The Bible is filled with practical application to living, but let’s just start with three, and today, we’ll focus on number one — literally, number one — the most important commandment of all:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
In the Bible, when something is repeated on a regular basis, it’s generally because it’s important, and this statement is made by Jesus, who adds “with all your mind,” in Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, and Mark 12:30.
Let’s apply this practically:
1) “With all your mind,” implies thinking, and the more we think about God, the more He is in our mind. Control and discipline your thoughts — when you’re tempted to worry, envy your neighbor, gossip in your head, or conduct mental conversations with your boss in which you systematically slash his ego to ribbons — think about God instead.
2) It’s easier to think about God the more you know about Him. Pick up the Bible and start reading — somewhere, anywhere — and recognize that every word in this book gives you information about God. The more you read, the more knowledge you glean. The more knowledge you have, the more you have to draw upon for thought.
3) As you think more on God, be open to what you can do for Him involving your strength, resources, money, talents, and skills. These don’t have to be big, impressive tasks. Simply smiling at someone you pass in the grocery aisles, or opening the door for another person, works. Start small, and be open to more as it happens.
4) Don’t worry about if you “love God enough.” He loves us first, and as we accept that love, ponder it, wonder at it, He gently teaches us how to love Him back. We are children, and in the same way wise adults are patient with little ones, our gracious Father is the wisest adult of all.
5) Ask God to help you. Great men, and women, throughout the Bible have relied upon God for the big, and little things, in their lives. Fulfilling this commandment is no small thing, and we can’t do it on our own. But when we ask Him, “Show me what this means — literally, and spiritually — guide me,” He is faithful to answer.
If this seems too simple, it is, and it isn’t — in the same way that young children don’t start out running, neither do we. We start out small, our hands in the hand of a big God, and learn incrementally.
Our miniseries of tangible things we can do to live our faith involves the second Great Commandment:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
So, how do we do this practically?
6) Jesus Himself gives us the best example of how to fulfill this commandment in the tale of the good Samaritan, which you can find in Luke 10:30-37. Read this account, reread it, and think and meditate upon it through the day. Let it absorb into your spiritual muscle fiber.
7) Think about how you forgive yourself, and translate that into the love you feel for others. Most of us, when we recognize that we’ve done something wrong, are relatively forgiving of our foibles: “I was tired,” or “I shouldn’t have said that, but she provoked me!” If we love others as we love ourselves, we can grant them that same sense of leniency. It’s a given that we don’t spend days, hours, weeks, and years brooding darkly about our sins and feeding a sense of bitterness against ourselves.
8) Little, thoughtful acts make us happy — they do the same for others as well. Making an impact on lives doesn’t have to involve filling football stadiums with acolytes who are there to hear us speak, watch our face on the oversized video screen, and buy our products. Remember how it made you feel when the person in the grocery line looked at your one can of diced tomatoes and said, “Go ahead of me — I’m in no hurry”? You can give that same good feeling to another person, treating them as you enjoyed being treated.
9) Your neighbor’s everywhere, and some of them only you can reach. There are seven billion people on this planet, and we can’t encounter them all, but we can interact with, and bless, the unique and special individuals in our lives — our family members, co-workers, customers, literal neighbors, people we meet online via social media or forums, the person who delivers your newspaper. Think about the people in your life, and ask God how you can be a positive light in theirs.
10) Speaking of thinking, do so — and pray for the various people who come into your life. You don’t have to rush through hundreds and hundreds of names each night, but as you pray and meditate, ask God to bring someone to mind who needs your prayers (He does this, and it never ceases to be an awesome experience). You may or may not know a lot about their situation, but that doesn’t matter, because God knows it all. As you pray, if an idea comes regarding a way to bless any of these people, see about bringing it to fruition.
One small act builds upon another, and as we get into practice performing acts and thoughts of kindness, we ourselves change — into kinder, more thoughtful people. All while blessing others!
Let’s look at Mark 12:13-17, in which the Jewish religious leaders sought to trap Jesus by the question of taxes, something that was as pleasant to their society as it is to ours:
“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
Jesus answered, “‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’
“They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? and whose inscription?’
“‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’”
Without getting into whether death or taxes is preferable, let’s look at some ways to practically apply this teaching of Jesus:
11) Recognize that God’s standards and man’s are different. Money is very important to many people, so important to some that they start wars and foment dissent so that they can make more of it. While money is necessary to all so that we can eat, clothe ourselves, and live in a decent shelter, don’t make it the focal point of your life. Recognize that your value to God has nothing to do with the amount of material matter you do, or don’t possess.
12) You don’t have to be rich to give back to God. God knows how much is in our bank account. There are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who fund “philanthropic” projects that do little more than glorify their name, and if “all” you can do is buy a package of socks for your neighbor’s little girl who gets made fun of because hers have holes in them, you’ve done much, much more than many who preen at their own generosity.
13) Money isn’t everything. God’s gifts to people include far more than material wealth: intelligence, creativity, a spirit of kindness, the ability to lift 50-pound sacks of dog food into another person’s car, the willingness to listen and not pass judgment: these are all gifts that we can give back to God. Caesar doesn’t want them, nor would he know how to use them.
14) Give where you want. In these days of corporate multi-national globalized everything, charities are bigger and better than ever as well. Feel free to say no to sales pressure, and be alert to needs that God shows you, specifically: it could be a very small organization of one or two people trying to make a difference; it could be that neighbor and her child needing socks; it could be a tank of gas for your neighbor’s best friend’s sister who needs it to drive to a distant job interview. (Do you see how frequently our neighbor comes into this?)
15) What does God want? Psalm 51:17 tells us, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This isn’t something we actively pray for, and indeed, it’s actually easier to write a check — no matter how little is in our account — but if you are going through rough circumstances and you approach God with humility and a willingness to admit your weakness, you’re rendering unto God what is God’s.
Living as a Christian doesn’t so much involve thinking outside the box as it does giving the box to God, and letting Him throw it as far as east is to west.
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