Love the Lord Your God

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV) 

One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:28-30, NIV) 

I love my three daughters. I think God made them beautiful to compensate for all the ornery things they did as kids so I would not go crazy. Once the oldest was at the top of the stairs with the youngest (who was two years old at the time). She put her in a laundry basket and pushed her down with the middle kid at the bottom to catch her.   

I love my wife with all my heart and soul. Yet, she always thought it would be a good idea to have an open-door policy for the girls to come into our bed at night whenever they needed us. I have been puked on, peed on, kicked on and pushed out of bed. Sometimes it was like living with a bunch of drunks. Raising this girl version of “Malcom in the Middle” was often stressful. However, I gladly dealt with it all because I love my girls with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  

Love God with all your heart. 

God has children across planet earth, and he loves them all. To love God with all our heart is to begin seeing God’s big expansive heart for people all around the world. God’s compassionate heart is close to the broken-hearted, near to those in need. In fact, God’s wrath is a response of love to make things right in this fallen world. As early as the book of Genesis, just a few chapters in, it says: 

The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:5-6, NCV) 

God is disturbed with violent and evil hearts. God is heartbroken about the dark places within the human heart. God is deeply concerned for suffering, injustice, oppression, and death. Every year fifteen-million children die of starvation. Human trafficking of women and girls has increased six-fold over the past five years resulting in forty-million victims of forced sex worldwide. We recently hit a grim milestone of one-million deaths across the world to COVID-19. Hundreds of millions are locked in grinding poverty, have no clean water to drink, and face a lifetime of illiteracy and poor wages. On and on it goes…. 

This is just a small glimpse of what God sees every day. And God knows each one of their names. For us, people need to move from being numbers to being names. God wants us to champion vital causes and aim our collective love toward people in need of Christ’s compassion and deliverance. 

Love is a deliberate decision to meet a need in another person. One who fails to see the needs of others will suffer a shrinking heart. But the one close to God’s heart and aware of another’s need will gain an expansive heart. God also sees the good and the beautiful: every obedient act done in secret, each prayer uttered in the privacy of our closet, and all the places of selfless love toward another.  

Love God with all your soul. 

We need a newfound sense of God’s wonder and beauty to reclaim the soul of Christianity. If loving God with all my heart means my heart breaks for the things that break God’s heart, then loving God with all my soul has my life flooded with God’s glory – awed by Divine majesty, mystery, and beauty. Loving God with all my soul is to perceive the glory and wonder of God all around me. It is to be profoundly grateful for everything – even and especially for the lessons learned from personal hardship and suffering.  

Without a divine perspective, we only see the world as we are and not as it is. The ways to cultivate a beautiful love for God with all my soul is to meditate on Scripture and creation. Literally take time to smell the roses. If we walk or drive the same route every day, be mindful to observe one thing you have never seen before. Then, praise God for it. Each time Holy Scripture is read, do it slowly and carefully, noticing one thing you have never seen before. Then, praise God for that perception. 

Love God with all your mind. 

True love has an insatiable desire to know more and more about the object of its affection. To love God with all our minds is a desire to learn and experientially know more about the Lord. It is to have a constant curiosity about God.  

We must love God with full faculties and not with half a brain. Left-brain dominant people rely on the logical, analytical, practical, and think chiefly in concrete ways. Right-brain dominant folks are artistic, intuitive, creative, imaginative, humorous, even sarcastic, often speaking poetically and with satire or metaphor. Loving God with all our minds means we will use all our brains, both the right and the left hemispheres. 

One obstacle to loving God with our brains is that the mind of sinful humanity is death (Romans 8:6). A sinful mind is a small brain; it is not interested in genuine critical thinking – only in stubbornly expressing opinions. Such individuals are merely using a ridiculously small part of their brains. God, however, wants to sanctify our whole brains, to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).   

We are to use our full cognitive capacities to love God – meaning we will value the left brain orientation of  embracing order and discipline, using all the tools of reason and logic, learning critical thinking skills, and pursuing the life of the mind. We will also value the right brain orientation of embracing mystery, paradox, and gray areas, enjoying the process of discovery, and probing the deepest issues of divinity and humanity – being comfortable with asking questions and not always having the answers. 

Love God with all your strength. 

God loves the smell of your sweat. You might stink to high heaven from hard work but for God it is a sweet aroma and sacred incense. Love is measured not only by words spoken but by calories burned. Using our hands and our effort is as valuable to God as using our brains.   

Feel free to go hard after God with all your strength – being mindful that we all have a finite amount of energy. Because of this, we need to ensure we do not inordinately waste our energy pursuing power and control. Pride, anger, and selfishness saps our strength. Guilt, shame, and regret follow it up by draining our spiritual stamina. So, we need to keep busy doing the right things. 

Loving God with all our strength requires respecting boundaries and implementing healthy rhythms of life. We might believe (wrongly) that the answer to most things is to work harder. Try doing that with your car when a red light comes on the dashboard and you will soon not have a car to drive.

