Oct. 03, 2022
The First Duty of Love
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV All? It doesn’t take much self-examination to know my all isn’t quite what it should be….
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV
All? It doesn’t take much self-examination to know my all isn’t quite what it should be.
I love the Lord with most of my heart… the majority of my heart… the most important parts of my heart. But ALL…how is that even possible? Is there really anything I’ve given my all to?
It’s not as if I purposefully determine to give only some of my heart to God—as if I wake up say “God, you can have it all…except for that little part right over there.”
I want to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength. But I also struggle with removing the rubbish and taking out the trash that stands in my way.
As I contemplated this verse, the word all kept demanding my attention. It was during this same time a certain quote kept showing up in front of me (I have a friend who calls those “sneaky Jesus” moments).
The first duty of love is to listen. ~Paul Tillich
Hear, O Israel…
Before I’m commanded to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength, I’m commanded to listen.
Hear, O Israel…
The opening word hear is translated from the Hebrew word Shema. This verse in Deuteronomy 6 is known as the Shema, a sacred prayer of the Jewish people and a declaration of their faith in God.
The word used here doesn’t mean to hear as we might passively scan the chatter at the coffee shop or listen with only half our attention while we’re busy with another task. The word means to listen attentively, to hear as though receiving a command.
I was never great at the monkey bars as a child. The only thing I ever got out of this particular form of playground torture was blistered palms and skinned knees. But this is what I think of when I consider the kind of hearing God calls us to in this verse. We look across the expanse and a closer relationship with God waiting for us on the other side.
To cross the monkey bars and get to the other side, we must swing from bar to bar, reaching for and taking hold of each one until we reach the safety that awaits us on the opposite side. But the farther we go, the weaker our muscles become. Holding on becomes more difficult and we feel our fingers slipping. To fall means scraped knees and elbows and a failure to reach the prize at the other side. If we’re lucky, a stronger friend may come along and help us at our weakest moment. But too often our grip slips and we fall to the gritty ground beneath us in defeat.
For me this is a picture of God calling Hear, O Lori…
With purpose (and at least a little courage), I must reach for and take hold of each word, grasping each one tightly and holding on as though my life depends upon it. I move from one to the next, slowly making my way across the framework of His message to reach the prize of His truth, understanding, or insight. But as I go, my mental strength may wane, my focus slipping. Oh, but that’s when I know I do have a stronger friend who will help me—Jesus Christ. In fact, that’s exactly when I may find it’s been Him carrying me across the entire time. I just had to first realize my inadequacy before I could see His arms supporting me.
Mr. Tillich, the theologian, must have gotten it right when he said the first duty of love is to listen.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus recited this verse in Mark 12:28-30, starting with “Hear O, Israel.”
If love demands I first listen, then loving with all my heart, soul, and strength must start with listening with all my being—fully attentive, engaged, and focused. No passively scanning as I read and study God’s Word or half-hearted attention in my times of prayer and worship. Read my blog about why regular Bible reading is important here.
As a human made of weak and easily sidetracked flesh, putting all my heart, soul, and strength into anything will likely be an unreachable goal, no matter how hard I try. Thankfully, Jesus has paid the price of my sin—covering inability to follow this command in my own strength—so I can live, not under the condemnation of my failure, but under the conviction to guard my all.
And I guard my all by hearing.
The more I listen to God, hearing His words, the less of my heart is filled with worldly distractions. The fewer of these distractions I allow in my heart, the more I fill my heart with the things of God. I find that as I am filled more and more with the love of God and the truth of His Word, the all of my heart, soul, and strength grows greater.
Loving God with all my heart, soul, and strength starts by first hearing.
No blistered palms or skinned knees required.
How would you rate yourself on loving the Lord with all your heart?
What are the things that distract you from or stand in the way of hearing, and how can you change this?
Do you have any childhood experiences with monkey bars you’d like to share?
Used with permission of the author, Lori Altebaumer. To read more of Lori’s writing, visit www.lorialtebaumer.com.