Why We’re Writing: My Mind Needs Some Exercise
By Samantha Sykora
Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Mark 12:28-31, One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “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.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
In Mark 12, believers are exhorted to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This is the greatest commandment. Too often, though, we compartmentalize our lives, isolating God to some sections of our heart or mind while exalting ourselves in other sections. We love God halfheartedly, rarely thinking upon Him or giving little effort to know Him. The result: we don’t know God’s Word, we don’t treasure Him as the supreme joy that He is, and the flimsy foundation of our faith is greatly shaken at the first sign of one of life’s storms. To our detriment, we have failed to love God supremely. Like a soldier, sharpening the edges of his sword in preparation for battle, we must sharpen our minds and shape our hearts for obedience to the greatest commandment. This is why I am writing for Thinking & Theology: I desire for us to love God supremely with all that we are.
Looking Closely at the Greatest Commandment
When Jesus describes the greatest commandment in Mark 12, He quotes the Old Testament Shema, a command found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that is considered the heart of the Old Testament law and a central theme to the book of Deuteronomy. In the Shema, you find only three of the four terms described in Mark (heart, soul, and strength). These three words are translated from three Hebrew phrases which encompass the meaning of all four of the terms found in Mark. The first phrase in Hebrew, typically translated as “heart,” means more than just feelings. It refers to the place where we also understand and make decisions. Loving God with all of our heart means to love God with all of our emotions, intellect, and will.
The second Hebrew phrase in the Shema refers to the soul. It is synonymous with “life,” meaning our whole being or that which drives all of our life. In order to love God with all of our soul, every aspect of our lives is to be devoted to the Lord.
The third phrase refers to our strength using an adverb that means “greatly”. Gentry and Wellum in God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants describe this phrase to mean, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul – and that to the fullest extent.” The Shema raises the stakes on what it means to love God. It is not a mere delight, a mental acknowledgement, or an adherence to a moral code. To love God in obedience to the greatest commandment necessitates that we are completely devoted to God, loving Him with all of our heart, mind, will, and life – doing each of these “to the fullest extent.”
Learning to Push our Minds
Mark 12 and Deuteronomy 6 challenge us to a deeper level of devotion to God than we often live. We are prone to exalt the wrong things in every aspect of life. It is imperative that we strive to give our minds captive to God because our minds influence our hearts and subsequently our wills. In his book, Think, John Piper describes how learning truth with our minds fuels the love of our hearts. He says that this love is an “empty emotionalism” when it is not “awakened and sustained by true views of God for who he really is.” Without fueling our hearts to love God, our hearts grow perilously cold toward Him, and we begin to love something else in His stead. Conversely, when we steer our minds to pursue God, we treasure Him with greater joy.
I have found that reading and writing are fundamental tools to develop my mind. By “reading,” I don’t mean simply reading for entertainment or reading “fluffy” Christian Living books. Challenge your mind to know God through reading theological books or rich, hearty books on the Christian life. Pushing my mind in this way is challenging and requires discipline. When I am resistant to this challenge, I need to recognize what is truly leading my heart. It is not the desire to love God more deeply but the fleshly desire for ease and self-centered satisfaction. Persevere with me, readers, or else we forfeit the joy that results from our labor.
I write for Thinking & Theology because I am passionate about pushing ourselves mentally in order to love God more fully. Embracing the frustration and difficulty of shaping our minds is not a waste of time. It is the gateway to greater joy of the Lord. If you’re like me, seeing the great need to study but feeling the fleshly struggle to persevere, consider these points:
- Stay focused: Remember you are reading to love our great God with all your mind, seeking to know Him more through intentional study.
- Be relentless: Never be content with how much you understand and love of the Lord. Relentlessly strive to sharpen your mind and shape your heart all the more.
- Pray consistently: Apart from prayer, these efforts only drain our joy and numb our hearts. Pray consistently, trusting the Lord to sharpen your mind and shape your heart for his glory.
- Write regularly: Whether journaling or blogging, further reflect on what you learn through writing.
If you are interested in the books referenced in this article, please visit our resources page here.