by Dr. Adam Rondeau
(Mark 12:30) And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
God wants us to love Him and He also desires that we teach the next generation to do the same. We often think that love is an organic emotion that naturally occurs given the right circumstances and conditions. However, love is also something that can be fostered which is als why it can be taught.
As parents and Christian leaders, we are on a quest to cultivate a love for God into this generation of youth. We can draw strategies to this end from what Jesus affirmed as the Greatest Commandment – to love God. In that command, there are four specific areas that God wants us to demonstrate love for Him in order that we might fully love God in the way in which He desires. Those areas are: heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love God with Your Mind
I start with this because so much of our efforts in the ministry (Christian education in particular) is focused on teaching young people how to love God with their minds. By presenting knowledge through a Biblical lens and the development of a Christian worldview we are training their minds to love God by thinking thoughts that are pleasing to Him and in agreement with His own thoughts – to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). We have a plethora of curricula, seminars, conferences, etc., to assist in this training. But remember, the mind is only part of the way that God wants us to love Him. It is not enough to love the Lord with just the mind – there is more.
Love God with Your Heart
The heart is the center of the being. Whenever we tell someone that we love them with our whole heart we are communicating a deep attachment to that person. Jesus taught that the level of love that one can express toward God is related to the level of forgiveness that has been received.
Luke 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
I grew up in Christian home. I mean, I started going to church 9 months before I was born! I accepted Christ as my Saviour at the very young age of 3 and never really had any issues with rebellion, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. As a teenager I wondered about this verse and secretly even contemplated that I would need to become a prodigal in order to really love God the way I wanted to. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit spoke to my young heart and some of the messages that I heard helped me to realize that the key here wasn’t in the details of the sins for which I had been forgiven. Rather, it was an awareness of my sinfulness. I hadn’t done some of the horrible things for which others had been forgiven, but I recognized that I was just as miserable a sinner and just as lost. I realized that my sins made me a wretch of a human and the forgiveness that I was offered by Christ was so incredibly awesome and massive. I understood that I had received much forgiveness and therefore my love for the Lord could also be much.
But how can we inspire this realization in young people? There are two dynamics involved here. The first is the vital role that discipline plays in bringing the young person to a realization of sin. If there are no consequences for actions then there can be no realization of error. Even if the behavior does not rise to the level of the seven deadly sins (whatever that means) the young person needs to be confronted and corrected so that they realize that the action was wrong (sinful). We live in a culture that wants to pet the egos of young people and elevates self-esteem to a sometimes idolatrous level. Being unwilling to confront sin in the life of a young person in an attempt to preserve self-esteem does them a disservice. If they don’t realize they’ve done wrong they will have no heart to love the Lord.
If confrontation of sin was the only suggestion in this area it would not produce a love for the Lord, but rather self-condemnation. This is where the second dynamic of modeling forgiveness comes into play. It is important to point out the error and take corrective measures, but it must be combined with the same instant and unreserved forgiveness toward them that God demonstrates toward us.
This makes the Gospel message so much more powerful to them. The consequences of sin were placed upon Christ Who offers forgiveness liberally at His Own cost. When this realization is birthed in the heart it will produce a love for God.
Love God with Your Soul
The soul has traditionally been understood to include the mind (logic or rational), will and emotions. That intrinsic part of mankind that is a unique gift of God to His ultimate creation – mankind. The soul must also be directed to love God.
My personal experience as a youth was that I was most challenged to love God with my soul through the experiences that I had at life-changing services and youth events. I can remember specific conventions, seminars, and conferences when I made specific commitments and dedications. If I’m honest, I admit that I don’t remember many of the sermon points, verses, or titles. What I do remember and what was burned into my soul was the time of dedication that I found as I walked to the front of the church or auditorium and knelt down in prayer to surrender my will to the Lord.
The fact that I can’t remember the messages but do remember the experiences points to the important role that our will and emotions play in our love for the Lord. I was inspired by a great preacher to make an important commitment. When I saw others my own age make a bold move forward to do the same it increased the emotional strength of the moment and solidified the decision in my will. It produced within me a love for God in my soul.
So often we wonder if the expense or effort that is required to bring groups of young people to these conferences, camps or events is worth it. It is so worth it because it is just such events as these that are key in promoting a love for God with the soul.
Love God with Your Strength
Loving God with our strength demands that we learn to use our talents and abilities for His glory. This is a powerful demonstration to the world around us of our love for God.
The great Olympic athlete turned missionary, Eric Lidell demonstrated this concept powerfully. He had trained to run the 100-meter but upon arrival at the 1924 Olympics in Paris he learned that the qualifying heats would be run on Sunday. He refused to run on “the Lord’s Day” and came under tremendous ridicule for that decision. He was, however, given the opportunity to run in the 400-meter instead (a race for which he had not trained). That year he not only took the gold in that event, he also set a new world’s record for the 400-meter. Eric once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Eric loved God with all his strength.
The best way to foster within young people a love for God with all their strength is to encourage them to develop the talents that God has given them. Then, set them free to use those strengths for a godly purpose. There are many opportunities that present themselves on regular occasions with the local church community. Global Christian Educators Association sponsors its annual competition, the Global Youth Conference, because it is committed to building a generation of youth that love God with all their strength.
Teach them how to Love God
As a Christian educator and parent the most important thing that I can teach my children and students is how to love God with their all. I pray that today’s leaders will make it their highest priority to teach those that follow, how to love God.