Learning to Love Like Jesus: Paul Miller
We hear about learning to love like Jesus—but what's that even look like? Author Paul Miller looks intently at His love in the Gospels, unpacking His methods of truly seeing others, feeling compassion, and acting in ways that matter.
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We hear about loving like Jesus—but what’s that even look like? Author Paul Miller unpacks His methods of truly seeing others and acting in ways that matter.
Learning to Love Like Jesus: Paul Miller
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Learning to Love Like Jesus
Guest: Paul Miller
From the series: Love Walked Among Us (Day 1 of 2)
Air date: July 6, 2023
Paul: Saint Luke 7, where Jesus meets the widow of Nain, Jesus looks at her, feels compassion, raises the dead son. And Jesus takes the son and walks him over to his mom. The miracle is not about Jesus; it’s about her. She’s the center of it. He’s valuing her as a person, and it’s sort of the picture of His whole life.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I’ve never stopped being fascinated by Jesus. Every time I read any account in the Gospels of His life, I am still marveling at Who He is; Who He was.
Ann: Me too. I’m mesmerized by Him.
Dave: It never stops.
Dave: What’s beautiful is He says, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. I and the Father are one.” So, you’re not just looking at a human man, Jesus. You are getting a glimpse of the heart of our Creator, God.
Ann: Don’t you think, Dave, the more we know Him, the more we’re transformed by Him?
Dave: Oh, yes. Totally. So you have to spend hours, hours a day and week looking at Jesus. We have Paul Miller in the studio with us. Your whole life is “seeJesus.” [Paul’s ministry URL: seejesus.net]
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Paul: It’s good to be here again.
Dave: You’ve written book after book, and your core message is seeing Jesus.
Paul: That’s right.
Dave: So I’m over here preaching to the choir. What do I know? You’ve written about this; you’re known for this.
Ann: And even this book title, Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus.
Paul: Amen, amen.
Dave: As we read it, we talked to each other about it. You just keep bringing us back to Jesus and how He models for us what love looks like. So, we’re excited to talk about that with you today. Here’s one of my first thoughts: When was the first time you feel like you saw Jesus, really saw Jesus?
Paul: Well, it actually goes back to my wife. A lot of things go back to my wife.
Dave: Been married what, 50 years?
Paul: We’ve been married 50 years, so this is when we were married 28 years. We have six children, and we had a 3-year-old up to a 16-year-old with our daughter, Kim, right in the middle, who has some disabilities. Anyway, she was going through a really hard time, the weight of our daughter, Kim, and the pressure that put on her. Our finances grew really tight.
She challenged me one night. She asked me if I loved her. Then she asked me a second time if I loved her. I thought, “Hmm, why’d she do it twice?”
Ann: And you responded “yes,” I’m assuming.
Paul: Well the first time it was, “Yes, of course I love you. I mean, didn’t I tell you that 20 years ago?” [Laughter] That’s kind of a big joke.
Dave: “If anything changes, you’ll be the first to know.”
Paul: Yes, that’s right! But it really is true. I really did love her, so it was like “What on earth is going on?” And then she asked me a third time, “Do you love me?” And then in good Christian fashion I got irritated, because I knew she was challenging me. [Laughter] She didn’t think I loved her. I thought, “That’s crazy!” It was ten years later that someone pointed out to me it was very similar to what Jesus said to Peter.
Paul: I didn’t even connect the dots at that, and my prayers—she was going through a ferociously hard time just with our finances, things with church, both our families, and everything—I was actually concerned she was just almost shutting down. My prayers that month, in January 1991, kind of went from “God, help me to love my wife,” to a little quieter, “Help me to love my wife,” to completely quiet, “God, would you show me what love is?” [Tearfully]
It was just so amazing what God did. The mission gave me a sabbatical the next month, and I came to that sabbatical with that question on my mind. So, her question just sat on my heart. I thought, “Where am I going to learn how to love?” I did what you said with the Gospels. I just buried myself in the Gospels. Eight hours a day I read the Gospels. So what did I see? One of the first patterns I noticed was this pattern that Jesus had of looking, feeling compassion, and then acting.
It struck me in Luke 7—I was going chronologically through Jesus’ life. Jesus encounters this funeral. He looks at the widow, He has compassion for her, and then acts. I thought, “Wait a minute,” and I flipped over to John. So that’s in Luke 7—John 15—and I kind of vaguely remembered. In the parable of the Lost Son, the father looks, feels compassion, and then acts, runs to his son.
