“But only one thing is needed.” (Luke 10:42f)
There is nothing in life that matters more than the presence of God and there is nothing we can do in life that matters unless it is an outflow of our experience of the presence of God. Here is why:
In Mark 12, Jesus was confronted by some Pharisees and Sadducees. They were trying to trip Him up by asking trick questions. Another religious scholar, who happened upon the discussion, saw that Jesus was answering wisely and asked Him a serious question. This newcomer wanted to know what the greatest commandment was. Jesus gave him a straightforward reply. The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are: heart, mind, soul and strength. Inextricably tied to that love for God was the command that we should love our neighbor as well.
Although we don’t often see it at first, there is a significant problem with Jesus’ answer. The problem is not that He was incorrect or even that He gave two replies instead of one. Instead the problem is that what Jesus is asking us to do is humanly impossible. We do not naturally love God. In our fallen state of rebellion and pride, our heart’s inclination is to be God’s enemy, not His lover. That is why the Pharisees diluted love for God down to a matter of outward obedience. They were taking an impossible command of God and finding a way to make it possible for humans to accomplish.
Sadly, this same tendency to make love for the Lord a matter of outward obedience is present in the church today. The result is a form of godliness that looks like the real thing, but is as satisfying as plastic fruit -- to both God and ourselves.
So, how do we really love God? We can only do it one way -- by experiencing His love for us first. In 1 John 4:19 we are told that we love because He first loved us. In other words, our ability to love God is not natural to us. It is only as we experience the love of God for us that we are able to genuinely love Him and others. It is as if our hearts were designed to be sprinklers, not jars. A jar can receive water and hold it, but the water becomes stagnant. Sprinklers are a constant stream of fresh water, provided that the hose is connected to the right supply. When we have an on-going relationship with God that includes regular experiences of His love, then we are able to love Him and others. We become sprinklers that water all of those around us with an unselfish, guileless love.
Experiencing this love of God is more than an intellectual or theological appreciation. It is a genuine experience or sensation of His love for us. Paul describes it in Ephesians as knowing a love that surpasses all knowledge. In other words, we are to have an encounter with the love of God in such a way that it transcends knowing about love and becomes knowing love directly. It is the difference between reading a love note and experiencing an embrace. The love note is wonderful, but it is a mere shadow of the embrace.
Since God is love, when we do experience the love of the Father, it is really His very presence that we are encountering. Isn’t that amazing? God not only humbled Himself to a death on the cross, He continues to humble Himself by pouring out His own self onto His children. The Christian life is meant to be lived as an outflow from this experience of being deeply and completely loved by God.
In fact, God has so designed our life with Him that it must be lived out of a regular experience of Himself. That is the lesson of John 15:1-5 when Jesus talks about abiding in Him. From God’s perspective, nothing you and I do is of any value unless it is the fruit of a deepening intimacy with Him -- apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Do you see that? We cannot love the way God wants unless we experience His love and presence first. On top of that, we cannot serve Him the way He wants unless we make this love relationship with Him our first priority. Why has God done that? Because our being with the Father and loving Him matters more to Him than anything we can do for Him. He wants you, not anything you can do. That’s the love of the Father for His children!
Make seeking the presence of God your top priority instead of all the other things we can put in His place. Maybe even set aside your usual quiet time regimen just to focus on Him and express your love for Him. In other words, find ways to make Jesus the centerpiece of your life and not crowd Him out with all the stuff you do for Him.
"Father, thank you that you are calling me to the most exciting and challenging calling of all to be a wildly abandoned lover of You. I know, Lord, that I cannot do this on my own. Loving you comes only by being loved by You. Let me enter into Your love in a deeper and more meaningful way than ever before. And as a result, let me love You more deeply than ever before as well. Amen."
Kevin Grenier is the author of Undone: The Why and How of Being in the Presence of God. Learn more at www.gatheringhispeople.org.