Love Always Protects, Always Trusts, Always Hopes, Always Perseveres or: The Fledgling Factor
(1 Corinthians 13:7; NIV)
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Love never gives up. We can be tempted to believe that trusting, hoping and persevering are qualities of rather passive nature. Just stick it out, hope for the best, wait till it’s over but quite the opposite is the case. Choosing to trust after trust was broken requires quite a bit of strength, willpower and courage. It requires picking ourselves up after we were knocked down. It says, “I will try one more time.” And then one more time. And one more. We all love those movies where the protagonist after having taken a heavy blow, pulls themselves together and with their last ounce of strength gains the victory over their opponent. “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up,” is yet another one of Edison’s quotes. He must have had some experience with set-backs, I guess. Yet he is known for the times when his labour was not in vain as he kept going until that was the case. That is exactly what love does: Getting up. One more time. And then one more time.
Similarly, hoping is a very active thing to do. “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it,” the New American Standard Bible translates Romans 8:25. There it is again, the ‘P’ word. True love requires perseverance and patience. Anyone who has had a baby, or has heard the stories of people who have, knows that you need quite a bit of stamina to make it through endless sleepless nights, abdominal colics, and years of changing nappies. Anyone who has trained kids and sat through their temper tantrums knows how much willpower it takes not to choose the easy route but to endure the accusations, threats, and attempts at blackmailing. And you hang in there because you know it’s worth it; the time of sacrifice won’t last forever. You invest and keep investing because you know that it will help the child to prosper and grow into a responsible adult who can ultimately enjoy life and be good to others. The bible paints a picture of this hope that eagerly waits in the story of the prodigal son when we read about the father looking out for his child to return home. Day after day the father goes outside to see if the son who betrayed and abandoned him would come home again. If not today, maybe tomorrow. But maybe tomorrow. This is a powerful image of how much God desires for us to come to Him regardless of what we might have done to hurt Him. He looks out for us and eagerly waits for us to run into His arms so that we can be fully restored to Him.
I am amazed at all the things people can get offended with in church. “The drums were too loud. Or not loud enough. The sermon was too long, the worship too short. Or the other way round. The vicar didn’t greet me, I guess I am not important enough. When I wanted a cup, they had run out of coffee. The building was freezing cold. I have pointed that out many times but I guess people just don’t care.” The problem with all this does not lie in addressing an issue or uttering a request. The issue is the underlying judging of intentions. If we believe that people don’t care or want to hurt us on purpose, we react to things that bother us by getting angry or unkind. Love, though, we are reminded, always hopes. Hoping in the biblical sense, means to actively look out for the good again, and again, and again, and again. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things, it says in Philippians 4:8. How many conflicts could be avoided if we decided to take a step back when something bugs us and assume the best? Maybe, just maybe it did not happen out of disrespect or to wind us up. How often could we prevent a situation from getting out of hand by simply focussing on all the good? If there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, it says. How many seemingly hopeless circumstances could be completely turned around if we just focussed on the good, the lovely, the admirable before we walk away from the situation, from someone or from church? Even if there was just a single good thing. Loves hopes all things.
Throughout the bible God is described as the protector of His people – He is pictured as a strong tower, a mighty fortress, a hen who gathers the chicks under Her wings, and a good shepherd. And this is exactly what we are called to be for others. We are to look out for one another, offer shelter and defend the defenceless: This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families (Isaiah 58:6-9; MSG).
The reason why this is called a fast lies in the fact that we are denying ourselves something more enjoyable. Doing good, fighting for justice, and fighting for the truth require sacrifice. But even with the sacrifice God is demanding, he gives a great promise: “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply (Isaiah 58:8-9; NLT).
We can never outgive God. No matter how much we give and sacrifice, it is almost as if He had just been eagerly waiting to reward us. In Acts 20:35 the Apostle Paul says, “And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (NLT). In God’s kingdom, there is always a cycle of grace: We are blessed to be a blessing, and we will be blessed yet again.
I find the picture of the chick gathered under the hen’s wing a great illustration for that. If the fledgling takes refuge with its mother, she holds it closely it to her body so that the chick is completely safe but can look out; still, it is so close to its mother that it can hear her heart beat. Who is God’s heart beating for? How can I reach out a hand today, extend mercy, and provide cover?
Thank you Lord that you are my protector. Thank you that I can take refuge in you and be safe in your arms. Thank you that you have given everything for me and that you indeed have persevered in your love even to the death on the cross. Forgive me where I should have looked out for others and instead decided to go my own way. Help me to hear your heart beat so that I can do what matters for you knowing that I am safe with you. Help me to always trust you, always look out for the best and persevere to the end. Teach me to love like you love me.