Loving God With All Your Heart
Loving God With All Your Heart
I'd like to read from the Scriptures a very familiar story. Sometimes when we hear familiar stories, we get a little disappointed. We think the speaker isn't going to tell us anything new. Perhaps you won't hear anything new, but it never harms to peek around the corner of a verse to see who is standing in the shadows, smell the smells, and see the colors. I hope you're going to do that with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus had been challenged by a young lawyer who came to him and said, "Teacher, you tell me what I have to do to inherit eternal life."
In response Jesus said, "You have to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself."
The young man wanted to justify himself, so he said to Jesus Christ, "So who is my neighbor?"
Jesus told him, "A certain man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among thieves. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going by. When he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. And a Levite did the same, when he saw the man. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was. And when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Or he had compassion on him.) He went to him, bandaged his wounds, and poured on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey. He took him to an inn.
"The next day the Samaritan took out two silver coins, and said to the innkeeper, 'You take care of him. When I return, I'll reimburse you for any extra expense.' "
"Which of these three," said Jesus, "do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
"Well," the expert in the law replied "the one who had mercy on him." Jesus said to him, "Go and do thou likewise."
Our sinful hearts keep us from loving God
I want to talk to you about loving God. Many people want to love God, but they don't know how. Many people don't know how to love each other or to receive love from other people. If we don't know how to give love or receive love, then we cannot experience all that God wants us to have.
When we talk about loving God, we have a problem. It's a very simple problem. We have a problem with our heart, the part of us God made to be able to love. I remember my mom used to get very cross with me when I suggested that the Bible said that man was born with a sinful heart, as if he had a bias within him.
In my country, England, we play a game called "bowls." When you're too old to run around the block or play tennis or racquetball, you can still go to these lovely green lawns and bowl a little ball called a jack. You send it as far and as straight as you can. Then you take a big bowling ball with a spot on it. You aim the big ball at the little jack. The problem is there's a bias inside the big ball. However straight you aim it, it always goes to the right or to the left. So the game isn't quite so simple as you think.
Nor is the game of life. No matter how hard you aim a child at a targetthe target being to do right, to think right, to be rightthere is a bias within the human heart that takes it . The good things we want to do, we don't. And we do the things that we don't want to do, as the Anglican prayer book has it. There is no health in us.
So that's the problem. God knows it, for he looks on the inside. Man looks on the outside, but God looks right down within, and he says the diagnosis of this human heart is continually evil. It thinks thoughts other than God would have it think. It decides to do things other than God would have it do.
How then can those sinful hearts love God? Is this the heart that's going to the mission field? Is this the heart that's going to care for the neighbor? Is this the heart that's going to get out there in the drug alleys and do something about the terrible state of our young people?
No. Something has to happen to that heart. In fact, Jesus said "Out of the hearts of men come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lies, slander." What we need is a bypass. No, a bypass isn't going to do it. The only thing that will do something about this human heart, which is trying to love God but can't because it's so evil, is a transplant.
Through the sacrifice of Christ, God gives us a heart transplant
If there were a way I could receive a new heart, a heart that would naturally love God and love my neighbor as much as I love myself, then I would perhaps have a chance to do the thing that Jesus told us all to do.
But how can I have a transplant? Did you know that the Bible actually says that we can have a transplant, that God will be involved in giving us that? In the Book of Ezekiel there's an interesting verse. It says this: "I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I'll put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." There you are. It tells us we can have a transplant. God is going to remove our stony, selfish hearts and give us a heart of flesh, a heart that beats when people are in trouble, a heart that cares when a man falls in the ditch.
But if you're going to have a transplant, you need a donor. We have a young man in our church who is a doctor. He went to Ghana with Chuck Colson. While he was in Ghana, he went into the prisons and did some medical work there. He found a young Ghanian doctor who had a kidney problem. The American doctor brought the Ghanian doctor and his brother back to this countryto Milwaukee. Here Christian doctors transplanted the kidney of one brother into the other brother, hoping that this would help. Actually it didn't, and the young doctor returned to Ghana no better, and his healthy brother was minus a kidney.
