Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Following Directions: Loving

by Timothy Howe

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is one of our favorite places to visit. Of course, we made it a point to plan at least one visit during the summer months when the lavender was in full bloom and all the senses are fully engaged. The aroma captures attention the moment you step out of your car. The sounds of bees buzzing about and the song of the cicadas reminiscent of an ancient Gregorian chant lull the traveler to another place and time. After a brief walk one peers into field of lavender set in the bottom of towering green valley walls, the scene almost too much to take in. Taste and touch are not to be excluded as lavender honey and lotions await to be tried inside the Abbey.

Arriving at the Abbey was not a simple task from where we lived. It requires travel through a very picturesque region where one interesting hilltop village follows after another, but it also traverses a mountainous area with very narrow roads on cliff's edge or between extremely narrow ravines. Clearly, the monks did not have large numbers of visiting tourists in mind when they built the structure a thousand years ago.

Good Directions
Proper directions are a requirement for obtaining the prize of sensing Sénanque. Apparently, local authorities have concluded that the beautiful country roads retain their charm at least in part by the infrequency of directional signs. This is compounded by the fact that the snaking shape of the valley between to rows of mountains easily throws off one's perspective of North and South. So a word of advice, if you want to get to the Abbey, follow good directions. Really, this is good advice in all of life's journey, isn't it? To arrive anywhere we need to know where we are going and we need to know how to get there.

I have written about following directions for the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I listed a few of the major directions that Jesus left for His followers. Last week I highlighted His command for us to love other people. Today, I want to touch on the first part of that command, loving God.

The Great Commandment
When specifically asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered in two parts. Love people and love God (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus was actually quoting an ancient principle found in Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV):
          Love the Lord your God
          with all your heart and
          with all your soul and
          with all your strength.

I believe in a Creator that is not only all powerful, but who cares for His creation. We are part of His creation. One of the things that this Creator desires is devotion. Yet, how do we show love to an invisible, seemingly not present Being? I offer a few thoughts below.

Keep His Commandments
Jesus tells His followers in John 14 that the simplest way to demonstrate love to God is to keep His commandments. This is why I search the Scriptures to understand them and then try to line up my life with what they teach. His commands range from how we treat other people to how we spend time with Him. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I can daily strive to be better.

Spend Time in His Presence
We are commanded to spend time in the presence of the Divine. Why? Does God need us? No. Rather, I am convinced that we are created to need Him. Prayer, fasting, meditation and worship are spiritual disciplines that bring us into an encounter with God. The Scriptures are full of teachings regarding all four of these. Sometimes I will hear a person say something like, "I don't feel very close to God." After which, I ask, "How are you doing in these four areas?" All relationships require spending time with the other person. Our relationship with the Divine is the same.

Work Hard
The monks who built Sénanque valued hard work. They saw that part of their devotion to God was in manual labor. Hard work in and of itself is not a classic spiritual discipline, but I would suggest that it functions quite similarly. By devoting ourselves to hard work, we improve ourselves. Long hours of solid effort has an effect on the final product and on the producer. Proverbs 13:4 describe the result of laziness as "getting very little" out of life, but the result of hard work as "satisfaction."

Take Care of His Creation
Part of God's command to humankind was to rule over creation. This charge does not mean that we are to exploit it, but that we are to take care of it. When God created the world he stated that it was "good." Unfortunately, most of humanity's interaction with nature has been more akin to exploitation of the land and not taking care of it. We are called to be God's stewards. The monks at Sénanque worked to create a place people want to visit. I enjoy gardening in my yard because it makes my plot of earth a little better place to be. How are you taking care of God's creation?

Personal Checklist
How are you doing at Jesus' teaching to love to God? What are ways that you can think of write now that will help you do a better job?

Remember, we can show love to Him by
     keeping His commandments,
     spending time in His presence,
     working hard, and
     taking care of His creation.