Christians don’t like being old they HAVE to do something. Doesn’t that violate the whole “saved by grace, not by works,” thing? But while salvation isn’t earned by works, salvation, once gained, leads inevitably to works. They are the result, not the cause. This is why Jesus gave commandments even though he was coming to save us through his own work, and the greatest commandment was this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Matthew 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5)
The terms will change per situation, but for our purposes here, the heart is the center of your emotion, the seat of love, anger, happiness, sorrow, and so on. The soul is your infinite self, the thing beyond the flesh, our foot inside Heaven’s gate, eagerly waiting for the rest to follow. The mind, of course, is your thoughts and rationality, while the strength is our bodily power.
So loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength manifests in four ways: Work (Strength), Think (Mind), Feel (Heart), and Hope (Soul).
WORK—Loving God with your Strength
Everyone’s strength varies due to age, health, and genetics. There’s no “marker” to reach; the point is to use the body you were given for God’s purposes. This manifests in a thousand possible ways. Feeding the poor, helping the sick and feeble with physical tasks, becoming a doctor, working hard at your job, spending physical energy on your family, going on an awareness walk or run, fasting to show your body God is boss and not food, volunteering labor, and so on.
As a Christian, your body is no longer a meat sack to be filled with life’s delicacies, a bronzed temptation to lavish on Instagram, a bloody knuckle of vengeance, or some weight to dump on the couch all day. It’s a tool of God. There’s nothing wrong with eating, beauty, might, or rest, but these are things to be used for God’s purposes, not ours.
So how do you use your strength?
THINK—Loving God with your Mind
Of all these four things, I think the mind is the least used by modern, Western Christians. Somehow, we got the idea that studying scriptures, reading piles of Christian books, or even researching spiritual topics are things only pastors and scholars do. Or we think that “rationality” is the same as “rationalism,” that if you’re thinking out God’s reality too much, then you’ll inevitably see that he doesn’t make sense, so don’t think too much.
Au contraire! Jesus beat the Saducees by reasoning with them (Matt 22:23-46). He took the “stupid” route of death because it was actually the intelligent route, giving up something he would have lost anyway for something eternal. And because Jesus opened the doors for everybody to know him, shrugging off the mental duties of study and thought onto pastors is an act of spiritual laziness. Christians don’t all have to get degrees in theology, nor do they need a whole library in their homes, but Jesus should be a constant presence on our minds; we should never get tired of learning about him.
So how are you using your mind?
FEEL—Loving God with your Heart
On one hand, we have a bit too much feeling in mainstream Christianity. Ambient worship songs with Dollar-Store lyrics, pastors who are little more than motivational posters that talk. However, this doesn’t mean we have too much feeling, but that we have the wrong kind of feeling.
Feeling good is not bad. God created the joys of music, sugar, color, beauty, aroma, sleep, and laughter for a reason. And God should absolutely be a source of good feeling, considering he gave his life for us. Why shouldn’t we dance, laugh, and sing? But remember: this is worshiping GOD, not just feelings themselves.
Either way, it’s the OTHER feelings we struggle with. The bad feelings of sorrow, pain, depression, things that the Bible itself says are bad. However, the Bible also says they’re part of life. Jesus wept (John 11:35). The Old Testament is overrun with people tearing their clothes as a sign of grief. There’s an entire book called “Lamentations.” So why don’t Christians know how to deal with unpleasant feelings?
Perhaps there’s the stigma that if you’re a good Christian, good things will happen, so if you’re in a bad way, you’re failing. Or the idea that Christians do go through hardship, but they don’t show it. If you’re grieving, you’re not showing faith in God. Either way, it’s a false doctrine made up by people who like to believe bad things can’t happen to them. As I said, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus and again in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46). On the cross, he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?!” (Matthew 24:36)
Ours is no stoic religion, nor is it a feel-good religion. Yes, there is time for discipline, and yes, there is time for laughing until you’re out of breath, but this life is full of pain, and we must follow Jesus’s example of crying when we’re hurting.
How is that loving God with all our hearts? Not only is it an honest expression, but it’s a means to take our pain to God, to trust that he can handle it, and that he loves us enough to care.
So how are you using your heart?
HOPE—Loving God with your Spirit
Hope is a slippery thing, like a bad magnet constantly falling off the fridge. You keep sticking it to something only to see it fail. Stocks crash, relationships end, plans fail, people die, the next Disney live-action remake is just as bad as the others, and so forth. You get frustrated and bitter, you wonder if anything will ever go right, if anything will ever live up to your expectations.
Loving God with all our spirit means putting our ultimate trust in him, to believe that he’s the one thing that will never fail. It’s hard to get right. We see provision and trust in God’s gifts, then cry when he quits giving them. We see miracles and get frustrated when God says, “Do the hard work.” We pray and lose faith when God doesn’t answer. Or worst of all, we do exactly what God says with ever degree of perfection, and God still chooses to let us suffer, even in the very area of our obedience (i.e., you obey the call to serve in Africa, then get killed on the plane).
All these disappointments mean that our hope is not in God, but in our understanding of him. God is an infinite being. If we ever thing we fully understand him, we say more about us than him. We can know God’s nature and character, certainly, but he will still always surprise us. Why? To shake our hope off of the wrong idea and place it on himself instead.
Hoping in God means trusting him when things go wrong. We grieve, as I said before, even bitterly, but in the end our faith is sharpened, not dulled, because we trusted in God, not the specific circumstance, gift, calling, blessing, etc. We trust that God will provide for our needs, not necessarily make us rich/comfortable. We trust that God will put us in places of love, not that we’ll be married by 30. We trust in eternal life, and so we do not fear death.
Without hope, we trust in the wrong thing, and we’re following ideas of Christ, not Christ himself.
So how are you using your soul?
It’s easy to give a command, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” but how to get people to obey it? Well, you can’t. Even Jesus couldn’t make people obey just by ordering them.
So he died instead. He gave up his life on the cross so that we could escape the sin that stuck to us no matter how good we wanted to be, to enjoy paradise with God rather than mope in Hell. Rather than demanding obedience, Jesus yielded his power. And it was this that gave us the power to obey.
Loving God is not an action, but rather a response. When we see how Jesus gave up his body so generously, we’re inspired to move to crime-infested neighborhoods, abandoning “safety” to serve the needy. When we realize how good Jesus is, we look closer at him and find something more to love, then closer still; Jesus becomes an ever-present subject in our minds. The cross itself inspires a double reaction: weeping in sorrow for our sins and the pains of this world while also laughing with joy because both of those things no longer control us. And the cross gives us the hope we need, a firm trust in Jesus himself, in the death that leads to life.
Don’t read this blog post as a checklist. Rather, let it be an examination point. Are you loving God with your body, mind, heart, and soul? Do you do one better than the other? If you feel you are weak in any one of four of these areas, don’t say to yourself, “I gotta try harder!” Instead, look at Jesus one more time.
And while “Try harder,” is a poor answer, “Try,” is a good one. Use your strength for others and realize Christ did the same for you. Study the scriptures and you’ll find God’s goodness. Laugh in his delights, cry on his shoulder, or scream in his face and realize he’s just as present every time. And pin your hopes to him, and nothing else, and find that life can no longer rock you like it once did.
That’s why you “must” do these things, not because you’ll get in trouble, but because it doesn’t work otherwise. Christianity is lived by experience, not by theory. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
So dive in.