Monday, January 26, 2009

Love the Lord Your God

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love

Anyone remember that one? I always thought this song meant that people who weren't Christians would be able to identify Christians by the way that they loved others. And that's one good way to see it. But the other day a new meaning jumped up, grabbed me by the shoulders and stared me in the face. Would anyone know that I was a Christian simply because they could see my love FOR GOD?

For the past few weeks, everywhere I go, everything I's all about loving God as my first priority. Our pastor's been speaking a lot on becoming intimate with God. I've heard Marvin Adams from the Wabash Valley IHOP speak a couple of times along the same lines. Crazy Love by Francis Chan was on this very subject. Various blogs from around the country seem to be echoing this theme as well. So I've been pondering this a lot and I'm sure it's no accident that I keep hearing about it for my own good, but I think this message of returning to love God first is becoming a focus of the American church as well.

It seems so basic: Love God. No brainer, right? That's pretty much Christianity 101. Jesus speaks in Mark 12:30-31 saying the most important commandment is this:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus is quoting the Old Testament law given to Israel in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. From the very beginning, God made it abundantly clear that loving Him came absolutely first. And we see the cycle in the Old Testament of Israel turning from God, being overtaken by enemies, and finally returning to their first Love and receiving restoration, only to turn from Him again and repeat the cycle. Time and time and time again.

So here I am. My intentions are good. I say I want to love God first, but consistently I do things that put Him in second, third or fourth place. Sometimes I'm just plain putting my desires in front of God. But a lot of times I simply get mixed up and put the second command in front of the first. I'll get so into trying to do, do, do, love, love, love, reach the whole world and help cure the universe of all evil, that I fail to spend time getting to know the One I'm supposed to love the most. Then I wonder why I get so frustrated.

A few days ago I was watching Joey. We're trying to get him interested in using the bathroom like a "big boy." I figured maybe if I let him walk around in his wet and dirty diaper for awhile, he'd get tired of it and want to be changed. He didn't care the least little bit that he was an uncomfortable walking stink bomb! Why can't he just realize that using the bathroom is so much better for him, I thought. Why does he insist on walking around in a stinky mess? It may sound silly to say that God uses potty training, but God spoke to my heart that day. Why do I insist in wallowing in filth? Why do I demand my way all the time? Why don't I realize that God's way is much better and much healthier?

So I'm choosing to love God first. How do I DO that? What does that look like? Here's what I'm learning.

I think it means first asking God for help. Here's one of my favorite quotes from Crazy Love (pg. 104).
"The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans...It is a remarkable cycle: Our prayers for more love result in love which naturally causes us to pray more, which results in more love..."

I think it means spending time with God and spending less time with time killers that aren't going to amount to anything when you hold them up to the light of eternity. Not more time at church. Not more time in ministry. More time getting close to God by reading the Bible, praying and worshipping Him. And in the event I find a few minutes of quiet around my house...I need to be still and listen to the Holy Spirit.

I think it means obeying God's commands out of love for Him. This is a hard one. It's really easy for me to try to obey under my own power grumbling because "I know I'm supposed to do this," instead of "I love God so I choose to do this, asking for His help." But I think this is the key difference between a bitter joyless Christian and a free joyful Christian. Anyone who has more insight on this, feel free to comment.

I think it means getting over my aversion to the analogy of Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. This may seem off topic, but when pastors start using terminology like this and using words like "intimacy with God," I get a little squirmy and I tend to block out what comes next. Yes, I love my husband. Yes, I want to love God even more than THAT and I know His love is the only perfect love, but this whole thing seems a little sexual and that weirds me out. When I told Frank that, he had a good spin on it: maybe our culture has made intimacy (especially sexual intimacy) seem very dirty somehow. If I took that image in the purity that it is meant to be, it becomes a lot more beautiful and a lot less uncomfortable. So there's my two cents of random advice via Frank.

I think it means coming to terms with how I tell others about God and Jesus. Again, this is something I know I'm supposed to do and surely it's Biblical and something God wants me to do, but why don't I see amazing results? Why am I still scared or embarrassed to bring God into a conversation? I think some of the answer lies in the fact that deep in my heart, I know that a person who is not a Christian can spot someone who is faking it or even partially faking it. I may really love a person and I may really want them to find a saving knowledge of God, but if they don't see that my words are backed up by MY REAL LOVE for God, why would they even want it? It's like telling someone about a great book and giving it to them, but you've never read it. Maybe Paul puts it better:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

For some reason, again, I always saw this verse as love for other people, not love for God. Why is that?

Ok, this is getting long (surprise, surprise!) but let's take this out of personal application and apply it to the American church. What if all Christians loved God first? What would that look like?

