A Conversation With Max Lucado
February 1, 2003 - Max Lucado has touched millions with his distinctive, storytelling style of writing. He has more than 28 million books in print and has had a book on a Christian Booksellers Association bestseller list every month for the past 12 years. He also serves as pulpit minister at Oak Hills Church of Christ, in San Antonio, Texas. His most recent book, "A Love Worth Giving," is full of insights about loving—and receiving love. All of which made us want to talk with Lucado about what is on his heart these days.
by Jim Dailey
Q/ Christians are constantly exhorted to love and to forgive others, yet many of us find that very hard to do. How can we show Christ's love to others when our emotional and spiritual tanks are dry?
A/ The only way I know how to truly love those who have hurt or offended us is to employ what I call the 747 principle. It comes out of Luke 7:47, where Jesus says, "He who has been forgiven little loves little" (NIV). In other words, if we let God forgive us only a little bit, we'll have only a small amount of love to give. It's not that God won't forgive us; it's that some of us refuse that forgiveness.
On the other hand, if I receive God's forgiveness and allow myself to stand beneath the Niagara of His grace, then I am going to have a heart with more love in it.
I think there is a forgotten step in relationships. A lot of times, we preachers urge people to love their neighbors, their children, their spouses. And we should, but it's equally important to be loved. We must let God love us, so that we in turn will have love to give to others.
We tend to treat people as we perceive God is treating us. Not as God is treating us, but as we perceive He is treating us. If I don't feel like God loves me, then I am not going to love others. On the other hand, if I feel like God has poured out on me a Mount Everest's worth of grace, then I will find it easier to give grace to other people.
Q/ How do we get to that point?
A/ The Apostle Paul said to be imitators of God and to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:1-2). To me, that means— at least in part—that we should mentally understand God's love, read verses in Scripture about it, listen to sermons about it, sing hymns about it, read books about it. It means that we should major in God's love.
For example, I think it's important to understand that His love is not a human love. It doesn't change; it's not warm one day and cold the next. It is a consistent, unbreakable love. Then, once I understand it, I stand on it. I choose on a daily basis, perhaps even on an hourly basis, to stand on it, no matter how I feel.
Jesus can change us and our emotions. It's a work of the Holy Spirit. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit by understanding the truth and then by standing on that truth.
Q/ What do you say to people who say, "I don't think I can be loving. Too much has happened for me to overcome."
A/ I say, "You're absolutely right—you cannot. There is not a distillery of love within us that is deep enough to love some people who are hard to love. And yet there is a power within us that will enable us to love others."
I recently spent several hours at a retail outlet signing the book "A Love Worth Giving," which shares some of the truths I'm discussing. I'm kind of an introvert by nature, and in the past, signing books was hard for me. I was usually exhausted when I was finished. So I prayed that the Lord would help me to have a better attitude.
I read one day that Robert Schuller had the same problem, and he decided to make eye contact with each person in line and to pray with them—at least silently, if not verbally. I started doing that a few years back, and God has changed me. I leave a little tired—but invigorated. I really connect with a few people; there are some genuine moments of ministry. That proves to me that the Holy Spirit can change everything.
There are other areas I am asking Him to work on. I've got some resentment toward some people. I pray about it and ask the Lord to help me to have a better attitude. I am convinced that someday I'll feel wonderful around those people, and I'm believing that God is going to do that.
I've seen that the principle of letting God love you so that you can love others really revitalizes marriages, for example. A couple came to me for marriage counseling, but we weren't getting anywhere—the husband did not know how much God loves him. So rather than spending time talking about how he should love his wife, we took two or three sessions to help him understand the Gospel and how much God loves him. He came to Christ, and now it's as if they have a whole new marriage.
His lack of knowing how much God loved him had made it very difficult for him to love his wife. Once he understood that and embraced God's love and forgiveness, he discovered the aquifer of forgiveness that he could dip into and share with her.
Q/ How do we communicate that love, especially in evangelism?
