You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. ~ Deut. 6:5
Jesus answered. “The first (commandment) is Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” ~ Mark 12:29-30
January is traditionally a time of new resolutions to enhance or improve ourselves. Often these resolutions are forgotten or dropped after a few months or weeks. Our failure at New Year resolutions suggest that changing ourselves into better people is a year-long stop and go process. We don’t need to wait until the New Year to start them and we should not give up when we realize in March that we have not done what we hoped.
Christmas day is actually the New Year for Christians. Jesus’ birth is an invitation for us to begin anew. Therefore, we could look at New Year resolutions as Christmas faith commitments to be
transformed more completely into servants of Jesus’ vision. Today, many New Year resolutions deal with being healthier. Whether you still set goals at the year’s beginning or long ago gave up on starting new, as people of faith we can look at God’s call of Christmas as a call to move toward perfection. Going on to perfection was the way John Wesley (founder of Methodism) stated our ongoing goal of spiritual transformation. This month I want to suggest a broad outline as to what the scriptures see as spiritual fitness. In the months to come I will focus more on ways to enhance each area of fitness.
In Mark 12:30, Jesus summarizes God’s expectations in describing the essence of God’s commandments. To love God and to serve God’s purpose requires commitment to four aspects of our lives. We must
exercise our heart for service. Heart is used here in a metaphorical and common/traditional way. Heart, as defined in the midst of the other four aspects, suggests Jesus is talking about our emotions and our
relationships. To Love God with our whole heart implies that we are to get our emotional life and our relationship connections strong and healthy. So the first goal of spiritual fitness is to work internally on
our emotions and externally on the relationships we have which are tied to those emotions.
To love God and to serve God’s purpose requires the exercise of our souls for service. Soul strength is developed through spiritual exercise. This includes Bible study, prayer and worship as means to growing
in our understanding of God’s will for our lives. Strengthening our soul happens in dedicated prayer, meditation, worship, and witnessing the love of God with those who are struggling.
Jesus adds to this list, as laid out originally from Deuteronomy, by adding “love with all your mind.” Jesus sees that humans also have a capacity to reason which is not the same as our emotional or spiritual life. By adding this faculty for serving God, Jesus is telling us to enhance our knowledge. We are not called to blind faith, but faith enhanced by understanding how the world functions. To strengthen ourselves here means to be strong in keeping up on current events, study history and science and understand what great minds have discovered about our world. Seek to understand other cultures and religions to see their place in God’s plan. Work on the whys of ethics and seek to grow in clarity about the rational reasons for love. Study and discuss with others. Try out your knowledge with people who will challenge your assumptions. Be ready to grow in understanding.
Don’t be afraid of information that helps you more adequately evaluate your prejudices. Finally, we are to love God with all our strength. This, of course, could suggest strength in the other three areas; but it also suggests that the body, which holds heart, mind, and soul together during our earthly lives, must be strong. When our body is strong, healthy and well-cared for, we can serve God more thoroughly. Many do serve God mightily with unhealthy bodies. Indeed, persons with limited body resources have enhanced their other strengths to become the most vital of witnesses. Given that we start with differing gifts in this area, it is still helpful to enhance our physical strength as much as possible. Stronger bodies can enhance our ability to serve God.
-Rev. Dana Wimmer
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