27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Reflection: You shall love the Lord your God…
We might feel like we hear about love too much, but it truly is the basis of our whole Christian experience. God created us out of love and desire to fellowship with us. Christ gave himself to rescue us out of love. God sustains us by sharing his life-giving Spirit of love. We only turn love into a cliche when we experience it shallowly. And we have plenty of opportunity to experience cheap, shallow love in our human experience.
We have talked recently about the importance of depth to the Christian experience. This is no less true for love. Deep love involves commitment to the well-being of the person being loved. We define this well-being as that which is actually good for someone, not necessarily what they (or we) think is good for them. The ultimate definition of goodness is that which promotes human flourishing in the image and intentions of God.
The Church needs to address the deep longings of humanity. Sometimes we experience shallow religion because we are more focused on the forms or programmatic realities of lived faith. But Jesus Christ addressed so much more than the pleasantries of life on the cross. Jesus confronted human loneliness, mental anguish, and the scars of broken relationships on the cross. How are we committed to addressing these realities int he Church?
I would argue that the Church needs a radical reformation (radical in the sense of that word’s true meaning – that is, “getting back to the root”). We need more opportunities to truly love, to touch the deepest places of human experience and sorrow. Only then will we experience the depths of Christ-centered joy. How can move form a shallow experience of love to an experience of love that touches the deepest parts of the soul?
The word that is translated as soul in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word naphesh. This did not mean a wispy, ghostly part of the human person (much as we have discussed in the past couple of weeks with the contrast between resurrection and our present conception of spirit). The naphesh was the unified human. It addressed the very grounding of our being. Naphesh is the ontological whole that is at shalom when all elements of the self are at peace with God and one another.
So how do we move from the shallows to the depths? We offer our whole selves to God’s loving work. We open our minds to God’s rationale, our hearts to God’s feelings, our relationships to God’s designs, and so on. To love God and neighbor is not merely an emotional response of affection. To love God and neighbor is to connect with them through a sanctified soul – a work that can only be accomplished when we submit our minds, hearts, bodies, spirits, will, and relationships wholly to God.
Journaling Focus: Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…
What do you need God to do for you? This is not a selfish or non-spiritual thought experiment. God wants to give us what we need. God takes joy in it! So what can God do for you? How can God meet your needs? And don’t forget, that God is more able and powerful than we can imagine. At Annual Conference meetings, the bishop talks about WIGs – wildly important goals. These are those BIG things we hope to accomplish – not by our own power, but by God’s power. This week, reflect on what you need from God and don’t hold back. God is able to do what seems impossible to us.
These questions are designed to help make sense of the message of Scripture. They are not designed to overwhelm, but to enlighten. Do not feel as if you need to answer all – or even most – of these questions every week. Perhaps pick one or two that will help you explore the Scripture and its message more deeply.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Prayer Focus: You shall love…your neighbor as yourself.
There has been a lot of pain inflicted and felt within our United Methodist Church over the last week. Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of General Conference, pray for those who have been hurt. Personally, I support our Church’s decision to recommit ourselves to the traditional view of Christian marriage. And yet, my heart still breaks for those who feel differently and who are feeling conflicted about their Church. And so, I will pray for them in their sorrow, because they are my brothers and sisters. I invite you to join me in loving our neighbors in such a way.
Meditation Focus: Be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
Meditate on the word glory. Glory refers to the brilliant light of God that shines out into the world. Where do you see that light? How does that light shine out from others? How does it shine out from you? Picture yourself gleaming with the light of God as you ponder that word glory. I love the word ruminate, which we have constructed to mean “think on intently,” because its original meaning reflects the action of a cow chewing its cud over and over. So, chew on the word glory until you digest it. As you ponder glory, can you visualize the light of God shining through you more brightly? Take the word with you, until you sense God’s loving presence radiating from you clearly. Later, try this activity with any of the words from the image above. How does focusing your mind on these holy realities draw you into harmony with them?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it is Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How have I loved others?
- How have I missed an opportunity to love?
- Where have I witnessed God accomplishing great things?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
In this Scripture, which serves as the foundation of Christian character, we are commanded to love our neighbor. Commit a random act of love for someone this week. It does not need to be a grand, newsworthy event. Simply show love to someone in an unexpected, and perhaps anonymous, way. Remember that the true definition of agape love is to do something for the ultimate benefit of the other.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, plant love within us.