As a new believer in Jesus 12 years ago, I was constantly told by my fellow Christians that I must love others. While the idea was true to Scripture and sounded good to me, I found it difficult to carry out because I didn’t really like or care for myself. How, then, could I love others or know what it meant to love?

Fortunately, God is faithful to his promise to fill us with his love and to teach us his ways, which includes teaching us how to love. Over a period of several years, God changed my heart so that I learned how to love, and it started with loving myself.

Before coming to Christ, I had always been a person who lied and cheated my way through life. I can’t remember a time back then when I dealt in a straightforward manner with people. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t seem to stop because it enabled me to get my way and to feel important. People didn’t like being around a liar and a cheat, so life became very lonely for me. I was on a fast treadmill, and I didn’t know how to get off, hating myself all the while.

Then I began to investigate the gospel and I discovered something that amazed me. It didn’t matter what I had done or that I was not up to par. Jesus loved me anyway. He never told anyone to get rid of their bad habit before approaching him. He said to ask him into our lives, and then he would create a clean heart in us. Knowing this gave me the strength to commit my life to him and to search for his will. He freed me from the burden of those bad habits and truly did create a clean heart in me. As I grew, I found that I could relate to other people, and I started to reach out to help others.

As a missionary with Jews for Jesus, I am finding that this problem of learning how to love is one faced by many people. Those with whom I talk don’t really know what it means to love. They try to love their neighbor and forget one important fact: loving is giving of oneself, not just with deeds, but with the heart. But you can’t give from the heart what you don’t have. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. Jesus himself said that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What does that mean? I think it means to respect oneself and to appreciate the fact that in God’s eyes we are princes and saints, children of God, beings of great value to him. He thought we were worth so much that He was willing to sacrifice his Son for us. If Jesus thought so much of us as to come and die for us, why do we think less of ourselves?

Let us learn to think of ourselves as Jesus does: precious in God’s sight. When we reflect on how God views us, we start to learn what it is to be loved unconditionally and unequivocally. When Jesus’ love fills us through the power and presence of his Holy Spirit, we grow in it; then we can turn and share some of that love with others. Loving our neighbors becomes possible because as objects of his love, we have learned to love ourselves.