Keep a Soft Heart
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
My wife and I have some rental property and for the first time in years we've come across some extremely difficult tenants. They’re unfounded accusations and nasty temperaments have made for a very uncomfortable and difficult situation. My first reaction was wholly in line with my flesh. Retribution, legal action, threats, and poisonous e-mails were the immediate weapons I considered using to get my way, protect my rights and even the score. Looking at the situation through my flawed human eyes all I could feel was anger and resentment.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22 is so common to us we may be tempted to read over it and move on. But we must not miss his rather astonishing conclusion that, “all of the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” I would interpret that to say that everything we’re taught in Scripture about the nature of God and our place in this world can be summed up in these two commandments.
The key, I believe, is the causal link between them. Simply put, if we are passionately in love with God through his son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit we will understand how deeply he loves us. And when we live our lives out of that deep sense of God’s love and acceptance of us, we will give ourselves away in service to those around us. On the other hand, without the love of God in our hearts we are thrown back on ourselves to figure life out, which always means placing ourselves at the center and looking out for our needs first and foremost. Then our neighbor becomes a means to our own ends or an obstacle in our way.
Situations like the one with our tenants bring into sharp relief which worldview we live by. Through my devotional and prayer time I began to consider two questions. First, “what is happening in the lives of these people that have made them live this way?” And second, this may be the only time our two life journeys intersect, so “could I possibly be used by God to help them see in me his incredible love for them?” When I started with God’s love for me, and understood the freedom I have as a child of God to trust God in all things, my attitude in this situation changed dramatically. I began to pray that somehow God would use me to minister to these people. I began praying for them and hoping that somehow they can see the love of Christ in me, and know that that same love is there for them.
It’s incredibly hard. My old flesh wants restitution. My new creation wants Christ to be glorified. The latter will win as long as I keep my focus – heart, mind, and soul and strength – on God’s incredible love for me, and the freedom that brings me to love myself and to be available for that love the flow to those around me, even those who have done me wrong.
There is likely someone in your life whom you have a very difficult time loving. Okay let’s be frank, even liking or tolerating. Think about that person for a moment and as you do give praise and thanks to God for his amazing love for you. Remember and give thanks for all the sin in your life that he has forgotten, blotted out and set aside that he may love you fully and completely as his holy Child. Then consider how that love sets you free to love yourself and accept yourself as a beloved, forgiven child of God. In that amazing love you feel from your heavenly father, and in that deep sense of satisfaction that you feel in your own position before the God of the universe, think now of this person you have such a hard time liking. See if your heart is not softened toward them in a way that allows you to consider how you might minister to them and serve them in a new way. Fight that old flesh and let the new creation in you overwhelm your mind and heart, flowing out in your attitude toward everyone around you. Will that new attitude be lived out today in one thing you will say or do in that relationship?
Gracious, loving and forgiving God, when I consider the people around me it is so easy for me to forget how much you love me, even in my unlovableness. I confess that I have not loved my neighbor because I have failed to truly love myself as you love me. Lord I acknowledge that it is impossible for me to live out this great commandment if I am not daily falling more deeply in love with you through prayer, devotion, worship and praise. The more I love you, the more your love for me will flow into my heart. Lord overwhelm my spirit with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with such satisfaction in your love for me that I can go out into this world and truly love the people whom I encounter, even the ones that drive me nuts. That can only happen by the power of your Spirit, and it is by that Spirit that I give myself back to you in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.