Friday, May 9, 2008

Lord, Teach Me to Love You

"The most important [commandment] is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mk. 12:29-31, NIV).

Ask, "Are you a good person?" and most people will automatically say yes, taking "good" to mean "honest, hardworking, and loving toward family and friends." But ask if someone follows the "most important" commandment with any consistency, and the answer will likely be an embarrassed silence. Even "loving your neighbor as yourself" seems impossible when we realize it actually means, "always put the concerns of others first, even when they're people you have no reason to like."

The truth is, following these commandments is impossible--if we rely on our own wills to summon up the necessary feelings. The principle that "with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mk. 10:27) applies here. Just "doing the right thing and hoping the feelings will follow" rarely works; the feelings that follow are more likely to be a sense of entitlement to thanks, succeeded by bitter anger when that fails to materialize in the form we prefer. The prodigal son's older brother made that mistake in Luke 15:25-30; he approached duty to his father with the sense of a slave doing the right things because he had to, and then pouted when he learned that royal treatment was not directly proportional to good behavior.

Actually, that fact should be a cause for rejoicing. However hard we try, we never can be as good as we want to be, let alone as good as God wants us to be. (The rare person who is thoroughly confident s/he is good enough is usually an insufferable egomaniac, if not a sociopath.) But God not only accepts us with all of our faults and shortcomings; He is delighted to receive us in whatever state we come to Him, and willing to do whatever it takes to make that possible. If we appreciated even a little how much He loves us, loving Him--and the others He also loves--would be easy.

The best way to learn to love God with our all, is to think less about ourselves and more about Him.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my heart,
Secure in assurance that all things will start
And end with You, Lord; and that You first loved me,
And work out all things to the best they can be.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my strength:
My work is for You, Lord, its breadth and its length;
Let all that I do be to one end alone:
The praise of Your glory, to lay at Your throne.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my mind:
Please turn it to seek You, and help me to find;
Whatever I do, and wherever I go,
Guide all of my thoughts toward Your glory to flow.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my will:
Whatever my strengths, I have weaknesses still,
Conspiring to hamper commitment to You:
Lord, break what needs breaking, and keep my love true.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my soul:
Please shape me for heaven, where all will be whole;
Where, perfect forever, eternally true,
At last all my love will flow freely to You.

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