And then I thought, “Wait a minute. The Good Samaritan,” and I flipped over in my Bible to Luke 10. The third guy, the Samaritan that comes along, looks, feels compassion, and then acts. I thought, “Wait a minute. Exodus 3—God with Moses.” “I’ve seen from heaven, I feel compassion for my pity, and I have come down.” It’s all through the Scripture. To see Jesus is to see the Father, so what do I do? I skip those first two steps.
Dave: You go straight to action.
Paul: Yes! Why not?
Paul: We’ll fix the problem.
Ann: I don’t think I’ve even realized the looking part.
Ann: He sees.
Ann: Had you read that several times and it just hit you that He sees them? He looks at them.
Paul: Yes, and it’s His looking—there are about 30 incidents in the Gospels where it mentions Jesus looking. What it is, and what I was missing—the missed piece was attentiveness, where it’s a focused attentiveness.
Dave: I love one of your quotes in this book, “Jesus’ eyes give God a face.” I pulled that out. I thought, “What a beautiful way to say that, because you get a glimpse of the heart of God through the eyes of Jesus.”
Ann: Why do we just jump into action? Why don’t we look, or as you were saying, Paul, you just jump right to that? Is that the easiest step, and that’s why we just jump to it?
Paul: What? Acting?
Paul: One of the stories I tell was when Jill came home from shopping, and she was madder than a hornet. She said she hadn’t had enough money to buy hand cream. At that time she had problems with eczema on her hands, and our money was really tight. My salary was $42,000 a year—this was 30 years ago—and I had a tax business on the side. One of my managers had run away with a third of my customers, so I made no money on taxes that year on the side. It was just really tight financially.
She came home and she was just sick of it. She said one way we could save on vacation was if I would go on vacation by myself. That would save us some money. I had saved this little pot on the side, and I said, “I’ll go buy you hand cream with my little money I had saved on the side.” It wasn’t much money, like 20 bucks or something. Later that evening as I reflected on it, I thought, “I skipped the first two steps.”
Here is Jill, distraught, and she said, “We’ve been tight for ten years,” and she was sick of it. So, what she was doing was a lament. Instead of focusing on her as a person, I was trying to fix the content of her words. I couldn’t fix the problem with ten bucks.
Ann: It was deeper than that.
Paul: It was much deeper than that, and that was obvious. Anybody could see that, so I was skipping looking and feeling compassion. I wasn’t caring for my wife’s soul and where she was at. I was trying to fix her problem so she would stop complaining, since I was the target of her complaints, and not illegitimately so because it was her coming alongside and being my wife, and I was in a career path not making a lot of money.
It's so common to skip those steps of looking and feeling compassion.
Ann: I have to give you this story about Dave and me, this very similar scenario.
Dave: I don’t even know what you’re going to say.
Ann: We’ve shared this before here. I’m a young mom. We have three kids under five. I am so stressed out, and it was the day I felt like “I’m failing as a mom.” I’m sitting at the kitchen table.
Dave: No, no. Don’t tell this story. Seriously?
Ann: Dave walks in and he says, “What’s up?” and I said, “I feel like I’m the worst mom. I feel like I’m failing. I feel like I’m mad all the time at everybody, and I feel like I’m terrible at this.” I was distraught, and he said to me, “I’ll be right back.” So he goes upstairs; he’s gone maybe five minutes, and he comes down with a piece of paper.
Dave: I’m a young, naïve husband, as you will see.
Ann: It’s a little index card and he has it numbered one to ten. I thought, “Oh, he went upstairs to write me ten encouraging things about me as a mom.” So, I’m like, “Ohhh.” He hands it to me, and I read it out loud, because I think, “This is the sweetest thing. It’s like a love note.” So I look at number one and it says, “Get more organized.”
[Laughter] “Number two,” and I think, “Surely it’s going to get better.” “Number two: Use your time more wisely.”
Dave: Okay we don’t need to keep going. [Laughter]
Ann: And again!
Paul: I’m enjoying this.
Dave: We get the idea. I’m sure you are.
Ann: He’s trying to fix me, because he sees I’m distraught. His heart’s good; he’s thinking this will help me.
Paul: Sure, right.
Ann: So I say to him, “What is this?” He says, “I went upstairs, and I thought, ‘How can I help you?’’’
Dave: I told her I prayed, and this was from God. I actually said that.