Many persons are hellbent on working themselves into the ground. Feeling the pressure of responsibility, the fear of failure, the obsessive need for perfectionism, and the stress of dealing with difficult situations cause some folks to ignore their better judgment. Some individuals find the shame of failure too unbearable to let up on the gas pedal, and so keep going day after day worried that they might be letting someone down.    

Loving God with our strength means we will observe the Sabbath. God rested; therefore, we rest. Sabbath observance avoids loading up a day of “rest” with all kinds of work. We are to use our time to restfully connect with God, take leisurely walks with family, enjoy good friends over a meal, and, of course, delight in a well-deserved nap. Wise and rightly ordered priorities come from well-rested people.  

Summary 

Love God from a large heart because God has a big heart. Love God with your soul through deep feelings because God created us as emotional creatures. Love God cerebrally with a curiosity to know humanity and divinity because God is infinitely interested in us. And love God through hard work done for the things God cares about, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.   

Christian Soulcraft

 
           The word “soulcraft” might conjure different images in your mind.  I am not talking about a boat or a bike.  I am neither making reference about a video game nor a corporation.  I am not referring to any avant garde religious expression.  Rather, I put the two words “soul” and “craft” together to highlight the importance of what a solid pastoral ministry does for Christians.  Sometimes the metrics we use in the church to determine its effectiveness and impact has more to do with budgets, attendance, and building maintenance than it does with the careful crafting of souls into the image of Jesus.  We must become adept in the church at patiently and tediously constructing souls.  Caring for the spiritual needs of people ought to be high on the list of priorities for every church ministry.  It is a constant work in progress.
 
            Just as the term implies, caring for souls is a special craft that one tries to constantly improve.  Pastors and church leaders never come to the point of ceasing to need continuous training, education, and experience in the business of crafting souls that are bent toward Christ’s kingdom values.  Throughout the history of the church much attention has been given to the care of souls.  Early church fathers such as Gregory the Great took great pains to describe the pastor’s work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both churched and unchurched persons.  The Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers is a special emphasis upon every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to intercede and help others toward spiritual growth and health. 
 
            In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor,which set the standard of pastoral care for generations.  In his work, Baxter elaborated on seven functions of dealing with the souls of people:  converting the unconverted; giving advice to inquirers; building up the believers; shepherding the families in the parish community; visiting the sick and dying; reproving the impenitent; and, exercising church discipline.  All these functions are designed to do the pedantic work of crafting and forming souls.  It is often not glamorous high impact work; it is humble nitty-gritty ministry which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.
 
            The many references to “one another” in the New Testament point toward the spiritual dynamic that needs to take place for souls to thrive.  Encouragement, mutual edification, love, forgiveness, and hospitality are just some of the tools of the trade in a careful crafting of souls.  As we look at the example of Jesus, such practices as healing, teaching, guiding, and mending souls were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth.  As we learn to help people toward peace, sustain them in difficult times, reconcile broken relationships, and guide them in making wise choices, we are doing good spiritual work and fortifying souls.
 
            We ourselves need to continually feed our souls if we want to do the work of soulcraft.  Engaging in the spiritual disciplines such as daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and other spiritual tools can enable us to be built up in Christ so that we might shepherd others toward the ways of Jesus.
 

 

            The Apostle Peter encouraged his fellow leaders:  “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  In difficult times, there is no greater need than the presence of God.  That divine presence is often mediated through loving shepherds and believers who take special care to bring grace to hurting people.  May it be so, to the glory of Jesus.

Loving God with All Our Soul

 

 
 
God sees so much more than we do.  Sometimes we forget that.  We don’t see like God does, so there are times we wonder where he is.  But God does see every obedient act done in secret, each prayer uttered in the privacy of our closet, and all the places where his people have selflessly given themselves to love and compassion.  We have a need to see God’s glory.  We need to not just see the muck of the world in all its awful muckiness; we equally need a newfound sense of God’s wonder and beauty, to reclaim the soul of Christianity.
 
            To love God with all my soul means the deepest parts of my life are flooded with God’s glory, awed by His majesty, mystery, and beauty.  We are to perceive the glory and wonder of God that is all around us.  It is to be thankful, deeply thankful for everything – even for the personal hardship and suffering that I face.  I’m thankful for it because it is one means by which I can better know God and see His glory.  Peter said, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
 
            Apart from Christ we don’t see this perspective, we don’t see the world as it is; we only see the world as we are (and so we think that how we understand things is the way things really are or, at least, should be).  Being full of God’s glory makes life, even if it is hard, wonderful because then we see with spiritual perception.  The human eye can only perceive light waves between 0.000004 and 0.000007 centimeters long.  In other words our visual range is the equivalent of one playing card on a stack of cards stretching halfway across the universe.  But God sees the entire range of light, and to love God with all our soul is to see life and reality from His perception of things.
 
