What does God want from you? What does he expect? Do you know?
That's a question that every person has to answer. Because if there is a Godand I'm assuming that you're open to that ideayou need to know what this God wants from you. That knowledge would be very important to how you live your life. It would change the way you drive. It would change the way you react to how other people drive. It would change the checks you write. It would change the websites you visit.
So let me ask again: Do you know what God wants from you? You need to know.
Love God, love your neighbor
You might be interested in what Jesus said about what God wants from us more than anything else. Jesus was once asked straight up: "Of all the commandments from God, which is the most important?"
That's not such an easy question to answer. There are many commandments from God in the Bible. If you open your Bible at the beginning, the first five books are called the Law. They show us what pleases God. For example, you find the Ten Commandments, in which God says: Don't steal, because that hurts people I love and destroys community. Don't commit murder, because that kills people I created. And so on.
The rabbis counted up these commands, and there were 613 commandments in the Law. They debated which of these 613 commandments was most important. Which one was the core? Is it more important not to steal? Or is it more important not to murder? Which commandment, if you get it right, means that you have pretty much everything else rightthat you're living in the will of God and doing what pleases him?
One day, a man with a PhD in religious studies asks Jesus: What's your take? What do you think is the most important command?
Jesus answers him immediately: "The most important command is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."
We all understand that: The most important command is to love God with everything you've got. Don't hold anything back. Your entire life should be a gift of love to God.
Then, Jesus says there's a second most important command. It's closely related to the first: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Do you want to know what God wants from youwhat he wants more than anything else?
It all comes down to love. That's what God cares about. That's what he thinks is central. That's what he commands us to do. And it's not just a love for God that could somehow ignore the needs of peopleno. The two most important commands go together, like your right hand and your left hand. When you love God and love other people, you've just offered up the one sacrifice that God finds pleasing. God asks for nothing else from you. Get this, and you've got it: Love God and love the people around you.
That's good news and bad news.
The good news is, what God asks of us is equal opportunity. It's something anyone can do, no matter how much education you have, no matter how much money you have, no matter what you look like, or what you've gone through. We can all please God, because we can all love him and love other people.
Now the bad news.
The bad news is, we don't do it.
Loving God and neighbor with only a portion of ourselves
God commands us to do it, and Jesus calls us to do it, but we know within ourselves that we don't really love God with all our heart. Instead, we love him with some of our heart and a little bit of our soul and a fraction of our mind and a portion of our strength. The rest we keep for ourselves.
The reality is, we have these pockets of rebellion in our hearts where we resist God and do not surrender to him in love. We love him to some extent, but we keep him out of those certain areas. Maybe for you, it's your kids. God can have every part of you, but if anything happens to your kids, God has stepped over a line, and you're not sure you can keep following him.
Consider money. That's been a hard one for me. I once saw a cartoon entitled "The Baptism," where the person is completely underwater except for one hand, which is still sticking up out of the water. Clutched in that hand is the person's wallet. I understand that, because for me, it's been hard to love God with all my wallet.
Some years ago, a preacher named Lyle Dorsett preached a sermon on tithing. If you know Lyle, you know he can really preach. It was challenging, and it was confrontational. He said, "The reason we aren't making the church budget this year, is that you people aren't giving enough."
I thought to myself, Hey, wait a minute. I know the backstory on this. The reason we didn't hit the budget was because the budget was not well planned. And there are a lot of people here with small kids who are just trying to put groceries on the table. How dare you put this on them!
After the service, I talked to Lyle in the hallway. I confronted him, looking to set him straight.
He said to me, slowly, with a tear in his eye: "Kevin, We've got some people in this church who are giving only 3 or 4 percent. That's not right."
I was not expecting that. I was busted. I had nothing to say, because I was only giving 5 or 6 percent. Lyle was right: that had to change. With God's help, that has changed. But I know just how hard it is for my heart, which doesn't fully trust God, to really love him, to pour myself out for himto give freely to him, because he gave freely to me.
I hate that in me. Why do I find it so hard to do what Jesus said and love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? Every week, it's only simple honesty for you and me to confess to God, "We have not loved you with our whole hearts."
But I want to love God with my whole heart. Don't you? The question is, "How?" How do I increase my devotion to God from, say, 45 percent of my heart to 65 percent? To 95 percent?
The power of saying "yes" to God
I've been thinking about that, and as one of your pastors, I want to make a suggestion that I think will help you grow in how much you love God.
