I recently started reading Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart. It was part of my conscious decision to enter into a more structured pursuit of connecting the deep parts of myself with God; these days, if something in my life isn’t structured, it probably won’t happen.
Although Willard’s writing is helping to keep me cognizant of opportunities to dwell “in the Spirit,” it is not his writing I’ve been wrestling with today. Today, a chapter heading reminds me of something I find very easy to forget:
A certain expert stood up to check [Jesus] out, saying: “Teacher, what shall I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus responded, “What does the law say? How do you read it?
And he answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
And Jesus said, “Well, there you have your answer. Do that and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28, PAR)
I can’t get these words out of my head. Nor can I find a satisfactory answer to my questions: How do I really, truly love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind? What does that look like? Does it look like me immersing myself in my studies? Does it look like me exercising regularly? (These are the two things that come to mind for “mind” and “strength”. It is telling that these two examples come to mind, but nothing really comes to mind for “soul” and “heart”.)
Perhaps you can identify with my struggle–to really love God with all of one’s soul and heart seems an monumental and virtually impossible task. I tell myself that I cannot see God, or touch Him, so how can I have this all-relationship with Him?
Though far from ‘solving’ a somewhat existential dilemma, I do believe the second part of the law-expert’s answer to Jesus’ question gives us insight: “And [love] your neighbor as yourself.” This command is intricately linked with the first; Jesus, too, mentions them together in Mark 12:29-31. Somehow, loving God and loving our neighbor are hand-in-glove.
Again, Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. In Matthew 25, he says: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous ones, to whom these words are directed, reply: “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”
And, joy of joys–
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I can touch and see God; every day, I am surrounded by the least of these–people, my neighbors–and insomuch as I touch them, see them, love them, I am touching, seeing, loving him.
Thus, the existential question of how I can really love God with all of my soul and heart becomes as flesh-and-blood real as the person sitting next to me on the bus.
This, Jesus says, is eternal life.