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If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?1 John 4:20 (NIV)

I want to draw your attention to one little word in this verse. The word can. Can is not about the will or the choice to do something. Can is about the ability to do something. The word in Greek means to be able to or to have the power or capability to. And if this is the case then what this verse is saying is that if we do not practice loving our fellow believers then we will not have the capability to love God and that is profound!

Often we think, and I have thought at one point, that we can live in isolation in a ‘just me and God’ sort of reality. And by isolation, I don’t mean that we necessarily become a hermit but just that we withhold our hearts from everyone or at least most people. We think we can hold everyone at a distance but be intimate with God. This verse is saying that that is a delusion. The same relational muscles that we must build to be vulnerable with others and to connect across the things that divide us (race, theology, personality, class, education) are the same muscles needed to connect to an invisible God.

I did not come about this understanding by studying 1 John. That is rarely how God teaches me. It was revealed to me in my daily struggles as I processed life with God. Since I married the one and only Tricia Celestin-Nicholls I have been working on trying to remain relational and connected with her through life’s ups and downs. As with all of us, I have suffered my fair share of trauma and I have learned coping mechanisms to keep myself safe. My go-to is shutting down, meaning that I become emotionally numb and withdraw into my own inner world. There are any number of triggers that can cause me to shut down but any form of criticism or vexation pointed in my direction is top of the list. I can also shut down if I am under a lot of emotional stress. And when I shut down it’s with everybody not just the person who may have triggered it. So you see how my poor wife may suffer the brunt of my disconnection even if she didn’t cause it.

So, I’ve been working on remaining open and relational even when I am stressed or feel hurt or threatened. To tell you the truth, it seems like every time I heal one layer there’s a deeper layer that God reveals that needs a deeper healing. The word trauma means soul-wound according to Gabor Mate. In order for me to love my wife better, Jesus needs to heal my soul. This doesn’t just affect my wife of course. It means that I can love everyone better. My kids. My parents. My sister. My friends. My co-workers. My church group. My neighbours. Everyone.

But back to the opening verse, do you see that it also means that I can love God better? What I discovered that led me to this verse is that as I healed, I was able to stay connected to Holy Spirit better. I hid less when I sinned. I was able to hear Holy Spirit better even when I was stressed. I was better able to leave my heart open to receive the love that I so desperately needed and God so desperately wanted to pour on me.

God showed me that I only have one heart. The same heart that loves my wife is the same heart that loves Him. Wholeheartedness is not an option. Healing is not an option. If we are to obey the greatest commandment to love God with all our hearts then we must work on our relationships. It is in that pursuit that traumas are unearthed, wounds healed and hearts made whole.

Working on loving others is working on loving God because you’ve only got one heart!

Republished with permission from, featuring inspiring Bible verses about We Only Have One Heart.

Republished with permission from

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