~ What “All” Includes ~
A hauntingly beautiful worship song includes the words, “I will worship you with all of my heart; I will worship you with all of my strength,..” That part of the song can be expanded with more “with all” phrases, so I found myself adding, “with all of my pain…with all of my sorrows…with all of my fears,” and the like. The person with whom I was walking looked at me inquisitively. My explanation was brief as my friend quickly understood and we both began offering in song other seemingly strange attributes such as wounds and afflictions.
Later I pondered deeply these spontaneous additions to the song. Indeed, they were elaborations of the general attributes of the Shema, meaning “Hear” in Hebrew. Found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, this proclamation is an essential part of the Jewish worship liturgy: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Some of the Septuagint manuscripts (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) have the “mind” included. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus replaces “strength” with “mind” and in Mark 12:30, Jesus recites the Shema with all four attributes: heart, soul, mind, and strength. In answer to a question, He teaches the Shema is the greatest commandment.
The “love” in biblical languages is not the “phileo” of best friends, but the “agape” love that springs from volition and resolve, and thus can be commanded. This love was even used as a political term in ancient times to express the nature of the relationship between a king and his subject, a willful pledge of loyalty and devotion unbreakable except by death. Our King merits that kind of love, unbreakable by nothing.
“Heart” implies the spirit, the wellspring of life and holy wisdom. “Mind” is all thoughts and intellect. “Soul” is the combination of body and mind. “Strength” is physical, emotional and spiritual. This is a very comprehensive commandment, and like all of God's decrees, it is for our good and joy. It is not a burden in the sense of “love me or else…”
But what about the “all” part? Consider it in its fullest sense. “All” means all. An entry into this consideration is the body aspect of the soul. Our bodies are declared to be “temples of the Holy Spirit” and “living sacrifices.” We are then to worship with our bodies, in totality. Like our minds, they are imperfect. Some of them have poor eyesight; some are interlaced with cancer; some have brittle bones or decaying teeth. The Holy Spirit, nonetheless, infuses every healthy and sick cell, every strong and weak organ. Thus when I worship God with my body temple and offer it to Him as a living sacrifice, I must include everything, even my physical defects and afflictions. Indeed, apostle Paul writes about “rejoicing in them." I offer all my body, not selective parts of it, for I am not an unblemished lamb as Christ is.
My mind is similar. It harbors imperfections as it matures into “the mind of Christ.” Its thoughts are not all pure, loving and self-sacrificing, but “all” my mind includes them.
My heart is scarred with feelings of frustration and inflicted pain. It is a depository of hurt, struggle, yearning and anguish. If I am to love God with all of my heart, these must be included.
But what great wisdom it is for God to command I love Him with even these wounds and struggles! It's liberating because He knows I can't “serve two masters.” Bowing to feelings of pain, woundedness, persecution and thoughts that go in a different direction than holiness and purity robs God of some of the strength due Him, and “thou shall not steal.” I must love Him with all my strength also, so I cannot spare any to honor, parade, nurture or dwell on these thoughts and feelings. They, too, must bow with the rest of me to God in worship and love: “Listen everyone! The Lord, Yahweh, is God, and He is One, the only One!”
“All” is not qualified. If “all” means only my goodness and holiness, then it is only a part. How wondrous and liberating that “all” means “all” for that means no fragmentation, no shame, no “getting dressed up in our Sunday best” for God. He wants our all and I am happy and blessed to give it to Him. The teachings of the Christ and Scriptures that many find difficult to practice begin to integrate into the splendor and gift of the Greatest Commandment… Come to me with your burdens and find rest… Rejoice in all things…Give thanks for all things: All that is in you, part of you, around you. The joy is not from the suffering and afflictions, but within them, in the Lord our God.
When I make, by decision of my will (agape love), my allergies, toothaches, heartaches, worries for others, pain-scarred memories of evil inflicted on me, bow with me as part of my all, in worship of God in the love and joy He is, then I serve only one Master. I can willfully love and worship Him with truly all of my heart, mind, soul and strength. He transforms all of it into Himself with His redeeming grace. Only then can I obey Christ's “new commandment,” to love others as He loves me.
We need not bow down to or under our fears, wounds, pains and burdens. They, too, must bow down to God with the rest of our all. Then God will be our all.
“I will worship you with all of my heart, with all of my pain, with all that is me.”
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © January 4, 2003
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