And though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matthew 22:37)
So when they dined, Jesus saith to Simon, Peter, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? (John 21:15)
Love is a many-splendored thing someone once said (and even wrote a film and a song about it). The speaker was speaking of falling into romantic love. Falling implies feelings unexpected, as if you’ve tripped into something you didn’t see coming and it turned out favorable. It was accidental but in a good way.You never felt that way about someone before, and even if you have, this new experience is different. Then as the relationship matures through time, falling isn’t quite as viable anymore. Now, love isn’t so much about the swelling of your heart as much as it is about loving the other person the way he/she wants and needs to be loved.
With all that being said, what exactly does it mean to love God? What does that actually look like? If you grew up in church like I did, nobody really told you. And if they did, they may have defined love by feelings. Then it moved onto obedience as if loving God by following the rules was all He’d asked for, regardless of your thoughts toward Him. Has anybody stopped to ask Him how He wants to be loved? I know this sounds like The Five Love Languages, but as much as the book is about how to connect to other people, it also got me thinking about how God desires to be seen and loved. Do I really love God the way He wants me to? While this isn’t “12 Steps to Loving the Lord,” I wanted to offer some thoughts on how God desires to be loved based on His Word and some practical things to consider.
Think about Christ’s conversation with Peter in John 21:15-17. Jesus had been crucified, resurrected, and wanted to dine with His disciples. As they ate, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. Peter said Jesus knew how he felt about Jesus and even got exasperated when pressed about the issue. By the third time, Jesus met Peter on his level of love. I’ve heard this as a sign of God meeting us where we are, but we often overlook the significance of Jesus stating how He wanted to be loved. Peter’s idea of love (phileo: have affection for) was based on feelings of fondness and friendship. And while that was good, Jesus wanted to be loved actively (agapao: to welcome, entertain, love dearly). Jesus wanted Peter to act like he loved Him. He wanted Peter to assent his will to Him, for Peter’s behavior to change and line up with what Christ had set before Him in the three years their relationship had grown. Remember, Peter was one of Jesus’s closest friends, so He expected duty and loyalty from someone He’d shared some of His most intimate moments with (think praying in the Garden of Gethsemane or Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain). Then He told Peter to feed His lamb and sheep. He didn’t just say, “Go build a church for my sheep”; Jesus said to feed them. Jesus wanted Peter to love Him by doing what He desired and how He desired. Upon study of the three Scriptures at the beginning of the post, I found that loving God has a lot to do with highly prizing Him and the behaviors that extend from that.
This brings us to the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (and even might!). Isn’t that all of what we have? Our very being? Our feelings, thoughts, actions, and strength? It sounds like God wants us to love Him with with our attitude, capabilities, and actions. And in getting to know Him intimately, we can move from doing something He told us to do because He said so to wanting to do something because it matters to Him. We pray not just because He tells us He wants to talk, but because we actually enjoy God’s company and vice versa.We don’t lie on a resume because we know it doesn’t represent Him well. We ask for His direction because we genuinely care about what He thinks. We not only love Him, we even like Him! We sit in a room together and don’t even have to say anything because it’s just good to be in His presence. We listen to His most intimate thoughts about whatever just because He wants to share them. We want Him to be in on everything we want to do. We want to partner with Him to further His Kingdom His way, NOT OUR WAY. We do things the way He wants it done. If we do all this for other people, why can’t we do it for Him? Why can’t we love Him the way He wants to be loved?
Some of us often times subscribe to our own brand of Christianity and expect God to line up with that. We make up our own love, enact principles, and do everything from purposefully misinterpreting the Bible to co-signing on certain sins to using Christianity to monopolize the law without considering whether any of these and other thoughts/actions really show God the kind of love He desires the way he desires it. God isn’t Burger King; we can’t have Him our way.
So take some time out to ask God what He wants. Ask Him how He wants you to demonstrate your love to Him, if you should ask the lady or gentleman out for coffee, how you should vote, how to advocate for the voiceless, how to listen/respond to someone who may be of another race/ethnicity, how to understand someone who subscribes to a different religion, how to minister to the LGBT community, how to foster healthy living in underrepresented groups, etc. Although they involve how we love people, all these actions really illustrate how we love God. After all, He is the originator of love. I think He knows He how He wants it done.