Ann: He actually said, “I prayed, and this is what God gave me.” I said, “This is not from God. This is from Satan!” and I ripped it up and I threw it in his face.
Paul: Oh that’s great! That’s just precious. [Laughter]
Ann: So, as you’re saying, when we are lamenting and we’re in it, sometimes I don’t even know what I need, but I don’t want to be fixed.
Paul: Yes. I’m still amazed that my wife does not want my top three answers to her problems.
Dave: Yes, what is wrong, right?
Paul: I don’t know! It still amazes me how comforted she is when I don’t share those problems and I’m attentive to her. Now sometimes she does want me to get moving with a job list.
Ann: Right. Well, Dave will say, “What do you need from me right now?”
Dave: Well the truth is, Paul, you’ve already said—our listeners, if they’re tuning in and leaning in—I’ve already heard—what Ann wanted in that moment and I didn’t know, I now know. What your wife wanted in that moment is for us to see them.
Ann: It’s compassion.
Dave: To pay attention, right?
Ann: To see.
Dave: That’s all Ann wanted, is “Do you see? Are you with me? Will you walk beside me? Don’t fix it; just be my partner.”
Ann: So, Paul, what would it look like? Jill came home, she was upset, and she said, “I’m sick of this.” If you had seen her and had been attentive, what would you have said?
Paul: I’ve actually never thought of that, but anything like, “Oh, Jill. I’m so sorry. Jill, I wish my job was paying higher. I’m sorry you’re going through this because of your love for me. I’m sorry that my calling has made your life difficult.”
Ann: See, I get tears in my eyes just hearing that. It’s like you understand.
Paul: Yes, and maybe just being quiet. I think I’d get a lot quieter. It’s striking to see in Jesus’ life how many of the things He says are so brief and short. The less we say, the more of a punch. I’ve grown up evangelical, so we tend to multiply words without knowledge like Job’s friends. [Laughter]
Dave: That is true. Yes, it is interesting to think on the other side of Jesus’ eyes, what did the people who received that look from Jesus feel? I remember preaching on the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar, and one of my thoughts, right or wrong, was “What made her come into that house and pour out her life earnings on this man?” I said, “There must have been a look, somewhere on the street or something, where she felt like, “This is the only man that’s ever looked at me with the eyes of love.”
Paul: Yes. Something happened, either in His teaching or in His manner or something, that she felt Jesus as He was. Here’s another thing: Same Luke 7, where Jesus meets the widow of Nain. So Jesus looks at her, feels compassion, raises the dead son, and then the whole crowd is just riveted on Jesus. Luke says that, because they’re kind of gasping. This is incredible.
We don’t know how He did it, but He takes the son off the wicker basket, which they would use, and walks him over to his mom. In other words, the miracle is not about Jesus; it’s about her. She’s the center of it. He’s valuing her as a person, and it’s sort of the picture of His whole life.
Dave: It’s beautiful to envision these moments in real time, like we’re watching them on video the way you described it. I was thinking there’s so much in this book, Love Walked Among Us, and we’ve only talked about the eyes of Jesus. But let me say this: What would our kids feel if we as parents looked and felt compassion and then acted, rather than immediately judging and laying down a rule.
Ann: Or even, Dave, just being preoccupied with our phones.
Dave: Look up.
Ann: I feel like, “Oh, we’re missing it. We’re missing these beautiful moments with our kids because we’re preoccupied and we’re scrolling on our phones, and they need us to look at them and see them.”
Paul: Yes. To learn how to look—it’s kind of the simplest way to decenter yourself.
Ann: What do you mean?
Paul: You’re moving outside of yourself and your world. You’re being attentive to others. The other thing I thought about, this pattern of Jesus of looking, feeling compassion and acting—we call it the “Three Steps of Love”—just a couple observations about it. One is the way it mirrors the incarnation of Jesus. It’s a kind of incarnating. It’s actually a verb that’s been around in Christianity for about 300 years, but it’s very little used, and you’ll see it pop up in the counseling world.
But to incarnate with someone in our ministry is sort of our standard verb at seeJesus. It means to “step in their shoes.” It’s your first order of business in all relationships. So, if a boss is upset with what someone on your staff is doing, and you do need to talk to them about their wrong, what is your first step? You go to them; you incarnate with them. You ask them questions. You try to understand their world, what’s going on. And then in the context of that, you share your honesty. But the first move, I’m always reminding my staff, is you understand.
