On this third Sunday of Lent, I would like to ask the question: What does it mean to love God?
For the most part, many people are inclined to think of love as a feeling of warmth and affection. We sing about it; we read about it in novels; we watch it in movies and on soap operas. Love is a deep feeling that one person has for another. And quite clearly, not even God can demand that. How, therefore, can we command the human heart to feel a certain way? So, if we are going to try to better understand the concept of loving God, we will have to start with something other than feeling.
It seems that the beginning point is awareness on our part. We can teach ourselves to cultivate a consciousness of the presence of God. And most of us need to do so. We are surrounded every day that we live by the footprints and the handiwork of God; yet few of us ever teach ourselves to be aware of them.
There is a story from the Old Testament when Jacob was hiding from his brother, Esau. One night, out in the desert, he had a dream about a ladder that extended from earth to heaven, with angels climbing up it and coming down it. That dream did something to Jacob; and when he awoke, he made this significant statement, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not even know it.” He had become aware of the presence of God. In this Lenten season, you and I need to do the same.
There is, however, another factor in loving God that we need to discover. That is obedience. The relationship between God and us is that of Father to child. And if things are the way they should be, then that kind of relationship presupposes obedience. Suppose you had a child who constantly told you he loved you but never did the things you asked him. There would be something wrong with that kind of relationship; and very soon his expressions of love would mean nothing.
Jesus sees it the same way. He told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Without that, fond feelings and words of praise mean absolutely nothing.
But Jesus also did not leave it at that. Jesus knew and He taught that it is utterly impossible to have a real love for God without having a corresponding respect for one’s self and love for others. The three are all tied up together. You can’t really love anyone until you love yourself. And neither can you really love God without loving other people.
The surest credential of Christian discipleship is a genuine love for other people. How can we walk with God without sharing His value system? And to God, the most important thing in this world is people. How could we hold hands with God on one side and shake our fist at our neighbor on the other? How could we turn our face to God when, at the same time, we deliberately turn our back on our neighbor? The Lord, this Lent 2019, tells us that it is a package deal. We take it all or we don’t take it at all!