Staying Spiritually Warm in the Winter Months
By: Stephanie Gray Connors
My Canadian body has so totally adjusted to living in Florida for the past three years that I consider January in this sunshine state to be cold. My husband can even testify to my describing some nights and days as “freezing.” What do we do when we experience a drop in temperatures that decreases the comforts our bodies are used to experiencing? For me, it looks like huddling under a cozy blanket, wearing scarves, and wrapping myself in sweaters and my down vest. Turning on the heat in our house accustomed to air conditioning has also become normal for this time of year. These are multiple measures I take to avoid the cold.
This physical reality provides a stark lesson for a deeper, and more important, spiritual reality. In Matthew 24:12, we are warned, “because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12, NRSVCE).
What measures can we take to protect our hearts so that our love does not grow cold?
The answer lies in the passage itself. It tells us that the decreasing temperature of love is associated with the increasing embrace of lawlessness. Throughout the Scriptures, we are given many laws from God, but just two chapters before being warned that some peoples’ love will grow cold, the Book of Matthew conveys an exchange between a scholar of the law and Jesus about which commandment specifically is the greatest. Jesus replies, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:38-39, NRSVCE). So how do we maintain a heart of love? By practicing and growing in love. The more we concretely live out these laws to love God and our neighbor the more our hearts will naturally be prone to love. Let’s look at some practical ways to live this out.
Ask anyone who has “fallen in love” and they will describe a deep desire to be in the presence of their beloved. They will talk about the beauty of being with, of sharing in, and of having a communion of persons. They will talk about adventures taken, shared experiences, moments of laughter, deep conversations, tears, the sharing of secrets, listening and being listened to, and being truly seen and known—while unconditionally loved. Reflecting on this helps us see what loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds should look like. It looks like time. It looks like taking our time to be in the presence of the King of our Hearts, to listen to Him and share with Him, to invite Him into our lives and experiences, and permit Him to transform everything so that the natural moments of our days are constantly touched by the supernatural.
Concretely, that means we need to be intentional about carving out time each day for God, just as we do for our family members. He is our daily bread after all, and we need to collect and consume it regularly as the Israelites once collected manna. This looks like reading, studying, and praying over His word today and every day to be nourished and transformed. This isn’t always easy. God might feel distant. Certain seasons of life can be demanding, even overwhelming. Emotions constantly change. I have found that if I only make time for God when I have “the feelings,” they are quick to dissipate. Instead, like eating healthy or exercising, I’ve come to see that while feelings might get us to turn on the ignition in a car, it is a rational choice that will compel us to keep our foot on the gas pedal. And moving forward is the goal.
Prayer won’t be the same every day. As I write this, I am feeling the effects of my “geriatric pregnancy” at the age of 43. I try to pray in the morning but with a very pregnant body for whom a night of “sleep” is no longer comfortable, and a toddler who frequently demands my attention and loves to doodle in my journal, quiet time doesn’t always look like the ideal. The point is we ought to still carve it out. Whether it’s at a different time, or shorter, or even more distracted than normal, it is better to give the time to God than not. And when we get truly overwhelmed and miss, instead of beating ourselves up, we need to simply and peacefully make a resolve to get back on track the next day. I am reminded of an old song by Bob Carlisle who sang, “The saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up (We Fall Down, 1998).”
If we follow the law to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we will not become cold; moreover, this warmth will radiate into living the second-greatest commandment of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. This means responding to their needs, doing so in a way that is patient and kind, and responding to what is set before us in the present moment (which is why, while a mother needs to pray, she is doing something wrong if her children’s hunger for food is not met because she’s “lost in prayer”). One chapter after Jesus tells us “the love of many will grow cold,” he speaks about “loving the least” (Matthew 25:40) and our call to respond to the needs of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Following this law will also prevent our love from growing cold. Our regular communion with God not only keeps our hearts warm toward Him but naturally overflows into warmth toward others.
Jesus’ statement that the love of many will grow cold is a message of warning about perilous and confusing times ahead. Wars, conflict, famine, false teachers, persecution, and even counterfeit messiahs are part of the warnings given. What is a warning? It is guidance. It is something imparted that, while it might have an effect of causing scare or alarm, is communicated with the ultimate purpose of helping. So rather than look at these warnings with fear, let us be grateful for the reminder that, if heeded, will lead to our flourishing in this life and in the next. Indeed, the subsequent passage tells us that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13, NRSVCE).
May we begin this new year with a resolve to endure to the end. May we be intentional about how to keep spiritually warm by wrapping ourselves in the Word of God as our daily bread, asking our Savior to adjust the thermostat of our hearts so they enkindle and radiate the warmth of His self-sacrificing love upward to Him, and outward to others.
Stephanie Gray Connors is an international speaker and author. She has lectured at Google headquarters for the series Talks at Google and has written books including My Body for You: A Pro-Life Message for a Post-Roe World and Conceived by Science: Thinking Carefully and Compassionately about Infertility and IVF. She lives in Florida with her husband and children. Learn more at www.LoveUnleashesLife.com.