I am certain that I caught the deadly and destructive NV virus at a very young age–my first clear memories of its influence dating back to the first grade. My aunt had recently given birth to a baby girl and my family was traveling with relatives to attend the christening. I was especially excited because I would be getting out of school early. My memory of a teacher rescuing me from a school assembly so I could leave still lingers.
To further set the stage, we lived in a housing project with my father on disability and my mother not working outside of the home—all of which meant that we didn’t have much. Lacking a car, we had to tag along with gracious relatives in order to make the trip. The new parents, on the other hand, lived in a nice, new development outside of Harrisburg—my uncle having landed a well-paying job as a civil engineer with the state.
I don’t think there was a toy that my cousins didn’t have. In particular, I remember Kurt’s shiny red bike with flags resting on top of the handlebars and streamers flowing from the sides. (Please don’t tell anybody, but I wrecked that bike and blamed it on his sister!) Kurt, who was about my age, owned just about everything I wished I had, making me very feel small and poor in a big, prosperous world. The NV virus was working its destructive magic.
Symptoms of the virus would frequently surface throughout childhood and into my adult years. No matter where I turned, it seemed as though others were more blessed. Little old me was always left holding the short end of the stick. After becoming a Christian, I did my best to combat the effects of the virus—even to the point of ingesting large portions of the Bible via reading. And while my exhaustive efforts helped to suppress some of the more blatant symptoms, the best I could do was send it into remission for short periods of time.
Over time I learned that the NV virus takes root in small-minded thinking. We are especially susceptible when our view of God is limited and narrow. That’s when our hearts tell us that He only has a limited number of blessings to go around. Obviously, my name must have been missing from the VIP list when God and Saint Peter sat around the pearly gates deciding who should get what.
Then one day I began to learn about the favor of God—a favor that is in no way dependent upon one’s appearance, performance, personal charm, or childhood neighborhood. God’s favor, I learned, comes to us not by our merit, but through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. When I approach God the Father through faith in Christ, I am favored. In a sense, Jesus suffered on the cross so I wouldn’t have to face the needle.
The thought was a nice one but still its effects were limited—that is until I learned to celebrate the fact that I am favored in His sight. That result was nothing short of astonishing. No longer did I feel as though I had missed the blessing train, but inherently understood that material possessions and worldly standards of success have very little to do with the smiling favor of my heavenly Father. At last, after years of struggle, I had found the antidote to the NV virus. I mean, when we know deep in our hearts that we are favored by the Almighty Creator of the Universe, how long can we feel a sense of lack?
Those who think that celebrating the Father’s favor opens the door to pride fail to fully grasp the full nature of the Gospel. We are not favored because we are worthy or deserve His approval in any way–we are favored because of our association with the favored Son of God.
What does all of this have to do with our ability to love others?
– When we know that we are favored by God, we rest confidently in His love.
– When we rest confidently in His love, we realize that our value comes not from performance or possessions, but from living out His presence and approval.
– When we live out His presence and approval, we are complete.
– When we are complete, we feel complete.
– When we feel complete, we are free from envy and able to focus not on what we lack, but on how we can enrich others.
Love is the overflow of our faith-filled relationship with God, not some elusive virtue we try to manufacture from empty hearts.