The Privileged Life: To Love and Be Loved—Unconditionally

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)

When I accepted an invitation to our community prayer breakfast earlier this month, I didn’t expect to be gobsmacked by a former football player.

I figured we were gathering to pray for our local leaders, teachers, healthcare workers, pastors, first responders, etc. And we did. It was great.

But when the keynote speaker, Rev. Rickey Bolden, came to the podium, he knocked me off my feet with a spiritual offensive drive. I should have known better—he’s a former lineman for the Cleveland Browns.

Bolden started comfortably enough, citing a familiar passage: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“Fine,” I thought. “Nice sermon ahead.” Then things got a little more personal. Bolden listed the types of people in our sphere—the ones we’re willing to love versus the not-so-easy ones God calls us to love. The room began feeling a little stuffy for me.

His next punch nailed me. “Unconditional love,” Bolden said, “isn’t unconditional until there’s a condition.”

He let it sink in by repeating it. Bolden basically said that love can’t be unconditional if the person you’re called to love has nothing for you to forgive—a “condition” you have to overlook and overcome. The reverend said we had to love people the way Jesus loves them. 

Bolden continued to hit hard, hit home. “We need to lead with grace, then mercy, then facts.” We’re commanded to love people as God loves us, despite circumstances. We can’t hide behind reasons why people aren’t lovable.

I wanted to shrink in my seat or scoot out. But not a chance of that—God had planted me on the very front row in a room full of people. No way to be inconspicuous.

This was already a sore subject for me. God has thrown too many Scripture references at me about “love” in the past month or so. It’s a Bible subject I’ve found hard to avoid, especially since it pops up more than 500 times in the version I read. 

If Bolden gave this same message when he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year in Washington, I wondered if his sermon had the same effect on the attendees there as well as here in my town. Doesn’t matter…this sermon was meant for me. I needed to repent of my unwillingness to love graciously.

Perhaps it’s because my “love tank” has felt a bit empty lately. I’ve wondered at times if God truly loves me unconditionally, if He really hears my prayers. I find it hard to love others when I’m in doubt about it on the receiving end, which can usually be attributed to feeble faith and trust. It’s easy to feel unlovable before God…I’m just as rotten as the next person, eaten up with iniquity (or “et up,” as they say in east Tennessee).

How about you? Is your “love tank” gauge low? Do you feel insufficiently loved, insufficiently able to share? Does your own pride or shame keep you from extending God’s love to tough cases?

Friend, let’s remind ourselves this day that, if God’s word is true, we are loved more than we can ever imagine. We are loved with His infinite love, without conditions. The Bible says that while we were still sinning up a storm, Christ chose to die for us (see Romans 5:8). It wasn’t our repentance that led Him to the cross—it was His love and plan for our redemption that enabled Him to keep His promise. His compelling love continues to draw us to Him, with assurance. His love is faithful.

Even if we don’t feel His love, we can place our trust and faith in Him because of Christ’s work. As believers, we are called to love others the way God has loved us, in spite of our flaws, mistakes, petty sins, horrible attitudes, and grievous deeds. We are wretched sinners, just like everyone else on this planet…all equal in this respect, and all equally deserving of an “agape” love from us, even while we hate the sin.

Let’s take time together to pray about love this week, using the prayer below. Maybe the Holy Spirit will show us in a tangible way just how much He loves us…by all the blessings He bestows on us daily…by the unimaginably beautiful world He has given us…by His saints all around who continue to cheer us on. Let me know how God changes your heart and the hearts of others in the process!

Blessed Jesus, You who have loved me regardless of my own conditions—please fill up my “love tank” this week. I weep when I consider that You gave Your life to purchase my freedom from sin and to invite me to live with you in heaven. Your grace should be enough to enable me to share Your love with others, regardless of their unlovability. But my faith is so weak. Build up my trust, my recognition that Your love is unconditional, abundant enough to share with others. Help me to be a love-giver and truth-bearer, identifying You as the faithful Author of love. In Your name, Amen.

#loveofJesus #rickeybolden #prayerbreakfast #lovetank #unconditionallove #changedheart #faithfullove #abundantlove

© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)–you can “like” this blog at

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

To learn more about the grace of Jesus Christ, go to this page:

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