heartI think one of the biggest challenges today is that many of us really like Jesus. And liking is good.

But do we love him? That’s a whole different ball game. And ball games are changed based on whether a player’s heart is in it.

I can like someone… but they won’t have a huge impact on my life. I’ll listen to them when they talk and maybe even hang out with them sometimes. I’ll express concern when something goes awry and try to be helpful.

But when you love someone? Your life changes. Daily patterns of living are altered. The mechanisms of your mind’s eye are reformed. You can’t ignore some of the things they say, even if they make you uncomfortable. (Love has that ‘Hey you, I care!’ quality.) You go to the wall for them. They can’t be compartmentalized.

Cultural sociologists talk about the meaning of the word “love” in Jesus’ day. In modern times we’ve romanticized it. But back then, it had the real sense of group attachment, or devotion to a group or person. Devotion. Loyalty.

In the ancient world with no security nets, the subjects of your devotion/attachment were your everything. They provided not only your safe-keeping but your identity. Love was life.

Do I love Jesus, or just really like him? What about you? Is he a safe-keeping and identity, or a friend you hang out with when there’s nothing better to do?

Sometimes my love is true. Other times I wonder if my love isn’t just a like, especially when I’ve been spiritually lazy, or succumb to the heresy that life is just a story about me, or when I’m standing face-to-face with one of his teachings that threatens to tumble me off my couch.

One of the ways we live out our devotion is in a church. Why? In part because we meet people who think differently than us. And guess what? Jesus often thinks differently than us. We might not agree with everyone, but we will grow in our relationship with Jesus because we’ll be drawn into him as we try to figure out what he thinks or feels about something.

Continue with a private me-and-Jesus faith and chances are you’ll cherry pick the things you like and toss into the dumpster the things you don’t.

But with Jesus it’s a journey toward the whole heart.

‘Like’ is good. I started with like. But like is a telephone call you only return when you have the time. I can still get away with being selfish, un-forgiving, stuck in a cavernous rut of old ways.

Like grew into love. But it’s easy to slide back to like. Love is a daily choice.

So, you want to grow in this love but aren’t sure how? Why not pray to God that he increase your love for him? I’m sure he’ll begin to reveal himself and draw you closer. And remember that in it all, the face of Jesus is a tapestry of the people around you.

In the end, part of the good news is that Jesus doesn’t just like you, he loves you. And his heart is strong. One of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov says that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”

Whether we’re at like or love or somewhere in between, I think God honours our journey. But no matter where you are, be ready.