“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
We live in an age in which many people think God is distant. We are amazed, then, when we learn that the relationship we are called to have with Him exceeds any other relationship in its level of intimacy. We are reluctant to believe such a truth. It is a theological proposition, perhaps, that God desires an intimate relationship with us—something that preachers say to convince us of His love, but that only the super-spiritual actually experience. We may wonder, deep in our hearts, if this is true for all of us.
But not only is it true, it is one of the major emphases of the entire Bible. Not only does God love us and we are to love Him, He delights in us and we are to delight in Him. This is no sterile act of our will—a love that must press on in spite of the coldness of our hearts. And God’s love for us is not portrayed as a struggle for Him, either; He does not simply tolerate us in spite of His lack of feeling. No, the feeling is real. This relationship in its fullness is the most pleasurable relationship we could possibly have—with anyone.
Meditate today on what Jesus says here in the context of two Old Testament verses: “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) and “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Think of that. God sings! Not just about anything, but about us! And He asks us to return the feeling. It’s an amazing invitation.
Jesus intended this revolutionary truth to sink into our lives. It is not just a pleasant pat on the back that will help us have a better day. It is the truth that shapes our hearts for a lifetime. An eternal lifetime. Allow it to do its work in you, and see your relationship with God transformed.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38
Despite our extraordinary calling—to experience God’s love and to love Him in return—we fill our lives with idols. Given the greatest invitation in the universe, we treat it as an obligation that we might be able to squeeze in around our other interests. Could anything be more ludicrous? The infinite, holy, jealous, merciful, mighty Ancient of Days makes a straight path for us into His heart of passion, and our response is so often to say, “We’ll see; I’ve got some other things I’d like to do, too.” The angels must be astonished at the squandering of such an opportunity.
The idols of our hearts grip us tightly. We are afraid to let go of them. We are, in imagery provided by C. S. Lewis, like children content to make mud pies in a slum because we can’t imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the beach. We hang on to what we know—our idols—because fellowship with God is too incredible for us to grasp.
Our idols are essentially one-night stands. They provide a moment of empty pleasure, but there is no lasting joy in them. They string us along with the offer of contentment, but contentment never comes. They rob us of something far more valuable—an intimacy of infinite depth with a Lover whose love has no limits.
The passions that draw us away from God can be intense. Jesus does not ask us to rid ourselves of passion, but to turn that passion toward God. When we realize this and break ourselves free from the illusions—or delusions—that make us think we can find fulfillment in anything other than Him, our lives begin to resemble watered, fruitful oases where there was once desert. Determine to pursue God in love as a response to His loving pursuit of you. Leave everything else behind.
Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16)
You will follow your passions. Yes, there may be times when you compel yourself to say, “Not my will but Thine,” but the sustaining drive of your life will be somewhat in line with the deepest loves you treasure. So when the Bible tells us to live by the Spirit and not by the desires of the sinful nature, it is also implying an important relationship issue: our love for the Spirit must run deeper than our love for the world.
The contrast really is that simple. We have a constant choice: whether we are going to be in love with God or with the world, the flesh, or the sins we once held dear. That should be an easy choice—after all, God is far more worthy than any other—but our suitors know just how to dazzle us with empty words and false promises. Sometimes we’re far too easy prey. And when we are, we gratify the desires of the sinful nature, just as Paul warns. We do so not because we have evil intent, but because we’ve misdirected our love. We’ve let the intimacy with the Spirit grow cold and turned our eyes in other directions.
Turn back. The blessing of living by the Spirit—basking in His love and returning His embrace—is far greater than anything the sinful nature can deliver.
You may have thought of your life as a series of moral choices, some pleasing to God, others not. While that’s true—there are moral choices that God has very strong opinions about—that’s not to be our focus. Our focus is not to be on banishing sin from our lives but on falling deeply, passionately in love with the One who redeemed us and has made a home with us. If we get that right, the sinful nature doesn’t stand a chance.
Cultivate love. Develop your relationship with the Spirit. Spend time with Him, praise Him, ask Him to have His way with you. The closer you get to Him, the further from sin you will be.
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)
The first Christians could hardly get their minds around the gospel of grace. We have trouble with it ourselves, but at least we’ve had centuries of preaching and theology to lay it out for us. Not so in first-century Ephesus, or anywhere else the gospel was taught. That’s why Paul spent so much time in many of his letters explaining that mercy was God’s way from the beginning. In the relationship between God and people, grace has always been the key.
Think about it: God could rightly have taken Adam’s and Eve’s lives on the day of the first rebellion or flooded the world without saving Noah’s family. He could have never called Abraham, never rescued Israel from Egypt, never established David’s kingdom, and never promised a Messiah. He could have let the law render judgment on our stubborn ways, never hanging His Son as a sacrifice. The wages of sin was death, even from the beginning. Yet God let us live.
