How Do You Obey The Greatest Commandment, Love?

Love God and Love Your Neighbour

“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.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

This is one of the most difficult post for me to write. There is so much to write and the more I write, I increasingly became fearful that I might go overboard and write an entire book based on this verse alone. As I write, I kept trying to put myself inside the shoes of my blog readers as I tried to elaborate what came to my mind regarding this verse. I wanted this post to be a spiritual post because of my faith, but at the same time I wanted it to be as relevant as possible so as not to alienate anyone who come across this blog, who perhaps did not share my faith. Having completed it, I certainly hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing it.

Do you find it funny that we are commanded to love? If love is indeed a feeling then how can we just “love” someone, let alone loving God? If love requires some kind of ‘spark’ or ‘electric jolt’ for it to happen, then how does this make sense at all? If love is something you “fall” into, how can you just “fell” for God? For that matter, is it even possible at all to just love an invisible God, a being you can’t see, nor hear, nor feel, nor talk with? It is a nearly impossible task already to love someone we can see, feel, touch, hear with all our heart and soul and mind. The above verse offer faint, if non-existent, hope in our ability to love a divine being that is, more often than not, felt so distant.

I must confess that I often underestimate the significance of this verse in my relationship with God and with others. Perhaps it may seem a little too easy to take one look at this verse and dismiss it as something that is an after-thought of the Bible authors, or something which bears no benefit to us if executed correctly. Or dismiss the verse as, instead, something that is deceivingly easy to obey. To this day, even though I have studied with all my might, I am still far from getting a clear answer. I wanted to understand this verse and obey it, to my best effort. However, I find myself coming short of the command in the verse each time.

Often I told myself, this is impossible. No one could possibly love anyone, or anything at all with all their heart, and soul, and mind and strength. It is way too hard to do. I likened this to telling someone with acrophobia to do a skydiving. Or forcing someone with arachnophobia to work in a field research with spiders. Or perhaps parents insisting that their child with hemophobia pursue a career as a surgeon. Sounds impossible? Apparently not to some. I have read at least one case of those with phobias overcoming their fear. In their cases, though, they have a good reason to. Perhaps, its much easier for a person to overcome their fear than for one to love a God that did not seem to give a good reason enough to. Or rather, it requires much less effort to overcome your fear than it does to love God with everything we have.

I balk at the aspect that the verse is not just a mere suggestion or some advice given from a wise sage to a young disciple. Rather than saying, “You should”, which in itself implied the command being an optional route to take in life as a Christian, Jesus carefully, but boldly declared “Love your God …”, and “Love your neighbour”. There is nothing optional about His statement here. It sounds to me more like an ending statement, a statement to end all arguments, a no-questions-asked direct order from a war general to all his subordinates. Jesus even went so far as to made a promise which made this even more significant than it already is. Luke recorded Jesus stating “Do this and you will live.” to the expert in law who made the enquiry. It is as if He is saying that only by doing this correct that you will truly live. That we aren’t truly living yet.

I have learned from experience that in order to gain something, we need to give up something. The more we want to gain, the more we need to give up. Life, as we all know it, is a series of sacrifices made by giving up something good in order to achieve something better. John Maxwell said fittingly, “You have to give up in order to go up.” Notice the striking pattern. We need to give up play time in order to do well in school. We give up our favourite, though heavily undersized shoe,  so we could wear the right-sized shoe. We give up our rest time during college, in order to work to gain some extra pocket change. As I sat down pondering this truth, it came to me rather abruptly, what must I give up in order to gain love? A love so sincere, deep, so caring, a love willing to give everything in exchange for nothing. In fact, the love which sacrifice everything to gain something which was seemingly so unworthy. I struggle to find the right words to explain this love. Jesus himself modeled this so beautifully, giving away his life, and instead of receiving the honor and the reward He so deserve, He earned something worse. He was scorned, insulted, beaten to half-death, struck in His belly, painfully rejected, shamefully mocked, denied by the one He himself hinted as His future legacy, and deserted by those He personally picked, discipled, trusted and even loved. Was humans worthy of so much that He willingly went through all that on His own?

To further understand this verse, I tried dissecting this verse to each of its individual phrase so I can have a broader view of it. It is one of the methods I have often used when I met with a difficult verse.

