Mark 12: 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
I remember the first time I ever rode a bike without using the stabilizers, which we called “training wheels” in Scotland. It didn't go very well. The bike shoogled and vibrated, making me so anxious and fearful that I kept my head down and concentrated on watching the front wheel. This was a big mistake because the more that I watched the wheel, the crazier, bumpier and unsteadier the bike became. Eventually I fell over, scraped my knees, and didn't want to get back on the saddle again.
Then my Dad told me that the secret to riding a bike was to look up and look ahead. He promised that if I did that, then it would be a lot easier. So, instead of concentrating on the bike, I focused on the road ahead, and, as I watched the street, the steadier my bike became. By changing my perspective, I suddenly discovered that I could freely ride the bike. I was no longer shackled to my fears of falling and failing. Instead, my confidence grew as I understood what was truly required to ride my bike.
A similar revelation occurred with the teacher of the law who was listening to Jesus talk about loving God and our neighbors. The lawyer ‘got it’ immediately because he understood how to apply it in his religious life. If people truly loved God and their neighbors, then there would be no need for sacrifices and burnt offerings, because true love would keep God’s people free from hurting, disappointing, and wounding others. They would also be free from the fear of falling and failing, of angering and offending God.
Christ’s sacrifice was more than sufficient to restore us to God, and it has given more reason for us to love Him now than ever before. We don't need to make sacrifices or burnt offerings when we make mistakes. So long as we are willing to be contrite, to show repentance and seek God’s forgiveness, we can look up and look ahead to a brighter and better future, to an everlasting and immortal life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to love God with all of our strength, heart, mind and soul. Enable us to love our neighbors, to help them in times of trouble and to seek their goodwill. Grant us the courage and confidence to live our lives faithfully, without the fear of failing, without the dread of falling. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He also writes the devotional blog Heaven's Highway.
Today's image is taken from John's current Fall Art exhibition at the Bear Creek Coffee House in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is called "Mountain Stream."