The Four Loves (Part One): understanding spiritual love languages

"my wild heart" by Kris Cahill
"my wild heart" by Kris Cahill

Over the past several years I’ve explored Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind and strength through a psychological window. I majored in psychology during my undergraduate training and my studies helped me develop a perspective from which to approach this command: the perspective of types. Typologies (classifying people based on patterns) are common within psychology, and I remember wondering if contained within this simple command were four ways—four typologies—that could help me better understand how to grow as a disciple.

Some of you reading this may be familiar with the idea of love languages. That’s the idea that within relationships each of us prefers to give and receive love in specific ways. For some, receiving gifts communicates love more deeply than words of praise. And for others, a word of praise communicates love much more powerfully than receiving a gift. One of the keys to healthy relationships is to understand your own love language and take the time to understand the love language of others within your life. That way you can express your love in ways that are deeply meaningful to them, while receiving meaningful expressions of love in return.

What holds true in human relationships also holds true in our relationship with God, and again and again I see this same love language principle playing itself out in people’s relationship with Jesus. While each of us is capable of expressing all of the love languages described below, I believe that one of the four serves as foundational for our experience of God. Our first task as disciples is to identify that root type. Once we’ve identified our root type we should spend time strengthening and developing it. But we shouldn’t stop there. After all, Jesus’ command is to love God “with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength”, not “with all of your heart, soul, mind or strength”. Our calling is to eventually branch out and learn to love God in ways that don’t come naturally to us. If we do we’ll experience God in successively deeper and profound ways, and transformation in Christ will go from being a pious platitude to lived experience.

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