets. Others tempt fate by giving up coffee or other caffeinated beverages. I know a couple on the Eastern Shore who got sober by giving up their addiction to alcohol. Giving up something for Lent isn’t the only way to practice a spiritual discipline.

For many years I have advocated folks add a spiritual discipline to their lives. I suggested different ways of praying: contemplation, meditation, Lexio Divina and prayer walking. I offered different ways of praying through the Scriptures. At one location, we had access to a labyrinth where we could pray the journey of Lent. At another church, folks decided to pledge to do an act of mercy each day of Lent as an offering to Christ.

This year, I’m simply asking people to develop the God given spiritual gift of love. We read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings and recently at funerals. In those contexts we hear love as the way people care for one another. Here, love is described as human interaction. These readings indicate the love of a couple about to bond their lives together in love or the love a family has for someone who has died. But when Paul was writing his letter to the church at Corinth, love was grander than these limited visions.

Chapter 13’s emphasis on love is the final climax of a conversation Paul has in previous chapters on spiritual gifts. Love is a gift God gives us to develop. Like preaching or teaching, love has to be practiced. Like singing or playing a musical instrument, love has to be developed as a skill. When Paul describes love as “patient, kind, humble, forgiving and self-less” he is describing a fully developed discipline of love. He is describing the love of Christ.

Our world needs love this Lent. Practicing the spiritual discipline of love challenges us. Love puts down the cell phone and listens to people when they are talking to us. Love pauses on a warm day to listen to the birds sing their hymn of praise to the Creator. Love picks up the trash on the sidewalk. Love gives room for disagreement in a tweet without the emotional response. Love hears a conversation going sour and meddles to remind us of our shared humanity.

Love is the ultimate gift guiding us in our Christian walk. Paul placed it above faith — that which we believe. Paul placed it above hope — that which we dream. Paul said selfless, self-sacrificing love was the greatest gift God had ever given us. During Lent, we are reminded that this gift came as Christ. Perhaps instead of toying with temptations over chocolate and caffeine, we can develop our capacity to have compassion in love. Perhaps instead of attempting to add devotional readings or new ways to practice old arts, we can simply rehearse the way we forgive others and ourselves in love. This Lent, take on the discipline of love. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”

– John Lennon

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.