It’s amazing how God can use certain verses to just – BANG! – open your eyes to a new truth. In an instant. Eyes closed – eyes open. And all it took was a verse. And the Holy Spirit.

Here’s 1 John 4:7-8…
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  (ESV)

Okay – we’ve all read that before. If we love others, it shows that we know God. If we don’t love others, it shows that we don’t know God. Pretty simple. Like a math equation. No love = no relationship with God. So what’s the solution to the “no love” problem? Well, the rule follower in me is always looking for the rule. If I want to know God, I need to love others. SO – get to work on loving others more. Better. Harder. Try harder to love. Then I’ll know God.

But I’m reading this verse a few days ago and I have one of those eye-opening moments. I realize I’m running this math problem backwards. “New rule: love HARDER.” That’s what I had initially taken away from this passage. But have you ever tried to “love HARDER?” To force yourself to be a loving person by gritting your teeth and loving HARDER? It’s ridiculous! Like trying to force yourself to weigh less or force yourself to speak in another language! (“If I try hard enough, I think today I will speak Latin.”) Attempting to produce more love in my life through concentrated effort is a bit like attempting to grow extra fingers by thinking really, really hard. About fingers. Maybe there’s someone out there who can do it, but it sure ain’t me.

The elements of my math equation were correct. Love is a sign of relationship with God. But I was solving the equation backwards. I don’t prove I know God by trying to love harder or better. I improve my loving by focusing on my relationship with God. There is nothing I can do through sheer force of will to MAKE myself a more loving person. BUT – and this is the great part – I CAN draw closer to God. I CAN spend more time focusing on Him. And what this passage is saying is that, as a result of that focus on God, I will become a more loving person.  Automatically.

In other words, love doesn’t come from focusing on love. It comes from focusing on God. Love is the fruit. God is the sunshine, the fertilizer, the soil … everything I need to bear the fruit of love.

The next time you’re worried that you aren’t as loving as you should be, remember that love is a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of the you. Focus on love, you’ll be endlessly frustrated with your lack of progress. (And even more unloving due to being so darn frustrated!) Focus on your heavenly Father – and love will fall out of you like apples from an apple tree.