Going Back to the First and Greatest Commandment

Yes, because, to go straight to the heart of the matter, that is the whole purpose of our existence. Are we created to exist for ourselves, follow our own desires, build our own “empires” and reign in them like kings and queens? We can try them all for a time, but sooner or later, we will realize that apart from God, we can do nothing. Or fall upon Mark 8:36 and it’s too late:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Even those who are already in Him but have grown or are growing cold and cynical (or doubtful, bitter, and resentful), perhaps because of the diverse trials that seem to cling like barnacles to a rock – they need this, too.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I'm quite happy.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I’m quite happy.

At the start of the year, I wrote about hope when I was grappling for inspiration and courage to face yet another year, still with the hardships of my illnesses hounding me. A week after that, I wrote about the way of being filled up with joy, as a glimmer of light and hope and a bright future seemed to dawn on my horizon. Even if only spiritually. For now.

As the week stretched to another week, love and surrender beckoned me. I so much want to shed off the weariness, the humdrum rhythm of my days and heart. I would do anything just to break it off. I want to challenge myself and coax it out of its tired stupor, as in sick and tired stupor (pun intended), and be greatly expectant of life and God’s miracles once again. For I believe there is no other way to live life than that.

So, how do we love God above all things, with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls? Do we even know how to, really know? Oh, I know of many people who do. Their lives are spelled L-O-V-E and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. They don’t live for pleasures. They don’t even think about them secretly in their hearts. Their joy is to be at the feet of Jesus many hours everyday, praising, worshiping, praying, fasting. Or trekking valleys and mountains, looking for the lost soul, holes in their tattered shoes or sandals. Yet, that’s their greatest joy and contentment. Yes, I have heard stories like these in our Church, especially those who come from the remotest parts of the provinces, where walking with their own two feet are the only available, or affordable, mode of transportation. These are those who you will never see sporting anything on your FB newsfeed. God bless them!

Then there are those who are fully blessed – spiritually, physically, materially – that they leap in joy and shout out their praises. Who wouldn’t? Even me who is weak and ailing, when the cruel claws of suffering relinquish their hold on me – my spirit shouts and I would love to squeeze the face of my good, good Father in thanksgiving. In those healing moments, my spirit shouts “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”, followed by “I love You! I love You! I love You!” And mean it too, with all I have.

But what does loving God with all we are look like when suffering squeezes out all our peace, joy, strength, and even hope? It will look like a soul slumped at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy and deliverance, enveloped with sorrow, yet full of faith. Faith that is bold enough to proclaim —

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15

Keeping God’s commandment is the whole duty of man (see Ecc. 12:13) and the first and greatest commandment is to love Him above all things.

…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Mat. 22:37)

Sometimes, this proves to be challenging, hard for those who are struggling against bitterness and cynicism. We can go through the motions, but nothing is hidden from God. He knows our hearts more than we can ever attempt to. He who has made our heart, shall He not know?

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15 ESV)

Love for God is more than a surge of our fickle emotions, more than a high or a thrill. It is a decision, a sacred commitment. A covenant. Love is a verb. To obey God humbly and willingly is to love Him. The Lord Jesus said,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Sometimes, we find it hard to love Him fervently because we can’t seem to feel His love for us. But we know from His Word that He loves us, yes, even when it doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, we work it out, as we do in all our important earthly relationships. We pray. We worship. I have found out, as many others have before me, that meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship is the surest way to feel His love.

With my weak diaphragm and problems with breathing, I can only sing one or two praise songs, if at all. But during those moments as I humbly present myself to Him, I am enveloped by His light and love and my worship becomes a sacred dance. Our dance. His Spirit and mine. And I know then that I am deeply, completely, unfailingly, eternally, loved.

This year, I am poised to continue to run the race that is set before me, forgetting the 13 years that I had not received my healing. The 13 long years that I had suffered, that I had been left behind, that I had struggled against deep longings and emotions that were unprofitable. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Or record of unanswered prayers.

Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (part of Phil. 3:13) —

— with a renewed commitment to love God above all things. Above my healing and dreams and longings.

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That Our Joy May Be Full

When was the last time that your joy was full? I mean, in every sense of the word “full”? No part fear, no part sorrow. No lack, no traces of longing or dissatisfaction somewhere deep inside. You are content and your joy is pure and unsullied. Maybe for you, it was last Christmas or yesterday or this morning. For me, I can’t remember the last time. It was too long ago, a time when good health was mine to enjoy. For even when my son was born, a day I would have celebrated with trumpets blowing, sorrow filled my heart. I was blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby boy, but I was too sick and weak to relish the moment. Instead of my heart being filled with joy, it was filled with fear. It has been that way since my health was stolen and in its place is sickness and suffering: joy mixed with sorrow. If that were even possible.

