In business, athletics and other endeavors of life, we often set goals for ourselves that exceed anything we have done before. Whether they include increased sales or production, running faster or longer, or improving our winning percentage over the length of a season, we refer to them as stretch goals.
Jesus set a stretch goal for the disciples and us when he said, This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)
How did Jesus love the disciples? He called and selected them. He taught them with his words, stories (parables) and example. He empowered them in sending them out to serve the needs of others by healing, casting out demons and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived. He reframed the response to being offended, from revenge to forgiveness. And in a crowning illustration of love, he freely laid down his life in obedience to the Father and out of love for all of humanity, to overcome sin, death and Satan’s hold on creation.
As further illustration, he simplified all of the commandments to the love of God and neighbor, and said our neighbor is anyone we encounter, even a stranger as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Instead of commandments with judgment and penalties, he promised blessings and happiness if we are humble in heart, mourn over sin, hunger for righteousness, show mercy, and seek to be pure in heart and peacemakers. He even said we would be blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness.
How do we love as Jesus loves? The opportunities are endless. The key principle in most situations is to think of others over ourselves. When our oldest daughter was three or four, as I walked in the door after a long day at work, she would say, Come on, Daddy. Let’s play. I got so tired of playing a particular board game, “Flintstones,” but I knew that I needed to love my daughter and our other children by spending time with them.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) While that may involve giving up our actual life for someone else, more often it is laying down our will, comfort or desires for the needs of someone else. We may need to let go of our career ambitions for the sake of our family. We may need to give up our plans for the needs of others. We may need to accept that someone else’s idea is better than ours. We may need to stop and listen. We may need to let love rather than judgment be our first response to another’s situation.
A few years ago I participated in a gathering where people were being prayed with for physical healing, reconciliation of broken relationships and other miscellaneous needs. At one point as I was standing to the side of the room observing all that was happening, the words came into my mind, “It’s all about love.” People were caring for one another, showing mercy, and humbly and faithfully interceding with God to be and bring his presence to bear on others’ needs. It was a stretch goal, but that did not deter those who were praying.