Anyone I went to elementary school with wouldn't be surprised to hear that I liked being the teacher's pet. Hearing, "Dawn, would you please take my mug to the drinking fountain and fill it for me," or "Dawn, would you please pass these papers out to the whole class," thrilled me. I loved the approval, I loved the special attention, I loved the trust implied in being asked to do a special task. Being the teacher's pet was performance based; I got good grades, I didn't misbehave, I didn't argue. Being the teacher's pet was a sign of approval, it showed that the person in authority was pleased with how "good" I was. It was also a sign of being favored; the pet is singled out for special attention.
Do you know Christians who equate that same teacher's pet mentality with God's love? It can be easy to do. We start thinking that we have to earn God's love--we have to do good deeds, we have to serve so that God will love us or love us more. Or we think that blessings equal God's approval--and conversely that hard times mean that we've somehow displeased God and this is how he's letting us know. We see a fellow Christian whose life is great and we feel like maybe God loves them more and we wonder what they're doing that we're not doing. Do you ever slip into trying to be God's pet? Do you ever slip into thinking that God's love is performance based and a sign of his approval? I do.
But the truth is found in scripture where we learn that God's love is unfailing, faithful. it endures forever. He loves us regardless of what we're doing, scripture even tells us in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate us from that love. He gets that we can't fully understand the way he loves us, and he loves us anyway. He doesn't want us to be his pets; we can't earn his love or make him love us any more or any less than He does right now. I love that His love is unconditional. I love that He can hate my sin but not me.
That love is the motivation for loving and serving others. Not a desire to perform well, not a desire for recognition, but just an outpouring of the love that he's pouring into us. 1 Peter tells us that we must love deeply and sincerely, he reminds us to be tenderhearted and humble, and that this deep love for others is what allows us to heal when someone hurts us. If I imagine myself as a small pitcher being continuously poured into by a much bigger pitcher I'll see the water overflowing out of the small pitcher and soaking everything around it. There's no way the small pitcher can possible hold all that water without it overflowing. And that's the way it is with God's love. There's no way I can possibly have it poured into me without having it spill out in love for others.