When that realization dawned on the first Christians—that our sin was so bad that it deserved the judgment so nauseatingly visible on the cross—it became the unquenchable inspiration of martyrs and missionaries. Christians were so convinced of the advent of the Kingdom of God that they counted their lives in the kingdom of this world as a temporary bother. Many in the early church saw the magnificent grace of the gospel and abandoned all self-righteousness, self-dependence, and self-will. Nothing else mattered.
That’s the will of God for all of us. The grace that underlies our salvation is humbling and precious. It is the way God has always operated with His people, in every age. Grace through faith saves. Nothing else ever has.
If grace has always been God’s modus operandi with His people, and we are His representatives on this earth, what does that say about our attitude toward others? It should be gracious. Always. Nothing else reflects His character like a heart of mercy.
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11)
Anyone who has ever worked on a farm with sheep will attest to this fact: Sheep are stupid. They wander off without any sense of direction; having thoroughly consumed the foliage in one field, they must be driven to the next or they will not eat; they often do not recognize danger when it is present, and even when they do recognize it, they do nothing in defense; and they get lost easily. Of all God’s creatures, they are some of the most vulnerable and simple. And this is exactly the image Jesus uses for us.
Anyone who has ever been a shepherd will attest to this fact: It is servile, thankless labor. It is a task that most would avoid doing, if they could (which is how David got stuck with the job as the youngest of eight brothers). It offers no rewards in the eyes of the world, and it is lonely work, offering a man no companionship outside of his flock. And this is exactly the image Jesus uses for Himself.
The sheep’s relationship to the shepherd is one of absolute dependence. It is one of protection. It is one of long hours together in the same field. It is one of constantly being guided or rescued by the rod and the staff. When a sheep wanders off and gets stuck in a ditch (which happens a lot), the shepherd must search for it, find it, pull it out, and compel it to come back. If he does not, it will die in its predicament. But a good shepherd always does.
This picture that Jesus chose to describe His relationship with us may be foreign to most members of modern Western civilization, but it was a strong image for His hearers. It was a promise that regardless of their predicament, He would take the initiative to keep them in the fold; that regardless of their vulnerability, their welfare was entirely in His hands. The sheep-shepherd relationship is a humble picture, but it is a comforting and compelling illustration of us and our Savior. Think about it the next time you’re stuck in a ditch.
“I love the Father and . . . do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)
In John 8, Jesus had one of His many confrontations with the Pharisees. During the argument, these religious leaders appealed to their authority as Abraham’s children. No, Jesus told them; they were Abraham’s descendants, but not his children. Then the Pharisees appealed to their status as God’s children. No again, Jesus told them; they would get along with Him well if they were God’s children. They didn’t get the point; He would have to spell it out for them. “You belong to your father, the devil,” He said (v. 44). It was the most offensive thing He could have said to them. Why was He so blunt? Because they were blind to this truth: Those who love God do what God says.
Jesus’ statement in John 14:31 about doing exactly as the Father commands should not be foreign to us. Can we say the same thing? We’re not sinless as He was, so we can’t claim to have loved God perfectly. But we can make that our guiding principle, can’t we? We absolutely must realize the connection between love and obedience. They were perfectly combined in Jesus; they can be increasingly combined in us.
Many Christians get caught in an inconsistency between their words and their lives. It’s quite common. We say we love God, but we fail repeatedly in our obedience, usually in one or two areas in particular. We have secret sins, nagging habits, persistent character flaws that we just do not want to let go of. We know this, and we know God’s desire for us to leave those things behind. But we don’t; it’s too hard. That’s when we need to ask ourselves a deep question: Do I really love Him? That’s the issue, isn’t it? If we loved Him more than that habit, sin, or character flaw, we would have victory. We pursue the things we love the most. If we hang on to our hidden faults, don’t we love them more?
Jesus often used “love” and “obey” in the same sentence. It isn’t a coincidence. It’s a challenge. Search your soul. Decide whom you love, and obey Him with all your heart.
May 29 — June 4
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!” (Revelation 19:6-7)
Are you beaten down by circumstances? The antidote to our depression and anxiety is surprising to many. But those who have put into practice the prescription of Scripture have found an amazing truth: Praising God lifts us above our trials and reminds us of how He overcomes them.
Why is that? It’s a matter of perspective. When we focus on the turmoil of life and the weakness of our flesh, we get discouraged. When we focus on the problems of the day and the people who seem to oppress us, we get intimidated. On the other hand, our praise reminds us of who God is. As we worship Him, the threats and burdens that weigh us down grow smaller and He grows bigger—at least in our eyes. The thought of an exalted God who is entirely on our side is an awesome inspiration.
