Friday, November 27, 2015

With All Your Strength

Judaism has this thing called the "Shema". Ever heard of it? Well, you probably have.

The Shema is a prayer that Jews pray very often. It is simply quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Christ quoted the beginning of this and named it the greatest commandment (with loving your neighbor as yourself the second greatest). Although we as Christians aren't bound to follow the Law anymore as the Jews were, we know the God has a Perfect Law that we should strive everyday to follow. Following His commandments is one of the most important ways we can truly love God.

But I want to take a moment to point out a small but incredibly freeing detail I found in this verse.

The Gospel books that recount Jesus' quotation of this verse each use different arrangements of the various things we are to love God with. Mark 12:30 features the most well-known combination:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

There are many ways that we could break the human person down into parts, but the way I always use to analyze myself is the three-fold structure of heart, mind, and body. The heart is the true core of the person, sort of where the person's soul lives. It is what truly determines who a person is, as it is where our true desires rest. I believe that it it here where God looks to determine if a person is truly following Jesus. The mind is the place where thoughts and choices are made, the logical and rational center of the person. It is a part that the Holy Spirit directly influences in helping us make the right decisions in life, but it is still not a redeemed part of the person. The mind becomes "stuck in the middle" between the soul and the flesh, and that can lead to some of the most crucial decisions a moral person can make. The body is, well, the flesh, and the flesh is certainly sinful. God can work in the person to master their body, and He can help the person's body to be "reprogrammed" to be less fleshy and more holy. But it is still the flesh and is prone to its lusts. It can never be truly trusted, and therefore has to be kept in check by the heart and mind and can never be allowed the final say in decisions.

Did I over-simplify things a little? Maybe, but I think you can see how the framework is fairly applicable to most things in life. The main difference is the change from redeemed (heart) to fallen (body), with the mind somewhere in the middle. Usually two of the three parts are required to make any decision, whether holy or sinful. And it is important to remember that, while redeemed, the heart can still make terribly sinful choices, even if we are saved. Thank the Lord for the mercy and grace He shows.

So what's my point? Look back at the verse from the Shema:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Notice the presence of the very framework I have just outlined. First we have the heart and the soul, which are closely related. Then we find the mind, which while still prone to failing is something we can consciously control to a rather reasonable extent.

But where is the body? It is not present. Instead, we find our "strength." Why strength instead of body? It is because God knows our bodies are fallen and sinful. No matter how hard we try, we will never get our bodies to fully comply with the holiness of God until they are raptured and transformed into our perfect heavenly bodies. Until then, all we can do is try really hard. This requires strength.

God knows where to look when He is determining a person's commitment to Him. He knows that our actions do not necessarily determine our standing before God. Do we need to refrain from sinning from the flesh? Of course. But look at King David, a man who is still well-known for his sinful failings. God was well aware of those failings, and David had to surely suffer the conseqences on this earth from his bad choices. Yet, he is called and respected as a "man after God's own heart." This is because He knew how great God is, and he had a personal connection with God that was because of his great faith and love for his Father.

Now we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, things that David didn't have in the same capacity. We are in good hands because God looks at the heart. He clearly states that our actions do reflect the state of our hearts, but He also knows that we are bound to slip up, sometimes even a lot. It is the heart that He uses as his grand determiner of faith, the catalyst for salvation.

So do all you can to love God with your heart, soul, and mind. And doing that, use as much strength as you can to master that flesh that wants for disaster, knowing that God is pleased with you not because of how much you try, but because you do try because you love Him. Let His love wash over you and free you of the burden that says you have to get it right every time. There is grace and love waiting for you to surrender and receive. Let His overwhelming joy and peace stir in you in such a way that it causes you to give back to God in form of the love He so desires.