I am meditating on one specific part of scripture these days. For some it is a prayer, for others, a commandment. But regardless to how it is seen, I’m loving it more and more, too. We all have those few verses that resonate with each of us.
Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important. Today, I hear more “love your neighbor” than love God. And I get that. Today’s culture is centered around individuality and the vagueness of the word “love.” But loving a neighbor can mean different things to different people.
The world culture loves this idea because it places the focus on people. You don’t have to believe in God to love someone. This removes God from morality and let’s us define morality.
But Jesus? He replied to this question by quoting Deuteronomy 6. The more I study this, the more I can see why, too. I have the Hebrew in the first half, followed by the English translation:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך
וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Shema is Hebrew for listen. It is the very first word of this prayer. The very beginning of the Shema is asking Israel to listen, to hear. This isn’t a personal prayer, of someone in solitude petitioning God. It’s corporate. It’s part of a larger body.
Whether it is Israel of the Old Testament (the descendants of Jacob, the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham) or New Covenant Israel that includes those of us grafted into the family by believing in Jesus (Romans 11).
This is very similar to the way the Lord’s Prayer was given to us by Jesus. It begins the same way. Focusing on the us, not the me. “Our Father in Heaven…“
Since just past the second half of the last century, America’s individualism has grown by leaps and bounds. In recent years, it seems that this trend is accelerating, too. More “me.”
Something wonderful happens when we focus on the us, our collective. It is hard to focus on ourselves when we are praying for a larger group. Isn’t it telling that both the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer begin with acknowledging the “we” long before the “me.”
Many do not want to be a part of their local church in this day, either. But by being a part of the church, we are a part of the we, and not just the “me.”
When we pray on Sundays with our neighbors, we remember more often to pray for our neighbors.
Just look at how much the message of “Jesus as your personal savior” has saturated our Christian community. Yes, Jesus loves you. But when we focus on how Jesus loves us just as we are, we can be easily fooled by Satan’s masterful lie that we don’t need to change.
Christ told those He taught to “sin no more.” He was telling people how to change.
When we focus on the “me,” we are too easily fooled into thinking we don’t need the “we.”
After all, if you are praying for that big promotion or to get a great deal on that house or car, you just stopped loving your neighbor on several levels.
Think about it. If you get that promotion, someone else didn’t. You buy a house? Your dream comes true but is lost for someone else. We are not serving our neighbor but ourselves.
Doesn’t Jesus teach us to serve instead of to be served?
This is beautiful. This is why we are created. In Isaiah 43:7 God says that everyone is “created for My glory.” That’s amazing!
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul writes that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.“
I love memorizing scripture so I can ‘read’ His Word any time of day. I recite God’s Word while driving, while walking, or bike riding. It is awesome. Just like He tells us in Psalm 1:1-6, “Blessed is the man… who meditates on the Law of the Lord day and night.”
He tells us to do this often. Read a few verses later in the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.“
What better way to show our love for God than to obey Him and pray to Him constantly!
Think back to someone you had a crush on. A big crush. Remember how much that occupied your time?
Maybe you were in school and you would ignore the teacher, just daydreaming about this person. Or maybe you were at work and you just had to talk about this person to everyone, telling people what the two of you did over the weekend, and how much you can’t wait until your next date.
How many of us think of God like this? I’m sure at first there is a flame, just like with a steady relationship.
I’ll be honest. I know I don’t think of my wife every minute of every day. I used to. She used to consume my thoughts. And we have the danger of reducing God’s role in our life to an hour a week, if that.
But just think about blowing oxygen on that flame in your heart for God again!
Spend time with Him.
When you wake up, spend time with Him. Read His Word. That’s His way of talking to us. We talk to Him in prayer, He reaches us with His Word. Such a wonderful gift that He chose to reveal Himself in a way that we can have with us until He returns.
Dr. Les Hardin of Johnson University has said, “Praying this commandment, treating it as a prayer—“God, please help me to love you with all of my heart, soul, mind, strength”—will help to fix our eyes on the Father, and on Jesus, the author, perfecter, example, and teacher of our faith.“
Wouldn’t this be an incredible thing for us to do? For the Jewish community, this is one of the first prayers they learn. They say it every morning and every evening. What if we did the same?
As Christians, we know we are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), so saying a prayer is not going to save us. We also need to be careful not to turn this into a legalistic requirement.
If we understand the why, then we can do this not out of obligation, but out of sheer love for God and what He has done on the cross out of His love for us.
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.