Allow me to illustrate, beginning with the first part of the verse, with all your heart. Heart usually deals with a feeling, an emotion, something that does not require much thought to function. Could Jesus have meant that He wants us to love God, His father with the same intensity we would have as when we, say, loved our prized possession? In the 90s, it might have been our collection of cards, or our miniature toys. We keep it close to us all the time and seem inseparable from them, carrying them with us even as we get on our bed. In the 2000s, we might have the same, perhaps even stronger attachment to our handheld gadgets, like our iPhones. We heard from our surroundings, casual comments like being unable to live for a day without their mobile phone. Some even made an even bolder statement by saying, “My phone is my life, all aspects of my life centered around it.” I think about how God would have chuckled, even danced and rejoiced if we were to make the same statement about Him.

With all your soul. This is truthfully, the most challenging part of this command. Whatever did Jesus mean when He says to love with all my soul? The more I thought about it, the more I am left baffled. I can understand loving someone from the heart, but this? Furthermore, no hint or help is given to help me inch closer towards a proper understanding of it. However, as I read through the Gospel, I noticed the authors more or less speak about soul as if it is the life in itself. One noteworthy verse, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” highlighted the significance of our soul. Our soul is worth more than the world itself, by Jesus’ standard. We are to treasure our soul more than anything else. Could Jesus be saying that we ought to lose our soul to gain the love for God? It sounds plausible to me. After all, Matthew quoted Jesus as saying “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

With all your mind. Our mind lives in our brain. It has been said that the brain is the most significant part of our entire body. It controls and supervises every single operation, every single cell, every single vein in our body with exact precision that it missed nothing. And it faithfully executed the same cycle over and over again without fail. I have always believed in the power of thoughts. All our thoughts, and our actions, began and is being controlled in our mind. It is the master computer which, if we get complete control over it, will provide us with great and amazing things we’ve never seen before. I believe that our thoughts, which began in our mind, eventually influence our words, which influences our actions, then our habits and ultimately, our destiny. Perhaps Jesus was saying, effectively, allow God to be the first in your thoughts. Let God to be the last in your thoughts. Open your mind to allow God to be in control of every single aspect of your mind.

With all your strength. This statement raises a question. How do you love someone with all your strength? Rather, can you love with strength? That is one of the most confounding questions I am faced with when studying this verse. However, when I think about it carefully, it seems to make sense. When we talk about strength, we talk about our energy. We talk about effort. When I rephrased the question, it sounds more sensible this way. How much effort are you willing to give to demonstrate your love? After all, I have found that love is action. Love is not all talks and love is not about empty promises either. It requires someone making a conscious and significant effort to show a perfect love. It might be exhausting and it may take time but a perfect love never gives up and never stops giving. Love is never just spoken. It is expressed with action, felt with action and experienced with effort. At times, a great effort may be required. One that might cost us our life.

I will always be amazed and grateful for how much Jesus so that I can gain the promised eternal life. In fact, when I look back at the verse, I discovered a startling truth. Jesus himself modeled the expected behaviour from this command. He willingly, though seemingly reluctant, gave Himself over to the Roman soldiers to be tortured beyond measure, and then cruelly crucified. He could, if He choose to, call up legions of angels to easily wipe out the entire Roman garrison and display to the world what a mistake they have made by rejecting their Messiah. Yet, because of His love and complete trust on His Father, He chose to go the hard way. In fact, His choice was always the hardest way. The crucifixion itself seem to me like a loud announcement, saying to anyone witnessing His death, “I love my neighbours THIS much to die for them.” Jesus became the embodiment of the Great Commandment. Jesus willingly gave up His status, albeit temporarily, His position, His throne to become like His creation and showed perfect love for God by going through the most terrible suffering any man has ever been subjected to. In fact, it is also for us, His “neighbours” while residing on earth, that Jesus accepted the greatest humiliation known to mankind.

After carefully observing and studying Jesus demonstrating His love throughout His lifetime, I became convinced that the command to love is not so impossible. I do not mean to say it is easy. It hardly is. No man in history, other than Jesus himself, have ever committed this verse to life perfectly. However, Jesus offered hope that though we are weak, and far from capable of committing this on our own, it is possible with Jesus by our side. It became apparent to me that many, if not all of Jesus’ command to us were impossible to achieve. It’s not like Jesus himself wasn’t aware of this fact when He gave these commands. It seems to me that it is precisely for that reason that Jesus did so. No one should ever rejoice that they have earned some brownie points with God by their own admission. You do not come to God by works. You come to Him by faith. Jesus had wanted us to completely depend on Him to be able to love God. We love God by accepting Jesus. When we accept Jesus, we accept God. When we look towards Jesus, we see God. When we rely on Jesus, we depend on God. Similarly, with our neighbours, we are only capable of loving them as ourselves through Jesus. It is quite simple, when you think about it. How do you do something that seems impossible? You learn from the one who has done it. In this case, it’s quite perfectly done too.

