Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Greatest Commandment

You can’t get more important than the “Greatest Commandment.”  Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” (Mk. 12:28).  In other words, what is the most important thing we can do in all of life?  You don’t get more important than this. If we miss this, we miss THE MOST important thing.  If we get this, we discover THE MOST important thing.  You better keep reading!!!

Jesus said the most important commandment is that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mk. 12:30).  This is the most important because it is foundational, and everything else will flow out of this love relationship with Him.  How amazing that the God of the universe desires this kind of love relationship with us!  How amazing that the number one command is more about being in relationship with, than doing something for God.   This shows that God always wants what we do for Him to flow out of relationship with Him. 

God is not a slave driver, just wanting productivity out of us, but rather He is a Father who wants a love-relationship with us.

So what does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?  First it involves realizing how much God loves us.  “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).  Until we have a revelation of the amazing love of God in Christ, we will not love God back in a proper way.  We will end up trying to love God, but it will only be a mere performance. 

It was the church at Ephesus that “lost their first love,” (Rev. 2:4) and in writing to this church, Paul prays that they will grasp the incredible height, depth, width, and length of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:18).  And to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” is what will “fill us to all the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 3:19).  From receiving God’s love for us, we will overflow to love Him back as we should.  So, don’t try to “muster up” a love for God.  Instead, dwell on His amazing love for you, and then love Him back in response. 

And remember that all of this is a process, and we will never feel we fully love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  But let’s not let that keep us from being on this journey!

So in response to the love of God for us, we are to love Him with our whole being.  This means we love God with everything we have and everything we are.  It means God is first in our life and that we maintain a very close, intimate relationship with Him, even closer than the most “in love” married couple.  Is this possible?  Yes, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Invite the Holy Spirit to help you do all of this.

We begin with the heart, because the heart is the essence of who we are.  It is our core.  The Bible says, “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34).  Jesus said, “You honor Me with your lips, but your heart is far from Me” (Mt. 15:8).  Jesus always went after the heart, because He understood it to be the core issue.  Examine your heart regular to see if it is truly loving God.  And if not, ask God to change your heart, for He is the only One who ultimately can do this.

Loving God with all our heart means we seek to maintain a pure heart; turn from anything that is displeasing to God; keep our heart tender through the Word and prayer; have people in our life who can speak into our heart; listen to messages with an open heart; walk in humility such that we keep a teachable heart; and take time to just worship God from our heart. 

Our soul is our psyche or what many call the personality.  The greek word in Mk. 12:29 is “psuke” from which we get psyche and means the “seat of the feelings, desires, affections and aversions.”  It involves the emotions and the motivation behind what we do.  We often hear dating services say, “Let us help you find your soul mate.”  This would refer to that one person with whom you connect and relate to in a way like none other.  It is the person you have the deepest feelings for and commitment toward.  Loving God with our soul is like this.  God should be the One we have the deepest feelings for and highest commitment toward.

So yes, loving God involves the emotions.  Just as a couple “in love” has feelings for one another, we should have “feelings” for God.  This doesn’t mean we only live for Him when we “feel” like it, but God wants to work in us “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  Worship is a biblical way to stir one’s affections for God.

It is impossible to love God with all of our soul unless the Holy Spirit enables us to.  Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you love God with all your soul.

Next is the mind.  Oh, the battle for the mind.   As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Our thoughts affect so much of our lives, and we are bombarded everyday with so many ideas buying for our attention.  So the challenge to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4) is perhaps a huge piece of loving God with all of our mind. 

Practically speaking, loving God with our mind means that we keep our mind fixed on Him (Hebr. 12:2).  It means we think about God often. It means we seek to have our mind on God and His Word.  It means we meditate on His Word day and night so as to be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water (Ps. 1).  It means we turn from thoughts that are not pure, and direct our thoughts to that which is pure and godly.  It means we sharpen our minds with the study of God, His Word, His ways, and His character. 

The mind is an amazing gift from God.  Let us use it to love God supremely. God is pleased when we think about Him and how we might more fully live for Him.  A married couple that is “in love” thinks about each other often, and how they might more fully love the other.  They send texts throughout the day to “check in.” We should do the same in loving God with all our mind.  Pray without ceasing. 

It is impossible to love God with all of our mind unless the Holy Spirit enables us to.  Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you love God with all of your mind.

Finally, we are to love the Lord our God with all our strength.  Our strength is our physical being.  Our strength involves our bodies, and our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6).  That is an amazing truth.  Our bodies literally “house” the God of the universe in the person of the Holy Spirit.  This truth alone should motivate us to love Him with all our strength.

We love God with all our strength when we take good care of God’s temple and use our bodies for His glory.  We present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable God, which is our reasonable service of worship (Ro. 12:1).  We use our bodies to serve others.  We use our bodies to take the Gospel to the lost. We use our bodies to worship God with uplifted hands. We use our bodies to go to our knees in prayer.  And we use our bodies to ….. (you fill in the blank with whatever you physically do that glorifies God).  Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving glory to God (Col. 3:17). 

