Loving God involves more than my worship and service to God. My ability to love God is impacted by my ability to love myself as he loves me.
I know that loving myself sounds selfish, maybe even a little scandalous. Give me a chance to explain myself by briefly looking at a story found in the Book of Matthew.
A man asked Jesus what the most important commandment given by God was. Jesus replied,” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ Jesus stated this was the greatest commandment but noted that a second commandment was equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Sounds pretty simple. Love God. Love others. Love yourself. Rinse and repeat.
But I quickly found out that for me, it was not that simple. Loving God with all my heart was impossible. Loving others was a pipe dream. Loving myself was something I didn’t think about.
I was fortunate to be friends with two men whose love for God and others was evident. Horace was a worship leader at our Church, and Fred was my favorite college professor. Both of them became mentors to me. Both of them expressed unconditional love toward me.
Loving God is more than heartfelt worship.
Horace was able to authentically communicated his love of God through song. He was not singing to entertain. He was singing directly to God and expressing his gratitude for the love he had received. I felt God’s love as I sang along with him. He listened to my early attempts at writing music and gave encouragement and loving feedback. Being around him, I learned that God was worthy of my worship.
I decided that the reason he loved God, was that he spent a lot of time worshipping God.
So, I threw myself into worship. I sang loudly, raised my hands in surrender, and cried tears of joy in response to God’s unconditional and unchanging love for me.
I was disappointed to discover that I could go through the ritual of worship without loving and connecting with God.
There were days when I felt emotionally distant from God. Days that the words to worship songs felt hollow and lifeless.
Loving God is more than serving others in his name.
Fred communicated his love of God through gifts of service. He selflessly gave his time, talents, and energies to his students. He was never too busy to stop and listen and then take action to help. I found myself serving with him as often as possible. Fred helped me to secure my first paid staff position after college. Being around him, I learned that love is a verb. Love is what you do.
I decided that the reason he loved God, was that he spent a lot of time serving God.
So, I poured myself into serving other people. I gravitated toward the care ministries of the Church. I was involved in non-profits provided for the poor, provided for the abused, and cared for the sick.
But I found a disturbing truth: I found that it was possible to ‘serve’ people without really loving them.
I look back in shame and embarrassment at how I acted toward the very people I was trying to serve. My motives were wrong, driven by a need to impress God and others, and somehow to validate his excellent choice of me as his child. I was self-righteous, arrogant, and distant.
I was working a fulltime job and was the volunteer director of care at a local church. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and burnt out.
I took some time off, and I found myself drawn to the commandment to love God and others. But my eyes settled on the last two words of the second commandment, ” to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving ourselves well is the key to loving God and others.
What did “as yourself” mean? I knew that I had not taken care of myself. I had not loved myself well.
And then I remembered my two role models. Looking back, I can see that God’s love for them was what fueled their desire to worship God and serve others.
They understood that loving ourselves is not about thinking how great we are. Or giving in to all our desires. It is not about our self-improvement or spiritual growth.
Loving ourselves is valuing ourselves the way that God values us. God does not love us for what we can do but for who we are.
Loving ourselves means that we will take care of our physical bodies, minds, and souls. We will make time to spend with God. We will make time for rest, relaxation, and recovery for the body, mind, and soul.
Physical exhaustion and mental burnout are warning signs that we do not love ourselves well.
I must love myself because God loves me, and he commands me to love everyone, including myself.
I learned that Loving God and others meant that I had to love everyone He Loved. And He Loved me.
Understanding his love for me has forced me to learn to value and treasure myself. I had to accept my flaws, my scars, my failed self-effort, and my need to rely on him for true love and acceptance.
It also means that I learn to value others despite their flaws. They are just like me, deeply flawed but deeply loved.
I realized that if I loved others as I loved myself, some people were not experiencing genuine love
Call to Action.
Loving ourselves is a central part of what Jesus said. The part that we ignore at our peril. To love God, we have to love ourselves as he loves us.
Where are you on your journey to loving yourself? It may be the key to you joyfully loving God and others. What steps can you take this week to love yourself as God loves you?
If you want more on this topic, check out How To Love Others And Be More Lovable In The Process.
Loving ourselves is a central part of what Jesus said. The part that we ignore at our own peril. To love God, we have to love ourselves as he loves us.