And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30 ESV)
The words of this passage have been ringing in my head very strongly ever since I moved back to Columbus. Being at Taylor University (a small private Christian school in Upland, Indiana) for the past four and a half years, I realized, something here in Columbus has been missing from my life, and this something was a key factor in connecting me to my God. I was both confused and upset with myself because I have been blessed beyond belief in moving back to Columbus. The first week that I was here a friend introduced me to a fantastic church that had a service offered just for people like me, 20 somethings trying to transition from youth to adulthood. I immediately fell in love and became a regular attender. The same friend invited me to join his small group Bible study. There, I met some amazing people and some great relationships have formed from it, and through it also has come my beautiful and amazing girlfriend who has also been a huge blessing in my life. A few months later I got a job as an animal caretaker, which is a great first step in starting my career as a Service and Therapy dog trainer. It would seem like I have it all yes? Unfortunately the answer is no. Something big still seemed missing.
Something felt lacking in my relationship with God. I became very frustrated because I would say, ‘God look at all that you have given me and I still feel like I need more…’ I was very disappointed in myself for being so unsatisfied and feeling like a brat until I realized what was missing. While I was loving God with my heart and soul, attending church, participating in worship, making relationships with people around me, participating in the body of Christ… I was not loving him with all my mind.
I have always been a bit of an intellectual. I love things that make me think, and not just something like Inception where I have to solve the mystery of which layer of the dream I am in, but things that challenge my faith, my understanding to the world, my ethics, things that make me question my very meaning in this world. Ever since I was a kid my parents have told me I was very fond of one question in particular, “why?”. It would get to the point where they would have to make stuff up just to shut me up. I was so curious though! I never wanted to just accept things they way they were, I wanted to understand them and have a full grasp of why things were the way they were. I wanted to be in the know, and even better I loved being familiar enough that I could then go and tell someone else all about it! Ever since I’ve moved back to Columbus, this part of me has lied dormant.
I began to fill my free time with television, and not challenging television, but mindless sitcoms and TV dramas. I would spend my free time being lazy, spending my conversations in shallow surface level conversation, and not really making an effort to challenge my mind and my thinking. My blog even, has lied dormant since sometime last semester… I just haven’t really been using or taking advantage of the way God designed me as an intellectual.
In this passage from Mark chapter 12 verse 30, Jesus is asked what are the greatest of all the laws, to which he responds “The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV)” God created me to be an intellectual, and stated that one of the two greatest commandments is to love him with all my mind, and I am wasting it watching television all day! I believe that this is why it seemed like I was not connecting to God.
While we are all different and therefore connect to God in different ways, I was not connecting the way Him and I usually connect. The artist uses their experience and emotions to expressively connect to The King with their heart and soul. Athletes honor him with their bodies- with rigorous training and exercise, they glorify their father with Their strength. The intellect challenge life’s deepest and most challenging questions in order to show glory and honor to God with all their mind. Of course each of us are called to love The Lord our God with ALL these traits, but due to God creating us as unique and complex beings, each of us will have different strengths that bond us to the Abba Father.
Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) states “I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.” I don’t always have the most emotional reaction to things. Often my response tends to be one that involves a more thought out approach. I tend to respond to most situations by analyzing them rather than reacting emotionally. This doesn’t mean I am not emotional, often people have told me that they wished I showed more emotions or reacted to things with more emotion. I think this is because before my heart can connect to the situation, my brain has to fully understand what is going on, and once that happens, my heart can then feel free to emote. With this laziness I have fallen into however, both my heart and my brain were not experiencing a connection to God, because my mind was being wasted. Satan had drawn me so far from the gifts God has given me, that it caused me to see God as distant.
This made me wonder, what did I have a Taylor that I don’t have here? Well another thing I have discovered about myself is my introversion. I get energy from alone time, and not so much from spending time with people. At Taylor I didn’t have to try to seek people out because it was a dormitory campus and in order to be a full time student there, you had to live in their housing to some capacity. This meant I was surrounded by people constantly. I actually had to try hard to get alone time, rather than now were alone time comes easy and time with people is something I need to force myself to seek after. This meant that debates, discussion, and talks about things ethical, philosophical, or theological came easy and often. I wasn’t too hard pressed to find someone who would challenge me and my mind to a friendly and challenging discussion. Here I am surrounded by people, but the conversation isn’t always in this arena. Sometimes I get brushed off or ignored for bringing up certain topics or challenging issues. This is not a criticism or a complaint about those around me, but more a frustration in my lack of effort to exercise the thing that God has given me that I tend to get the most excited and passionate about.
In the same way some feel connected to God through nature, a good worship song, a rewarding workout, inspiring art, time with people or whatever your passion may be, I feel connected to my Father in heaven through worship when my mind is challenged and I am forced to dig deep in order to try and come up with the answer to that favorite question of mine, “why?”
This was a cool revelation to have. Not only do I now know more about how I worship or connect to God, but I now know that I need to add those types of mental and philosophical challenges back to my life. I’m still seeking how exactly that will play out in the form of practicality and how to structure something that happened so spontaneously in my life at Taylor to a more structured life I now have in the “real world”, but I am happy that I can now use this new found realization to better seek out and connect to my God in heaven. Maybe you can help me, by asking if I am doing what I can and should to be connecting to God, or by asking me if I am being too lazy with my free time! (what little of it I have between a full time student and almost full time job life style). Whilst hanging out with friends is good and something we are called to do, in order for my heart to be engaged, my mind must be first.
Lord, I pray that you would once again allow me to take the personality and psyche that you gave me to glorify you! Let the time I spend and the conversations I have connect me to your kingdom and connect you to my heart. Lord I pray that I would once again be challenged and would challenge myself to seek after you more fiercely. I pray that you would guide me and my words and thoughts to center you into them and let me and my lazy desires become less and less each day. I love you with my heart, I love you with my soul, and I stand by you in my mind, but am not exercising it to it’s full potential. Give me more of you in my day to day! I love you, and wish to be closer to you. Amen.
To whom in may concern,
Have you ever looked at your life and wondered to yourself, when is the rest of my life going to begin? Sometimes I look at my present life and see a few things, I am a student in college, and this is now my 5th year in doing so. I have a great family, friends all over the country, and over all I’m pretty blessed with some amazing things. If I really stop to think about my life and where I am, things are pretty good. However college leaves me, and many others, with a big looming question that hovers over us like a helicopter, perpetually asking us, “What’s next?”
I’m sure everyone in their life, at some point or another, has wrestled deeply with this question of, what is the next stage of my life? I decided to take a walk when the question of “what will I eat for lunch today,” became a mini existential crisis. Maybe crisis is far too big a word, but I started thinking: what am I going to eat today? I had that yesterday… maybe I could make… no that would take to long… the thoughts raced for a while when I stopped and realized, I have the rest of my life of meals to eat, I can’t go through this every time I get hungry! I started to wonder, what if I get bored of my food all the time? What happens when I don’t have the dining commons to fall back on? Which eventually led me to, what am I going to do with my life? Where will I be in 5 years?… this was getting to extreme, so I took a walk.
Stressed at the prospect of having the entire rest of my life to live, and I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to do for lunch, I began to slow my walk and take in the world around me. I thought to myself, how am I going to deal with these looming questions and doubts about my future? I could add spice by always wanting the newest hottest thing! I looked down at my recently bought iPhone 4S, and I could not be happier about it. However, even that has begun to become just my phone, just another part of my life. The romantic excitement of my first iPhone has turned into just my phone (in spit of all of it’s great abilities). The phone cannot provide me happiness however. What if I were to lose my phone? What if it broke? Then who would I be? So clearly my identity cannot be in things…
Well, I started to think, maybe I need a girlfriend. I thought about the relationships I have, and they are pretty good. I have recently felt the pains of my nearest and dearest being scattered all over the world, and not being able to keep up with them all the time. The people I am closest to in this world are literally all over the world building their own lives. I began to think about how sad that was that these relationships were all so temporary in their closeness. Not that we are not still close, but as life goes on, things change, people change, and as a result, friendships change. Maybe if I had a girlfriend we’d get married, then that relationship would never go away! But people are human, and to put that much stock in them, would only result in pain for all parties involved.
I began to look at the world around me. I looked up at the sky, I walked through the grass, I brushed a tree branch. It was a beautiful day with gorgeous weather, and I could not have been happier about that. But even that was just the weather, these are not reliable either… Plants die, weather changes, seasons change… life goes on at such a rapid speed, it can sometimes be overwhelming to try to keep up. As I continued to think about and search for a “rock to stand on,” I decided to ask God what he thought about all this. Now being a Christian, one would assume that’s where I would begin. However all I can think about is that we are promised an amazing eternity, but right now I need to figure out what’s worthwhile about the present. Why am I here? Why do I have to live this life before going to heaven? Why do I have to deal with the troubles and pains, or even joys and happiness of this present life when I have this awesome thing called heaven I am moving towards? And here is what I came to… I needed to get over myself.
This entire conversation with God, all these questions contained one constant, the word “I.” I could not believe how into myself and stuck in my head I have been. To think that the God of the universe has set this world into motion, created everything in it, and allows it to continue each day, is astounding. So why would I want or need anything more?
I’m sure I could do an entire bible study to try to address this, but that’s not really why I’m writing this. I wanted to stop and think about the beauty of being in a relationship with God, and why this life is worth the time in which we spend in it here on earth. I wanted to stop and think about what goes on in my head and in my world that should probably be tweaked in order to bring my mind and heart closer to Christ. Here is the deal, how am I going to deal with the fact that I have to be present here on this earth, and here is what I came up with.
As I think about heaven, it sounds perfect. There is no pain, no evil, no temptation, no beginning, no end, all there really is, is love, joy, and all that good stuff us Christians strive for. So why would we have to put up with this life in between? Because think about how much more we will be able to appreciate heaven after living the lives we have here on earth! I think this might possibly be how I am going to find joy in suffering. I think about the good times in my life, when I felt prime, happy, joyful. How much sweeter are those knowing the pains and trials I have also had to deal with in this lifetime?
I remember reading an article a while back that talked about how people love dramatic and sad movies, because it makes them feel better about our own lives. I think sometimes we can seem masochistic because there is a strange beauty to pain and sadness that draws us in. We watch reality shows, movies, television, read books where people have brutal and horrible things happen to them, but we love it, because it makes us feel. Look at what happens when national tragedy strikes? People change and become this collective until that draws us so much tighter. That may seem awful, but look at scriptures. How often do we see someone go through tragedy and become closer to God as a result?
I have also had to deal with having a few friends go through existential and/or faith crises recently. Although these are scary to watch for loved ones, I will argue that I think they are necessary in order for us to reach a point of satisfaction with our lives and with our God. Why does it freak us out so much when someone wrestles with God or their faith? How many characters in the Bible did the same thing, and are now names that everyone knows as some of the greatest men or women of faith in history? Yeah the struggle can be painful, and scary, but if we don’t do it, how will our faith ever be real? Even Jesus had his faith tested in Matthew chapter 4. Because I have wrestled with my faith, I was able to reach a conclusion about all of this that brought me some comfort. I was able to make peace with God, because we have been through some pretty tough stuff together that got us to where we are now.
This life is about the present. Plain and simple, that is what this life here on earth is about. It is dangerous to always focus on the past, and naive to always be looking to the future. However, we have this happy medium that presents us with a vast array of possibilities, and that is the present. Now God designed me to be a planner, one of my gifts is administration, so don’t take this as me declaring planning is wrong, but are you living for your plans? Are you living for your future? Today I was all in a panic at 11:00am because I had something going on at 2:00pm and wanted to make sure I was ready and prepared. Of course I needed to be prepared for my afternoon tutoring kids, but I was panic-stricken three hours before the time was even near. I began to focus on my walk and something happened. I was content. I don’t often experience this emotion, but I felt it then. I looked around and look at the beautiful day, and the life God has me in right here and right now and things were okay. I started to think about the things that were giving me stress and I realized, they were irrelevant to right now, right here, this day. Yes I have been hurt in the past, and yes, I am unsure of my future, but I am here now and I am alive, well, and greatly blessed. So why am I always questioning what God has for me, when he surrounds me with so much to think about and be aware of right in front of my face? How naive of me to be panic stricken about where I will be in 5 years. Things may not be at an ideal, I may not be where I thought I would be at this stage of my life, but I’m here now… so why waste that pondering these questions that, quite frankly, will never really have an answer. In observing the events of my life and others around me I see that no matter how much I plan, life is a bumpy and winding road. To be so panic stricken about where it is going to lead, and how I’m going to get there, and if I will be happy is robbing my of my ability to live right now. I gave control up to God in that moment and saw that I can plan and live life, but to let it break me down to try to stay ahead of life, is only going to lead to misery.
So what did I take from all this? What is the point in worrying about your life? (1 Peter 5:6-11, Matthew 6:25-34). I can deal with life as it comes, or I can try to deal with my entire life all at once… I feel like the choice is rather obvious as to which is the better option here. Life is always going to have moments of mundane, moments of boring, moments of pain, moments of happiness, moments of suffering, and moments of joy. This is inevitable and consistent all at the same time. I don’t need to have the rest of my life figured out. I need to be smart in how I pursue the future, and how I enter it, but if I lose perspective, I will only find myself panicking over what I’m going to eat for lunch again. My life is about right now. It’s about the relationships I have right now (no matter how near or far). My life is about the place I am right now, the occupation I have right now, and it’s about what I can do for those around me right now. I am taking from this, to stop focusing so much on my life, and start focusing on the people, places, and things that are here in front of me now. If I am always thinking about tomorrow, I’m going to miss out on what is happening today.
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing yet had been done.”
“Dwell upon the brightest parts in every prospect and strive to be pleased with the present circumstances.”
“We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.”
As many of you know I lost a very near and dear friend of mine in April of this year. It has been a long journey to try and overcome the sudden loss of my friend and brother, Josh. Recently whilst digging through some old things after packing up and saying good bye to Samuel Morris hall for the last time (the dorm where Josh and I lived together for nearly three years) I stumbled upon a devotional that Josh had written for Taylor University’s Orchestra, which he then gave to me after he shared it with the group. It was incredibly meaningful finding this gift for several reason, but the main reason is that he was a gifted writer and a passionate and wise man. I wanted to share with you the devotional he wrote so here is a devo written by my dear friend Josh:
Devo for Orchestra
Gen 2:21-23- but for Adam, no suitable helper was found. SO the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The Man Said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called ‘woman,’
For she was taken out of man.”
There is much to be said about this passage of scripture, but I am going to focus on a small detail of it. These are the first words spoken from one human to another, but they were not spoken, they were sung. This idea is simply fascinating to me.
Mark Driscoll has this to say,
“This is the first recorded words we have in human history before sin enter the world, and it’s of a man singing. Some have postulated that we began as poets and we’re descended into prose. Maybe that’s why people like musicals, because we were meant to sing through life.”
To me, this is very important information. I have been playing trumpet for 12 years now and music has been a big part of my life.
Clark’s commentary on the Bible says “there is a very delicate and expressive meaning in the original, which does not appear in our version.”
In Hebrew this passages rhymes and it simply adds to the idea that this is meant to be sung.
If I had anything of substance to say, it would just be that it is more natural to sing or make music to the Lord than to write papers about him. Music is central to the human experience of praising God. It’s why we have Psalms in the Bible, because we were made to make music.
John Fredrick Nim’s Introduction to Poetry says this.
“When we imagine anything, we are playing with images, combining them in ways they’ve never been combined before, perhaps not even in nature itself. Out of such playing came primitive ritual and the mythologies of early religion. Out of our playing with hollow reeds or tightened sinews or the beat of bone on deerskin came early music.
-Some say poetry seems like an artificial refinement of natural speech. But in the literature of every country poetry comes before prose does. It’s closer than prose to the origins of language. We can even say it’s more natural: more primitive, more basic, a more total expression of muscular, sensuous, emotional, rhythmical nature of the human animal.
It’s another way for us to praise God, thanksgiving is coming, how will you praise him?
-Joshua Patrick Larkin