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What does the word “love” mean to you? When you think of someone loving you what feelings, if any, arise within you? For many people, when they hear or speak the word love, they get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. They experience great joy and warmth in knowing they are loved. But for a large number of people, when they hear the word love, everything inside of them shuts down, cringes and does not understand nor grasp what it means to be loved. Love to many individuals’ means conditional, condemnation, and judgment. They have been wronged, condemned, exploited and have never experienced what it means to be loved unconditionally, without any strings attached. The word love has no depth, meaning or feeling behind it, in fact, it has a negative connotation. As I reflect about the depth of love I have experienced, received and offered in my own life, I would categorize myself amongst the people whom have struggled when it comes to experiencing the lavishing, unconditional love of God. When I tell my husband, family members, friends and God that I love them, I believe I love them, I mean I love them, but when I say it, there is an emotional disconnect of love.

This is not because I am a bad person or that I am incapable of loving someone or something, my struggle to feel the presence of love is a direct reflection of my upbringing and the love that was modeled to me in my life. My siblings and I were not shown unconditional and unfailing love, and in turn, there have been walls and barriers placed in my life that not only block me from understanding the true meaning of love, but I have closed certain aspects of my heart off and I have not allowed others, especially God, to enter into the depths of my soul to love me the way He desires to love me.

“Hearts Opened Wide” is a sermon I wrote out of the Scriptures of 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 and 2 Corinthians 7:2-4. In these passages I pray that we will see how God created us to love and how He desires us to open our hearts wide enough so that we may encounter a depth of love, the love He created us to experience and live.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13; “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange- I speak as to my children- open wide you’re hearts also.” 2 Corinthians 7:2-4 says; “Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all your troubles my joy knows know bounds.

Here is a brief history about Paul and his letters to the Corinthian church… In 2 Corinthians Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and to Christians everywhere, defending his authority as an apostle, refuting the false teachings in Corinth and affirming the ministry in which he was called to by God. The Corinthian church was weak and was filled with immorality, idolatry and many struggled with their Christian faith. In Paul’s second attempt to win the hearts of all the believers in Corinth, Paul writes a personal letter of love and exhortation. He shares the hardships, distresses, endurances and hard work they encountered as servants of Christ and warns us, in love, of our need to listen and obey God’s message. Paul was committed to the truth of God’s Word and he was prepared to reject all false teachings.

Most Christians try and model the way they love others on the basis of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul tells us how to love, yet they have trouble truly comprehending what it means to love and be loved. They know the truths and the reality of this Scripture but they find it hard to obey and live out 1 Corinthians 13. Have you ever asked yourself why that was? Have you ever asked yourself why it is sometimes so hard to open your heart wide enough to give and receive the love God intended for us to receive? In 2 Corinthians 6:11, Paul is asking the Corinthians and believers everywhere to open their hearts wide enough so that they may receive their love and affection. He sees that they are struggling to open their hearts wide to them and he is asking them as a fair exchange, knowing that there is risks involved in obeying him, to open their hearts also. In verse 7:2, Paul then picks up again with asking us to make room in our hearts and then in 7:3 he makes a specific point to tell us that they have not done anything to wrong us, corrupt us or exploit us. Why do you think it is that Paul is telling, practically begging the Corinthians and believers everywhere to make room in their hearts and to open their hearts wide? Paul knew that the enemy, world and flesh have done things to jade our view of love. Paul knew we have experienced hurts, disappointments and pain at the center of our hearts. Why do you believe that Paul challenges us to open wide the one thing that brings about so much pain, sadness and anger. Is it that he wants us to feel the defeat and depletion in our hearts and souls, or is it that Paul may possibly know what it is like to have been corrupted, exploited, disappointed and in so much pain that he knows the freedom and the abundance of love, pure love, unconditional love, love that knows no bounds, when you surrender your closed, wounded and broken heart to the Lord? I believe, or maybe I just want to believe, that Paul knew what it was like to have a closed heart and he also knew the joy that came from making room in his heart for the Lord to begin and continue to do a marvelous work in. He knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you make room, just a little bit for the Lord to enter in, that you are positioning yourself before the healing touch and presence of the Lord and he knows that the little piece of space you allow Him to enter will soon overflow and manifest until you can embrace and receive the love of Christ in a way that will not condemn, exploit, disappoint you, but with a love that is so deep and so wide that you will not know where it starts and where it ends. This is why Paul states in verse 7:3-4, that he is not saying this to condemn us, but that they have such a big and special place in their hearts for each and every one of us that they are willing to live and die with us. They have confidence, take pride and are encouraged by us because they know, they know with all their hearts, minds and souls, that when we face trouble and have our hearts opened wide to the lavishing love of the Lord, in all that we face, our joy will know no bounds. Let me say that again, our joy will know no bounds. That is powerful and exciting because the kind of joy they are talking about is not joy that is connected to things, but the joy that is connected to our inner beings.

