Loving God in the New Year
I am convinced that our absolute main goal as Christians, once we have come to know the saving power of the Gospel, is to love Christ more each day (Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Luke 10:25-28, 1 Corinthians 13). This love for Jesus is what gives us the desire to repent, to spread his Gospel, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for His church. However, sadly we often see Christians focus their love on any and everything, but Christ. We see it every day: the sports fan who watches more games in a week than the times they pray, the investor who cares more about what the DOW is doing than what their church is doing, the work-out-aholic more worried about their gains in the gym, than their spiritual growth (do you even spiritually lift bro?), the list can go on. Now it is easy to point fingers at others, but the truth is I am not exempt from this either. For example, I often find myself more worried about building my earthly relationships, than my relationship with Christ. Even worse than that, while examining my heart this week, God showed me what I truly love more than God: My sin. That’s real, and it’s something we as Christians need to fight against every day. Maybe, I am getting ahead of myself though. Yes, we may need to fight to love God over our sin, but is that even possible? I mean, why should we even try to love God? Can we even love him in our depravity? He is the most supreme and most holy being in the universe, it seems like a lofty goal. I mean what kind of love does a God like that even want? How do we even try and attempt to love the God of the universe? There are so many questions we can ask about this, so as we enter the new year, we need to take a step back and take some time to think about them. We need to get back to basics. For without an authentic love for God, we will never be able to live to the standard that Christ has called us to as Christians.
Why should I try to love God?
An easy answer to the above question is because God deserves your love. He alone allows you to show it, He alone is entitled to it, and He alone is worth it. Although this answer is theologically satisfying, it is not necessarily authentically motivating. A more authentically motivating reason why we should love God is because of how awe-inspiring he is and as Christians, one of the ways that we are filled with awe of the Almighty is by seeing what he does for us. Psalm 23:1-3 shows on a base level what Christ does for us. In reality though, he does even more than this!
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
On a fundamental level, Christ changes our lives to a state where: “[We] shall not want.” This phrase often is confusing, because it is not thought of with the following lines, “Makes me lie down in green pastures,” “Leads me beside still waters,” and “Restores my soul.” These lines clarify that we shall not want anything for the Lord is our shepherd. The Shepherd gives us rest in peaceful places like the Psalm. He provides access to nourish our physical needs of food and water. Not only that but he restores our soul to its unblemished state; he meets our every spiritual need. Even more, he doesn’t just leave us restored, he leads us towards righteousness. This is all done because he loves us and it brings his name glory. When we understand this, keep these truths close, and love God we will start to have an attitude of “I shall not want.” We can see a picture of someone who truly loves God, in the apostle Paul.
Perhaps no one has exemplified better, “I shall not want,” than Paul. As we are going through Acts, we have seen the Holy Spirit come, people healed, the apostles persecuted, the Gospel preached, and even potential false converts. What’s more, we are now coming up on Acts 9, Saul’s conversion, and as we do, I want us to reflect on Paul’s conversion, life, and ministry through the lens of Psalm 23:1-4 (Psalm 23:4 is below). In seeing Paul’s example, I hope you gain a renewed understanding of what it means to love God and want nothing but him.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Paul was a murderer, dead set in his sin and his religion. This was his valley of the shadow of death. He wasn’t on the path for God at all, yet God used his rod and his staff as his shepherd to correct him and bring him back to the flock. Sure, it was hard being blind, sure it was painful when the scales came off, but it was necessary, and the Lord knew it and used it for his glory. Since that moment, The Lord restored Paul’s soul to Himself and Paul dedicated his whole life to Christ. We can see over and over again in Paul’s ministry that he loved God wholeheartedly, even in the midst of intense persecution and imprisonment. He wanted nothing but to serve and love Christ. This is because his every want was fulfilled through Christ. Paul, through his love for the Lord, went on to be the apostle of apostles, bringing the Gospel to much of the known Gentile world at that time period. Even more, Paul wrote most of the New Testament, punctuating it with divinely inspired teachings on spiritual gifts, theology, marriage, etc. Even in spite of his intense work ethic and persecution, the Lord gave him rest and food when it was needed and water and refreshment when parched. So, why should we love God? We should love him because if we truly love God it will radically transform our lives and orient our every action towards Him and his glory. Loving God is the only proper response to God’s love for us. He goes even further and offers us rest and nourishment in the worst of times. He offers true peace. Shouldn’t a sheep love their shepherd? So too, shouldn’t a child love their father?
