Thursday, January 20, 2011

Love Without Limits

Shema Yisrael! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai ehad. V'achav'ta et Adonai Eloheika b'kol l'vavkha u'b'kol naph'shekha u'b'kol me'odekha.  Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is One.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

These words spoken by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy were hailed by Jesus as "the greatest commandment."  Possibly because He was addressing a culture that had been heavily influenced by Greek philosophy (as has ours), He inserted the additional words "and with all your mind" right after the bit about our hearts.  (See Mark 12:28-30.)  But how can you love God this way?  It’s really REALLY hard to love someone you can’t see, can’t hear, can’t touch. I’d go so far as to say it’s IMPOSSIBLE.  And yet, Jesus Himself said that this is the greatest, the most important, of all God’s commands. So how does a person keep it? 

First and foremost, understand this: GOD LOVES YOU.  You are His cheeseburger.* When you fell into sin, He got down on his hands and knees, picked you up, and wiped you off.  He came looking for you, He’s waited for you, He’s coming back for you, and it won’t be long now.  'Cause He loves you, cheeseburger, with all His heart.  (*If you don't get the cheeseburger reference, you need to watch the Veggie Tales music video "His Cheeseburger."  Yes, I am a Veggie Fan.  Although the guys at Big Idea decided never to turn Jesus into a vegetable, I firmly believe that if veggies had souls that needed saving, Jesus would have become a turnip or something. Even so, I cringe at the very idea of watching Him go into the blender. But I digress...)

Are you getting this yet? Do you understand?  God doesn't merely love you, God is IN LOVE with you...MADLY, PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH YOU.  Chew on that thought for a little while.

Now ask yourself: Are you returning that love? Be honest.  Do you really love God more than you love your parents, more than you love your spouse, more than you love your children, your favorite TV show, your job, your hobby, your home, your friends, your new car, your designer clothes, your body, your money...? Are you really willing to give up all of those things to grow closer to God? Or is your love that strong only in an abstract sense? Are you a hypothetical God-lover or a genuine God-lover?
I confess, I am a hypothetical God-lover.  I've tried to convert to genuineness, honestly...but I haven't been able to succeed.  Twenty years trying, and I am less than halfway there.  So many other things keep getting in my way.
“Love him with all your mind” was the easiest for me.  You can't love someone you don't know, and I didn't want to love my idea of God (too many people doing that already); I wanted to love the real God. Acquiring knowledge has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I am a reader; I like to study; reading and studying God’s word came pretty naturally, and by the time I accepted the Lordship of Christ in my life, I already had a pretty good idea of who He is.  Intellectually, what’s not to love?  I came to the Lord while I was attending a church that is very MIND-oriented in its approach to loving God, so I had a lot of support during this season in my faith journey, but something was missing in my relationship with Jesus, and I knew it.  I just didn't know exactly what it was.

Then God started to work on my heart.  I remember praying one day that God would teach me what it meant to love wholeheartedly, that He would pour out a double portion of the Spirit he gave to the apostle John, who went from “Son of Thunder” to “Apostle of Love.”  (I figured I needed twice as much help as John had.)  In the course of my life, I’ve loved pretty passionately; I know what it feels like to be head-over-heels in love with someone, and I wanted to feel that for God.  So I prayed, and He began to put me in situations that gave me the freedom to explore and expand my emotional attachment to Him.  Should your relationship with God be based solely on emotion?  No! Emotions are unreliable because they change all the time, but that doesn’t mean your relationship with God should be devoid of emotion, either.  “With all your heart AND...” You need to balance those feelings with the rest, but the feelings need to be STRONG or you really can't claim to be loving God with all your heart.  After years of praying this prayer, I finally came to the place where I knew: I am in love with Jesus, head-over-heels.

So now, right now, God is working on the “all your soul” thing with me.  This is a tough one, because what, exactly, is a soul?  Some people use the word interchangeably with “spirit” but really the soul is something else.  The definition of the Hebrew term used in the Shema (above) is basically the idea that the soul is our life-force, literally the breath of life.  Humans have a soul; rocks don't, trees don't, animals don't. (God breathed life into Adam, not the lower animals.)  Another definition is that “soul” consists of a person's thoughts, emotions, and will.  My mind is sold out to God; my heart is sold out to God, but my will... Confession time again: my will is not even close to being all His.  I want it to be, or at least, I want to want it to be, but I have to confess I am still holding a large part of it back from God.  There are so many things in my life right now that are competing for my attention, my affection, my love. My will determines which of those things I will give my heart and/or mind to at any given moment.  You do not want to know how many boxes of Kleenex I’ve gone through over this issue in the past four months.  I love God with my mind and my heart, but my soul—my will—is not yet where it needs to be, and that is a hard truth to face.

And if that's not enough for me to deal with, there's this “all your strength” factor looming on the horizon. (I can almost hear the Jaws music.)  Although Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus confirming the preeminence of this commandment, Matthew’s gospel doesn’t mention the bit about strength, and I wonder if maybe it was because Matthew was wrestling with that one himself while he was writing his memoir.  Maybe "all your strength" just hit a little too close to home for the former tax-collector.  It's certainly a tough one, because there will come a time when you will have to commit (if you are a Christ-follower) to give it ALL you’ve got in your relationship with God.  I’ll be truthful with you, I can’t really teach anyone much about this because I haven’t been there yet.  I know one thing, though—God isn’t going to rest until He’s taught me all four of these love areas.

God doesn't ask us to do anything He hasn't done Himself, you know.  He loves meHe loves you—with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength.  I know, because He proved it.

God loves me with all His heart; He proved that when He didn’t give up on me despite years of rejection.

God loves me with all His mind; He proved that when He wrote out a detailed plan for my life, and not just any plan, but a plan “to prosper me” and to give me “hope and a future (Jer. 29:11).”

God loves me with all His soul; He proved that when He came to earth to live as a man, to put His glory and comfort aside in order to meet my needs.

God loves me with all His strength; He proved that when He went to the cross, giving all He had.

God loves me this way, and He asks me to return that love.  Impossible?  Not really.  Remember, “With God, nothing is impossible.”  With God.  I cannot do this on my own, and neither can you.  If you want to fall in love with God and stay in love with God, you have to ask God to help you love Him. (And you have to ask every day.) With His help, I am learning to do that, and it is my prayer that you will also learn to love Him with an unlimited love.  


  1. Me: I've been reading the blog of the author of those books I've been reading that I love so much.
    Beloved Husband: of course you are...
    (he knows I'm about to read at least a portion of an article to him)
    Me: blah blah, explaining blah blah, "First and foremost, understand this: GOD LOVES YOU. You are His cheeseburger"
    Beloved Husband: OH EM GEE! You can tell her that your husband thinks she's cool now!

    VeggieTales ROCKS!

  2. To rehash: the heart is emotion, the mind is your intellect, the soul is your will?... and what is all your strength?
    I would say that perhaps the soul would mean to devote your life in all aspects to God... this would definitely mean that you would hand over your will to Him.
    Strength? Does this mean your actual physical abilities? The other three touch more upon the intangible aspects. Eating good food, provided by God, makes you stronger and healthier; getting proper physical activity, ideally through productive labor glorifies God and makes you "fit" in order to be ready to perform the tasks He sets before you next time.
    From those things that I have read about you, it seems to me that you are making a healthy physical body with which to serve the Lord in the physical world.
    Beware of pride though (speaking of my own downfall). Did YOU complete that trail/river/rock-climb? Or was it God - to Him belongs the glory! Not that I am attempting to preach to you a lesson I need, I am just trying to point to you that you ARE (at least on your way) loving God with all your strength.