With All Your Might

Deuteronomy 6:4 -5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all  your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Have you noticed we, as humans, have a natural desire to have something in our lives we are putting our everything into, something we are going “all in” on, so to speak? For many of us, this may not be anything in reality, but something we wish we could put our all into if we only had the time and energy. To make up for this, we often invest in fleeting and trivial things, such as discovering a new favorite food you then eat everyday, or a favorite animal you decorate everything with. It could be someone you meet, like a potential significant other, whom you suddenly are spending all your time with. Perhaps it’s an interest in a sports team, Star Wars, politics, or CrossFit, which finds its way into all of your conversations. It may even be a very admirable pursuit which you pour all your spare time into, like advocating for social justice. And then there are those for whom it is more substantial and all-consuming: think of the late Kobe Bryant and his incredible determination and commitment to be the best he could be in basketball.  

Think about why this is. What is it in us that makes us want to go after something so hard? In pondering this question, I’ve come to realize it involves a grasping for identity. If you only dabble in an issue now, a talent then, a thing here, a person there, then who are you? What will you be known for or remembered for? How are you special and different from the next person? But if you have that one thing, something that fills your thoughts, conversation, time, and effort, people will associate you with it and remember you by it. You are the super athlete. You are the fashionista. You are the health enthusiast. You are the dog lover. It really doesn’t matter what it is, but it gives you identity. It sets you apart from others and helps you feel known. We all deeply long to be known!

Unfortunately most of these pursuits are insignificant and an unrealistic expectation for giving true identity. They take up too much of our life and end up hurting us by crowding out other important things. To prevent this, one might suggest the solution is balance. If we pursue these things with more moderation and prioritize appropriately, then there shouldn’t be those problems. I agree with that, yet balanced pursuits also leaves unfulfilled our intense desire for identity which initiated our passion in the first place. I don’t think this desire should be suppressed or denounced. God put it in us for a reason as it is a reflection of his character and actually leads us to seek him.

God doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. He doesn’t put little effort into his actions and leave them to turn out as they will. 

Genesis 1:31a “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (ESV) 

The word “very” in this verse is the Hebrew word מְאֹד, or me’od, which more accurately translated means “muchness, force, abundance, exceedingly”. The very first recorded thing God does in the Bible, the act of creation, he does with me’od: exceedingly, with all his muchness and force. There is no sense of restraint or balance in those words. God created the world, humans and all, without holding back, and called it me’od good! Exceedingly, abundantly, very, very good! We desire to do things with passion and fullness because we, created in God’s image, are striving to act as he does. Unlike God though, we are far more limited in our capacity, thus our tendency to channel this towards only one or a few things. 

Since God has created us with this propensity, and all he created is good, it must also be meant for our good. Sadly our passions are often misdirected, leaving us empty or hurt. God warns us about seeking after idols, but again his solution isn’t to just do so in moderation. Instead, God gives us something of far greater worth that we are to pursue with our all. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (ESV) 

The word translated “might” in verse 5 is also the Hebrew word me’od. God is telling us to do something extreme, without holding anything back. He’s not asking for something we tack on to our other passions and pursuits. He is telling us exactly what we should go all in on, and that is loving him. Our tendency is to first pursue nearly every other thing, but ultimately that passion and desire for identity is meant to lead us to the only thing that will fulfill it, God himself. Our love for God is the only lasting identity that will set us apart as children of the King and will help us see we are known by the only One who really matters. 

Later in Scripture, God again demonstrates his me’od approach towards his work. He loves his “very good” creation so much that he sacrifices his only son, Jesus, in order to bring reconciliation between himself and us. Is there any greater expression of abundant, me’od love? Do we need any more reason to love God back with muchness, to the utmost, exceedingly? It’s for our good, for our fulfillment, for our identity, for his glory!

I John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” (ESV)

Apply it! What have you been pouring yourself into, defining yourself by, or trying to find identity in apart from God? Consider it’s place in your life in God. You don’t necessarily have to give this up, as God gives us our unique passions and talents for a reason. Think of how you can use that thing as an expression of your love for God so people see God first and you/that thing second. 

 

 

Balancing Perfection

Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I am a perfectionist, but not in the stereotypical sense that my crafts have to look flawless or else be trashed, I have to be early to be on time, or my shoes have to be lined up neatly in my closet. Rather, I focus on excellence in the bigger picture and making the best choice in each step of life. This means I have very high standards. I am always learning and striving to grow into a better me and to build a better world, but yes, I am also setting myself up for a lot of disappointment. There are simply a lot of things in life that are not black and white, that have no obvious “right” answer, that depend on the unique person and situation, and therefore cannot be done perfectly. Not to mention, I have a sinful nature and the frequent propensity to make less than optimal choices. Oh the frustration. 

Now, I realize not everyone, or even most of you, think like I do (probably a good thing!), but we all have ideals we are reaching for. It could be to be a better wife or mom, to eat healthier, to look better, to be more promotion-worthy at work. Alternately, it could be to stress less about your imperfections as a wife or mom, to stop focusing so much on food, not to let your looks be a distraction, or to be less of a workaholic. None of the above goals are inherently bad, yet each could be the opposite of another! One may want to put more effort in at work to get promoted and earn a raise-a potentially upright goal, while another wants to focus less on work and have more time to spend with family and in leisure-also a good endeavor. So what’s going on here? We need balance, right? Work hard, but not too hard. Try to be healthy, without hyper-focusing on it. Do your best, but don’t stress over it. 

But where exactly is that balance? How do I know when I’ve gone too far or not far enough? There is no yardstick to measure by! It’s so gray and will look different not only for every person, but also just for me from day to day! This is where my perfectionist brain goes haywire. I simply can’t live in constant contention for the fleeting mirage of “balance”. I need another standard to live by; a more solid, unchanging, universal standard. 

There is only one thing that fits that description and that is the word of the Lord that “remains forever” (I Peter 1:25, ESV). While the Bible may not always have all the clear cut and easy-to-follow answers I am hoping for (although it does have a lot!), it does provide me a foundational principle that supersedes the need for balance. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Instead of searching for how much is too much or how little is too little and constantly missing the mark, we only need to ensure our actions are focused on two things: proclaiming Jesus’ name and living with gratitude. If being more selective in your food choices, spending more time cooking in the kitchen, and eliminating poor eating habits can be done with thankfulness while displaying the character of Jesus, then pursue it! It may not look like a “balanced” lifestyle to some, but that is not our goal. If these things begin to bring bitterness and anger to your heart and are done begrudgingly and only out of duty, then it’s time to rethink your decisions. In a sense, you are finding balance, but your standard of peace is not balance itself, but living in the will of God. 

Being the perfectionist that I am, I do a lot of things that can seem extreme to people around me, but I don’t say everyone should live how I do. It is just how I have found thus far (I am always learning and growing!) that I am able to live wholeheartedly as an ambassador of Christ and with unending thanks to my God. Your life and choices will look different and that is great! Let’s simply seek together how to live our best lives so we can glorify God to the utmost!

Apply it! What ideal have you been focusing on in your life and seeking balance in? Think about that area of life and the changes you can make to turn your focus from “balance” to gratitude and Christ-likeness? Be prepared that it might look more imbalanced or “extreme” than many would think appropriate! Don’t let that hinder you. We are living for God and not the acceptance of man.