Discussion Questions: Look at the verse again, heart, soul, mind and strength. If someone were to ask you, do you ever love God with “partial love”? Do you love with your heart only? How well do you take the command, love your neighbour as yourself? 

How to Become a More Interesting Person

You would have been forgiven if you thought the title to this post should have been “How to Talk so People will Listen” instead. Perhaps, the side-effect of being an interesting person is indeed people who listen to you willingly, and intently. I have written this post with that goal in mind. The focus is clear, however. People won’t listen to you unless you are interesting. In my previous post, I have mentioned about how people who do well financially and seem to be enjoying much success in their organisation but did not have as much luck elsewhere. This is particularly true when they engage in personal relationship with friends or with their spouse. I believe that it is a question that many would be asking. I had to ask the question myself many years ago as I was still learning. I tried to discover more about communication and improving my interpersonal relationship.

You see, many years ago I struggled to get my voice heard. Whenever I was engaged in a conversation in a small group of any size, I was never able to get my opinions or my ideas across. I would try to be polite and listen intently to what everyone else has to say before I started to speak. Afterall, it’s the right thing to do. Yet, whenever it came to my turn to speak, I would often find myself being interrupted by someone else who would then launch into their own ideas. As their stories and their conversation continue to flow and began to swerve into an uncharted territory, where my ideas and my carefully crafted sentences were somehow no longer needed. Being a little bit of a slow person, I will have to adjust myself to focus on the next topic, all the while hoping that the opportunity will finally come for me to speak. This happened so often that I am at a loss of what to do. Although I am grateful that there are some people who were kind enough to allow me to finish my sentences or my stories before allowing others to speak. I must admit however, that kind of treatment often embarrass me more than I do being happy about at least being noticed.

Stephen Covey wrote in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”, it is one principle I have lived by for a long time and the one I am still holding on to today. However, along the way I have discovered that learning and seeking to understand people is just half of the equation and there is yet another half that I need to uncover in order to get people to listen. The key is that I have to be interesting. I need to learn to become an interesting person.

To understand how  to be interesting, we should ask the question, “What is interesting?”. Or, perhaps more appropriately we should ask “What is interesting to a person?”. More often than not, one will be interested in topics that he is interested about or in topics that concern himself or herself, and  those that piqued his interest. From that premise, I have drawn a few points about being an interesting person.

1. Speak about the person, in a positive way. 
Whether or not we are ready, we have to admit it. There’s no other person in the world whose interest we are so passionate about but ourselves. I guess you could say, it is why this post is written in the first place. We want to make ourselves heard and we want people to listen to us. If we apply this understanding to the person we are speaking to, then we ought to be able to get our message across. I added at the end “in a positive way” because unless you show that you care about the person to talk about him, and to make him feel good about himself, he won’t listen to you. Study him, and learn to remember everything you have learned about him, down to the smallest details. Show sincere care and interest in that person.

2. Speak about a topic the person is interested in. 
Some people might be a bit shy and tend to draw away from conversations about themselves. Or there may be some situations where talking about the person, no matter how positive it sounds, may not be so appealing. Fortunately, we have another option to fall back to. If you have been listening and trying to understand the person, you would have at least figured out one or two topics he would be willing to talk about. You then need to do your homework, study about the topic, be interested in the topic, read up on it, find more information about it, and if possible, be an expert in it such that you could be engaged in meaningful, and value-adding conversation with the person the next time you meet. However, even on initial meeting, try to learn as much as possible about the other person, ask him about his favorite holiday destination, ask him about his hobbies. By learning to ask questions and maintaining your curiosity spirit, you will be able to learn a lot more about one person.

3. Introduce a topic or a person of interest to the person.
A few years ago, a respected mentor and friend of mine shared this inspirational message with me, “If you want to be an excellent networker, help other people to be one.” That is, to get to know more people, begin introducing people you know to each other. Tell one about the other’s good qualities. Be generous in offering praise, though not in the way that is too excessive. If you know of a topic or a person that will be interesting to the person you are talking with, then share about the topic or offer to introduce the person to him.

Of course, all of the above will not be so easy to do unless you learn to become observant and also focus on understanding the person first. By learning about the person, his / her interests and committing them to memory, you will inevitably be able to provide facts, anecdotes or stories that will be of interest to the person, and in time, they will be so intent on listening to you rather than listening to themselves.

Discussion Questions: Do you consider yourself as an interesting person currently? What have you done in an attempt to make yourself an interesting person? What other qualities do you observe in someone you consider interesting? Please share them in the comments section below.