Marvin over at IHOP said that there are over 270 churches in Terre Haute. That's a lot of churches. But our city still seems to be spiritually dead in the water. No hope. No triumph. Or at least very little. The heartaches and desperation of people just seem to increase and overwhelm. I know there's some great churches filled with great people and good ministries. So what in the world are we collectively doing wrong? Could it be we've forgotten to follow the most important commandment? Like Israel, our city has been taken captive...not by a warring nation, but by addictions, despair, hatred, apathy, greed... If all the churches in Terre Haute collectively decided to love God above all, these things would vanish. Wouldn't that be powerful? No longer would churches fight over petty things and be content to stay isolated, scared to work with other churches and ministries. Christians would run, not amble, out of church services wanting to seek out any person who would listen to the fantastic things their loving God had taught them that day. I don't know about you, but I want this picture of an alive and vibrant church to be reality. For Terre Haute. For the whole world.

All of this to say...I'm unsure of how to end this! Maybe just a prayer:

God, I want to love You more and get to know You more. Help me to get rid of the things that get in the way of that. Help me remember that changing the world starts with loving you first. Please be the one motivation and driving force behind all that I do. I pray that each person who reads this would be moved by Your love for them, and would respond by putting You first in their lives. I pray that You would bring a new passion among the churches of our nation and our world for You and You alone. In Your Holy Name I pray, Amen.


sherri said...

Beth, you have the right idea. START AT HIS FEET!

I am one that often times witness with my words, but sometimes those words mention Jesus, and sometimes they are just words of encouragement or direction. I really don't believe we always have to bring HIS name into a conversation as we are to share his love, in reaching out to them in whatever their need is at that moment...a smile, a hug, some food, some money, babysitting children, sitting with a sick person, laying hands on a sick person, praying with a family, taking someone in your home.E ach day/moment requires something different of me. At my last job, I never remember saying, "Now I am a Christian so be nice around me", but they just knew it anyway. My witness in my office was many different things and ways to many different people on many different days. SOmetimes it was just not joining in on office gossip. SOmes days it was helping a coworker with ideas to boost her sales. SOme days it was holding and crying with someone who lost a lovedone, then GOD HIMSELF would open those doors when I knew there was even more to share about Him with them. At the right time where their hearts were ready to receive Him.

"Obedience is better than sacrifice." My acts come from a heart wanting to obey, just like yours, and not from a sacrifical offering to Him of my time talents, etc.

He is always on my mind- I love to listen and absorb His words. It will be a never ending daily struggle to put and keep Him first, but He is looking AT OUR HEARTS. He sees the desire. He is the one that will help us keep him at the forefront.

WHen we HUNGER and THIRST after righteousness, we will be filled,or so Jesus says. I always have that longing, that wooing of His spirit to come closer, deeper. SOmetimes it's scary but we think He will require even more of us. WHen all the while He wants less of us and more of Him working through us.

I want to be HUNGRY for righteousness. The same way I feel when I'm starving for food...nothing else matters till I get fed! My strength comes from His nourishment.

Your heart is beautiful. He will speak to you as how to arrange your time and priorites, because YOU WANT TO OBEY HIM.

Helen said...

Sherri is right. God often gives us opportinities to help people long befoe He gives us an opportunity to speak about Him. The Holy Spirit will whisper in your heart when it is time to speak of God, and He will guide you with what to say. Don't ever force it. St. Franscis of Assisi had said
Preach the Gospel always. When necessary use words.

I didn't use quotation marks because that may have been paraphrased.
Sherri is also right about you wanting to obey God, so He will guide you in doing so.

Larry Swank said...

Thank you for this, Beth - it's wonderful. It's something I think I needed to read today. God bless!

katdish said...

C3 had a prayer meeting last night. You know when you're in the "prayer circle" and everyone just prays what's on their heart? We opened with a prayer of simple thanksgiving for who He is. I'm one that usually prays aloud, but last night I just couldn't, because I was so struck by what was in my head that I was completely focused on it:


As a mom, and wife, and core group member, and volunteer and daughter, people depend on me -- they need me. God doesn't. And then I was equally humbled by the realization that:


That was just huge. That He wants me so much that He pursues me despite who I am. Sometimes I find it hard to wrap my head around that.

You're right about the movement of the church. I only pray that it is an awakening and not just a trend.

Pam said...

Awesome post, Beth.

Helen said...

Good morning, Beth.

Helen said...

Beth, I love your new profile picture.

Beth said...

Thanks, Helen. I couldn't find a recent picture of myself alone, so I guess me with Baby Jay is about a good as a representation as there is...:)

And Sherri and Helen...thanks for for sharing about how you witness to others. I agree, we witness by our actions many times MUCH more than words. For me personally, though, I have a hard time following through with words when the Holy Spirit prompts me. That's why I focused on that aspect of it. I need to be obedient there.

Holli Swank said...

Great post! We need to keep hearing it; from you, from Eric, from Marvin, from Scripture. It's the only way to make sure it becomes a way of life for us!

heartafire said...

Beth, this is a great post. I always think a great hallmark of the true Christian is humility, and you ahve it in spades. Thanks for sharing all of it, the good, the bad, the unsure, etc.

heartafire said...

And Sherri---that's the perfect scripture. God does value obedience over sacrifice. good one.

Beth said...

Heartafire....thanks for stopping by!!