Once again, we cannot do this on our own. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you love God with all your strength, and thank Him for the physical body He has given you.

What a privilege to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  It requires receiving from God. It requires intentionality and effort.  It grows as we spend quality time with God.  It deepens as we get to know God better.  And it is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Now, go and enjoy the adventure of loving God with all your being!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Hearing God's Voice

Jesus said that His sheep would hear His voice (John 10).  Prayer is meant to be a two-way conversation, where we speak to God and He speaks back to us (Jeremiah 33:3). 

Hearing the voice of God is the ability in our spirit and mind to sense what God is saying.  I have personally never heard the audible voice of God, but on many occasions I know I have heard Him speak:  through His Word, impressions in my spirit, thoughts in my mind, pictures in my imaginations, lyrics of a song, circumstances in my life, etc.  God speaks in many ways.  How exciting that we can hear His voice!!!

The following are some important principles about hearing God, as well as some practical suggestions in hearing God’s voice.

1.    Jesus makes prayer possible.
It is only through the blood of Jesus that we can be forgiven of our sins and come boldly come into His holy presence (Hebrews 10).  When we repent of our sin and put our trust in Christ alone for our salvation, we are forgiven of all our sin and given a relationship with God that allows to come to Him 24/7 and commune in prayer. 

2.    Jesus wants us to hear His voice.
Any healthy relationship has regular interaction that involves talking and listening.  It is no different in our relationship with God.  He wants us to talk to Him, and He wants to talk to us.  How cool that God is a speaking God.  He speaks to those who are still enough to listen.  Perhaps we don’t hear because we are too busy and preoccupied to really listen.  “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

3.     We are “wired” for sound. 
When we receive Christ into our life, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:9).  The Holy Spirit is the very presence and power of God that enables us to hear His voice.

Practical advice in hearing God
1.    Remove things that cloud your heart and mind.
This can be very difficult because we are bombarded with messages and information, namely due to things such as television and smart phones.  Ask God to show you what things you need to reduce from your life to enable you to hear Him more clearly.  I can assure you the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

2.    Be still before the Lord.
This is when you get quiet, and stop talking.  You just listen.  And you wait for God to bring things to your mind that He wants to say to you.  “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). 

This point applies to your formal quiet times but also throughout the day, learning to be still before Him even when you are driving or doing other stuff.  It is having a still heart and not being so A.D.D. as we go about our day. 

3.    Take extended time away with God.
This is when you get away for a ½ day or full day or a retreat.  I cannot tell you how valuable it is to do this, especially in our very busy culture.   Getting away for some extended quiet will enhance your ability to hear from God, be with Him, draw near to Him, and tune your heart to Him.

4.    Prayerfully meditate on God’s Word.
When you read God’s Word, do it prayerfully and not just mentally.  It is not a mere mental exercise where you are just getting information.  Instead, you are meditating on His Word and asking Him to speak directly to you through it.

5.    Be receptive to God’s “downloads”.
I believe God has some cool things to download to us, but we are often too busy to receive it.  Seek to be in a mode of receptivity, so that if God has something to say to you, you will indeed hear it.  And when He does speak, be sure you do this next point:

6.    Write down what God says! 
Recently a friend of mine said, “If God goes to the trouble of speaking to us, the least we can do it write it down.”  Journaling is a great way to dialogue with God.  The Psalms are basically King David and others journaling their times with God.  Hab. 2:1-2 says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the LORD replied:  ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.’”

Another way to journal is to actually write down questions you have for God and then record what you sense Him saying to you in response to your question.

7.    Test everything with the written Word.
God has spoken in His infallible and inerrant Word (i.e. Bible).  He will never say anything contrary to this book!  The more you know the written Word, the better you can discern the voice of God, especially when you have various subjective impressions.  Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, says that we should not ignore subjective impressions, but realize those means of guidance must always be tested through the Bible.

8.    Get godly counsel when unsure.
The book of Proverbs tells us that in the abundance of counsel there is wisdom.  God has given us the body of Christ to help guide us and protect us from foolish decisions.  We need the wisdom and input of more mature followers of Christ.  I certainly hope you have this in your life.

9.    Never make a major decision on subjective guidance.
Unless God clearly appears to you in an undeniable manner, I would caution one from making a major decision on the more subjective aspects of guidance (e.g., prophetic word, dream, vision, impression, etc.).  For me, God has used the more subjective means to either start the process that He will confirm in other ways.  Or He uses the subjective to confirm something He has already been showing me.

10. Be open to receiving something for another.
As you seek to hear God’s voice, sometimes He will speak to you something that you are to share with another. I have often had this happen.  It is fun to get a word for someone else, and then to have him/her tell you how much it spoke to them.

We are so blessed to be in relationship with a God who still speaks.  God is, and He is not silent.  Have fun walking with the Lord and seeking to hear His voice.  You and I won’t bat 1000 in this journey, but it is fun to seek to improve our “hearing average” over time!

Email me your thoughts on this blog and how you experience God speaking to you,
Pastor David;