This was just a super quick doodle on my mixed media journal. But if you look closer, notice the metallic gold, copper, and ruby on the petals’ and leaves’ edges. For aren’t answered prayers and fulfilled dreams like gilded things?

Since around Christmas last year, I had been feeling depleted and running on low (if not empty). I couldn’t seem to put my heart and mind into a place where I could move in a steady rhythm once again and with some measure of contentment and joy. So, I just let myself float and wait for fresh grace and inspiration to come. Although all that time, I continued steadfastly in prayer.

The night I started to write this, I felt some sense of peace and courage flowing in to continue to serve the Lord with all I am and to love Him just as much. In a subtle, almost imperceptible way, I felt a fresh and much deeper still commitment to do those things that are pleasing in God’s eyes creeping into my heart, spreading quietly but surely. I needed that fresh watering of my soul for I had been writing on my prayer journal, asking the Lord to not let me grow cynical.

I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words —

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. 11:28)

“…he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

His love and words woo us back to Him, faithfully and fervently abiding in Him.

I was revived, rekindled, and wooed back into the happy place of loving and following the Lord Jesus Christ. It didn’t come like a rushing wind, or a mighty fire from heaven, or a flood that swept me. It came like a soft feather caressing my face, like a warm flannel gently wrapped around me by unseen hands. I had to strain my ears to listen, to make sure it was there alright.

When I woke up the next morning, my soul whispered, “I love You, my Father, my dearest Lord Jesus Christ”, even before I opened my eyes.

I know, it is well with my soul.

Sometimes when I desire so much to get well and be able to go out, doing the things I’ve been so wanting to do, like traveling and testifying of the grace and mercy of God, a voice whispers in my mind. It tempts me to feel guilty asking for those things that will make me full of joy. Most of the time, it succeeds. I listen, and then feel guilty. But when I reached John 16, I was freed through the Lord’s words. Surely, I have read it numerous times before, but this time, it took on a new color, the very thing that I needed.

“…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

That voice in my head has been lying, for the Lord Jesus tells me differently.

It’s okay to not feel joy-full when we’re deeply longing for something, like healing perhaps. We need not feel guilty if we feel sorrow not receiving the things we so desire. That doesn’t make us ungrateful. And yes, it’s okay to desire the things that will do us a world of good. Even the Lord knows that it’s only when we have received what we asked for that our joy may be full. He’s saying that, until we ask and receive it, its absence in our lives leaves much to be desired and our joy is not complete.

It’s okay to desire and ask and believe that whatever we’re asking for from His hand will make us full of joy.

A healing.

A child.

A friend.

A love.

A yes.

A relationship mended.

A marriage repaired.

A family restored.

A loved one’s salvation.

A place visited.

A dream fulfilled.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.(1 John 5:14-15)

Because, you know what? He’s all there. He is in that place where our joy becomes full. He is there waiting to give it to us, to rejoice with us in the receiving.

Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

The Lord is inviting us, encouraging us, beckoning to us with His outstretched hands.

Ask.

Receive.

Be joy-full.

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The Way of Hope

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

On New Year’s Eve, I sat at my new, shiny marble-topped painting table (a Christmas gift from Felix), staring into my laptop screen. I flitted from Pinterest to Instagram to Photos Library and back again, looking for inspiration, a photo I would paint that would lift off the sadness and weariness I was feeling. I […]

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Of Christ’s Fullness

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

I was glad when, a few days before Christmas, I arrived at the Book of John in my daily Bible reading and journaling. This is what I do: I read one book from the OT Beginning at Genesis, then one book from NT, beginning at the Book of Matthew, back and forth. What preceded John […]

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He Fills Us to Overflowing

CHRISTMAS BUNDT CAKE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Natalios via IG).

I lay in bed with the singing and laughter still ringing in my head. When our family of four celebrates, it is loud. Not that we play music on a CD player or whatever, but we tell stories and jokes and speak all at the same time! We like pranking each other, whether child or […]

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Remember Grace

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

One late at night last week while Felix was away in the province and I was alone in our room, the enemy attacked all of a sudden. It started with labored breathing, then my insides shook like when you feel really cold. But my two layers of blanket couldn’t reach to the core of my […]

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