Like a lot of people who journal in their Bible, I also have a ‘reading’ Bible – one I don’t paint and stick in! My ‘reading’ Bible is well loved and well-read and is a parallel version, meaning it has both the NIV and Message translations on each page. It’s great, and I love being able to see the same scripture expressed in such different ways. I know that not everyone is such a big fan of The Message, but I definitely am. As a writer, I can’t help but adore the poetic, heartfelt prose style in which it is written. Often, it expresses a particular verse of scripture in just the way I would if I were relating it to a friend.
I have been thinking a lot about love in my Bible studies this week. It has been a busy week and I have found my fingers itching to get to the weekend so that I can dedicate some real time to my Bible journaling. There were a few verses that I wanted to illustrate this Sunday, but after a phonecall with my parents back in the UK I was reminded of another verse I wanted to focus on.
This particular verse was part of my devotional early in the week, and has been on my mind ever since. On this occasion, the Message translation of the scripture rings so perfectly true that I knew I had to make art with it.
The command we have from Christ is blunt: loving God includes loving people.
You’ve got to do both.
– 1 John 4:20 (MSG)
How often do we forget this?
I’m no theologian, but isn’t this the most central commandment to our faith that we are given? There are many religions around the world, but what makes the Christian faith so special to me is that it is built not on rules and traditions, but on relationship and love. Our God is a god of relationship and love, and so we, if we are created in His image, must be too.
It’s not easy. Loving people is tough sometimes, particularly when they are not the mot lovable of folk! I’ll be honest, sometimes I even struggle to love myself, let alone the person who was unkind to me or made me angry. But I have to love them, not because I get brownie points for doing so but because it is the way God made me. He loves me. He loves my neighbor. And so I must too.
Nothing in life is ever black and white, but I do believe that if we, as Christians, were just to remember this command a little more often, we would see so much positive change. Churches should be places of love – if a person, however broken they may be, cannot feel loved in the body of Christ (who Himself is love), then where can they feel loved?
This verse is so special I wanted to make the way I represented it special too, and so I experimented for the first time with watercolors in my Bible. The finished result is not perfect, and the surface of the paint caused me to slip with my pen when I was working on the script. But perhaps that was a lesson in love, too. Yes, it’s not perfect, but I still love the page of my Bible that now reminds me, every time I look at it, that love is what matters. Love even in imperfections.
Again, it is not easy. But we are told to clothe ourselves in love, to follow in Christ’s footsteps of loving those who others reject and scorn, and God does not give us jobs without first equipping us for them. He equipped us with His own love for us.
If we only manage to love someone a fraction of the way in which Christ loved us, then we’ll be well on our way to changing the world, one heart at a time.