            The best way to cultivate a love for God with all my soul and see His beauty is to meditate on Scripture and on creation.  Literally take time to smell the roses.  If you walk or drive the same route every day, make a commitment each day to see one thing you have never seen before.  Then, praise God for it.  What is more, every one of us has the privilege and opportunity to read or listen to God’s Word every day.  It needs to be as much of a routine as getting out of bed.  Each time you open your bible, determine to read it slowly and carefully seeing one thing in Scripture that you have never seen before.  Then, praise God for that perception.
 
We don’t just need a little soul in our love for God; we are to love God with all of our souls (Mark 12:30).  Middle class white people with Northern European ancestry (my church) are not known for their soul.  There is no Dutch Soul Food restaurant anywhere that I am aware of.  I have never seen a German-American Hip-Hop Club.  Maybe it is time to change the perception that we Christians have no soul.  Let’s not try and domesticate this very basic command of Scripture to love God with all our souls.  Yes, it may look different for us than some other people, but it is no less a command.  We ought to be so filled with God’s glory and wonder that we unashamedly raise our hands in praise, fall on our knees in prayer and adoration, and chatter all the time about Jesus – Deuteronomy 6:7 says to talk about God and his commands when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  We are to be excited about living for God because God wants us to love Him with lots of flavor!
 
What moves your soul to action?  David Platt, a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama once spent ten days in China.  His plan was to move around the country, but he first visited some local house church leaders.  He never went anywhere else in the country.  They were supposed to meet for a short bible study.  Instead, it turned into a ten day 8-12 hour a day teaching of Scripture.  After that first day the Chinese leaders asked David Platt:  “Would you be willing to teach us about all the books of the Old Testament while you are here?”  Pastor Platt laughed and said, “All the Old Testament?  That would take a long time.”  Here was their collective response:  “We will do whatever it takes.  Most of us are farmers, and we work all day, but we will leave our fields unattended for the next couple of weeks if we can learn the Old Testament.”
 
The hunger for God by many around the world is huge and immense.  They love God with all their soul to the point of doing whatever it takes to know God better and live for Him.  For too many of us, we are conditioned to simply give God our scraps – some of our discretionary income; whatever time we might have left-over from our work and other activities; showing up for church if it doesn’t conflict with something else, as if God were our pet that we just give the table scraps. 
 
Will you do whatever it takes to love God with all your soul?  Do you perceive and see the grace of God all around you?

The Heart of Ministry

 

          Church ministry is not for the faint of heart.  It is both challenging and rewarding, frustrating and a joyful privilege.  In a typical day I can experience the heights of rejoicing with new parents, and grieve with one who has lost an aging parent.  Emotions can run the gamut simply by being available for people, people who can be encouraging one day, and another day become downright ornery.  The thing about ministry is that, unlike any other vocation or work that people do, there is something supernatural about it.  That is, we cannot do it on our own; we need God.  Furthermore, ministry neither occurs in a vacuum, nor in a distant objective sort of way, as if our very personhood were not needed.  Rather, God works both in and through people to accomplish his purposes on earth.  Therefore, we must minister out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Loving others results from the fact that God has first loved us. Since this is true, it is vital that we meet with Lord often and allow him to care for our souls. Plans, strategies, schedules, evaluations, and the demands of life and ministry are the reality for the Christian servant. To neglect the soul is to fall into the demonic trap of believing in grandiose thinking instead of trusting in God for the ability to engage in ministry to others. The snakes of self-reliance and pride slither about our feet looking to strike at any time.

In order to be an effective minister, one must take the journey into the self and discover the union that exists with God through Christ. Intimacy with the divine is the whole purpose of the Christian life. The practicality of reaching this is through the ongoing process of detachment from worldly allurements and a growing attachment to the things of God. Prayer is the vehicle by which we wean ourselves from trust in our intellects, abilities, personalities, and pet theologians and learn to become an intimate friend of God.

Prayer, then, is not primarily the means of getting what we want and promoting our ministry agenda as if we were making some sales pitch to a skeptical buyer. It is the place of meeting with God and experiencing the union for which Jesus Christ died to procure for us. God himself takes delight in dwelling within the innermost sanctum of the heart, as if we were his temple.

If this is God’s goal for us, then it is also the aim for the persons for whom we seek to minister. To lead them in the path of intimacy with God, with knowing Christ better, is our highest and most joyous call. What do we model to the people around us? Ask yourself:  Is my agenda really God’s plan for my church? Does the journey of spiritual formation I lay out lead straight to the heart of God in a vital union with Jesus? How do I engage in the role of spiritual director with others? What do they need to be delivered from?

If this world is to be turned upside down for God, it must begin with me and you. There must be a healthy rhythm in life of detachment from the world, attachment with Jesus, and then an engagement with others. To have engagement without detachment and attachment is to do nothing but perpetuate the brokenness that already exists in this fallen and decaying world. Instead, may you find the garden of paradise in the soul where God meets with you, that you might minister out of the overflow of the heart in a union with Christ.