“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind/strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.‘ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22v37-40: Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6v5 and Leviticus 19v18
We know the important commands are easy to remember… and His commands are not burdensome! (1 John 5v3) To love is the best choice we can make, the highest good, the ‘greatest of all’: to give all that we have and are in the worship and service of God, to honour our Creator and Father and as Jesus seems to say, in the same way – wholeheartedly, unreservedly – to give our energies and time to our neighbours in need and our friends around us – to treat them as we would want to be treated, with respect and affection, ‘spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfying the needs of the oppressed’ (Isaiah 58v10). It is a high and selfless call, but coming out of hearts of gratitude it surely is not impossible!
Perhaps the problem a lot of the time is that we do not love ourselves. If we don’t know how to do that how can we ‘do it’ to others? We do not recognise the love the Father has for us and the security that brings because we have been hurt as children or are too aware of our own failings. We cannot give ourselves away because we don’t think we have anything worth giving. We don’t know how to satisfy anyone else’s needs because we have not had our own needs met; we are shrunken inside ourselves instead of full-to-bursting. I am sure lack of joy and gratitude is what makes evangelism, perhaps even worship, so hard for most Christians!
Yet Jesus promised that: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10v10. I for one have often remarked that when He said ‘full’ He didn’t quite mean my diary! It can so often mean just far too much going on, too busy, no space, multiple demands – rather than the abundance of peace and blessing Jesus was talking about.
Of course we understand that to ‘do for others what we would like them to do for us’ (the Golden Rule) is the basic love required here on a physical level. No-one hates his own body, but cares for it and feeds it. We can feed the hungry as an act of obedience, look after the naked and poverty-stricken because we have been told to: love is above all an action, as the Cross demonstrates! But there are very many people who are doing this for humanitarian reasons already, out of solidarity and compassion, rather than any love for Jesus or his commands. So there must be more that we as His children and disciples have to offer from the God of Love than that!
David knew about it: They feast in the abundance of your house; You give them drink from your river of delights. With You is the fountain of life: in Your light we see light” Psalm 36v8-9. It is what some call ‘drunken glory’! It can seem a bit inward -looking, self-satisfying, but without that kind of experience of the grace and goodness of God we have no fuel to run on, nothing to offer to the world around us, because the love we have to offer is not ours, but HIS. To love ourselves is to let Him shower us with His lovingkindness, that meets our needs and satisfies our longings. Out of that revelation comes the desire to give life to others.
The Lord clearly challenged me at the start of 2009, that it was time to take a rest, a Sabbath. I had been working hard in prayer for some years, carrying burdens, giving myself, serving, being far too busy, driving thousands of miles around the country: I was pretty dry. “Come away and rest awhile” (Mark 6v31).
But rest is not just about doing nothing, is it? After we have slept enough and been gloriously quiet for a while, it is about doing things we like, that are not demanding and stressful, that give us a sense of well-being, that refresh our souls and help us feel fulfilled. We need soul food, R & R.
It actually became clear that the Lord wanted me to start enjoying myself! Why did I find that so hard to believe? I certainly needed more JOY in my life: joy is strength (Nehemiah 8v10) and strength is joy! I was weary and jaded – burnt out – and I had forgotten what I enjoy doing! To be honest, I had been serving so long I couldn’t really remember who I was… Fortunately for me, He knew the things I like…
God got me a piano! He really did! It took some time from me first voicing it to Martin -“I have always wanted to play the piano” – to finding a second-hand one in the right colour that fit in our lounge – worse than finding a needle in a haystack! But a possibility was offered to me through a connection… and then withdrawn. I left it with the Lord and gave up! So when it finally all happened in March 2010, just as Sam was in the middle of radiotherapy, I knew it could only be an answer to prayer. It was perfect! Just at the right time, the Lord was giving me the desire of my heart and a new world to explore…
2009 was the year Sam first became ill and in one sense that put paid to my idea of ‘Sabbath rest’. By the end of January 2010 we found out what we were up against and the journey went even deeper: our lives and priorities changed beyond recognition and I knew I needed more strength than I had. But the Lord, already knowing what was coming, had prepared the way by calling me aside and focussing me on home-life and my own soul’s needs. He had told me to en(gender) joy, so I was already in the habit of going to the local gym and spa to relax and had joined a Singing for Fun group, where I was meeting all sorts of new friends and opportunities… I can so clearly see the hand of God in all these activites and possibilities – life blossoming in the midst of suffering.
That joy has been my strength, and the kindness of the Lord in taking care of my needs has been amazing: He truly is a tender Father who knows our frame and has made us for life to the full. Old dreams have been revived and my heart has been blessed as I’ve
rediscovered ‘proper’ singing – and also cycling, when Martin bought me a lovely new bike. I am well blessed: I have learned to love myself and as a result can more fully love God with all my heart and soul… and perhaps, I hope, my neighbour in the same way.
There’ll be a story I wrote in April about all this on here tomorrow 😉