Picture the scene, (actually try to imagine and feel it):
It is AD 111 in Antioch and a man is facing the prospect of a horrifying death at the hands of Emperor Trajan (and his lions) for being a follower of Christ. You can hear almost silent mumblings that, as you draw nearer, can be deciphered as prayers,
“O Lord, I thank You that You have guaranteed to honour me with a perfect love toward You…”
His fervent prayer provokes a sense of holy unworthiness in you and of respect and admiration as you reflect on this man’s dying request: there is no mention of some kind of supernatural anaesthesia to numb the pain, or of an other-worldly way of escape to be granted; rather, the prayer is for an increase in his capacity to love his God.
I find this prayer fascinating and sobering because Ignatius clearly esteemed the permission to love God as an honour, indeed to the extreme of the giving of his life. It is humbling that a man on death row would use his ‘one call’, as it were, to further explore what it means to love God, recognising that only God Himself can grant the permission to be more abandoned to Him.
It is a much undiscovered mystery within Christendom that to love God is the greatest pleasure possible – the greatest. Ignatius understood and lived this out in reality as it spilled out of him in prayer as he contemplated being eaten alive by wild beasts.
My desire as a follower of Christ is to love Him as I should – i.e. perfectly but my understanding of the Bible is that I will never be at this stage this side of eternity. However, I do want to be as far along the journey as possible before I die or Jesus splits the sky.
This supernatural relationship with God is a pursuit. A.W.Tozer talks about seeking God with ‘urgency’ and ‘creativity’ and these are two keys in moving towards loving God more perfectly. Tozer’s ‘prevenient drawing’, that, briefly stated, says that there has to have been a supernatural work in our hearts (by God) before we could show even the faintest interest in Him (We love Him because He first loved us), has to be understood in this context. This should propel us into the fascination that Ignatius was bound by.
Loving God is not about sentiment or goose bumps even, it is about the giving of everything as an expression of preferring God above all things, even life itself. Paul boldly proclaimed to the church in Philippi: “For, to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil.1:21). I can imagine Ignatius declaring these words too. Are they a true reality in your life or are they the lyrics in a song, perhaps? A neat idea? A post-modern paradigm?
Let us pursue the love of God in prayer, in worship and in life that He might allow us to fall more in love with Him. Let our love for Jesus take us to new places, to new people and to new burdens. Let our love for God swell into a crescendo to replace every proud ambition or selfish desire and that we might have our eyes opened to His fantastic love for us.
Let us esteem the honour of being enabled to love Him as the greatest reward possible.