A/ First, we Christians have to live love, to let God love us and truly know that He has forgiven us every mistake we've ever made. Learn to be joyful in that forgiveness. Second, as the Holy Spirit leads us, we can look for opportunities to do tangible acts of love. No one does that better than the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.
Three days after the attacks of Sept. 11, I was in New York, and both organizations were already working hard and helping people. The world notices the tangible expressions of love that come through these kinds of servant acts of evangelism. That's what people see.
It's also important for Christians, especially leaders, to conduct themselves with high moral character. If I were to go out and cheat on my wife or embezzle funds, I would dismantle 25 years' worth of credibility. I hold Billy Graham in high regard. His reputation has preceded him, and he has earned the right to be heard by people all over the world.
Q/ Fear and anger are often the enemies of receiving and extending God's love. How do we handle these emotions?
A/ I think that fear and anger can be traced back to a misunderstanding of God. If I'm afraid, that means I don't trust God's ability to watch over me. A perfect, deeper and more mature love will drive out that fear.
Anger is the same. An example of anger in the Bible is when Cain killed Abel. He felt like God had rejected him, and the consequence of that perceived rejection was anger toward his brother.
If I can understand that God is my shepherd and that He will watch over me, that will take away my fear. If I can understand that God has accepted me through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, that will take away my anger. As I grow in my understanding of who God is, that will give me a deeper love for other people and help me to deal with these difficult and negative emotions.
Q/ In other words, the better we know God, the better equipped we are to share His love.
A/ That's exactly it. The Apostle Paul said that the greatest privilege in life is to know Jesus Christ, and everything else is rubbish compared to that (Philippians 3:8). Grace is the child of love. God loves us so much that He finds a way to provide for us His merit that we do not deserve. Out of love, God gives us His grace. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16, NIV). All of the great, powerful actions of God are traced back to His love. Had He been just a holy God, I don't know if He would have given us grace. But He is a holy and loving God.
Q/ A lot of people can't seem to love and forgive themselves. What advice would you give them?
A/ One of the things that I do to help people love themselves is to invite them to take Jesus and go back in their lives to the most shameful hour of their life. Mentally and emotionally, you and Jesus go to that abortion clinic, or to that hotel, or to that college campus, wherever it is.
Let Him forgive you there. He knows what you did, but take Him there and stand with Him at that moment and see if He doesn't forgive you. All I'm helping people to do is confess their sin. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (NIV). Going to that moment and seeing that Christ is there with them brings about a conviction of the heart, but it also brings about forgiveness, if they understand how deep God's love is for them.
Q/ The presence of so much suffering and affliction causes a lot of people, many believers included, to question the reality of God's love.
A/ The question people have to wrestle with is, when there is a presence of evil, does that mean an absence of God? I don't know how you answer that question if you're not a Christian. But if you are a Christian, you look at Christ on the cross and look at how much evil He endured. That was the darkest hour in the history of humanity.
Christ did not avoid an encounter with evil. He took it on the chin for us and felt all the evil that the world has to offer. But He defeated it. The dark day of Saturday was followed by the bright day of Sunday. If you're not a Christian, I don't know what your answer is for struggling and evil in the world; but if you are, then there is wonderful hope!
The truth of the matter is that we live in a fallen world where there is an abundance of evil. God could remove all of the evil from the world, but then He'd have to remove people. He opted instead to enter the earth and present an option for every human being.
And one important promise that Christians have is the promise that this present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us (Romans 8:18). If you were to put all of the suffering of the world on one side of a scale and all the glory of Heaven on the other, the glory of Heaven is so much greater.
Q/ Can you sense God's love without abiding in worship?
A/ I don't know how you could. Worship is a cyclical thing. You have God's love, so you worship, and as you worship, you learn more of God's love, which makes you want to worship more. You start with what you know, and it grows and continues to expand. Worship is so healthy. We want to do it in our lifestyle all week long—live with an awareness of His presence and a deep humility before Him.