So someone else is mad at you, and you know it. You go to them and you incarnate. “Have I done something? What’s going on?” It’s a kind of a movement away from your world. It’s the first movement of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It’s the very opposite of self. You’re entering into another self. Even if you know they’re wrong, even if you know as a manager that you need to speak an honest word to them—there are a whole lot of “ifs” here. It doesn’t take away the need for an honest word, but it actually—
Just recently we had a conversation with a staff member where an honest word was needed, but just by incarnating and coming in slowly you discern there’s a lot more stuff going on there. In the middle of the meeting, I just decided to quietly pull back from some of the conclusions I had coming in to the meeting. You’re not a shape-shifter. You’re not losing your personality. We get afraid that if I do that with my spouse or my kids that I’m going to lose my sense of self.
Ann: My voice. Yes.
Paul: My voice. But you’re not. You’re just trying to understand theirs.
Dave: In some ways you just described the role of a Christian husband and a Christian wife.
Dave: “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the Church.” Ephesians 5:25. You just incarnate, walk into her world. “Fathers, do not embitter your children.” Dads, moms, incarnate into your kid’s life. See them with the eyes of Jesus. Feel what they feel, and then act. What a beautiful picture. This is the answer to marriages and families.
Ann: I’m just going to get real. When you’re dealing with something really hard, or your kids are—
Dave: No, you’re not allowed to get real. We’re supposed to just say, “This is wonderful.”
Ann: They have set you off. That is other-worldly to do that.
Dave: Right. You need the Holy Spirit Power of God.
Ann: Our first response—mine is I get mad, and I want to say something. It’s in the broken nature of me that I just want to react to it.
Ann: So it takes a pulling back, a self-control—
Dave: To see.
Ann: —to not go off on my kids that have just totally messed up or done something. So, you’ve learned that over the years.
Paul: Well, and I keep learning it. [Laughter] “Golly, I messed up then. I was too quick with my opinions.” Most of my sins are on the speed end of things, not on the slow end of things, and I think you can sin at either end. Let me just actually mention the flip side of this, that there is an opposite danger. The opposite danger is you over-incarnate, where you lose—and I see a lot of parents doing that with their kids—that they so want their relationship with their kid or their spouse or whatever, they have actually idolized the relationship, so they’re over valuing.
It’s almost like idolizing love. Love is not the center of the world; Jesus is. We learn how to love from Him. If you over-incarnate, then you almost always lose your biblical frame, your truth frame. If you lose that truth frame, like “these things are wrong,” then you’ll incarnate but you’ll never come back to honesty.
Shelby: Don’t lose that truth frame. So the question is, how do we actually apply that to our lives? Well hang on just a second, because Paul Miller is going to help us to see what that could practically look like in our lives.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on FamilyLife Today. Paul has written a book called Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus. You’ve heard today what that can practically look like. This book is an encouraging and convicting look at Jesus’ life on earth.
Through that specific lens, it gives practical answers to questions like “How do you love without being trapped or used?” and “How do you love when you have baggage of your own that you’re bringing into a relationship?” His writing attempts to answer those questions through the lens of Jesus. This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife.
You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail, too. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832.
Alright. Here’s Dave, Ann and Paul to help us think more about the relationship between truth and love.
Dave: Boom. That was heavy. Again, I’m not going to go there, but watching in an NFL locker room, the Detroit Lions chaplain, 12 different coaches—some coaches would come in and do that. “I’m a players coach. I’m a friend to the players,” and they couldn’t balance, “You can be a friend, but you have to be the boss.” They incarnated too much, and they lost their voice. You’re saying sort of that. You have to incarnate but if you go too far, you’ve lost.
Paul: And it’s not like you can incarnate too much; it’s just that you can put them at the center where they were never supposed to be. Even loving my wife, if I put her at the center, then I’m going to damage her, because then I’m going to make her feelings central to the marriage, as opposed to Christ. That’s as deadly as being the opposite, of not paying attention to her. I’m not doing her any good by not speaking the truth into her life, or she me.
Dave: Yes, and that’s the balance you’re talking about, and I think the application for all of us is to see, to feel, to act.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: That’s where we started, and it’s to be Jesus. “God, give me eyes to see my spouse, my kids, my coworker, my neighbor, to feel what You feel, and then to act as You would act.”
Dave: That would change your home tonight.
Shelby: Now coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined again by Paul Miller, where he’ll talk to us about how to always be honest, even though it may not be well-received at first. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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