One recent morning, I had the opportunity to go for a short run in Florida and enjoy God’s creation in a strange and wonderful new setting. Despite all the man-made creations in this tourist hotspot, it was God’s creation which shone the brightest and spoke the loudest.
In my native North Carolina, we don’t have palm trees; I suppose we have too many nights well below freezing to support such a tropical-loving tree. As I ran by these funky-looking creations I’d mostly seen on television, for whatever reason God drew my heart to the famous passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13. In these verses, Paul tells us many things love is and isn’t. He explains, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (vv. 4-7)
Just as the palm tree can’t grow in certain climates, love cannot grow in the presence of traits like envy, boasting, or self-seeking. Where arrogance and rudeness blossom, love will not survive in that climate. Where resentment grows, we can’t expect love to flourish. Where wrongdoing is celebrated, love won’t be. Just as we don’t expect a palm tree to sprout in Minnesota, why do we expect love to sprout amidst such hostility? Are we like foolish gardeners, stubborn and resistant to plant love where it will thrive?
Practically everyone wants to give and receive the type of love Paul is describing, but how? If we’re honest, being unloving comes so naturally for us, especially on those bad days, right? The natural climate of our heart does insist on its own way and doesn’t always rejoice in the truth. Paul describes love beautifully here in 1 Corinthians, but we need a practical way to get there. In 1 John 3:16, we are given this practical help when John tells us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” There you have it – the picture-perfect, sunny-weather climate for love to grow is Jesus Christ crucified on the cross.
If we don’t always hold the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus in our hearts and minds, this atmosphere of “love is patient and kind” will remain a picture on a postcard and not our reality. Attempting to love one another without a continual picture of Jesus before us is sort of like trying to plant a palm tree in the frozen tundra. What’s the climate of your heart and mine? Unfortunately, sometimes my heart can be freezing cold, forgetting that the love Christ has shown is the same love I’m called to show – and what comes forth doesn’t bear, believe, or hope all things. How about you? Do you ever provide a less-than-optimal place for love to grow?
If you’re like me, and you realize the climate of your heart isn’t always sunny Florida, don’t be discouraged, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Friend, God is at work within you, and if you submit to His calling and climate change, the forecast of your heart will be love and plenty of palm trees.