FIRST-PERSON: Love on autopilot

TROY, Mo. (BP) -- Sometimes when I'm driving and realize I'm lost, I automatically turn down the radio. It's not so I can hear the GPS. I turn down the radio even when there's no GPS.

Why do I do it? Honestly, I don't know. Maybe it's so I can more clearly hear what "lost" sounds like. Of course, if I had to guess what lost sounds like, I'd guess it makes an I-should-pull-in-here-for-coffee sound.

Want to know what else I do without thinking? I'll be looking in the fridge for something to eat, finding nothing. So I close the fridge and move to the pantry. Nothing there either.

Then -- and I can't explain why -- I go back to the fridge, open it up and study every shelf again. Like I think something new will have materialized while I was in the pantry. And if that's not ridiculous enough, I then repeat the process. Why? Fridge, pantry. Fridge, pantry. I guess my subconscious thinks that if nothing magically appeared the first couple of times, surely something will between the fifth or sixth round of swinging open the door.

Oh, the things I do without thinking. I'm also a notorious knee-bouncer. And a pen-clicker. They're basic fidgets that are part of my no-thought default setting. It makes me wonder how many other things I do on autopilot.

But I'm praying the Lord will grow me to a place where those things I do without thinking will have substance, meaning, blessing -- especially love.

In 1 Corinthians, after the apostle Paul teaches about spiritual gifts, he ends chapter 12 with the teaser, "And I will show you an even better way" (v. 31).

GPS or no, I want to head that better way. The Amplified expounds on it: "a still more excellent way [one of the choicest graces and the highest of them all: unselfish love]."

Paul launches next into a beautiful description of that unselfish love -- the kind of love that, in and through Christ only, can happen as naturally as a bouncing knee or an unconscious pen-click.

Look at His "better way": "Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

The ever-satisfying love we hunger for is not in the fridge. Not in the pantry. Not anywhere else. Only in Christ.

The very first verse in chapter 13 tells us this sacrificial love is vital. "If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Loveless language? That's exactly what lost sounds like. I want to turn down that volume.

Lord, teach me to listen, search for -- even hunger for -- opportunities to purposefully love unselfishly, simply because I love You. May Your love be my default as I learn to sound more like You. Meanwhile, as I'm learning to love through Jesus, I'll still probably pull in for that coffee.

Rhonda Rhea is a pastor's wife, mom, speaker and author; her latest book, "Messy to Meaningful - Lesson from the Junk Drawer," is coauthored with her daughter Kaley Rhea and Monica Schmelter. Rhea and her husband Richie serve at First Baptist Church in Troy, Mo. This column first appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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