There is a beautiful pattern in God’s love - that he first extends His unconditional loving acceptance of us, in offering salvation just by saying “yes” and believing in Him, without us having to earn it first (Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8).
In addition to extending unconditional love through total acceptance of us, some of the other relational things he extends to us first are comfort, mercy, grace and forgiveness. We are taught in the Bible to extend these to others as well. This is how we love our neighbour. It only makes sense then, that our God offers them first to us, so we can offer them to others.
Love- “We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John chapter 4, verse 19)
Comfort – “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 4)
Mercy - “Therefore, be merciful (compassionate) just as your Father is also merciful (compassionate).” (Luke chapter 6, verse 36)
Forgiveness- “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians chapter 4, verse 32)
Having our needs met
Another important relational trait God has, is that he’ll lead and sustain us and lets us know our needs are met. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” (Psalm chapter 23, verse 1)
This is important in relationships too. Our needs and having them met. If you know someone’s needs and care enough to meet them, that is as loving as it gets. We know that God asks us to pay particular attention to widows and orphans too - the most vulnerable when it comes to needs being met. This doesn’t mean people won’t suffer, but he will provide the grace needed to navigate anything.
He also tells us that he is always listening to our prayers, always interceding for us (Romans chapter 8, verse 34) - even if we don’t know how to pray. (Romans chapter 8, verse 26) He is present, reliable, trustworthy and listening. When someone listens to us, we feel incredibly loved. It makes sense that God does that, at all times. In turn, we also need to listen to others, to understand them and love them. It also helps us pray and intercede in the same way.
Interceding is like advocating and we are commanded to do that too - to be a voice for the voiceless (Proverbs chapter 31, verse 8). There are obviously huge amounts of suffering in the fallen world around us and plenty of people that God would want us to extend our loving hands to, in loving our neighbour.
The patterns in what God offers us first are the same as what healthy relationships with others looks like. It also makes me think of Attachment Theory and how a child needs the secure, consistent love from at least one parent to thrive. The trouble is that no parent is perfect, or loves perfectly, because we are all fallen and imperfect, but we can all see that the healthier a parents love is, the healthier the child is. We do have that need met for a perfect parent in God though.
We all need a relationship with God, our perfect Father
When I question what loving God in return looks like, it seems to look a lot like the relationships we have with those we love. We spend quality time with them intentionally and in a variety of ways. With God, sometimes I just listen to worship music or ambient music and listen for Him. Sometimes I’m praying and asking what God would like me to read in The Bible and seeing what comes to mind. Lately I’ve been writing prayers as a letter, like I would to someone I love.
I love writing, but perhaps if your passion is art or music or whatever beautiful gifting God has given you, do that in your time with Him and enjoy it. You should enjoy the time you spend with someone you love.
Of course, intentional study is needed to continually mature in faith too. We need to make sure we aren't being led astray by all the false teachings that we are warned about, but I wonder how easily we can focus on this method of intentional study, instead of a balance of both loving God and enjoying our relationship with him and intentional study.
From all of this, we can see how loving our neighbour flows out from loving Him and receiving His love and why God has said it is the greatest command.
"Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law?”Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew chapter 26, verses 36-40)
"Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love ... God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 8, 16)
Diana Fowler is a full-time mother, residing in Adelaide, South Australia. She spent the majority of her life as an Atheist, before being drawn into popular New Age spirituality in 2012. In 2016 she started attending Church as a New Ager, but after many undeniable experiences, came to know Jesus as Lord and the one true pathway to God.