“We need to love God and love each other,” Bishop Sharma Lewis said to a group of us who had come together to “chat” with our new bishop at the recent Chat n’ Chew with Bishop Lewis. She encouraged us to reclaim a key tenet of those first Methodists: love. It’s a reasonable prescription to solve the problems before us, both in our denomination and in our world. Love God and love our neighbor.
The Bible tells us that when asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:38-40
Personally, I have always found loving my neighbor the easier commandment. I mean we can see and touch and interact with neighbors, but interacting with God is much more difficult. Reading the Bible certainly helps me understand the heart of God. In the person of Jesus I see God in the flesh and can definitely see a model for my own behavior. So the Bible helps me know God. But to love God? That involves more than just reading scripture.
To love something takes time and focus. Consider the love that develops between a child and its parent. A baby doesn’t immediately love its parents. The child bonds with its parents as she learns that they can be trusted and will provide for her needs. The baby eventually learns to love because she experiences her parents’ love. Likewise loving God takes time and intentionality. Like the love that develops between parent and child, the Bible tells us, “We love because he [God] first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19
Therefore if we are to learn to love God, we must first experience God’s love. How do we do that? One way to do that is through prayer. Talk with God like you would talk to a friend—all day, anytime you want. Trust God with your greatest joy and your deepest sadness. Ask God to join you in your day, and watch to see where the unexpected happens. Be vulnerable. Be dependent. Be confident that God loves you.
John Wesley reminded us, “Now what is it to love God, but to delight in him, to rejoice in his will, to desire continually to please him, to seek and find our happiness in him and to thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of him?” This Lent I am going to “thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of God.” Will you join me?