The Shema, named for the first word of the Hebrew text “hear” in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the most important of Jewish prayers and is to be repeated twice a day.
When the Scripture says to write God’s words on their hands and foreheads, they do – in the form of phylacteries. They also mount the words on their doorposts with mezuzahs.
When Jesus referred to this passage in Mark 12:29–31, He said loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment. He followed that with the second greatest commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said the entire law and all the words of the Old Testament prophets are summed up with these two mandates.
To illustrate the importance of the Shema to the Jewish faith, the following rituals are attached to the prayer:
- When the Jewish people quote the passage, they often put their right hand in front of their eyes as a sign that they are removing all distractions and focusing on the words they are saying and on their faithful God and King.
- At times, the last letter of the first and last words of the Shema verse are written in larger print. This is because these letters form the Hebrew word ed, which means witness. This serves to remind them of their duty to serve as witnesses to God’s sovereignty by leading exemplary lives.
- Similarly, if reciting the Shema while standing, that position is used to remind one that they are testifying, or bearing witness to God.
- Other times, sitting is the required posture for saying the Shema because sitting is the place of a student and implies a desire to study the Word.
- When a person is praying alone, he begins the Shema with the Hebrew phrase for “God, Faithful King” to bring the number of words in the Shema up to 248, the number of parts in the human body. This indicates that the worshiper dedicates his or her whole body to serving God.
When God instructs us to love Him with the whole of our being, He is not requiring anything from us that He has not first modeled Himself. The Shema presents God as being “one.” That’s not a surprising description of God in the context of Deuteronomy where the point is being made that the Lord is their God and they are His people, and also that He’s the one true God. The word for “one” used in this passage is not the expected word for a simple numerical one. Instead, this word stresses a oneness that is a unity within diversity. Some might say it’s a foreshadowing of the concept of the Trinity that would be fleshed out more fully once Christ came.
All this got me to thinking of how true it is that God loves us and ministers to us with the fullness of His being.
- He is a Father. He is a Saviour. He is a Friend.
- He is a comforter, a teacher and a counselor.
- He brings judgment when we need to see the devastation and ugliness of sin.
- And He brings mercy because we can’t meet Him without it.
- He rules in the heavens, but brings Himself to earth.
- We are in His heart. We are on His mind. And his mighty arm is extended toward us.
- The very essence of our being is wrapped up in His image –
- in Him we live and move and have our being.
- He knows us fully and intimately and that’s why He can minister to us in every way we need him to.
- He left His throne in heaven and lived as a human in order to be a High Priest who knows what it is like to feel our pain, our temptation and our suffering. And He overcame all these things for us.
- On the cross, He resisted temptation until His dying breath so that we might have life free from the power and consequences of sin.
- He now offers to dwell with us continually through His Holy Spirit.
Talk about giving your all. Our God ministers to us from the fullness of His being. Does He not deserve for us to love Him with the whole of our being?
When God commands this level of devotion, He doesn’t just leave us to figure out how to accomplish that goal. Instead, He provides the means for it to happen. His word and the Holy Spirit are available to sanctify and renew our minds, to transform our hearts, and to give us strength for the tasks He calls us to do. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are fully surrendering to this process.
- What would my life look like if I was loving God with the whole of my being?
- How would that love relationship with God overflow to others?
- How would my life be a witness to the love of God for others?
- How might my thinking be changed?
- What issues would be burning in my heart?
- What would it be like if the very depths of my soul and being were Christ-driven?
- What Scriptures would I be meditating on … and living out?
- What activities might I be applying my strength and energy to?
- How can I give my all to the God who gives His all to me?