Monday, December 19, 2005

Back to Basics: Loving God with All Your Soul

This is number nine (9) in the ”Back to Basics Series”: this link leads to an index post that will direct you to the rest of the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment. The seventh examined why love is the Great Command. Now, Carl begins to examine the Great Commandment itself in detail. The last post was “How to Love God with All My Heart”; and now we come to:

How to Love God with All Your Soul
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Mark 12:30; November 20, 2005

The Great Commandment is:
Mark 12:30 “ ‘and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ “ [Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself ' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
Some people when they view that commandment see it as a figure of speech. When they see the words “heart, soul, mind and strength” it is somewhat like when we say “they bought it ‘lock, stock and barrel’ “ or “hook, line, and sinker” – it is a phrase meaning everything, or all. Some folks would go on to say that it is not that useful to look at the four words – heart, soul, mind, and strength – separately.

While it is impossible to pull the words completely apart – they overlap so much - Carl has gained a great insight in asking “How do I love God with all my ________” with each of the four words. First it was “heart”, and Carl’s best sense of “loving God with all of your heart” was to to love God first, and to relate to all things through my “first love” for God. Next it will be “mind” and then “strength”. Now it is “soul”; and this has been the most difficult for Carl to figure out.

Heart is that deepest, most innermost part – your control center – that decides what is important to you; and then radiates that out into your soul, mind, and strength. That is why it was first in the list; and why God has to be your “first love”. The next phrase is “love God with all of your soul” and that phrase is difficult to define. That is because soul is a term that describes our inner nature.

People have been trying to describe and understand our inner, invisible human nature for a long time; and it is not simple to understand. Some of our members are going to Kazakhstan to help with “soul care”. Even in giving “soul care” we are not sure what the soul is; but we do get the sense that our soul gets out of balance and needs soul care in order to be healthy. Now God says to love Him with all of your soul.

When we look at the Old Testament scripture we see that sometimes “heart” and “soul” are used interchangeably; and so are the words “soul” and “spirit”. Scripturally, “heart”, “soul” and “spirit” are tough to define. God, however, tells us to love Him with all of your soul; and all of your heart. God is trying to get at something here.

Occasionally scripture will make a distinction between some of these words:
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Carl has never know what “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit” means; but the word of God does this; and then goes on to “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.

In the Old Testament the word “soul” is the Hebrew word “Xpn” (nepesh) and it really had to do with life. The Hebrews didn’t have a real definitive psychology of the soul. They didn’t analyze all of these things, and tended to think in more holistic terms – which was probably healthy and good. They did talk about these things individually; and when they talked about “soul” they tended to mean “your whole life” – you just loved God with your whole life (your inner life primarily). So, to the Hebrews loving God with your soul was an inner thing – not an external religion – and it was primarily a life kind of thing. Jews historically interpreted “love God with all your ‘Xpn’” as loving God to the point of sacrificing our lives for Him.

When you move to the New Testament Greek culture had infiltrated Jewish culture, and the Greeks had a lot of different ideas about what the soul (Greek = ”yuce”) was so they defined it in many different ways. It still carried the idea that this was our “inner being”. We had our body, but our soul was what was inside of us – in a sense the “real us” – and that someday we would leave this body behind. Our heart, soul, and mind will leave when we die. Soul then has to do with our inner, spiritual life – the real, valuable part that makes us us.
Matthew 16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
There are three main things that Carl thinks God means when He says to love Him with all your soul

To “love God with all my soul” is to . . .

. . . love Him with real love.
Some of you are saying “Well duh pastor – we are paying you the big bucks for this?” Really though, do you understand what loving with “real love” means as opposed to something put on or fake? It is not something religious or exterior; and it has something to do with the inner part of our life. It has to do with loving God with who we are - the very core of us. So, not only are we to place God first in our control center – the heart – but we are to love Him with all of our inner being.

The Greeks thought of the soul as the thing that integrates our whole inside. If something is messed up in our soul, your whole life is messed up. If we have bitterness or unforgiveness in your soul, it saturates everything in your life. That is what Soul Care is about: to get our soul right with God – clean and balanced so our life can be better. To the Greeks then the soul is the thing that tied heart, mind and strength together. Loving God with all our heart means to love God first; and loving God with all of our soul means to love Him with our entire inner being. That means real love: not put on, not “religious”, and external.