We don’t find that perspective in our minds very often. We have subtly but persistently trained our minds to think negatively. We don’t feel like praising God when the bills are overdue or our loved one is lying sick in the hospital. We don’t even feel like praising Him when our lives have gotten mundane and we’ve gotten restless. Perhaps we mistakenly think that our praise is based on how much of His power and love we’ve seen today. It isn’t—or shouldn’t be, at least. It is based on who He is. And He is who He is all the time. For that, we can praise Him. All the time.
That might sound like a platitude, setting us up for insincerity. How robust will our praises be when life has beaten us into the ground? We could end up mouthing the words without ever passing them through our hearts, and we know that’s wrong. But we must try. The more we worship, the more we see who He is and the more sincere our worship becomes. And our perspective jumps from one lowly, impossible place to the side of the God who reigns, both now and forever. Our praise opens our eyes to the truth of the situation: God rules.
Love the Lord, all his faithful people! (Psalm 31:23)
Being a living sacrifice is more than a holy obligation; it is a holy passion. It’s the lover who says, “I would do anything for you. I’d sacrifice my life, my dreams, my everything for your welfare.” Few of us love God like that with any consistency, but that’s our goal. And the only way to get there is to ask Him for that kind of love. It’s supernatural. Only He can offer it and maintain it in our hearts.
How do we know if we have it? We’ll know by what fills our minds when we lie down at night and when we wake up in the morning. We’ll know it by where we direct all of our resources and all of our abilities. And we’ll know it by the things we pray for.
If a stranger were to pick up the ledger of our checkbook and read it, would he know that we are lovers of God? If he were to examine our calendar, would he be able to tell that we have a holy desire for a beloved Savior? If he were to hear our prayers, would he find that we’re wholly dedicated to the will of Another? We’re reluctant to answer, because we know our shortcomings. We know how fickle our hearts and how self-directed our desires are. We know we have more than one agenda—God’s plus our own. We know we have a long way to go to be filled with a holy, God-centered love.
That’s okay. God’s grace is more than enough to cover our lukewarm hearts. But He doesn’t want us to remain ambivalent toward Him. He wants to stir us up to a consuming obsession with His goodness, His love, and His plans. He wants us not just to try hard to please Him—we’ve done that and failed so many times—but to delight in Him. Like any lover of another, He wants to be our joy. Like a wife who craves evidence of her husband’s affections, or a husband who looks expectantly for affirmation from his wife, our God—though never needy—wants to be adored.
Can we adore Him? We must—it’s our created purpose, and it’s the only love we’ll ever have that will leave us completely satisfied. All others fall short. But passion for Him always fulfills.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)
Most of us have been to the emotional depths. We’ve been desperate about a situation—relational, economic, physical, spiritual—and we’ve cried out to God with every ounce of energy we have. At such times, we hardly think we’re honoring Him; we may even think we’re a bother to His busy schedule, with all the taking care of the world that He does. Maybe next time we’re at such a low point, we’ll be encouraged to remember that when we pray this way, we’re worshiping.
Desperate prayers are, in fact, one of the clearest ways for us to honor God. Saying “Lord, I need You,” acknowledges His importance to us. He is essential, after all, and the desperate soul is not afraid to say so.
There’s a repeated dynamic in the Bible: God’s people have a great need, they come to Him with it in faith, He provides by meeting that need, and they presumably (though not always) give Him thanks and sing songs of praise. The Word gives us songs of deliverance, of victory, of gratitude, and more. Why? Because needy people sought Him, He answered, and they praised Him. He was glorified in the dynamic of human need. No wonder He lets us go to those low places so often.
The dynamic is distorted, of course, when (1) we don’t take our needs to Him; (2) we don’t believe He’ll answer us; or (3) we don’t give Him glory after His gracious response. Perhaps that’s why we so often miss it; we misunderstand the whole point.
But God has chosen to create a planet of needy people as a stage for His great supply. In our depths, His heights are more visible. In our depravity, His righteousness shines brighter. In our poverty, His riches are so much more appreciated than they ever would have been otherwise.
Do you see your deep, desperate needs as occasions to worship Him? They are. Even the very act of crying out to Him is to His glory. It recognizes who He is: the essential God.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)
Most Christians walk a fuzzy line between devotion to God and devotion to other things. We believe in our hearts, of course, that we should be wholly committed to God and love Him fully, and we desire to do so. But at war against our undivided love for Him are other distractions—things we might call minor flaws or distracting habits; attitudes we might know are pushing the limits of Christian character but are hard to resist; pleasures we might entertain without wanting to ask God whether or not they are within His parameters. We can live with a little bit of impurity.
But Jesus doesn’t ask for low levels of tolerance for impurities and indiscretions. He implies no tolerance for them. What He specifically asks for is wholehearted, undying, all-out, passionate love for the Creator. According to the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus, God desires everything that is in us. Every corner of our hearts, every ounce of our strength, every impulse of our minds, every breath of our souls. He wants it all. Everything.
