Some recent research has compared the brain size of young children raised in different kinds of environments. It revealed that children who enjoyed a strong nurturing environment in their earlier years had a larger hippocampus (the area of the brain important for learning, memory and stress responses) than those who had not received such nurture. This kind of nurture, the study discovered, sets children up for life. They tend to do better at school and are more emotionally developed than their peers who have not the same kind of nurture in their backgrounds.
Reading this you might be tempted to think that because of your background you have no hope whatsoever! Well, according to the apostle Peter we are redeemed from an empty way of life (1 Peter 1.18) – and that includes a love-starved background.
Love matters. Not just sporadic feelings of affection, but ongoing love or long term love.
Love is absolutely foundational to the Christian life. God is love. God so loved the world. Love one another as I have loved you. But the greatest of these is love. You won’t turn over many pages of the New Testament without reading about love.
Even some of those ministries (and perhaps ministers!), whom some would not associate with love, are love obsessed. Paul, that in-your-face apostle who wasn’t short of courage or afraid of a fight, could describe his ministry like this:
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2.7-8
It’s this kind of love that sets us up for real change. Important as teaching and outreach and spiritual disciplines all are, we need to pursue them in a context of the nurturing love of God and in a nurturing church environment. In fact, Paul indicates that we grow truly in Christ only when that kind of nurturing environment is secured:
I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2.1-3
Encouraged in heart. United in love. Nurture. That’s what sets you up to know Jesus in a fuller and richer way.
When it comes to this kind of love we are both givers and receivers. When we are open enough to receive love and committed enough to give love, we will kind the satisfaction of both being a blessing and enjoying new dimensions of spiritual life ourselves.
And it’s that kind of love that brings people to Christ. I am inspired by my friend Paul’s journey to faith which entailed amongst other things five years of faithful witness by the Salt and Light team. Five years. Long term love.
D.L. Moody, when talking about winning people to Christ had one simple answer: love them in. I would add: and when they’re in, keep loving them. Love will keep them. Long term love, that is.