Growing up in Colorado, one of the running jokes in my family was my sister’s obsession with the mountains. “Look at the mountains!” she would exclaim any time we were at any scenic location or when the sun would hit them just right. Being obnoxious younger siblings, one of us would typically respond, “Uh, yeah… we live here, we’ve seen them a few times.” Now that I don’t live anywhere near those Rocky Mountains, though, I appreciate her love of them so much more because I’m not able to take them for granted due to their familiarity. Once you become familiar with something great, it can quickly lose its appeal and its ability to strike you with awe. That’s just an unfortunate trait of our humanity.
Sadly, the same can be said for our understanding of the Bible. Many of us have known the great verses of the Bible for years, if not for our entire lives, and so we don’t stop and take long, thoughtful looks at what they’re really saying. Because of this we can miss the beauty of John 3:16, the hope of Acts 2:38, the power of Genesis 1:1.
For me, perhaps the most unfortunately overlooked Scripture in the entire Bible is what Jesus called the greatest commandment, taken from Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (NKJV)
We’re probably all familiar with it. We read it and think, “Ok, I’m supposed to love God. God’s people should love Him.” Yes… but read it again. Stop and think about what it’s saying. With ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and with ALL your strength. Every fiber of your being should be consumed with God. When I stopped skimming over it because of familiarity and took a few minutes to meditate on what it’s really saying, it hit me pretty hard: I’m not anywhere close to keeping this commandment.
I try to make time for real Bible study, but some days I only have time to read a quick chapter right before bedtime. I keep a prayer list and hope to find time to step away from everything and go before God, but I’m often distracted and only have time to pray before meals and right before I fall asleep. Sometimes I have time to do nice things for other people, other times I’m too busy. But it seems like I always have time to catch up on the latest in sports and politics, see what my friends are up to on Facebook and Twitter, and/or catch an episode of something on Netflix. Can I say I love God? Yes, but with all that in mind, can I say I love Him with ALL my heart, soul, and strength?
I have a feeling I’m not alone in answering that question with “no.” The problem is that we’ve settled for a love of God that falls short of the love God deserves. We’re content with loving God with most of our hearts, souls, and strength (more likely some, if we’re being honest) when He deserves and expects all. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.” Maybe we’re not as healthy as we like to make people think we are.
Understanding that this commandment is the foundation of what God has always wanted from His people shows us that if we follow commandments but don’t start with love for Him, we’ve missed the point. Keil and Delitzsch remark, “Loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and strength is placed at the head, as the spiritual principle from which the observance of the commandments was to flow.” Every commandment given to Israel only mattered because of the loving, covenant relationship He established with them and their obedience only mattered in the context of a love for Him.
It seems so much of our modern Christianity is making sure we do what we think it takes to keep God happy. Just like how we pay the government our taxes and hope they’ll leave us alone, we attend/pray/abstain from sins/study to keep God happy and to say we did our best. We pride ourselves on attending churches with the right doctrines. We think we’re doing fine because we aren’t misguided about the end times or some other teaching. All that is good and necessary, but we have to ask ourselves: “Do I REALLY have the love for God Deuteronomy 6:5 describes?’ Obedience is important, but obedience that doesn’t flow from love is just ritualism, one of the great condemnations of Israel in the Prophets. The Rich Young Ruler obeyed better than any of us, but his heart, soul, and strength weren’t given over to God (Luke 18).
How do we do it? I’ll quote Lewis again: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” Turn off the football game and go spend some time in study. Close your computer or turn your phone off so Facebook stops distracting you, then take a few minutes to pray. Take some time out of what you were planning to do and send someone a note of encouragement. Don’t do it out of calloused, ritualistic obedience because you feel it’s what you have to do to satisfy God’s justice. Do it because you want to show Him that your heart is His. Chances are, acts like these might require you to make a tough, conscious choice, but you’ll be glad you did.
I can remember plenty of times I regretted wasting an evening doing something mindless, but I can’t ever remember a time where I wish I hadn’t stopped to prioritize God. As David refused to make a sacrifice that cost him nothing in 2 Samuel 24:24, giving God the leftovers or refusing to put Him over our interests shows we don’t love Him completely. Making that hard choice shows Him our love.
May we never become so familiar with some verses that we forget the punch they pack. Deuteronomy 6:5 is a heavy thought for the Christian, not something to be skimmed over and casually discarded as we tell ourselves that “of course I love God.” Does my life (my choices, actions, and priorities) reflect a love for God above all else? I’ll let you answer that question for yourself. As for me, I know I’ve got some priorities to correct and some choices to make.
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact email@example.com.
 C.S. Lewis. The Four Loves. Inspirational Press: New York, 1984, p. 214.
 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002). Dt 6:5.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan Publishing Company, Touchstone edition, 1996), pp. 116-117.
Jack Wilkie is the editor of focuspress.org and author of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More.” He also preaches for the Forney church of Christ in Forney, TX, where he, his wife, Allison, reside with their four children. You can find his full bio here.