By Femi Aribisala
The first and great commandment enjoins us to: “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.” (Matthew 22:37).
However, Christians seem largely unable to do this. The first commandment is expressed in tautological terms. The love that God requires permits no other love. But we love so many other things apart from God. These other loves compete with the love of God in our hearts.
Jesus asks Peter: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15). If we were to love anything else, it must be through and because of our love for God.
Loving Jesus: hating others
The Christian faith is very personal. Jesus says: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37).
Elsewhere, He goes even further, saying: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
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We are not called to observe the rites of religion. We are not required to obey some rules and regulations. We are called to have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
John expresses it in this manner: “We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too.” (1 John 1:3-4).
However, Christians do not seem to know that God is someone to be enjoyed. Our Father in heaven is the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17). Yes, we worship God, we praise Him, and we pray to Him. But we do not enjoy Him. God is not a friend to most of us.
A hard man
For many, God is a hard taskmaster who is to be feared. One man says to God in one of Jesus’ parables: “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” (Matthew 25:24).
We say to God: “Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?” (Job 21:14-15).
We see spending time with God as a chore. We struggle with it. We avoid it as much as possible. David says: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1).
But going to church is something we do out of obligation and not with gladness. A lot of the time, we look for some excuse to avoid it altogether. Prayer meetings are a No-No. They must drag us to attend those. And when we go to vigils, like Peter in Gethsemane, we sleep under the anointing.
“Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.” (Micah 6:2-3).
“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” (Jeremiah 2:32).
However, we do not see God as an ornament, or as a pearl of inestimable value for which we sell all that we have to acquire it.
When we pray to God, our mind does not stay on Him. We are distracted by all kinds of things. As we are praying, we are thinking of cooking dinner. Or we are anticipating the football match coming up the next day. If the telephone rings, we interrupt the prayer and keep God waiting while we answer the call.
Then there is the issue of fasting. We see this as a burden we sometimes must endure when we desperately want something from God. Otherwise, fasting is out of the question. We do not fast just because we want to be nearer to God. When we fast, we continue doing as we please.
We fast because our understanding is that the relationship with God always requires a sacrifice. But a sacrifice is not something we give willingly. Sacrifices are things we give grudgingly. Sacrifices deny us of something we want: food, money, or leisure. Sacrifices are exacting and burdensome.
At the end, we ask God: “Why have we fasted, and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?” (Isaiah 58:3).
When our petitions are not answered, some even reach the conclusion that: “It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of hosts?” (Malachi 3:14).
Mercy, not sacrifice
But God is not interested in our sacrifices. He says again and again: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6).
“‘Why this frenzy of sacrifices?’ God’s asking. ‘Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams, and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, running here and there, doing this and that — all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship?”
“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings — meetings, meetings, meetings — I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.” (Isaiah 1:11-15).
God wants us to love Him. He wants to speak to us face-to-face as a man speaks to his friend. (Exodus 33:11). But very few of us see ourselves as friends of God. He is too serious and austere for us.
We would never joke with God. We cannot imagine Him smiling at us.
When we want to relax, we do not go to God. When we want to have fun, we do not go to Him. Instead, we visit our buddies, we go to the cinema, or watch television, or surf the internet. We only go to God when we want something or need something. Or we go to God when we want to be religious.
Jesus warns that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and make us unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22). Earthly wealth prevents us from enjoying God. When we lay up wealth and riches for ourselves, we rejoice in our possessions, like: “The Chaldeans, who rejoice in their ships.” (Isaiah 43:14).