The lyrics of a rock musical make a thought-provoking point: We are at a loss to know the right way to love our Lord and Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ Superstar was a rock musical hit of the early 1970s. The lyrics were written by Tim Rice; the music for the album and play were by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is said that the story was influenced by Bob Dylan’s cynical song “With God on Our Side.”
In the musical, after her encounter with Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene sings the haunting song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
She is not the only one who doesn’t!
How do you love and worship the God who gives us life and everything that not only sustains life, but makes it enjoyable as well?
A case study: learning to love God as He wants to be loved
When the children of Israel lived in Egypt, they were forced into harsh servitude by Pharaoh and his people. To slow down the increase in Israel’s population growth, Israelite boy babies were put to death. Their heavy workload and harsh living conditions became so unbearable that they cried out for some kind of relief, and the God of their fathers heard their cry.
In time, God sent His servant Moses to lead them out of Egypt after He had reduced the power and pride of the Egyptians through 10 plagues. Weakened and humbled, the Egyptians gave the Israelites gifts of gold and silver and begged them to leave. God had heard the cries of Israel and set them free! They then headed for a bountiful land where they could prosper and be free.
The Israelites must have been ecstatic. It would only be natural that they would want to express their love toward this wonderful God—and to worship Him. But how? The land of Egypt was full of pagan gods (over which God systematically demonstrated His power through the plagues He sent on Egypt). It seems many Israelites had joined in the worship of Egypt’s idols. They had lost the true worship of God known by their forefathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were surrounded by other nations who served their gods in a way similar to the Egyptians. Would that be the way for them to worship the Lord?
God knew that the Israelites could assume that they should worship Him in a way similar to the way their gentile neighbors worshipped, so He inspired Moses to give them some guidelines.
“Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God. When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’
“You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:28-32).
They could not pick and choose just any way to worship God and expect it to be acceptable to Him. He would reveal to them the correct way to worship that would be befitting His glory and would show them what kind of people they should become.
Do we know how to worship Him?
“I don’t know how to love Him!”
Perhaps the whole world should be singing it! Many people think they know how, but really they don’t—that is, not according to the way He told us.
How do you love God? How do you love One who is spirit, who has the power to create anything He wants, who has no pains, no needs that we can fulfill?
Christ said it’s possible to worship God in vain. There were and are those who actually worship God in a completely useless and meaningless way!When we learn that this great awesome God has shared His life with us and now sustains our life with the very air, food and water we take in, how can we let Him know how much we appreciate it, how much we love Him?
Sometimes people come to a time in their lives when they realize the need to establish or improve their relationship with God. Perhaps they have never been religious in the past and might wonder, How do I worship God and show my love to Him? Like the ancient Israelites coming out of Egypt, they might ask, how did my parents or my churchgoing neighbors worship God? They might assume that is also the way they should worship Him.
Christ said it’s possible to worship God in vain. There were and are those who actually worship God in a completely useless and meaningless way! “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments [precepts] of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Notice how God inspired the prophet Isaiah to speak of those who just follow the traditions handed down by others without checking to see if they’re in harmony with the “how to” from the Bible.
“Therefore the Lord said: ‘… these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men’” (Isaiah 29:13).
It would be easy to assume that as long as we worship Him, it doesn’t make that much difference how we do so, since He knows our hearts. We can just do it our way or some other way, right? But Jesus Christ said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Note that Jesus Christ always pointed us to His Father. He told us to worship, obey and love God the Father and gave Him the preeminence and glory (John 14:28; 17:4). He told us to pray to the Father and give Him our primary worship (Matthew 4:10; 6:9).
The most important commandment
Once a lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, the most important one of all. His answer was, “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” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t! People express love in very different ways. Often times, if boys like each other, they’ll hit each other on the shoulder, but they know they wouldn’t do that to girls, their mothers or their pets.
In successful marriages, men and women learn there are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in marital relationships.
Over the centuries people have tried almost everything to express their love for God. They have carved images, bloodied their own bodies in self-flagellation, sent armies to distant lands to slaughter unbelievers, plus myriads of other things.
Just as there are unacceptable and acceptable ways to express our love in marriage, so there are unacceptable and acceptable ways to show our love for God. He made it very simple. Jesus Christ said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
It’s as uncomplicated as that—obedience to God’s laws. If you want a relationship with Him, start by obeying Him. If you want to be His friend, do what He says. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Since He made us, He has the right to require that of us. He knows how life should be lived to produce the good fruit of joy, peace and happiness.
When a young man came to Jesus and asked what He needed to do to have eternal life, Jesus answered, “‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments’” (Matthew 19:17).
Surely Jesus knew what He was talking about! The road that leads to Jesus Christ and life is paved by the laws of God.
A starting point
When the crowd heard the powerful preaching of John the Baptist, some stepped forward and asked, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). We all have to start somewhere. Obedience to God’s laws is a good starting point.
Read how much the psalmist appreciated God’s law in Psalm 119. He had come to see God’s law—God’s 10 Commandments—as guidelines to a good, fulfilling life. These laws reflect the will and character of God. In fact, the apostle John said that if you think you know Christ apart from His law, you are saddled with one of the worst of self-deceptions.
“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:4-6).
The God who created us and gave us life did not leave us without guidance. He left us an instruction book on how to live, how not to live and how to fulfill the awesome purpose He had in mind when He gave us life. That book, the Holy Bible, will also guide us in how we can worship Him in spirit and truth, for He is worthy of our love and worship!
For more on this topic, read the articles in the section “Who Is God?”