I tell you that story because I think any of us would do the same for our brother. Or if your child had leukemia, wouldn't you say, "Take my bone marrow." If you loved that person, then, surely, you would help. But how many people do you know who would say, "You need a heart? Take mine." Do you know anyone like that? I don't know any one like that. Or do I?
When God looked down at the human race and saw that only a transplant would do, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity said, "Take my heart." And God did. On an operating table in the shape of a cross, God, the Great Physician, lifted out the heart and nature of Jesus Christ and offered them to the world.
He offered his heart because he knew that our heart would never love God. You can take it to church and sit it in the pew and give it a hymnbook and teach it how it should be a good little Christian heart. And it's still the same old wicked heart that you were born with. But when you, as the Bible says, "become a partaker of the divine nature," and receive Christ's heart, Christ's nature, Christ himself by his Holy Spirit, then all the valves are Open. You have the possibility of loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.
Oh, yes. I remember that transplant taking place in my heart years ago. I remember when I was a student. I remember being in the hospital when someone explained to me that I could receive the nature of God to do in me and through me what I had no intention of doing for myself, for the people I loved, or for my world.
A new heart makes it possible to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength
After that transplant, you experience a desire to love God with all your heart. What does that mean? Well, it just means you're not hardhearted anymore. God's Spirit moves you to keep his laws. The question of obedience or being morally right or doing the right thing becomes a sort of insistent necessity from insideurging you, pushing you, pressuring you. When you want to do wrong, there's a little tap on the inside, on your shoulder, saying, "H; not now. Do this instead." That sort of experience comes into your life.
You begin to love God with all your soul. You begin to practice the presence of God until the spiritual atmosphere in which you live becomes more and more natural instead of put on or stirred up. You don't have to go to church to get feeling religious again. God is as real in the busy street as he is in the hushed atmosphere of your church building. You love him with all your heart, and you love him with all your soul, and you begin to love him with all your mind.
Christianity is not for people who have checked their minds in the cloak room as they come into the church. Christianity is for those with bright minds and minds, but minds that will mind God. That mind will say, "I have to look at this Christian faith. I have to give the mind that God has given me back to him in such a way that he can instruct it about his nature and his ways."
And that's what it really means to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It does not mean a mindless Christianitybeing told what to think and what to believe. It means exposing your mind to the mind of God. And he, omniscient God that he is, God that he is, will share some of the of his nature with you and with me. Even though we're little dust people with little dust minds living in little dust bodies eating dust food, he will give us the capacity to understand him. When we love him with all our soul, all our mind, and all our heart, then we will begin to love him with all our strength.
And that's where the story comes in. To love God with all our strength, as Jesus explained to this young man, means that you will love your neighbor as much as you love your selfish self. And if you do not love your neighbor as much as you love your selfish self, then don't say you love God.
Our love for God is shown when we care for the person in the ditch.
Sometimes we think we can measure the love we have for God by the feeling we have as we pray or sing a psalm or a hymn in church. Not necessarily. That's all part of it. Jesus says, "I want to know about the man in the ditch. I want to know if you're involved yet. I want to know if you got down off your evangelical donkey and got alongside the man in the ditch." If you're still on your high religious horse riding past trouble, or, like the priest and the Levite, running to Bible studies or church meetings, too busy for the man in the ditch, then don't say you love God.
Now those are hard words, and I'm thinking about them myself as I share them with you, because it's quite a challenge to realize that God is measuring my love for him by my actions, my loving actions, toward the man in the ditch.
"So I'm to love my neighbor as myself, am I?" the young expert in the law demanded of Jesus. "So who is my neighbor?"
Maybe you're asking that question too. Let me suggest some things to you. The person in the ditch is the girl robbed of her husband by another woman. That person is the child robbed of her mother by her mother's boss, or the college kid robbed of his opportunity by the recession. The teenager robbed of her virginity by her high school date is the person in the ditch, and so is the woman robbed of her reputation by malicious gossip. So is the old person robbed of health by disease. There are plenty of people in the ditch, but not nearly enough Good Samaritans to go around.
Why don't we get off our donkey and get into the ditch? Let me suggest to you a few reasons.