A lot of people do a religious thing on the outside, but it hasn’t affected their inner being – their life is not different – and they are not thinking that the primary part of us is not material. We tend to think of ourselves as a body that happens to have a soul; but the reality is we are a soul that happens to have a body. We are going to leave this body behind and get a new one someday. You hear this whole concept really vividly when you picture Jesus in John 21. sitting at the campfire with the disciples. They have eaten breakfast and Jesus is looking across the campfire into Peter’s eyes. Jesus asks the same question three times:
15 . . . "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." 16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep.
There were a lot of things happening around that campfire; but the primary thing was that Jesus was driving deep into the soul of Peter that this love that Peter felt for Jesus was real. Jesus wanted Peter to leave that campfire and be absolutely certain for the rest of his life that the love Peter felt for Jesus was real. Three questions, and three yes’s, to erase the three denials.

. . . love Him with whole-life love. Your soul is that part of your that integrates your whole life. It’s that part of you struggling to figure out how you keep your priorities right; what to do when part of your life is out of balance; or when there is great hurt in part of your life. The soul is the part of you that hurts sometimes. The heart is the inner control center; and the soul is your whole inner life as a person – your whole inner nature. Some might say your personality is locked up with your soul.

To love God with all your soul is to love God with your entire inner life. This means everything your inner life experiences - everything you feel, decide, believe, think, choose, want, dwell on, turn to, and pursue – is about your soul. The soul is about what makes you happy, what fills you with joy, where your sorrow and sadness is, and what gives you peace. All of these things you experience in your soul are to be related to your love for God. God wants a kind of love that “saturates” us. God wants the kind of love that “permeates” every part of us and “unites” us into one great lover of God.

We sing songs that say (to God) “You’re all I want” or “You’re all I need”. Does that ever twinge your conscience a little?

. . . love Him with passionate love. It is a deeply passionate love. It is like this:
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8)

That is passionate love. It is real. Our soul is the place of our emotions; our feelings; our desires; and our appetites. The Puritans used to call these our affections (we need to reclaim that word – it is a good one). They used the word affections to mean everything we long for or have an appetite for; and all the hopes and desires that stir up in us sometimes and often frustrate us.

As soon as you say the word “emotions” in church some people immediately get a little nervous. We are creatures of imbalance – we swing from one extreme to another – especially in the area of emotions. Some people say emotions are dangerous, and Carl supposes they are: a lot of strange things can happen when we get really emotional and “unbalanced”. We have brought that into the church.

Carl was raised in that kind of environment. You just didn’t get emotional in church. If you did, some usher would likely come up alongside your pew and just look at you; or talk to you afterwards – certain that you really had intended to go to the Assembly of God Church down the street. When Carl was growing up he could count on one hand the times he saw what he would call passionate emotion in church. Occasionally you would see a little tear in somebody’s eyes. No one ever raised a hand – there were no physical, outward expressions of passion for God.

Carl was trained from an early age that your love for God was primarily a mental love – a cerebral love that doesn’t move from the brain. The other extreme was people being controlled by emotion and doing wild emotional things in which they lost control – and Carl was trained that you didn’t want to go there. Who knows what might happen – and “those people” are really unbalanced.

Then Carl read the Bible more – particularly the Book of Psalms. Psalms is so long because it is primarily about the soul. Every now and then when we read a Psalm we think of the psalmist “this guy is really a mess”. They are depressed. They feel like they are on the edge of suicide. And it is true: the psalms go from joy and happiness; to death and anguish. The psalmists question whether God is there; and if He is real. Psalms is full of depression, discouragement, fear, anxiety, sadness, perplexity, impatience, frustration, and anger – even anger against God: all of the things that we Christians actually experience. Psalms is also full of wonderful joy, delight, gladness, and desire. You need to read the book.

Carl discovered that the Bible does not teach, in any sense, what some Christians seem to believe: that if you are not happy in every sense all the time then you are a bad Christian. In fact, God wants us to mourn: Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn . . . “. There is a need for mourning – a need for God to grip my heart and for me to experience sadness, and sorrow, and repentance. There is a time in our lives where all of these things are essential. Jesus knew, and taught, that our lives are often full of perplexity and pain; and that things do not always work out. People who preach that things will always work out if you have enough faith are telling a lie.

