The scene starts in Mark 12 when a first-century lawyer asks Jesus a question. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The question seems to be motivated by a pretty good instinct. (Just because he’s a lawyer doesn’t make him the bad guy in the story!) He notices that Jesus is giving some great answers to all the trick questions that the religious leaders are peppering him with…It’s our question too. How are we meant to live? With all the distractions and different ways of living, what’s the main thing . . . and then how do we actually live it out?
Jesus’ answer is deceptively simple: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . [And] love your neighbor as yourself” (verses 30–31).
Heart, soul, mind, and strength. These make up your control center, your emotions and will, your intellect, and your bodily abilities—pretty much all of you! During the time when Jesus was ministering, faithful Jews would have recited part of the greatest commandment every day. Some of them would even have carried it around on index cards in their pockets or had it displayed on the lock screens of their phones. It was a big deal . . . but Jesus did something even bigger with it.
See, there’s a movement to what Jesus talks about here, and the movement defines our lives. Upward, inward, outward.
That’s the movement described in the greatest commandment. Loving God takes us up, learning how to love ourselves takes us in, and then we go out and love our neighbors. And what’s fascinating about Jesus’ answer is that we already live upward, inward, and outward. We can’t help it. All of us relate to God in a certain way, all of us treat ourselves a certain way, and all of us treat others a certain way. Jesus isn’t telling us to do something no human has ever done. He’s not saying, “Fly like a bird!” or “Run at the speed of light!” or “Live life from old age to infancy!” Rather, he’s saying we need to make sure that what we’re already doing, naturally, is properly oriented.
And why do we naturally live upward, inward, and outward? Because we were created to! But what if I told you that the needs you feel on a moment-by-moment basis are designed to draw you into a new way of living?
God designed us completely, so he knows what it means to truly and fully live. That kind of living requires us to have a close connection to our Creator, which is the exact reason God has placed such deep needs within each of us. Without that connection, we’ll still find ourselves living upward, inward, and outward—except in all the wrong ways. That’s why Jesus is so insistent we draw near. That we come closer. If we recognize how we’re created, then our upward, inward, outward lives will work how they’re designed to. We’ll be living in step with the God who loves us deeply. God also understands the best ways for us to love him and others.
Being that close to Jesus is when life becomes not only rich and real but also transformational. Do not miss how critical that upward movement is. Loving upward drives us to life as God intended. If we are far from the Lord, then we will always love ourselves wrong, which will always lead us to love others wrong as well. If we are not loving upward, nothing else works. That’s why we’ve got to live it! We’re not after the “art of thinking about God a little differently.” This is the art of living. I love to call that art of living “Jesus spirituality”—which is ordinary people, like us, living in the deeply transformational way of Jesus.
See, information isn’t enough. Not even the right information can save us by itself. We have to act on that information. This is the definition of wisdom, by the way—acting the right way because we have the right information…God gives us the key in the greatest commandment, but we’ve got to do this stuff in the right order…
We begin upward, with loving God. The God. God of the Old Testament, God of the New Testament. God the Trinity—Father, Son, Spirit. We continue inward, with understanding our true identities in Jesus. And when we get those things right, God’s Spirit sends us outward, on mission into a hurting and wonderful world.
Discovering the art of living is a journey into the longings we were created with—and how God designed those longings to be met. But we don’t travel alone. We walk alongside the God who made us and our needs, stepping forward in thought and action, belief and works. Life is hard. It can be tough and unrelenting and catch us by surprise. And since we get only one shot at it, let’s follow Jesus. Let’s do it right. Let’s live Jesus spirituality.