Many Christians would say that they love God, but do we really love him? Look at what Jesus says we must do in order to inherit eternal life on our own. He says we must, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27). There is no way we can do that on our own! This is a saving kind of love for God. For if we loved God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, we would never sin for our very being would yearn to obey Him. Our hearts would want nothing but Him, our minds would think of nothing but God, every last ounce of our strength would be spent on Jesus, and our very souls would love Him. This is the kind of love that Christ wants from us, this kind of love for God should be the main goal of a Christian’s life, and this is the kind of love that we can’t have on our own. We should think of it more precious than any substance or goal we can have, and we should orient our lives to try and obtain it. However, the question remains, “How do we obtain it?”
Cultivating a love for God, can be done in much the same manner as cultivating love for other people. A great way to illustrate how we cultivate love is through what are called, “love languages.” There are five love languages that we as humans use to give and receive love. Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, Time, and lastly Physical Touch. When you think about it, we can use all of these different things to connect with God, the same way we would other people. We worship God with words of affirmation and read the affirming words of Scripture that tell us who we are as children of God. We perform acts of service for God, and he as well serves us abundantly in this life by guiding us through it, being with us in our times of need, and correcting circumstances to our favor. Moreover, we give tithes and offerings as gifts to God, while God blesses us with many unasked-for blessings (as well as the free gift of eternal life!). The language of time is carried out when we spend time with God in prayer and in his Word meeting with him co-presently. Finally, the language of touch, this language isn’t as evident in our everyday dealings with God. However, I believe that God expresses physical touch to us through other people, and we can express the same to him through others as well. It’s a stretch, but the passage I would like to use to illustrate this is Matthew 25:36-40. Just as when we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, we clothe and feed Christ, so too when with hug out of affection those who need it, we hug Christ and show affection to those Christ loves. So too, when we need physical affection, and someone comes and provides this, Christ provided it to us. Obviously, don’t take this as canon, but don’t take lightly physical affection either. The early church sure didn’t with their greetings of a holy kiss! So, my charge to you is to examine your life and relationship with God through the lens of the love languages. Please, reflect on the below questions if they help you.
Are you loving God with your words?
Are you loving God with your service?
Are you loving God with your gifts?
Are you loving God with your time?
Are you loving God with your touch?
So, as we enter the new year, what do our goals in our new year’s resolutions say about what we love? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to try and demonize new year’s resolutions, but our culture is obsessed with making them. Lose weight, eat better, spend more time with family, help more people. All these can be great things to desire, but are we making these resolutions with a right heart? Is your heart leading you to make these yearly goals out of your love for God? For, if you truly and authentically love God, you’re going to want to do what he desires you to do. This is because your heart will be open to how the Holy Spirit wants to change you, and you will want to obey the commands of God (John 14:15-21). If God desires for you to steward the gift that is your body better this year, do that! If He wants you to develop better relationships and help others more, do that too! Do it because you love Him and he’s leading you to it. God wants to change our lives. Just look at what we talked about in the life of Paul for an example. He loved Christ, and his life was radically transformed. His every action was geared towards God. From this, we can see that the key to living and improving our lives isn’t making goals and trying our hardest to stick to them, the key is to truly love God. So, before you make any resolutions this year my challenge to you is to make one new year’s resolution first. Resolve to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Make this resolution unlike those countless others that are forgotten in a week. This resolution will lead you down the path of righteousness. This is the true path to change your life and the world, improving it for the better and if there is ever doubt of the path, look to those that walked it before us. Look back to Paul, see how his love of God transformed his life and changed the course of history forever. May his example be an encouragement to you as you seek to the love God throughout the new year. My prayer for you is that this year will be marked differently and marked by a constant love for God.