We need to love God with all our soul. God does not avoid emotion; and we tend to. We should not avoid emotion because every single emotion we experience can point us back to God. Every time you are angry at the great injustice in the world, it can point you back to the One who is greatly just. Every time you are frustrated it can turn you back to the peace and power of God. Every single emotion you experience can be a God thing in your life. God does not just want you to love Him when you feel good – He especially wants you to love Him when life sucks.

We cannot fully grasp what this entire “Great Commandment” means if we do not recognize that loving God with all our soul means a total love: it is what we feel, and what we think, and what is happening in our lives. God wants us to have a big, big love that is passionate, fervent, zealous, and even fiery; and involves our whole being. We must reach the place in our lives where we decide if this is the kind of love we will have for God.

How did we ever arrive at the idea that love for God can be:
  • limited to a very small part of our lives?
  • so “calm” and “cool” that we never weep?
  • so cerebral, mental, and intellectual that you never dance?
  • so small and limited that we never get really excited?
This is about passionate love. Carl says you may never see him dance in this world [he said his dancing was so bad people would leave the church – because of his lack of rhythm]; but you will see him dance in the next. If dancing in church is a little “over the top” for you – what about raising a hand or two in praise?

One more time, Carl grew up in a church where you did not raise your hand in praise to God. He was 19 years old before he saw that happen. It wasn’t at church but at some camp where someone (“who didn’t know any better”) closed their eyes (Carl’s church didn’t do that either) and raised their hand in praise. They were on the second row (“those people always go to the front”) and every one of the 60 kids eyes went to that “wild, crazy emotional person”; who was totally oblivious – closing their eyes while praising God. Carl started reading the Bible:
Nehemiah 8:6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with {their} faces to the ground.

Psalm 63:4 So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.

Psalm 134:2 Lift up your hands to the sanctuary And bless the LORD.

There’s lots more. Some of you are thinking of some questions:
  • Does raising hands in worship mean the heart is right or more sincere? No, of course not.
  • Is this the main thing we really need? No, of course not.
  • Do we want worship times that are full of unrestrained emotion; where people are made nervous and perhaps made to stumble? No, of course not.
  • Do we want it to be genuine, wholehearted worship? Yes.
Do we refuse to raise our hands in praise because we are uncomfortable at first? For Carl this was true, but once he tried it he discovered that his hands were connected to his heart – and he was uncomfortable at first. Then he began to realize that so many parts of worship and praise are uncomfortable at first. Service of others is uncomfortable at first. Tithing is uncomfortable at first. Almost every form of prayer is uncomfortable at first. Almost everything God tells us to do is in some way uncomfortable at first.

Your hands are connected to your heart. It was a helpful breakthrough for Carl to realize that worship was not primarily about his brain. He discovered that with his hands raised in worship he would weep more. He is not sure why, but it has something to do with the soul. Again, Carl is not saying hand-raising is the most essential thing. Is he saying you should do it? Maybe.

What we must actually do is find many ways to express passionate love for God. How do you express this passion for God? You need to understand that it is not good for your soul to hold back from physically expressing emotional love for God. This is in the same way as its not good for you to hold back from physically expressing love for the person you married. You need to touch them and hold them and hug them and make love to them. We need to express physical love. God gave you a body; and that body is connected to your heart and your soul.

To “love God with all my soul” is to love God with strong desire, true emotion and powerful enthusiasm.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
(Psalm 42:1-2)


  1. AWESOME!!!  Great words from Jesus!!!  Thank you for sharing them!!!  Praise Jesus!!!

  2. That was amazingly powerful and just what I needed :) Thank you very much and keep doing what you are doing! God is so good and worthy to be praised!!!

  3. That was amazingly powerful and just what I needed :) Thank you very much and keep doing what you are doing! God is so good and worthy to be praised!!!

  4. That was amazingly powerful and just what I needed :) Thank you very much and keep doing what you are doing! God is so good and worthy to be praised!!!

  5. May God bless you, I was greatly in need of this as i move thru this dry and dead season in my walk with God!!!!

  6. I dont have words to say. Praise be to HIM only for talking to us through You. Thank You so much

  7. Psalms really spoke to me when I was in distress. The words in the Bible are live!!! God speaks and comforts us through these words in various situations!!! I feel that I need to love God and ask him to make me love him more and more.

  8. Thank you for your thoughts. I am using them to teach my Wednesday Night Youth Group on Illogical Pursuit of God's Heart. Bless You!


  9. This was really helpful and practical.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly