"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
In a recent letter, Fr. Joe Girzone, author of the popular Joshua books, made some interesting statements:
"People are taught to love their religion or their denomination. That becomes the focus of their dedication and perhaps, sometimes, even their worship."
"Catholics, so often, seem so enamored of the Church and teaching authority. Protestants seem so engrossed in Scripture and the authority of Scripture, but so few Christians really know Jesus."
"The apostles did not preach theology and they did not preach New Testament scripture. Theology had not been developed as yet. The New Testament had not been written yet. The apostles preached Jesus."
Often the only Jesus we know is the Jesus our priest or preacher tells us about. Like the members of the Sanhedrin who plotted Jesus' death, we worship a God of history, not a personal God with whom we are well acquainted. This leads us to conform to the rituals of the church, rather than enjoy a relationship with Christ.
Perhaps this is why we fall into spiritual dyslexia when we read Scripture. An example is the verse quoted above. We tend to read it this way: "If you keep My commandments, you will prove to Me that you love Me."
But that is not what Jesus said. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God, the Father, told us to "Hear Him!" (Luke 9:35), but for some reason, we don't. Could it be that we don't really know Jesus and His true personality; therefore, we misinterpret Him?
We are so performance oriented that we are overwhelmed by our drive to please Jesus, to receive a pat on the head from Him, to hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
There's nothing wrong with our intention, we are simply subject to the Mary/Martha syndrome. We are mostly Marthas, busy doing good, expecting to capture a smile from Jesus, but He wants us to sit at His feet, as Mary did, and get to know Him.
Look at the Scripture again. Which comes first, love, or obedience? We miss the sentence structure. We look for ways to obey Him so we can come into right relationship and demonstrate our love for Him. But Jesus says if we come into relationship with Him we receive His love. This enables us to love Him, and the natural outcome will be to obey Him. Love comes before obedience, it is not the other way around.
One of the greatest quests for all serious Christians is to discover the will of God for our lives. But we never discover His will so long as our focus is on the "discovery" rather than upon Him. We know it is His will for us to produce fruit that glorifies the Father and proves we are His disciples (John 15:8). How can we possibly accomplish this if we don't know Him?
A few verses earlier, we read, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Jesus is talking about relationship that comes out of abiding. In other words, He wants us to know Him.
God had relationship in mind when He created Adam and Eve, and it is still the dominant priority between God and man. Relationship is more important to Jesus than obedience because He knows obedience is the natural by-product of relationship. Relationship was the prevailing force between the Son of Man and the Father, and it should be the prevailing force between Jesus and us.
He doesn't want us to obey out of fear. He didn't give us the spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). We learned at an early age that it was better to receive a pat on the head rather than a heavy hand on our rear end. But that programming, which has followed us throughout life, causes us to misinterpret the words of Jesus and to rely upon performance to accomplish our goal.
Many of us have a problem loving Jesus. We don't know how to go about loving someone we can't see. We want to love Him, but there isn't a formula to carry out, a system that proves we have accomplished the project. Because this is so difficult for us, we take the easier, more sensible way. We do good works for Him, hoping that will suffice.
We can't love Him unconditionally through our own fleshly efforts, because we are capable only of conditional love. We must first get to know Him. As we establish a relationship with Him, He becomes more real, more present, more readily available and more loving. God is love, and we must come into proximity to Him so He can radiate His love to us, an increasing impartation from Him to us as we continue to draw near.
How do we establish this relationship we so desperately need? Nothing establishes it faster than prayer. As soon as we say, "Jesus," we touch eternity. He doesn't hide behind a pillar in the throne room, challenging us to use the right words before He acknowledges us. He is no further away than our breath. He said He would be with us always, and He meant it.
When we take time to journal our prayers, we have to be more specific and more personal. This helps to establish the relationship more quickly. When our prayers are recorded on paper, we are more aware of their being answered. This shows us that He hears, that He cares and that He loves us. Slowly, our relationship builds, the roots continually grow deeper, and we discover that we are in love with our Lord.
We don't have to give obedience a thought because our love motivates us to please Him. Everything Jesus tells us to do or to be, starts with relationship with Him.
It is time to refocus. Instead of being constantly introspective, instead of attempting to be better people, or obedient to His commands, or to love Him, we can leave all that to Him. Let's just focus on our relationship with Him and trust Him to do the rest.
Jesus is King!
P.S. What are you doing of eternal value?
Question for today: Where was my focus today?