Last semester, I learned a Hebrew prayer known as the Shema.
Jews view the Shema in a similar way that Christians view the Lord’s Prayer. But there’s certainly a difference. Devout Jews actually recite the Shema twice a day. You may be wondering where this prayer comes from. It’s actually in your Bible!
Moses says, “‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’” (Deut. 6:4-5 ESV).
I can actually recite those two verses in Hebrew. The Jews recite more than two verses, but those two verses are the essence of the Shema.
Moses spoke those words to the Children of Israel before entering the Promised Land. God commanded His people to follow over 600 rules. Why? Well, before Jesus, that was the only way to be right with God. Poor people.
Speaking of Jesus, He recited part of the Shema in the New Testament.
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’
And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:34-39 ESV).
So, let me get this straight. Out of roughly 600 laws in the Old Testament, the Shema is the most important. The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is loving God with everything you are. It’s no wonder my Old Testament professor sang it in Hebrew nearly every class. It’s no wonder Jews still recite it twice a day.
But wait, there’s more. Jesus says the second most important commandment is loving people.
Love God. Love People. I’m sure you hear these four words together more often than not. They constitute the mission statements of multiple churches across America. Maybe even your church. And rightly so. The essence of life is to love God and love people.
But tucked away at the end of Jesus’s statement, there’s a phrase which reads, “… as yourself.”
Jesus says, “‘And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 39 ESV).
So, yeah. Love God. Love people. But don’t forget to love yourself. There’s a reason why Jesus includes those two words in His statement. In fact, Jesus seems to say that you cannot love people unless you love yourself.
I’m currently learning the importance of loving myself. If I don’t love myself properly, I can’t love people properly. I can only love people as much as I love myself. This isn’t my opinion. Those are the words of Jesus.
In Christian culture, it seems as if the concept of loving God and loving people overshadows the importance of loving ourselves. It’s almost as if loving ourselves is selfish. Doing something to help ourselves is selfish. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Actually, when you love yourself, you indirectly love people.
How, then, can we love ourselves?
Take care of your own health. It’s important for you to be healthy. If you’re not healthy, then it’s awfully hard to help someone else be healthy. Seek God for yourself. This is called spiritual health. Read His Word. Pray. Form relationships with other people in your church. On another note, take care of your body. It’s not selfish to exercise, get help from medical professionals, or simply rest.
The Bible says, “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit” (3 John 1:2 NLT).
Have fun by doing things you enjoy. The Bible says there’s a time to laugh and dance (see Ecc. 3:4). There’s nothing wrong with being happy. I feel like some Christians view happiness as a sin. God desires you to enjoy life within the context of His Word. He wants you to be happy. It’s not selfish. If you’re not happy, then it’s going to be awfully hard to help someone else be happy. Maybe the best thing you can do today is watch a movie or play a game.
By all means, love God. By all means, love people. But don’t forget to love yourself.
Isaiah Pauley is passionate about sharing Jesus in a simple way. Follow the journey of this young pastor at www.isaiahpauley.com, on Facebook at Isaiah Pauley Page, or on Instagram @isaiahpauley.