Brothers and sisters, aren’t you tired of living behind a glass wall where you can only see what is going on but too scared to step out from behind the wall and experience it? Aren’t you tired of closing your hearts off and feeling lonely and sad at the core of your souls? I know I am and I know surrendering this aspect of my life is scary and frightening but I also know that the Lord is calling me to stop reaching out for the things in front of me to ease and dull my pain and begin to turn around, where He is standing, awaiting for me to look to Him, so He can begin a new and glorious work. Let me tell you a little story and why I know this to be true. Have you ever felt that when you were finally willing to surrender what the Lord was laying heavy on your heart to Him, that something happens, either by a friend, family member, or your husband that completely disappointed you and all you wanted to do was close your heart back up quicker than you could blink and tell the Lord you were fine handling things on your own?   As I was gathering my thoughts and putting together this sermon, and as I was feeling convicted of my own struggles with opening my heart wide, I received an email from a friend, a friend whom I am rarely vulnerable with and expressed to her two weeks ago how I felt under attack by the enemy and was struggling with my health, emailed me saying that she has a hard time talking to me when I am down and that she was pulling herself away from me. She stated that a lot of things are mind over matter and if I had enough faith and set my mind right, I would be healed and would not be struggling. When I finished reading this email I welled up with tears and I turned to God and said, “God, this is why it is so hard to keep my heart opened wide.” God immediately softened my heart and brought to me the Ezekiel 36:26 passage where it says,” I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Then the Lord gave me the passage in 1 John 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God.”   This is the kind of love that God intends for us to encounter, a lavishing love, a love that knows no bounds, a love that embraces you, lifts you up and carries you through the valleys and through the storms.

God is waiting upon us, His heart is opened wider than you or I can possibly imagine and He is waiting for us to run into His arms, with our hearts opened to Him and to those He has sent in our paths. He knows for some this will take a lot longer than others but in 2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul states that He has confidence in us and takes great pride in us. Paul knows we are broken, wounded and hurting, but he also knows in Christ there will be restoration, there will be healing, and he knows God will take us, meet us, embrace and give us an abundance of love that has no limits and no boundaries. God loves us and embraces us right where we are. He takes our hands and He leads the way. The question is not if God is going to show up, but the question is, are you going to show up?

Fellow believers, I ask you that you take a moment and search your hearts. Look deep within yourselves and see if your heart is opened wide to love, or is your heart closed, closed to a point where you struggle to receive and give love to others and your self. We so often are used to allowing our hearts to be frozen that we think that it is normal. But let me ask you this, wouldn’t you rather live your life with your heart alive in the mess of things than living your life with your heart dead in the mess of things? Search your hearts, search your souls and pray to the Lord, pray a prayer of adoration, a prayer that is communicated in a primitive language, with no defenses in place, no walls up, but out of pure emotion. If you feel lead, ask the Lord to enter into those places in your heart and begin a great work in opening your heart wide. Tell Him you are willing to surrender the fears, the anxieties, and disappointments in risking opening your heart wide and that you are willing to sacrifice laying your life down at the foot of the cross, so that you may experience Him and the blessings He wants to pour out onto you in abundance without boundaries and without limits. I know when you surrender your life and you position yourself before the healing presence of the Lord, that He will heal you emotionally, physically and spiritually. He will be with you with every breath that you take and He will continue to bless you with the desire to receive love, love others, and share in the story of God’s loving heart for the world.

Lord, I thank you and praise you for the work you are doing and have already done amongst us here today. Seal the work and I pray that you bless each one of these individuals, surround them with your loving presence so that today and in the days ahead, they can take one step closer in opening their hearts wide to you.   AMEN!!!!!