All my strength

At my church, we’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy. Last week, we heard a sermon from Deuteronomy 6, which contains one of my favorite verses, a passage I was taught to memorize at a very young age: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to remember this commandment to love God, to teach it to their children, and to constantly talk and think about Him.


Sunday’s sermon made me want to study deeper into this passage. After all, this section is called the Shema, which means Listen, so I sat down to pay more attention to it. This scripture is central to the Jewish faith, so much so that Jesus quoted it in three of the Gospels, including Mark 12: “The most important command is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”


Of course, Jesus doesn’t misquote Deuteronomy (that’s impossible because He is God, the author of the whole book), so why does He add an extra word? Instead of three, Jesus lists four ways to devote ourselves to God: heart, soul, mind, and strength. I always assumed the original list meant for me to love God with my emotions, my spirit, and my physical body. And then Jesus just added my thoughts. While this is true, there’s a richer, more all-encompassing explanation waiting to be discovered.


Due to the complexities of language, it’s easy to misunderstand what strength means in the original text. Though the picture which pops into my mind is of a carnival-type Strong Man hoisting a dumbbell over his head, it’s not an accurate visual for this verse. Some versions translate strength as power, while others use the word might. But the original word means “muchness.” We’re given one word after another that commands us to love God with everything we’ve got. Although this is a giant and challenging task, it becomes more clear-cut because I can offer what I have, and this is a relief to someone who sometimes feels she lacks strength.


To be honest, I don’t feel especially strong unless I’m giving birth or moving furniture by myself. Other than that, I consider my abilities in the “Strength” category to hover around average, so what would He want with my often lame excuse for strength? We’re called to love God with the heart, soul, mind, and strength we’ve been given, but how? Well, fortunately, we have the example right in front of us: God loved us first. As the Book of Romans describes it, “God loved us when we were still sinners.” Dirty, old, always-messing-up sinners. If He could start loving me in spite of my weakness, then I can love him back while situated in the same flawed condition. I can never match His strength anyway, making my offering pretty inadequate, but he still wants my love.


I couldn’t say why Jesus added the word mind in his list after they asked him what the greatest command was, but He was in an earthly body at the time He spoke those words. He knew the limitations of this physical form, so He seemed to want to be clear. Love the Lord with all the “muchness” you’ve got at your disposal, and then love your neighbor. Jesus told them once we do this “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Thank goodness it doesn’t have to begin with my strength…It all starts with love!

100,000 miles

As we were driving to a soccer tournament over the weekend, my husband and I witnessed a (sort of) significant milestone for our family minivan—we reached 100,000 miles. The lucky moment came while he was driving, so I filmed the clicking over from five-digits to six on the odometer for the sake of posterity.


In the more than five years we’ve been driving this particular vehicle, we’ve averaged somewhere around 50 miles a day. For people with a long commute to work, that may not seem like a lot, but it does make me stop and wonder if the destination has been worth the all of those miles.


There was once a servant who was given the task to take a long journey to find a wife for his master’s son. He traveled 500 miles (by camel, not Honda Odyssey), and when he got to the appointed place, the servant stopped for a drink of water at a well. He prayed, “Help me to accomplish the purpose of my journey. I will ask one of these young women for a drink and if she says, ‘Yes! And I will happily water your camels too!’ let her be the one. That is how I will know.”


Sure enough, a beautiful woman came by and graciously did just what he had prayed for. As she set about giving him a drink along with his camel, the servant watched closely without speaking, resolved to verify that God had made his journey a success. The servant returned with the woman to her home and retold the story of the well encounter to her family. They consented to putting her in the care of this servant, but they asked if she could stay at home for a week or so before heading off to get hitched to marry a man they were related to but had never met.


Though this seems like a reasonable request, the servant was already itching to get back on the road. He told them, “Please don’t stop me from going! Now that I know this mission has been a success, I have to get back to tell my master what’s happened.” (To read the full account of the Isaac/Rebekah family drama, start at Genesis 24 and grab the popcorn. Dallashas nothing on these ancient Bible families!)


At the end of a long road trip, the last thing I want to do is get back on my camel (or Honda Odyssey). I’m a little surprised by the servant’s response. Knowing the value placed on hospitality in ancient times, this might’ve seemed rude. I sense an anxiety in his words and actions, as if he was overwhelmed with the initial task of finding the perfect wife for his master’s favorite son. He repeats Abraham’s instructions several times, like I do when I’m walking to a different room so I won’t forget why I’m going there. (Put the towels in the dryer. Put the towels in the dryer.) He so much wants this journey to be a success, and he can’t wait to get back to prove that all those miles (and camels and gifts of jewelry and clothing) were worth it.


When I think back on the 100,000 miles we’ve put on our minivan, I think of trips to visit grandparents and trips to the beach and college tour visits and lotsof soccer practice. I think of quiet conversations with my kids when I get them one-on-one, and I think of God’s hand in keeping us safe. And most of all, I think of that blessed feeling of relief when I pull into the garage and I am home.