The Most Important Thing

” 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 12:30

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Hurt Me

“Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .” (Ephesians 4:30)

Have someone ever hurt your deeply? Has a person you trusted turned against you? Remembering those things still brings pain, doesn’t it? Often we choose to protect ourselves by avoiding such persons and being very careful in choosing those to whom we make ourselves vulnerable. It hurts too much to take big risks!

God is not like us. He risked and received great pain by becoming human. Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him. He invited and then accepted their decision. But how it must have hurt when those He invited turned away. He went on to suffer rejection, shame and even death at the hands of human beings.

God goes ever further. Now, He actually lives inside those who follow Jesus. He knows our thoughts, sees our actions, and, I’m sure, cringes at some of the things we do and say. We can’t possibly understand the the risk to which God exposes Himself by being intimately personal with us. As author Philip Yancey puts it, “Words fail to capture the enormity of descent when a sovereign God takes up residence in a person and says in effect ‘Don’t hurt me. Don’t push me away.'”

Don’t reject Him. Trust Him. Listen to Him. When we do, we find that He, who risks being hurt by us, will never hurt us back.

The sovereign God gives a choice. We can turn away, or we can turn toward Him, honoring His presence in our lives by making Him our first priority.  Then, our hearts will be overwhelmed by the constant attention of our great Lover, who simply asks that we don’t hurt Him.

“My precious Lord, I want to be often and long alone with You.” – Gary Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa

Just Say “Yes”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. . .who is he who will devote himself to be close to me? . . .” – Jeremiah 31:3a and 30:21b

Jesus is like a lovesick suitor. Always calling. Always asking the question, “Will you marry Me?”. Always wanting me to say “yes”.

As He continues to show up in my life, I begin to believe He really cares. I realize He dreamed me, designed me, and made me. I already belong to Him. I just have to say “yes” to letting Him love me.  There is some resistance, some fear, but over time, I begin to trust Him when He says He will never leave me or hurt me. He will never change His mind about me. All I have to do is say “yes”.

In the stillness
He comes.
I never know when He will come.
I just suddenly realize He is there, and
He looks at me with tender eyes,
a gentle smile on His face.
Without words, I hear
“Just say ‘yes’ to Me.”
And I do.
“Yes” to relationship.
“Yes” to love.
“Yes” to doing whatever He asks.
“Yes” to being one with Him.

Jesus wants us to move into a more intimate relationship with Him. He is overwhelmingly in love with each of us. He’s just waiting for our “yes”.

“The Lord is so anxious that we should desire Him and strive after His companionship that He calls us ceaselessly, time after time, to approach Him. . .” –  Teresa of Avila

A Slow Process

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” – Galatians 5:22

I want patience – now! Can you relate? We really would like to be kinder, less anxious, more self-controlled, but getting there is a slow process.

No wonder! When we look at spiritual characteristics we realize these are not gifts, but fruit. We don’t unwrap the package and try on love; instead, love develops over time and grows in seasons. Here’s how it’s been for me.

Love, joy, peace: It took the first 50-some years of my life to see these life-anchoring fruits take root. They happen only as we learn to abide in Him and, for some of us, that learning takes a long time.

Patience, kindness, goodness: Then for a decade, God gave me the job of caring for a good person with many needs – companionship, listening ear, errands, appointments, counsel. At some point in the middle of it all, I realized God, in His grace, was giving me a chance to practice patience, kindness, and goodness.  Apparently, I could learn these things in no other way. Maybe God has given you a person to practice on, too.

Gentleness, faithfulness, self-control: I am now in the mature phase of my life and the Spirit’s focus seems to be on my becoming more gentle; faithfully finishing well; and exercising self-control with my time, body, and speech.

God uses circumstances to grow us into fruitfulness. It’s OK if it’s slow – watching progress through the seasons is gift enough! He is cultivating something in you right now. Look for it!

“We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives out fear and mistrust and anxiety and guilt, that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate.” – Brennan Manning

 

Life-Changing Prayers

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“God listens to those who are godly and who do His will.” – John 9:31

Prayer is a mystery to many of us. Why pray if God already knows what we need? Or, if we do pray, why don’t our prayers get answered? There’s no formula for effective praying, but today I will share some insights others have given me that may be helpful to you, too.

Sitting: Prayer is our response to God’s invitation to be with Him. He wants us to come confidently, joyfully, consistently, knowing we will always be welcomed. So let’s not barge into His presence brashly asking for things. First, we just sit for awhile, enjoying the pleasure of His company.

Confessing: We often will find thoughts coming into our minds during this time about things we do that hurt Him. We have to be willing to give up anything that blocks friendship with God. He knows we will never be perfect, but He requires that we acknowledge our sin and commit to being better. When we confess, He always forgives, makes us clean, and gives us strength.

Asking: Now we are ready to tell Him our troubles, pray for others who concern us, and ask Him to answer as He wishes.

Listening: Then we quietly wait for any message He may give. Sometimes it is a direction or an idea. At other times, a sense of peace, contentment, or joy. Listening, though, is the best part of prayer. Let’s not hurry away without hearing what He may have to say.

Now we are ready to face our day:  refreshed, clean, calm, energized, and prepared to serve Him and others. Let the adventure begin!

“God’s presence calms your spirit, gives you restful sleep, and quiets your mind. But you must give yourself completely to Him.” – Francois Fenelon

 

Me, too.

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“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love”. – Psalm 17:6-7a

The bleeding woman was healed. She came to Jesus in desperation. She came secretly, pushing through the crowds, bending low to touch the edge of His robe, hoping beyond hope His power would flow through to her and stop the bleeding she had experienced for twelve long, expensive, lonely, and frightening years.

She was immediately and completely healed and, amazed, turned to leave. But Jesus did not let her go unnoticed. Instead He called her to face Him in front of the pressing crowd and He lovingly pronounced her clean saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Does anyone else want that? Do you have something in your life from which you want to be released or healed? An old wound? A destructive habit? An illness or condition? A pain-filled relationship? A spiritual frustration?

Me, too, Lord.

Heal me of my past, my pain, all that causes me to bleed.

Free me from my suffering.

May I, too, go in peace.

Me, too, Lord. 

I want to be whole, usable, intimate with You.

“God’s gift was – and is – a visible reminder that He is interested in restoring the lives of those who have been broken, battered, and desperate.” – Jo Kadlecek