Throughout my life, I’ve been great at a lot of things..in theory. Actually, not just great. Amazing!
Before I was married, I knew exactly how to have an amazing marriage. Before kids, I constantly felt the temptation to tell actual parents how to parent their kids. My advice would have been amazing. Before becoming a pastor and leading a church, I had all the answers. In my head I was the best pastor ever. Amazing!
My theory game was strong.
I had read books. Learned a ton of things. I had seen a bunch of people do all of it. I fully anticipated that I was going to be the best husband, parent, and pastor ever.
Reality woke me up.
Because when I actually tried to be that husband, parent, or pastor, things got messy—really messy—fast. I quickly found out that my wife was a saint for being married to me. As a parent, my kids pretty much controlled my life. As for being a pastor, I’m still the most imperfect pastor I know.
Love Is Simple in Theory, But Messy in Practice
The same is true with loving people: Love is easy, straightforward, and simple in theory, but really, really messy in practice. We’re all amazing at love…until we try to do it.
If you end up in a church on any given Sunday, there’s a high percent chance that you’ll hear about loving people in ways like these:
“Love your neighbor.”
“Love the least of these.”
“Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.”
“Love.” It’s an amazing concept (you guessed it) in theory. Maybe we take this theory and go on a mission trip or try to love the down-and-out in the nearest big city for a few days...maybe.
But so often after we go to church and hear about love, many of us simply return to nice, safe, comfortable neighborhoods filled with people exactly like us, and very few challenges to the Amazing Love Theories we’ve been promoting.
And in this place, if there happens to be someone that’s a little rough-around-the-edges walking down our block, thankfully we have garages that we can drive into at the end of the workday, closing the door behind us before we even turn off the car.
Love is great in theory. Great, until it messes up my nice and tidy life.
So, how do we move away from practicing love simply in theory and towards living out a love that is anything but nice and tidy, maybe even messy?
Here are four ways to practice a love that’s more than just a theory:
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
1. Consider Who You Hang out With
Who we hang out with says a lot about us. Yes, it’s important that our close, inner circle of friends are solid and pushing us closer to Jesus—Jesus had twelve in his close friend group and three in his inner circle.
But away from his close circle, time and time again Jesus hung out with “tax collectors and sinners,” people who were different from him in every way. People who were really, really messy. Everyone knew how messy they were and pretty much stayed away.
Jesus hung out with the people others wrote off.
He hung out with the people who were living lives completely different from the life he wanted them to live.
And some of the people Jesus crossed paths with didn’t magically turn their lives around and live “good Christian lives” either. They stayed messy, yet Jesus still loved them.
Away from your core people, who are you hanging out with? If we’re not intentional, often we only tend to hang out with people who talk like us.
Act like us.
Look like us.
Vote like us.
Believe the same things as us.
Agree with us.
And while it’s good to have friends like this, it can also be harmful when it comes to making love more than simply a theory in our lives.
I pray that after leaving church on Sundays your life and the friends you hang out with would be messy, not clean. The longer we follow Jesus, the messier, not cleaner, our lives should become.
That’s when the sermon and your own walk with Jesus will be put to the test. If you don’t have any messy people in your life, in this area specifically, you don’t look like Jesus!
2. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Love is just a theory to so many of us because we never step out of our comfy little Christian bubble. When everyone around us believes the same things as us, worships the same way, and just in general lives pretty much word-for-word the same us as, there are never any real challenges to the Amazing Love Theory I talked about earlier.
How to change that? Step out of your comfort zone!
I know, it’s scary. But what’s scarier is that we would stay in this bubble for the rest of our lives, never really knowing what love can do if we never push our own boundaries.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will look different for each of us, but here are a few places to start:
Maybe you end up selling your house in the burbs to move somewhere “shady.”
Maybe it’s coming alongside another adult to help them get their life back on track.
Maybe it’s befriending that addict.
Maybe it’s reaching out to someone who you know is making bad choices and grabbing coffee together.
Maybe it’s letting someone who’s getting back on their feet stay in your extra guest bedroom.
Maybe it’s being present with the person who had an affair.
Whatever stepping out of your comfort zone looks like for you, that first step is essential to diving into this messy kind of love Jesus talked about.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sam Balye
This one seems not so radical...or is it?
We greatly undervalue the power of prayer, and praying for the people in our lives. Sometimes we’re just not qualified to deal with the issues that people are dealing with. So instead, we love them and pray urgently for them—asking God to bring freedom in their life, asking him to help them make changes and motivate them to get help. Even with the people that we do feel “qualified” to help, prayer should be our first resort, not our last.
More than praying for people though, to love in a way that’s more than a theory we need to pray about people, too.
Pray God would place people in your life that challenge you to love in different ways.
Pray for opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone.
Pray for wisdom in the words you use and how you talk about certain issues.
Pray to be convicted to live a less-than-tidy life.
Prayer is so powerful, and I sincerely believe it’s a key ingredient to taking your love from theory to practice.
Who are the people you’re regularly praying for?
4. Keep Boundaries
Keep boundaries but don’t condemn. This might seem to contradict everything I’ve just said, but we do need boundaries in our lives. Boundaries are good and they’re necessary. Specifically, if we’re new to following Jesus or if there’s an area that we particularly have a hard time with ourselves.
Struggle with drinking and sometimes drink too much? Stay away from the bar and friends who drink regularly. You’re married and attracted to someone that’s not your spouse? It’s not your responsibility to help them. Instead connect them with a friend. Healthy boundaries are so important.
Know your boundaries, keep them, and do whatever you can to love people well while still staying within those boundaries. You can’t come alongside people well unless you’ve first checked your own heart and soul. Boundaries are key to equip you for love.
My only hope in saying all this is that if someone was to take a close look at my life or yours—not just our beliefs, theology, and church attendance—that they’d see Jesus all over the place.
Love is so much more than a nice theory we hear about on a Sunday morning, and then we’re free to go about our lives. It’s so much messier than that, and so much more exciting.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Alessandro Biascioli
Adam Weber is the founder and lead pastor of Embrace, a multi-site church based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He’s the author of Talking With God, and Love Has A Name: Learning to Love the Different, the Difficult, and Everyone Else (WaterBrook, available 8/25/20). He also hosts a podcast called The Conversation with Adam Weber. Adam still cheers for the Cincinnati Bengals but no longer drives a Rambler. He’s married to his wife, Becky, and has four kids: Hudson, Wilson, Grayson, & Anderson. He also has seven chickens, two dogs, & three fish, but what he really wants is a sheep. Follow Adam on Instagram (@adamaweber) and Twitter (@adamweber), or find out more at adamweber.com.