How Do You Become a Sweet Person?

I recently met with a friend who is a business owner. We are both passionate about leadership and about helping people to achieve their potential. During our conversation we both come to agree that a lot of leaders, although they have no difficulty running a successful business and earning money, they tend to struggle with their personal lives. Although this is true for both men and women, I believe that men needed more help in this area.

This week, I will begin by writing about being a sweet person. What does it mean when someone says something sweet or do something sweet?

Whether you have a spouse, or are in a relationship, or a single man or woman, you could never go wrong with saying or doing something sweet. How often have you heard someone said, “Aww, that’s so sweet.” or “That’s such a sweet thing to say.”?

As a male, I used to find myself bewildered and confused whenever someone mentioned those lines. I shouldn’t be surprised though. The word itself is not registered with the relevant meaning in the dictionary. It is, however, defined somewhat, in the Urban Dictionary.

After learning to observe others and fortunately, having done a few sweet things to others, albeit by accident at times, I was able to understand how to be a sweet person.

Here is what I have learned:

1. It is about doing something surprising, in a positive way.

In my relationship with my girlfriend, we both like to give each other surprises. Those surprises range from big surprises like suddenly appearing at her doorsteps to small surprises like just saying, “I Love You” in different ways. Some may think that they have to come up with “big” surprises with expensive gifts or elaborate planning, yet I believe that the most important element in the surprise is that it comes from the heart. The key is to be constantly on the lookout for a chance to bring a positive difference in someone’s life.
2. It is about noticing the small details.
I have often seen in TV shows and sometimes, in the life of my parents or my mentors of how noticing small details can go a long way. What kind of details do you notice? Did you notice when a female friend changes her haircut, or when she changes her nail polish or when she wears a new lipstick, or new accessories? This will prove to be an uphill battle for most men. I am a naturally observant person and even I find myself struggling to do this. Sometimes however, it is not only about their appearance. Tell them how much you appreciate what they have done, no matter how insignificant it may seem. It is also helpful to notice when someone is in need and to offer help without being asked. Learn to notice a person’s change in their mood and tactfully ask how you can be a friend.

3. It is about going out of your way to help.
I recently met with a high school friend to catch up and we were able to spend some time reminiscing about our school days. Although we both couldn’t remember how we met each other, she recounted a story that was still planted in her heart vividly.

It was a rainy day, and it was just a few hours after school has finished. I did not go home immediately. Instead I went to a nearby internet cafe with some of my friends and hung out there. One by one, my friends went home and I was also standing outside, waiting to go home, but I was unsure how since no one offered me a lift. As if prompted by a cue, you came out from the shop and offered me a lift home in your car. I still remember it to this day and that was why I was so excited to hear that you were back in town.

I have no recollection whatsoever of this particular incident, yet she remembered it clearly as if it was yesteday. To that end, I drew a conclusion that a little kind gesture goes a long way in touching someone’s heart. I did not know her that well at the time, yet because I made an intentional effort to help, she remembered it to this day.

4. It is about giving a compliment from the heart.
Giving a compliment is not an easy habit to commit ourselves into. This is because we have been trained to be critical in our dealings with people. We prefer pointing out defects than elevating good features. We excuse such habits by saying that we are being honest and not being hypocrite. I have learned however that it is possible to give an honest and heartfelt appreciation without being fake. It requires practice, however. I have realised that what we need to change is not so much our circumstances but rather our belief system.

By changing our mindset about how we see things and learning to appreciate their beauty, our attitude towards life will be more positive. Having said that, I believe it is important to also make an intentional effort to voice that compliment out. I have, more often than not, listened to conversations where someone maintained that it is unnecessary to compliment something beautiful or a positive behaviour. I wholeheartedly disagree with that! I believe that a positive behaviour and a beautiful appearance require ample encouragement in order for it to grow and to be nurtured.

5. It is about going out of your comfort zone.
Everyone of us have something that we disliked doing. For men, you might find shopping boring. We tend to make excuses when asked to do the dishes. We thought its unmanly to change a babies’ nappies. For women, you might dislike going to sports games, and being surrounded by loud smelly men. Perhaps you fail to find the amusement in driving around in beautiful sports cars. You might find that some sports were unattractive. Despite your resentment however, your closest friend or spouse will appreciate it to no end when you decide to get out of your comfort zone and do something to add value and to make a positive change in their  life.

Discussion Questions: What do you think? Did you have anything to add to the list? What have you said recently that prompted someone to call you sweet? Did you do anything sweet recently?