Gain heart focus by praying Scripture out loud:
O God, You love me. Help me to believe that today. I want to be as sure as Paul was when he wrote that no power can separate me from Your love. Not life. Not death. Not angels or rulers or things happening right now or things yet to happen. No height and no depth can put me beyond the reach of Your love! Nothing in creation can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. (Adapted from Romans 8:37–39)
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Peter had a hard time loving Jesus.
He followed the Messiah as long as he wasn’t asked to do anything outside his comfort zone. But when things got risky, he was outta there. Because his love for Christ was self-focused, he forsook the Savior in His deepest hour of need (Matthew 26:56). Three times he denied Christ.
But Jesus’s love was the stuff of self-sacrifice. Agape. After He gave His very life for Peter and rose from the grave, He gave the apostle another chance. As if He were giving Peter an opportunity to erase those three denials, He asked him three times, “Do you love me?” The conversation went like this:
Jesus: Do you agape Me more than these?
Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I phileo You.
Well, he’s gutsy! I’ll give him that. All he can muster up for the One who just died for him is a little bit of phileo, which is brotherly love, a poor substitute for the self-sacrificing, all-consuming agape Jesus is requesting.
Jesus: Feed my lambs. [Translation: “Get over yourself, Peter! Start thinking of others.”]
I imagine a long pause and a deep breath before the Savior tries again.
Jesus: Do you agape Me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You.
Really? Again? (Remember, in the original Greek language the difference here is not subtle.)
Jesus: Tend to My sheep.
Another long pause. Perhaps the Savior sighs. Then Jesus lets Peter know that He’ll take whatever kind of love the man is capable of giving. He lets the love-malnourished apostle define the conversation.
Jesus: (All right.) Peter, do you phileo Me?
Peter: [Perhaps spoken with relief.] Lord, You know everything. You know that I phileo You.
Peter is not able to offer anything more than friendship. No self-sacrifice.
Then comes the Holy Spirit.
Some days later, after Jesus has ascended into heaven, we find Peter and eleven other followers of Christ gathered together in a room on the second floor of a house. They become so full of God’s Spirit that they speak foreign languages and are accused of being drunk. A massive crowd gathers. Things are getting tense. In this dangerous and uncomfortable moment, will Peter take his brotherly love and hide as he has before?
“Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted his voice and addressed them” (Acts 2:14).
“Give ear to my words,” he says, encouraging them to listen carefully, and preaches the good news of Christ’s agape so profoundly that three thousand from the mob confess to believing Christ is the Son of the Living God (Acts 2:14–41).
Peter had fed his first flock of sheep. Just as Jesus asked.
What changed a coward into a cornerstone of the faith?
Filled with the Spirit, Peter had gotten over himself and was consumed with the agape love of God.
That’s the kind of love that Jesus invites you to surrender to today.
Do you love Him?
If you’re not sure, maybe you need more of God’s Spirit.
Do you feel uncomfortable with what I’m suggesting? Are you possibly even afraid of exploring your relationship with the Holy Spirit? Why would you be afraid of an intimate experience with the God who loves you?
Some are afraid of what God might ask them to give up if they yield to the Spirit. A boyfriend? Their music? The popular crowd? Others, like Peter, are afraid of what God might ask them to do. Move to Africa? Start a Bible study at school? Wake up earlier to spend time with Him?
But I really think the greatest fear about the Holy Spirit is rooted in a misrepresentation of who He is and what He does in our lives. This grieves me, so let me see if I can help you erase the fear and get on with the filling.
Recently a girl described to me her lack of confidence concerning the Holy Spirit. “I just don’t feel like I hear His voice and sense His presence,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Toni.” As she spoke the name of another girl in her church group, her tone revealed a sense of inferiority. “She hears Him all the time and so strongly. There seem to be so many bells and whistles in her faith!”
“Ah,” I said. “I think I can help.”
Toni (not her real name) frequently hears God’s voice and always tells everyone. She gets butterflies during worship and sometimes has to lie down because, as she says, “His presence is so heavy in the room.” She sees visions that she’s “supposed” to share with people. God tells her who to date, and even tells her who others in her class should date. Though I believe a lot of what Toni experiences is authentic, she lacks maturity in how she communicates her spiritual encounters.
Experiencing “bells and whistles” is not necessarily the proof of the presence of God. First Corinthians 13:2 reads, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (NASB). Nothing. The bells and whistles are nothing without love. The greatest proof of His presence is agape, which is seen in self-denying acts of love, not boastful displays of power.
The presence of God’s Spirit in your life will not necessarily match the experience of someone else. I just love how The Message describes how the Holy Spirit manifests in each of us in Galatians 5:25–26:
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
The Spirit is a creative romantic and will arouse you in ways that are to be known only by you. He may touch you with a unique spiritual gift or give you wisdom that could come only from Him. Without a doubt, spending time in the presence of the Holy Spirit will change you in unexpected ways. But I guarantee this manifestation: you will always get agape when you get the Spirit.
Write Your Story
Leave a comment below expressing your desire to surrender to agape. Ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Confess any fears you have. You may experience Him in obvious ways. You may not. Either way, starting today, make yourself available for His filling every chance you get. That’s all I ask—that you be willing.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39 KJV
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Romans 5:5 KJV
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
Song of Solomon 1:4 KJV