When I was very young, the Christian life seemed like a beautiful meadow with yellow flowers and soft grass. It seemed to be always summer with the sun shining and birds singing as butterflies flitted through the warm air.
As a young Christian I was often frustrated at the large stones that littered the beautiful meadow of Christian life. It seemed as if the stones blocked my path, spoiled my view, and ruined my pleasure.
The years have passed and today I’m not such a young Christian. What once seemed like huge stones now seem so small. They have shrunk until they have become the paving stones in the highway that speeds me to heaven.
Many of these stones have names. For example, there is one called “You must honour your father and mother.” Another is called “You must not covet.” So many of them use the word ‘must’, a word few teenagers like.
The biggest and most puzzling stone of all was called “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37)
Next to that imposing stone was another just as large. It was called “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39)
It made complete sense to me that it was a good idea for all people to love each other. I assumed that if the Bible said we must love God and if Jesus agreed then it also was a good idea. It was surely called the ‘Great Commandment’ for a reason.
I didn’t understand how it was possible to love God, but I believed I should. It was a block to me. Loving my neighbour as myself was a block too, because I thought I didn’t love myself.
For understanding I turned to John 15:13 – “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” “친구를 위해 자기 목숨을 버린다면 이보다 더 큰 사랑은 없다.”
For many years this verse was a favourite. A friend is someone you have feelings for. I could relate to this level of sacrifice. I tried to imagine laying down my life for strangers, enemies and God. I wasn’t sure what it all meant. I had no feelings for God. He was awesome. He was beautiful. He was powerful. But he never felt like a friend.
I wonder if some of you have struggled to know how to love God?
I wonder if some of you doubt you can ever obey the Great Commandment?
I’d like to try and help those who like me have struggled with loving God.
First, where do my feelings fit into this? We start off thinking that love is a feeling, and then we learn that love is not a feeling. Feeling is emotion. That leaves us with love that lacks any feeling. Love can quickly become a task or a duty to perform. Is this the love we are commanded to offer up to God? Some people may say yes.
If love is actions, and if love doesn’t need us to feel, what actions are love of God?
How can I love God?
Where do we start in our quest to love God as he has commanded, ‘with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind’?
The Bible tells us that we start with God. The Bible tells us that we cannot love until we have been loved. Anyone who struggles with love is struggling because they were never loved deeply and truly by their parents. Of course, all parents are sinners and none have ever loved their children with perfect love. We all struggle with love to some degree.
We find this information about love in 1 John 4:19.
‘We love, because he first loved us.’
John’s insight makes it simple to understand.
However, it remains hard to do.
Loving God means just this. Respond to his love for you. I was so slow to see how simple the truth is. I wasted so much time. Love is having a relationship with God. God has started that relationship, we only need to respond.
Step one is to learn how to recognise God’s love. God explained this a long time ago.
In Deuteronomy 8:18 for example, the Hebrews are told to remember God.
“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfil the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.”
In Deuteronomy 10:21 they are also told to remember all that he did for them.
“He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.”
The Hebrew word for remember is ‘zakar’ and it includes the meaning of action. Bring to mind and then do something. What does it mean if my wife says ‘Did you remember the bread?’ She isn’t asking if I thought about bread while I was out, but whether I bought a loaf of bread.
Genesis 30:22 – “God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children.”
As we read the story of God and his chosen people we begin to see that he is showing them who he is. God is revealing his love to his people. He is helping them to be able to remember his love for them. This is why God gave his people so many laws and regulations.
Deuteronomy 13:3 – “The LORD your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul.”
From the beginning, God has been showing his love in as many ways as he could so that we could recognise his love for us.
That is where we start in order to obey the Great Commandment to love God. We start by thinking about all the ways in which he has loved us. Us as individuals, and us as humans since Adam and Eve betrayed him.
As we think, we start to remember. As we remember, we start to respond.
Feeling is involved, and it grows as we think more and remember more about God. We can read all about God’s love for us in the pages of the Bible. This is why it is sometimes called a love letter from God.
The Bible clearly shows us that the way to love God is to trust him and obey him, as we have talked about over the last couple of weeks. As we take the time to remind ourselves and our friends about the love of God, we will naturally trust him more and desire to obey him.
I think that is a key part of the goal. Loving God is to worship and praise him. Loving God is to make him our top priority in life. Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind is in the end having a desire to respond to his love, and acting on that desire through trust and obedience.
Thinking of love this way is helping me to keep the Great Commandment. I pray it will help you as well.
Look in John 14:15 at what Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”
This is not about obedience with resentment out of duty. It is about wanting to obey. It is the fulfilment of Psalm 40:8 – “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.”
Loving God becomes joyful obedience. It is passionate obedience. We can only reach this level of love by constantly developing our relationship with God through prayer and remembering.
Let’s help each other to love God, and to love our neighbours.