The Shema

Watch the podcast version on YouTube here: Taking Root – Learning To Walk In The Way | 002. The Shema

Last time, we briefly talked about the importance of having the right method. I am firmly under the belief that to finish right, you have to start right. The question many rightfully ask is, “where do we start?” Let’s be as wise as a particular scribe was and ask Jesus what’s important.

In the book of Mark, Jesus was once asked which of all the commandments was the absolutely number one most important. Jesus started His response by quoting from The Shema.

The Shema is originally found in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It is the centerpiece of Jewish morning & evening prayers and is an affirmation of faith in the one true God. The Shema encapsulates the monotheistic essence of the Jewish faith, therefore by extension it should be the essence of the Christian faith.

To give you an idea of how important the Shema is, observant Jews have been reciting it at least twice a day for thousands of years.

So, what does that mean for us as Christians in the 21st century? Well, let’s take a look at the verses where it is found.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Now that we have seen this important commandment, let’s take a look beneath the surface into the meanings of the key words to help us understand the root of what makes this simple phrase the MOST important of all of the commandments and how it can change how you look at your walk with God. It did for me.

Let’s start off with Hear….
The word we translate to be Hear is Shema – Literally Hear or listen. It also means to pay close attention or focus on what is about to be said. Much like when you read the word “BEHOLD,” or in the Psalms, “selah,” a pause a pay attention. Further, shema indicates a need for response. Many of the Psalms include prayers that start with a crying out to God saying “hear my voice” or “hear me” as a plea for God to not just audibly listen to their prayer, but to act on their behalf and do something. It also means to listen closely or obey. So, when God asks us to HEAR His word, it is more than just audibly hearing His words, or even just memorizing them. He is asking that we pay very close attention to and be mindful of what is said AND obey His words. So, it’s no wonder Jesus said THIS is the first of all commandments. (ref: Matt 11:15 “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” in other words, ‘pay attention to & understand what I’m saying,’ )

Next is love
Love – Ahavah (ah ha vah) – Not just an emotion of love, but it is an action word. To not just feel love, but to show it through action. Like how we show love to the fatherless and widows by doing something for them. We don’t just have a feeling of love towards our parents, we express that love by being obedient. We don’t just have a feeling of love for our spouse, we express it with both our words and actions. Likewise with our children and friends, we don’t just say we love them, our actions will reflect it. While these are very different types of love, they are all covered by ahavah. None are just a feeling, but an action driven because of the feeling. It can be summed up nicely in 1 John 3:18 “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” If we truly feel it, we will act on it.

The Hebrew for Heart is levav (lay vahv) – The Biblical understanding of the heart is that it is the pump that pushes blood through the body, but it is also Your mind. You “know” with your heart. The Biblical heart is where wisdom and understanding resides. Here is where we discern truth and error. It is not just the seat of emotion, but it’s also where you store your thoughts and your choices are made. (ref: Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” when you put these positive things in your heart, not only are you able to think on them, but also act on them.) When Jesus pointed to the Shema prayer, He was reminding us that every single day, God’s people are called to devote to God their whole body and mind, their feelings, their desires, their affections and their thinking. THIS is what is meant by loving the Lord our God with ALL of your heart.

Let’s look at Soul. This word is Nephesh.- It literally translates as “throat” but means so much more. As our entire life and body are dependent on what comes in and out of our throat, it is the entirety of who we are. It’s our life as well as our body. Our entire self. To love God with all of your nephesh means to devote your whole physical existence to God. Who you are and what it is that you do, it is all unto Him. This is one reason that Paul told the church in Rome to present their “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” To love the Lord with all thy soul is about offering your entire being, limitations and abilities included, in the effort to love God and your neighbor as yourself.

Now lastly, we come to Might or Strength – Me’od (meh ode)- It means very muchness, with gusto, with oomph. This is an adverb that is meant to amplify the connecting word. And when used twice it amplifies to the max (dialing up to 11 as it were.) Loving God with your me’od means holding nothing back, giving it your all. All of your effort, all of your energy, or simply, being “all in.” In every moment, every opportunity, and with every ability and possibility, you are going all the way as an opportunity to give love and honor to God.

Many today believe that Christians ought not be fanatical in any sense of the word, that we should be more reserved or restrained. However, the scripture just does not bear that out. By definition, being fanatical is being possessed by or motivated by an extreme or excessive zeal.

That’s exactly what the Shema implies, it is what Jesus was pointing to. The first and most important thing we need to have a foundational understanding of from scripture is found here. There is only /ONE/ God, and this is how we serve Him, with all we’ve /got/ and all that we /are/.

Our walk with God is supposed to be very intentional in EVERYTHING we do. This passionate intentional drive flows upward in our approach to God and it should also flow outwardly in our interactions with our peers, friends, family and even our enemies;

It is with this understanding that I looked back over my own walk with God and my relationships with others and realized, I’ve not fully lived up to the expectations set before me. Studying out this single verse has changed my approach to everything. How I manage my time, how I manage my finances, how I take care of my body, how I do my job, how I look at scripture, how I pray, how I interact with others and most importantly how I interact with God…it all needs to be more intentional.

Even though in my own eyes and in the eyes of many others, I might seem small and insignificant; however, scripture reveals that what I do and how I do it matters greatly. Which is why I have to live out the life that is demonstrated in in this commandment. The same goes for each and every one of us. What you do matters, God wants you to do it the right way.

Let’s take what we have learned here today to heart as we begin Taking Root, so we can Bear Fruit as we start Learning To Walk In The Way.

Watch the podcast version on Spotify here: Taking Root – Learning To Walk In The Way | 002. The Shema