All God asks of us is to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as we love ourselves [Matthew 22:37-40]. That’s the essence of our relationship with God, and our love for Him and others is always a response to the love He has shown us through His Son, Jesus [John 3:16, 1 John 4:19]. If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked yourself: “How do I know I love God?” If loving God is the basis of my relationship with Him, then I can’t just assume I love God without understanding how He desires to be loved. It’s the same with my wife; she wants to be loved a certain way. It took me a long time to understand that, even though she pointed it out repeatedly.
One way to understand how God desires to be loved is to examine the first use of the word love in the Bible, found in Genesis 22. In that passage of Scripture, God famously asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son as a burnt offering on mount Moriah [Genesis 22:2]. It was a test of Abraham’s allegiance to God. In other words, did Abraham esteem God above all else; did he love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength? Abraham passed the test with flying colours by doing two things synonymous with loving God: worship and obedience. It’s impossible to claim you love God if you refuse to worship or obey Him. Interestingly, the first uses of worship and obey are also in Genesis 22.
Jesus once said: “If you love Me, you will do what I say” [John 14:15]. Sounds easy enough, but as we saw with Abraham, not everything God asks of us is easy to do. You’ve probably heard someone claim to be “sold out for Jesus”. That’s a bold claim because it implies there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for God. Such a claim is certainly aspirational for me today. Like Peter after the resurrection, I know too much about myself to make such bold statements. Before Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, if you’d asked Peter: “Are you sold out for Jesus?” He would’ve probably said “yes” with boundless enthusiasm. But after realising that he denied knowing Jesus when the going got tough, he could hardly bring himself to describe love in the same terms as Jesus [John 21:15-17].
Peter understood through experience that obedience can be costly. It’s easy to do what God says when it suits us, but are we willing to lay down desires and opinions if they’re contrary to God’s word and still obey Him? That’s what Jesus demonstrated in Gethsemane when He said: “Not My will, but Yours” to the cross [Luke 22:42], and that’s what He desires of us [Matthew 16:24]. Partial obedience is still disobedience as Saul realised when God sent him to Agag [1 Samuel 15]. Consequently, God requires our total submission to His will, which implies sacrificing everything within us that’s contrary to what God has instructed. Paul describes such a surrender as our “true and proper act of worship” [Romans 12:1].
I’ve always wondered why Abraham described taking his son to mount Moriah as worship [Genesis 22:5]. But now I realise that he knew something about God that fuelled his obedience. I believe Abraham understood deep within his soul that God isn’t a despot who needs our obedience or worship to massage His ego. Instead, He is THE benevolent Sovereign and Creator to whom we owe everything. Abraham believed God was good, and His thoughts towards him were also good [Psalm 145:9, Jeremiah 29:11]. He trusted God so much he convinced himself that even if he sacrificed his son as an act of obedience, God was able to bring him back to life because God had made him a promise [Hebrews 11:17-19].
Abraham showed us that it takes faith to worship God. We can all praise God when times are good. However, it requires an understanding of God’s nature and character to worship Him in difficult situations and magnify Him above our problems, desires, or circumstances. It takes revelation and faith to exalt Him above all this world has to offer, be it spouse, kids, family, money, fame, power, or accolades. We must be willing to join the twenty-four elders in casting down our crowns before Him because we understand that He’s indeed worthy – in a class all by Himself [Revelation 4]. Ever wonder why even as you read this blog, all the hosts of heaven are engaged in continuous worship and will do so for all eternity?
Loving God has its perks [Psalm 91:15-17, Matthew 19:29, 1 Corinthians 2:9]. Additionally, God enters into a covenant with those whose obedience elicits a sacrifice [Psalm 50:5]. The call to love God is solely for our benefit. God is love, and the Trinity has always existed in a bond of love. So, we add nothing to God by loving Him. But doing so puts us in a right relationship with Him, and then manifests in loving others as we love ourselves [Mark 12:30-31, John 13:35].
There are some men and women I admire whose lives are object lessons in obedience and worship. They’re often marvellously blessed, materially and spiritually, and embody an otherworldly self-confidence rooted in their intimacy with God. What’s also striking is how often they love people and are moved with compassion by their plight. Their love seems to fuel their faith, and they become conduits of God’s blessings as they minister to the needs of others, and that glorifies God [Daniel 11:32]. That’s the calling of every Christian, to serve others and give out of the limitless supply of God’s abundance because love gives. However, it all starts with our love for God demonstrated through obedience and worship.