Love the One True God with Everything You’ve Got
When we really believe that God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the one true God who has saved us, then it only makes sense that we’d respond in love and worship. Deuteronomy 6:5 says to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength.” This is called the greatest commandment. It’s like Moses is saying, “love the LORD with everything you’ve got.”
Loving God with everything we’ve got means loving him with our heart, head, and hands.
Loving God with our Heart
We love God with our heart through experience. This domain includes feelings, emotions, and attitudes.
Israel demonstrated their love for God by experiencing various festivals throughout the course of a year. They followed an agricultural calendar of festivals and feasts that not only celebrated the harvest but commemorated God’s mighty acts in history. Israelites entered into the story of the Passover by eating food and herbs that reminded them of their ancestor’s flight from Egypt. In the Festival of Booths, the people pilgrimaged to Jerusalem, where they lived in tents for several days to remind them of their forefather’s forty years of wilderness wanderings. They experienced worship of the one true God when they brought a sheep or a pigeon into the Temple court to be slaughtered as a sacrifice to a holy God. All of these and many more provided experiences in which attitudes and values and emotions were tested and fine-tuned and ultimately turned one’s heart toward God in love and adoration.
Today, a similar way we love God with our hearts is by entering into corporate worship, where we experience God’s presence in the midst of his people. Our hearts are filled with joy as we sing hymns and songs that praise him. The Holy Spirit convicts us as we listen to sermons or celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Our emotions of gratitude are tugged when we witness the baptism of a new believer.
But the emotions we feel during corporate emotions aren’t meant to be limited to the times we worship in community. Surely Mary, the mother of Jesus, when looking at her infant son, cradled love and awe deep in her heart. That love and awe moved from her heart to heaven in worship. When I check on my sleeping children before I go to bed, I am overwhelmed with love for them. That love in my heart rises to heaven in praise and thanksgiving. And that’s an act of worship, too. I’m not worshipping my child. I’m worshipping the God who made him and entrusted him to me.
One Communion Sunday, after the pastor of our church finished explaining the meaning of the bread and the cup, my nine-year old son reached across the pew and tugged at my shirt. There was a sense of urgency in his voice as he whispered: “Can I take communion? I know what it means. Jesus died for our sin. The bread is a symbol of his body and the cup represents his blood. I’m ready, mom!” My son understood intellectually and now he was ready to participate emotionally. He valued Jesus’ sacrifice not only in his head; he valued it in his heart.
Loving God with our Minds
Another way to understand “soul” is “mind.” In Hebrew culture the word soul, among other things, was sometimes used to refer to the seat of thought, will, and desire, similar to the word “heart.” When we love God with our minds, we make the effort to learn who He is and what He has done. We also are educated about all that God desires of us. One of the best ways to love God with our minds is to read and study the Bible. God has revealed Himself to us through His word. This is called special revelation.
We love God with our minds by studying His revelation in Scripture.
But it’s also true that God reveals Himself through nature, or general revelation. All truth is God’s truth. That means when we study God’s creation and uncover His truth through exploration of the world around us and through various academic disciplines, we are still loving God with our minds.
One of our boys received a butterfly garden for his birthday. It was shipped to the house with five live caterpillars. We placed the mesh habitat in our family room and waited. One by one, each caterpillar climbed to the top of the habitat and found a spot to form a cocoon. After about a week, the caterpillars emerged from their chrysalis and we had butterflies! We released them in our backyard and watched them flutter around our garden over the next few days. God’s hand is evident in the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. God reveals something about himself in nature. This is an example of general revelation.
Studying God by reading the Bible and by studying the world around us are both ways to love God with our minds.
Loving God with Our Hands
God created us as whole beings and each part of us is to respond to him in love. That includes our hands, used here as a metaphor for our outward actions.
We love God through acts of service. The New Testament writer, James, says that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26). When we engage in service projects or mission trips, we are loving God with our hands. When we serve turkey, stuffing, and potatoes to the homeless at a shelter, we are loving God with our hands. When we dig a ditch to build a new home for a family who needs shelter, we are loving God with our hands. When we teach Sunday school to adults or children, we are loving God with our hands.
Every Friday afternoon at our church, a card table is set up in the middle of the office. Three people sit in metal chairs, folding bulletins. One Friday, I met Bob, age ninety. He had recently lost his wife of sixty years. Suffering greatly, he was losing the will to live. But instead of wilting away, he started to see others and serve others.
Although he had never facilitated one, he saw a need for a Bible study at the senior residence where he made his home and decided to start one. Fourteen residents attend every Friday morning to explore God’s word. A strong thinker and an excellent writer, he penned an article for the local paper in order to encourage others to serve those around them. Here’s what he said:
Sitting one day I noticed many had difficulty in opening tiny Half and Half creamers and pads of butter. It is hard enough for me but terribly difficult for someone with Parkinson’s, poor eyesight or arthritic fingers. I now open these packs for anyone sitting with me.
Bob was doing more than opening creamers and packets of butter. He was using his fine-motor skills—his hands—to love God.
