Living with Both Hands
Dr. Jim Denison
“Happy New Year.” Those words, or their equivalents, were first heard in ancient Babylon 4000 years ago. They were the first to celebrate the new year; their party lasted for eleven days, if you can imagine. Today New Year’s Day is the most universal of all holidays, transcending religions and cultures everywhere.
Black-eyed peas are considered good luck for the new year. I have no idea why—it cannot be the taste.
And making resolutions is as old as the holiday itself. The Babylonians invented this custom as well. Their most popular new year’s resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. I’ve made the same resolution for this year myself.
According to an Internet survey, the five most popular resolutions are, in order, lose weight; stop smoking; improve relationships; make more money (which might improve relationships); and take up a new hobby (now that we have more money). I think we can do better with our lives in this new year, don’t you?
Last week we thought together about our life purpose. Did you pray about yours? Did you spend thirty minutes a day with your Heavenly Father, talking about this issue? If you did, you have a sense of his direction already.
Now, we need to look at the priorities by which he intends us to fulfill his purpose for our lives. The Great Commandments fulfill the Great Commission.
If you wonder how God wants you to live every day, look to Jesus’ answer to the same question. If you want to escape the urgent, the stressful, the frustrating, and experience a life filled with deep satisfaction and daily purpose, look to Jesus’ prescription for a life lived well.
Jesus’ prescription for a healthy life
Here’s the situation. This is Tuesday of Holy Week; Jesus is in Jerusalem, and the religious authorities are desperate. The crowds are wild with enthusiasm for him, and the established leadership fears riots or worse. They must do something about this Nazarene.
So the Herodians, their political faction, try to trick him with their question about paying taxes, but they fail. Next, the Sadducees, their religious authorities, try to trap him with their question about marriage in heaven, but they fail as well.
Now the Pharisees, their legal authorities, gather. They select one of their own, a brilliant scribe and expert in the Jewish Law, to challenge Jesus. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he asks (Matthew 22:36).
Understand what he’s asking. The authorities counted 248 affirmative commandments, as many as the members of the human body; and 365 negative precepts, as many as the days of the year. The total number of their laws was 613, as many as the Hebrew letters of the Ten Commandments.
Which is most important? If he chooses one, he’ll be accused of neglecting all the rest. What would you say if a lawyer asked you, “What is the most important law in America?” If you answered with our laws against murder, someone will say that you endorse stealing; if you affirm our laws against drug abuse, someone will say that you are soft on human rights. And so on.
In essence, the lawyer is asking Jesus, how should we live? Out of all of God’s revelation to us, what commandment is the essential principle for life?
We join in asking the question. Not because we want to trick Jesus legally, but because we need to know practically. We need to simplify our lives, to find direction in times which are too hectic.
The cost of job stress in America is estimated at $200 billion annually.
Stress-related injuries on the job have tripled in recent years.
Fatigue is among the top five reasons people call their doctors. Of the top twenty prescription drugs, eleven are for treatment of high blood pressure or ulcers—stress disorders.
Everyone has this problem. Even librarians have a guide called Stress and Burnout in Library Service. Mothers of school-age children average eleven hours per week simply driving around.
What is the greatest commandment in the Law? Put in our words, what is the secret to living well?
Here’s Jesus’ famous answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (vs. 37-40).
Here is the “nail” on which everything else hangs. Here is the sine qua non, “that without which there is nothing.” Get this right, and everything else will be right; get this wrong, and nothing else can be right.
Here are the priorities of life, boiled down. Life in a nutshell, the secret to living on purpose, to living well. Let’s examine them in turn.
First, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Note these facts.
One: this has been God’s basic principle for life since he first revealed himself to us. These words are part of the Shema, the ancient and essential creed of Judaism. This is the sentence with which every Jewish service still opens, and the first text which every Jewish child commits to memory. This is the way God has always taught us to live.
Two: “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” means that we must love God with every part of our lives, every day. The “heart” was the seat of the will for ancient Jews; the “soul” is the life principle itself, and the “mind” is the place of reasoning. In every decision we make, in every thought we think, indeed in every dimension of life itself, we are to love God. He will accept no spiritual schizophrenia, loving him on Sunday but not Monday, loving him when we’re with some people but not others, loving him when things are good but not when they are not. He wants us to love him every day, with every dimension of our lives.