I’ve been thinking a lot lately about loving God. You know, Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind. So I’ve been mulling that over, pondering it, meditating on it.
I guess the first thing I notice is what the first and greatest commandment is not. Jesus did not say that the greatest commandment is to behave like a religious person. He did not say the greatest commandment is to dress like a proper Christian woman. He did not say that the greatest commandment is to teach Sunday School and cook for every potluck and help one Sunday a month in the nursery. According to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment doesn’t have anything to do with who is busiest in the church or who decorates for Vacation Bible School or who runs the ladies’ circle or who gives the most money. We can do all of those things and not love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.
As I’ve pondered this commandment, I have found myself going back to scripture about how much God loves me. 1 John 4:19 tells us that we love because He first loved us. Until I begin to grasp God’s love for me, I won’t be able to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.
We all know that Jesus loves us. We’ve been singing about it since we were toddlers. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. But do we really grasp that Jesus loves us? Do we understand that the God who created the universe intimately, deeply, completely, really loves us? He loves us so much He uses wedding language to describe it. Psalm 18:16-19 describes the way God rescued us and gives us a glimpse of His heart —
He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.
Of course, that emphasis is mine because I want you to see why God rescued us. He rescued us because He delights in us. And why does He delight in me? Or in you? Because we are really good? Because we do things that really impress Him? That thought makes me laugh. As if I could do anything to impress the God who spoke this universe into existence! No, He delights in me because I belong to Him. He delights in you because you belong to Him. He delights in us because He made us in His very own image.
Let that thought sink in. God delights in you. He loves you and finds you delightful.
Zephaniah 3:17 is a beautiful example of God’s love for His people. This passage describes God’s love for Israel, but I think God feels the same way about His bride.
He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.
Can you imagine that just for a minute? God, the God who reigns over the entire world, the God who parted the Red Sea, the God who knocked down the walls of Jericho, the God who enabled a donkey to speak, the God who makes barren women pregnant, the God who empowers and dethrones world leaders, the God who miraculously made a teenage virgin pregnant with His only begotten Son, the God who exists in a Trinity that we cannot comprehend, the God who made Himself a perfect, blameless sacrifice so I would not have to endure the eternal punishment for my sins . . . that God rejoices over ME. He sings over me. He laughs over me. He quiets my fears with His love.
This isn’t just a Jesus Loves The Little Children Of The World kind of love. This isn’t just a generic, God-loves-everyone kind of love. God loves me. He loves me so much my tiny, little finite mind can’t even begin to comprehend it unless the Holy Spirit helps me. And God loves you. And though your mind might not be quite as tiny as mine, you can’t comprehend without the Holy Spirit’s help either.
For this reason, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14-19
Paul prayed for the Ephesians (and for us, all the saints) to be strengthened and taught by the Holy Spirit so that we can know the measure of God’s love for us. This love goes beyond knowledge, beyond anything we’ve ever known before. This is a supernatural, exceedingly abundant love. Yes, God does love each of us with these same vast, immeasurable measurements, but this is a personal, individual love. God loves me with a love so wide and long and deep and high that I can’t even begin to imagine the size unless the Holy Spirit teaches me! He loves me that way! And He loves you that way!
As the Holy Spirit reveals to me again how much our God loves me, my heart swells. And I begin to love Him back. I have to receive His love and be filled with His love before I can really love Him. Any emotion I produce on my own is a shallow imitation of real love. It certainly isn’t the whole heart, whole soul, whole mind kind of love that Jesus talked about. The love I can muster up certainly doesn’t look anything like the love described in the 1 Corinthians 13 Love Chapter. I can’t love unless I am filled up with His love. When I am all filled up with God’s love for me, then that love overflows and gushes out and that’s how I love Him back. My love for Him comes from the overflow of His love for me. I love because He first loves me.
Loving Him isn’t the same as doing a bunch of stuff in His Name. Loving Him isn’t the same as being busy in my church. Loving Him isn’t the same as giving lots of money to my church or missions. Sure, love from Him and for Him can produce those actions — church work, giving, serving, helping. And it should. But I know me, and I know that I’ve substituted busy-ness and work and actions for real love. I’ve gotten busy with doing church-things and trying to appear like a good Christian, and I haven’t spent a whole lot of time sitting still and spending time with God and absorbing His love for me. Yet I know He is calling me to just be still and know that He is God, and I know that He is trying to rejoice over me and quiet me with His love if I would only sit still in His presence for 5 minutes.
My Father, my Groom, my Creator, my Lord . . . He wants me to take in His love. He wants me to soak it into my dry, dusty heart. He wants me to be with Him long enough for Him to fill me up to overflowing. Often, if I do sit down in His presence, I’m satisfied with only a tiny sip rather than waiting for Him to fill the cup over. No wonder, then, that I don’t have any overflow from which to love Him back. No wonder, then, that my attempts to love Him are pathetic shadows of the real deal.
I want to obey that first and greatest commandment. My soul longs to love Him with my whole heart, my whole soul, and my whole mind. I ache to give Him all I’ve got. But first, I must stand still, take a deep breath, and allow Him to pour out His love in me.
I love because He first loves me.