Kids are great at loving God with their hands! I remember one Advent watching my boys huddled around piles of greenery and winterberry holly, red bows, pinecones, and colorful Christmas balls and bells. They wanted to make the perfect wreath to give to Nana. From a design point of view, the wreath might have received low marks, but from my mom’s perspective, it was a huge success. They were loving God with their hands.
Balancing Heart, Head, and Hands
Our kids will be drawn to one area more than another and as parents, we will also be prone to emphasize one domain over the other. Yes, we bounce in and out of all of these areas and there’s overlap in each, but there’s probably one or maybe two that we’re most drawn to.
The key is balance. Figure out in what domain you are most often demonstrating your love for God. There’s a good possibility that’s the domain you emphasize at home with your kids. Consider giving your kids opportunities in every area—heart, head, and hands—to love God.
Why is it important to love God with heart, head, and hands or, to say it another way, with everything we’ve got? Because He is our God, the one who revealed Himself to us and gave it all to save us, so we love him with all we’ve got. It makes sense.
But the passage tells us there’s another way we demonstrate our love for God.
Loving God through Obedience
Deuteronomy 6 shows us that we love God when we obey God.
In Israel, when Moses spoke to the people and said “Hear, O Israel,” he wasn’t simply rounding up the gang. He wasn’t saying “bring it in folks, we’re about to get started.’ To hear meant to obey. To hear God without obeying is to not hear God at all.
What, then, does Moses want the people to hear and obey? The commandments. Why was it so important that they hear and obey the commandments? Because obedience demonstrates love of the one true God. Think about it this way; when we were kids, our parents had rules. In an ideal world, we obeyed them out of love and respect for them. I met Rich, my husband, in high school. We dated. His curfew was 11:30. And he never missed it. He obeyed his parents because that’s how he demonstrated love and respect for them.
The Israelites obeyed God because they loved him. They loved him because he was the one true God. He was their God. Parents were given the enormous responsibility of teaching their children to love the one true God by obeying Him.
But it’s important to remember that the Israelites often failed to obey more than they succeeded. Even as recipients of God’s grace and favor, people turned their backs on God. Yes, they had come out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand, by his grace and favor, yet so often, they failed to follow the one who saved them. How is it different for us? Is there any hope for us?
Yes. There’s hope! Do you know that when Jesus first spoke Deuteronomy 6:4–9 as a toddler, he was most likely living in the land of Egypt? That’s where the family lived as refugees after fleeing the wrath of Herod. Egypt.
Jesus would also “come out of Egypt,” but unlike the Israelites, he would come out following God’s law perfectly. He would love God without defect in heart, soul, and strength. Not only do we have an example in Christ in how to obey; we have a Savior who sends his Spirit to help us obey.
Balanced Teaching: Biblical Truth or Obedience?
What happens when parents neglect part of this or emphasize one aspect over the other? What if we teach our kids to obey God without ever teaching them who God really is? Their obedience won’t be a loving response to God’s grace and glory. And that kind of obedience breeds resentment. It doesn’t stand the test of time. It sinks in the suffering that every human life endures. Or what if we only teach our kids who God is, but we never talk to them about their response to God? Then we’ve trained kids that right answers are more important than living with integrity. Those kids can spout off Bible verses about suffering, but they won’t know how to hold someone’s hand through it. Some parents are heavy on obedience. Others are light in teaching biblical truths about God. Why? It’s probably because one comes more naturally to us than the other. One is in our parental comfort zone and the other is not.
Teaching Yourself to Learn
When something is out of our comfort zone as parents, we can find out how to fill the gap. If the area of the heart needs attention, then we might consider offering our kids more ways in which to experience worship and enter into the story of salvation: playing a role in the annual Christmas pageant or attending a Christian concert.
If we struggle with passing on the “head” part of the faith, resources on basic Christian beliefs might be helpful or we might pick up a modern translation of a catechism—question and answer books designed to teach fundamentals of the faith.
Service opportunities abound in every city and town if the “hands” need more activity. Many projects can be done right at home. Roll up your sleeves with the kids and bake some cookies for the residents of the local senior home; pick up a rake and fill some bags for your neighbor. And of course, check out the resources and ministries at your local church.
Parents might easily feel overwhelmed and unprepared for this task of teaching their children about God. But there’s hope for parents! In God’s grace and mercy, He designed teaching and learning to follow the natural rhythms of everyday life, empowered and guided by the presence of the Spirit.
We must never forget that as followers of Jesus Christ, we’ve been given the priceless gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a gift given to every believer. What does the Holy Spirit do in our lives? The Spirit guides us, intercedes for us, comforts us, and teaches us (John 14:26; Romans 8:14; Romans 8:26). Parents, we are not alone in the task of raising our kids. The Spirit is not some distant, faraway force. God’s Spirit lives inside us, and we can rely on that power to produce in us everything we need, to be the parents God wants us to be.
Study: In what New Testament passages can you find the greatest commandment? Look at each of them. Compare them to one another and compare them to Deuteronomy 6:5, but don’t get stuck on differences in wording and word order. The idea behind the individual words is what’s important: Love God with everything!
Reflect: How do you tend to love God: heart, head, or hands?
Apply: Identify an area outside of your teaching comfort zone in which you’d like to grow. List the next step(s) toward growth in this area.