It's very simple. My suggestion is that you say one word to God: Yes.
If you want to love God with your whole heart, just say, "Yes."
You ask, "Yeah, but what am I saying 'yes' to?"
In order to know the answer to that question, you have to listen to God. That doesn't come easy for us, because if you live a normal life in Chicagoland, that normal life will be so busy, so distracted, and so fatiguing that you'll find it nearly impossible to hear God. You end up with nothing to say "yes" to.
But here's what happens when we slow down and really listen to God. One of the first things you're going to hear from God is, "I love you."
You say, "Hey, when I get quiet, I don't hear 'I love you.' I hear, 'You're such a screw-up.'"
Those are your own junky MP3s, playing inside your head. Maybe that's what you heard from your parents or what you tell yourself, but that's not God. When God talks to you, he talks to you in love. Even when he corrects youwhich he willhe does it in love.
When you hear God say, "I love you," here's what you say: "Yes."
With your will, open up and say, "Yes, God, I hear you and I receive that, and I accept that. I choose not to give in to my natural self-hatred or my self-absorption."
When you say "yes" to God's love for you, you'll find it a lot easier to do the second commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself." What you've been experiencing from God, you start to pass on to others. God fills us with his Spirit and his love, and we surprise ourselves, because we find ourselves loving people in a way we couldn't before. God's forgiven your junk, so you can forgive someone else's. God's been patient when you've been slow to grow up, so you can be patient with that person in your family or your church group or your job who's immature and "stuck."
It's really uncanny. I'm not sure how it works, but if you say "yes" to God, you'll automatically end up loving your neighbor, too.
In 1980, I was walking along Howard Street in Wheaton, thinking about some Bible verses I had read. I felt like God was saying to me, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her." I was about to get engaged. I knew that Jesus had died for the church, so it meant sacrifice, but without really thinking about all the implications of what it would mean for me to love Karen that way, I just said, "Yes."
Shortly after Karen and I got married, my dad came to visit us in our apartment. After dinner, I got up and cleared the dishes from the table. My dad looked at me and said, "Boy, you are hen-pecked."
I could feel his disapproval and shame, like stinging needles all over my skin. But I shook them off, because God had said to me, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her," and I had said, "Yes."
It was a bad day for me, though, when I learned that Karen's "love language" is "acts of service." Why couldn't it be something easy, like "gifts," so I could stop at the corner stand and get a dozen roses for $9.99 and be done with it? Nooooo, for her, love meant actually serving herlike moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer. My twin brother always says, "I don't go near those big, white boxes in the basement," and that's the way I felt.
But when God speaks to you, if you're going to say "yes," it will take you to new places, including standing next to the dryer in the basement.
When you say "yes" to God, you end up loving him more, and you also, automatically, end up loving your neighbor more.
Let's make this personal. What is God saying to you? What is he asking of you?
For some of you, your pulse is pounding right now. You know exactly what God has been asking of you, and you don't know if you can say "yes." Tell him, "Yes." Love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Give him everything you've got, because when you say "yes" to God, you grow in love for him, and you grow in love for neighbor.
If you drive down Roosevelt Road, you'll go right past Marianjoy, a 120-bed rehabilitation hospital where doctors and nurses take care of the weakest and neediest patients in healthcare.
They provide rehabilitation for people with spinal and brain injuries, which means everyday these caregivers do some of the most frustrating, long-term work you can have. Why do they do that? Why did this hospital start? Who was behind it?
I'll tell you where Marianjoy started. It started in the middle of Italy, in the year 1205. A 24-year-old man was riding his horse when he saw something in the distance that scared him to death: a man contagious with leprosy. His skin was half gone, his face was disfigured, and the smell was so bad that the rider on horseback wanted to hold his nose and turn his horse around. Instead, that man, named Francis, remembered what God had said to him in a prayer: "Francis, the things that used to make you shudder will bring you great sweetness and content."
So Francis got off his horse, pulled some money out, and put a few coins in the leper's hands. Then he actually put his arms around the leper and kissed him on the cheek.
Francis said "yes" to God.
That created an explosion of love that is still blasting outward, and it's reached all the way here. Eight hundred years later, on Roosevelt Road, you find a Franciscan hospital, where people with convulsions, slurred speech, and numb hands and feet have someone to come in and feed them, change their clothes, and dump their bedpans.
Why is it that there's so much love for a neighbor in that place? It all started because one person said "yes" to God.
Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,