Years ago we had neighbors with children about the ages of our middle kids. They didn’t come over to play very often, but when they did I insisted they play outside in the backyard. One of them seemed like an angry kid. This child used a few bad words, sometimes played rough, and found kindness difficult.
The mama bear in me wanted to protect my children, to hurt anyone or anything that threatened my little cubs. Knowing the family wasn’t a believing one, and wanting to have a positive influence on them, I chose to continue to let this child come over to play periodically.
However, instead of me being the influencer, I soon realized this child was influencing me. I began to dislike our little neighbor’s presence, attitude, and actions more and more. Anger was growing in my heart.
To make it worse, I didn’t want to love this child. In my mind, behavior like this didn’t deserve to be rewarded with grace and love.
One day I realized my attitude and my lack of love was not pleasing to my God. The Holy Spirit showed me the truth about my attitude. The Spirit was inviting me to let Him make my heart more pure and clean like Jesus’.
“Be holy for I am holy”
As a member of the Trinity, part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to make me more holy. This means He continually works to make me “set apart” from that which isn’t like God. Our different God-like responses to situations, like my inability to love even a child, provide an opportunity for God’s Spirit to work. The Spirit helps me see my naturally sinful responses, acknowledge them as displeasing to God, and then to transform them into pure attitudes and actions.
God commanded His people, Israel, to be holy in Leviticus 11:45. He repeated the instruction to us in 1 Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” He knew He was asking the impossible. He is asking us to do something that only He can initiate in us.
He knows far better than we do how much we need our Purifier, the Holy Spirit.
We can only see our sin and opposition to God as the Holy Spirit shows it to us. Once I see what the Holy Spirit has shown me about my heart, I have a choice of either refusing out of pride or surrendering to Him and His desires, which are for my good and the good of others.
It is then, when surrendered to the will of the Spirit, that my motives can become pure. Only He can produce purity in my heart.
One of my role models, Elisabeth Elliot, said, “One doesn’t surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered over a lifetime.” So be encouraged with me that our inability to stay surrendered is normal!
With this neighbor child, I knew my opinion, my sense of what was right, didn’t matter before a holy God. Jesus loved this child and died for this child as much as He did for me. My proud heart could only be changed by Jesus.
I surrendered to the whisper of the Spirit and prayed God would give me His love because mine was insufficient. I asked Him to remove the coldness in my heart and replace it with His love that was pure, kind, patient, compassionate, did not act unbecomingly or take into account a wrong suffered.
These qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23, are not possible for me to produce. Only the Spirit of Christ can produce these holy, God-like qualities in me.
To my great surprise, I discovered soon after I prayed that my animosity toward this child was gone. I didn’t cringe when I saw this little one walk down our driveway. I began to feel compassion instead of anger. My eyes were opened to see it wasn’t all the child’s fault.
What I experienced was the work of the Holy Spirit, my Purifier, who loved me enough to show me the truth about my heart and possessed the power to change me. I experienced the truth of this verse Romans 5:5: “… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
After I saw what God could do with my heart over a neighbor child, I began asking Him to help me love others, like my own children when they weren’t so easy to like. Or my husband on some days, because let’s be honest … those closest to us are those whose flaws we see most clearly. They hurt us and disappoint us more often than others.
Changing a cold, hard, stubborn heart is a miracle of God. Why? Because we humans have a free will. No other living creature resists His voice. But we can resist the desire of God’s Spirit to change our hearts.
Here are a few simple steps to help you love those who aren’t easy to love. Start by recognizing and naming your sin.
1. Who are those you have a hard time loving …
… in your family?
… at work?
… in your neighborhood?
… at church?
Be brutally honest with yourself because God already knows anyway. This list is between you and Him alone.
2. Talk to the Holy Spirit about these people. Tell Him how you feel if you want. But most importantly surrender your inability to love to Him and invite the Holy Spirit to change your heart.
3. Here are some Scriptures if you want to read more:
- 1 Corinthians 13
- Galatians 5:22-23
- Philippians 4:8
- Matthew 5:8
- 1 John 3:3
Remember as you read these that it is impossible to produce these qualities in your own life. Only God can create a new heart and create His holiness in us.
May we as women who know God grow hearts of love that look more and more like the heart of Jesus our Savior!