Deuteronomy 6.5: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
What does it look like when we love God? How is it that we are called to loved God in our life? There are at least three answers I have heard over the years. Firstly, to love God is to make God first in one’s life. Here, we regard God as at the top of the hierarchical food chain, so God gets priority over everything else. Secondly, to love God is to be devoted to God alone. Here, we treat God and everything else in a zero-sum conflict that we are called to focus only on God. Thirdly, to love God is to put God at the center, where we think God is the source of all that we do.
However, I want to suggest that each of these three pictures of loving God gives us an inaccurate portrait of what the Scriptures speak of. They suggest that our relationship to God is somehow to be understanding by our relationships to everything else in the world, where our relationship to everything is either to have less priority, to be ignored, or to emerge from our relationship God. We have made the implicit assumption that our relationship to God is to be understood in comparison to the other things of life.
The command of Deuteronomy 6.5 casts perhaps a different image for us.
In counseling training, counselors, pastors, etc. are trained to listen to others by actively participating in the conversation with their client, parishioner, etc. Active listening entails more than simply hearing what someone says, but it also includes focus on the content of the communication, moving the posture of one’s body to signal openness and interest, making regular eye contact, and giving verbal encouragement by affirming and nodding in response to what is said.
In active listening, the whole person of the counselor or pastor is engaged in the act of listening. On the one hand, this is helpful for the person who needs to be talk and be heard, as it communicates to them interest and openness to communicate. On the other hand, active listening does not just benefit the client or parishioner, but it also engages the counselor or pastor into a different mindset with different ways of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting than if their posture and attention were different. The skills of active listening actually create a momentary ‘transformation’ in the one who listens.
I would suggest that this is the most appropriate analogy for the Christian’s relationship to God. The love of God described in Deuteronomy 6.5 engages the heart, life, and strength, which is an elongated way of describing the engagement of the whole person to God. One’s whole life, both mentally and physically, is brought before the throne of grace where we receive and hear, learn and are transformed through our orienting our whole selves before God.
It isn’t that God is to be the “most” important thing in that God gets more of our time, more of our attention, more of our resources throughout the day, or that nothing ever “distracts” us from God, etc. It is that God gets our whole attention, our whole focus, our whole being in a way that no other person or thing receives or competes for. Other people may get more attention, but when the word of God is heard or the will of God is manifest, our whole selves are oriented towards God in a way that we aren’t for other people or things. From this orientation towards God, we are then motivated and open to hear from God’s Word and be lead by God’s Spirit to love and serve others in life-giving ways.
As an analogy, consider what is regularly necessary for a happy family to function. A husband and wife may have multiple children to take care of that necessitates much of their attention, their time, and their resources. Nevertheless, for a happy family to continue, the spouses must consider the thoughts and concerns for their spouse of the highest concern, to receive the greatest attention, as they are a tag team whose relationships flows into the way their raise their children. When one speaks, the other gives their undivided attention. This isn’t to devalue their children, but it is to recognize that for two parents to love and raise their children well, they must love each other deeply.
Being faithful to God isn’t about how much time you spend with God on a daily basis, though being faithful to God does mean you will spend time listening and learn from God. Being faithful to God is about being attuned and wholly open to God’s purposes in our lives such that our relationships to other people and the things of the world are directed and formed from this most fundamental, life-defining, desire-ordering relationship.