The first reason we Christians don't is the risk factor. You know, the Good Samaritan didn't look around to see if the robbers were still there. He might have done that, because there was a risk attached to getting off his donkey and getting into the ditch. He might be robbed as well. I think one reason we don't want to get off our donkey and get into the ditch to help whoever is there is we're afraid that perhaps we will get so involved it will cost us something. I want to say from the Scriptures that it will. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. lt will cost. It cost the Samaritan a lot. It could have cost him a lot more. I think that's the reason we don't get involved.
I don't know if you ever ask questions of the Scriptures. You'll never really discover the joy of Bible reading unless you ask the text questions. Who? Why? Where? What? That's the way to go. As you do that, the text will answer you. That makes it very exciting.
As I came to this text, I asked some questions. Was the man in the ditch fat? And was the donkey old? Was it on it's last donkey legs? And you say, "Well that's a weird question to ask. Why do you ask that sort of question?" Because I want to know. Because if the man was fat, and if the donkey was old, that might cost him a whole lot more than I mentioned before.
Was the man rich? Could he afford a new donkey? What if it was a fat man sitting on that old donkey, and the donkey collapsed or broke a leg? Now that's a little picture to bring the story to life.
But you see, it might be that you will walk while he rides on your donkey, if you really help the man in the ditch. One time not too long ago, my husband and I invited a young man who had lost his job to come and live with us. We thought it would be for a week or two. It turned out to be nearly two years. And there was many a time that he rode and we walkedliterallybecause I loaned him a car to go find a job, and I hitched a ride. That's a little thing. But it's an illustration of what I'm talking about.
Years and years ago we had teenagers all over our lives and all over our house. The dishes got broken, the couch got marked up, and the carpet got wrecked. It will cost to get down into the ditch. And that's one reason we don't do it.
The second reason is compassion. Do you notice that the Good Samaritan was moved with compassion? Do you remember about that heart transplant Jesus promised? "I will move you." Because it is a heart of God, that new heart of yours will beat for the person in the ditch.
Now you won't have a heartbeat for the person in the ditch unless you get close enough to smell the smells and feel the tears and understand. The Samaritan got into the ditch, put his arms around that young man, and lifted him out. I suppose we could apply this by saying, "What about AIDS and the AIDS patient of our era? Are they the lepers of the '80s and the '90s for the Christian church? Will we put our arms around them?" Who knows? If God has given you his heart, you can expect it to beat even for people with AIDS. What a challenge!
So there is the risk factor and the compassion factor. Finally there's the fear factorinadequacy. You say, "I'm not a professional Christian." Nor am I. I'm not a professional Christian. I didn't go to school to learn how to be a Christian. I'm a wife. I'm a mother. I'm a grandmother, and that's wonderful.
"I'm too old," some of you might say.
Somebody sent me a beautiful poem, and I must share it with you just before I go. Listen.
In the dim and distant past
When life's tempo wasn't fast,
Grandma used to rock and knit,
Crochet, tat, and .
When the kids were in a jam,
They could always count on Gram.
In an age of gracious living,
Grandma was the gal for giving.
Grandma now is at the gym
Exercising to keep slim.
She's off touring with a bunch,
Taking clients out to lunch.
Driving north to ski or curl,
All her days are in a whirl.
Nothing seems to stop or block her,
Now that Grandma's off her rocker.
It's very tempting, when you get to be a grandma, to say, "Leave it for the young ones." How old was the Good Samaritan? Have you ever asked that question? We don't know. But as long as I'm alive, I want to say to God, "Whatever the risk, move my heart with your heart of compassion to get off my donkey, to get down into the ditch, to get my arms around people in need, and to lift them into the innto do whatever is necessary to rehabilitate them."
Then I will know that I love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength. The fear factor is thereinadequacy. I don't know how to lift him. I might drop him. Nobody has asked me to do anything. But God has. God says, "Love me with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength." To love God with all your soul and with all your strength means that you get down into the ditch and you do something about the love that you profess to have for God our Fatherfor Jesus Christin the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jill Briscoe is executive editor of the magazine Just Between Us. Her most recent book is Love that Lasts (Tyndale, 2002).
(c) Jill Briscoe
Preaching Today Tape #84
A resource of Christianity Today International
Jill Briscoe is executive editor of