The day I chose to follow Jesus, I had no idea of the improvements he had in mind for me! I was just thinking of “what’s in it for me.” The first thing I asked God to do was to teach me to love. I didn’t know how. I didn’t care much about anyone else. Especially if it meant I had to sacrifice for them.

But Jesus made it clear. The most important command in the Bible was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Then he added: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Wow! I wasn’t even in the ball park on either of those.

Love is arguably the highest virtue. For Jesus, it was number one.

His followers know by experience that love can only be expressed in conjunction with vulnerability. We cannot follow Jesus unless we love God and surrender to Him as Lord. And we can’t love our “neighbors” without the possibility of being hurt.

Self-protection, the opposite of vulnerability, seemingly safeguards us from harm. But it forces us to harden our hearts, suppress compassion, and resist exercising the “Golden Rule”–treating others the way we want them to treat us. It actually walls us off from giving or receiving, love. This has become very evident to me in the national discussion about our welcome–or lack of it–to desperate refugees who want to become our neighbors.

Some of us reason that we want to be safe. We don’t want to be vulnerable. To be hurt. Of course, it’s wise to exercise caution. But that should not lead us to blind ourselves to the pain of others and refuse to offer a helping hand. Our Master has indicated we should sacrificially love those most vulnerable–widows and orphans in distress. We should love the strangers among us as well as we love our own families, neighbors, other believers–even our enemies!

Jesus practiced what He preached. He sacrificed his comfort and security by hiking all over Israel proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He wore himself out healing the sick, driving out demons and raising the dead, all while enduring criticism, hatred, personal attacks, and lies. He made himself vulnerable to the point of an undeserved death, and as he was being executed, he begged his heavenly Father to forgive his murderers! This was the highest expression of love.

Along the way, Jesus said that disciples, when they are fully trained, will be like their teacher. This has powerful ramifications for how we treat all others. In fact, we demonstrate whether we’re actually believers by the way we love others. Jesus has shown us what God requires of us; to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly (and obediently) with our God. That stretches me! But it also sets me free to help others as an expression of the love of Jesus, to receive love in return, and to know that God is pleased.

So as we ponder the plight of millions who want to share in our security and a better life, let’s ask God to shine his light on our hearts and show us how we can honor Him with our response.