The grand deception of the enemy is that this type of passion for God would rob us of pleasures and privileges. Satan wars against that kind of love, and so does our self-centered flesh. We are divided in our hearts, and we are miserable. Paul felt it, too. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). But he didn’t have to tell us. We have experienced it ourselves.
When it finally dawns on us that an all-out passion for God—regardless of whatever petty sacrifices it may involve—is incredibly fulfilling, we’re amazed that we were ever divided in the first place. Missing out by obeying and loving God? That’s ludicrous. Jesus was right. This is the greatest commandment. Be obsessed with it.
June 26 – July 2
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
When Jesus told His disciples that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed and will be filled (see Matthew 5:6), was He reminding them of this psalm? Perhaps. Or maybe He was reminding them of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1). Those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who are meek will find in themselves a holy hunger gnawing at their souls.
Jesus was no stranger to Old Testament imagery. His Spirit had inspired it, and His humanity had been educated in it. When He announced the Beatitudes, He had recently reminded the enemy that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (see Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Later He would announce Himself as the bread of life and the source of living water. It was true that all who hungered and thirsted would be filled, and it still is; we can be filled with Him.
We tend to think of discontentment as an ungodly character trait, but there is a godly side of it. The discontent soul knows that something is wrong deep down inside. It knows that hole that Augustine, Pascal, and many others have referred to: the God-shaped vacuum in every human heart. And no matter how much it tries to fill that hole with pleasure, work, people, or things, the vacuum remains. It was carved out for God, and only God can make it whole.
Do you hunger and thirst? Do not make the mistake of trying to satisfy your cravings with worthless things. Only God can effectively occupy your heart. Commune with Him there. Ask Jesus to bless you with His presence today.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:5)
When we speak of learning God’s wisdom and having the mind of Christ, it often sounds like we’re sitting in a sterile classroom environment. We assume that we’re being mentally trained in a new way of life. We are, but it’s not in a cold, calculated transfer of information; it’s a warm, wonderful learning experience, a hand-in-hand adventure with a loving Father who wants us to be like Him.
With God, familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds passion and pleasure. We can dispense with the idea that we serve a cold, hard master. We can let go of the image of the ever-unsatisfied holiness of our Creator. He has satisfied His holy requirements Himself in the person of Jesus. What’s left for us is an affectionate Father who laughs when we laugh and cries when we cry. The more we get to know Him the more we come to love Him. It is, of course, a holy and respectful kind of love—He is entirely above us and worthy of our awe. But there is a warmth to Him that many people never feel. And we are called to feel it deeply.
How would you characterize your relationship with God? Cold and sterile? Distant and frustrating? It need not be any of these. It can actually be—dare we suggest it?—fun. Yes, the wisdom of God—His mind, His ways, His character—can be beautiful and charming. He is not the cruel killjoy we often make Him out to be. And that’s the great tragedy of sin: It fails to understand the amazing implications of knowing Him. It turns Him into someone He’s not.
Learning the wisdom of God is not just an intellectual pursuit. It is a heartfelt pleasure in His personality. The presence of the Almighty can be an emotionally satisfying affection. His character is lovely, His words winsome. Abandon the image of the stern, distant God. His wrath toward us, though entirely legitimate, was poured out on Jesus. It has been fully satisfied. Our only response is to be fully satisfied in Him.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving. (Psalm 100:4)
The distance of God is an all-too-common malady among believers. It isn’t that God is really distant, but we go through waves of feeling that He is. Sometimes the waves are prolonged—circumstances batter us, discouragement plagues us, and God seems far, far away.
God’s prescription for entering His presence is to give thanks. This verse doesn’t just tell us the right attitude with which we are to enter His gates; it also tells us the means by which we enter them. Thanksgiving coupled with praise will bring us to where He is; or it will bring Him to where we are. Either way, we find that worshipful gratitude is the right place to be. God lives where He is acknowledged.
If God does not seem to be living near you, perhaps there is something lacking in your acknowledgement. You rarely see gratitude in someone who thinks negatively about life. Why? Pessimistic thoughts remove the glory of His presence. Negative thinking is not faith; it is the antithesis of reality from God’s point of view. Reality, as He defines it, is all about who He is and what He does. Negativity isn’t. It assumes the worst. It feeds—and is fed by—the enemy of God.
Paul told believers to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18). He didn’t tell them to give thanks only when the clear evidence of God’s blessing is visible. He told them to give thanks always—in every situation. How can we do this? On the basis of who God is. If we always see the downside, we are doubting something about God—that He is good, or able, or wise. But if we know that God is good, and that He is sovereign, and He is wise, we can give thanks that He is working out His plan even in the difficult circumstances of life.
Establish in your mind a discipline of thanks. Enumerate every aspect of your life and thank God for it. In every circumstance, choose to see it from an angle that will cultivate gratitude. God will be honored. And His presence will be real.