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“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” [37] Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ [38] This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 NLT

Loving God with all your soul is important; Jesus says it is part of the first and greatest commandment.

But what exactly does it mean to love God with all your soul?

We can usually visualize what it might look like to love God with our hearts and minds. My heart is the center of my emotions, so loving God with all my heart makes me think of having an emotional connection with him and being aware of the things that might attract my heart away. My mind involves my thought life, so loving God with all my mind means I need to be aware of what I think about and fill my mind with Scripture, faith, and prayer. 

But what about the soul? This is usually harder for us to conceptualize. Nonetheless, understanding it is essential to our relationship with God. In this devotional, we will begin by defining what the soul is, then we will read a passage of the Bible that shows us clearly how to love God with the deepest parts of our soul through two key things—gratitude and forgiveness. 

What exactly is the soul?

Merriam-Webster tells us that the soul is the spiritual part of us, our deeply felt moral and emotional nature. It is the deepest part of who we are, the part of us that searches and yearns for something more than just the physical and day-to-day life. The soul is also the most vulnerable part of who we are; I think of it as almost a childlike part of me. It is the part of me that sincerely longs to love, believe, and find purpose. 

This verse from the book of Ecclesiastes describes the spiritual part of us as an eternal and divine sense of purpose which God has implanted in our hearts:

He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]…

Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP

Only God can satisfy the spiritual parts of us. That’s important because if we want to be secure and strong, we need to learn to recognize when our soul is unsatisfied. 

My wife, Messer, and I have both experienced the empty feeling of a dissatisfied soul many times, before becoming Christians and after. 

The emptiness in my soul was one of the things that prompted me to search for God in the first place. I remember being at the top of my game as a college football player, yet feeling a deep emptiness inside. No amount of pleasure, attention, or success could fill this void. This is what ultimately led me to seeing my need for God. 

The emptiness in my soul was one of the things that prompted me to search for God in the first place

We have also felt this feeling more recently, through the pandemic. When our souls are dissatisfied, we start to feel like nothing is good enough. We become dissatisfied with our marriage,  job, home, and schedule. We start to crave more and more, looking for ways to feel satisfied. 

This craving for more is actually a sign that our souls need God, but often we confuse the signal for something else. The feeling of emptiness is a red flag that our souls need God, but often what we do instead of turning to God is try to fill the emptiness inside us with more things, more approval from people around us, more success at work, or more sources of physical and emotional comfort. 

As the deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2 NIV 

Our souls thirst for God—not for more things, vacations, a new job, house, significant other, or any of the other things we think will satisfy us. Unless we stop and pay attention to what our soul needs, we will always search for satisfaction and love in all the wrong places. 

How to love God with all your soul

Now that we understand a little better what the soul is, we will look at a story in the Bible where Jesus teaches us what it takes to love him with the deepest, most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Let’s jump in. 

Choose realness over reputation

 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him. So he went to the Pharisee’s house. He took his place at the table.There was a woman in that town who had lived a sinful life. She learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she came there with a special jar of perfume. 

38 She stood behind Jesus and cried at his feet. And she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair. She kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him. He would know what kind of woman she is. She is a sinner!”

Luke 7:36-39 NIrV

This story introduces us to two very different people and we can learn a lot about loving God with all our soul from their relationship with Jesus. 

Simon the Pharisee

First, the Pharisee (who we later learn is named Simon). The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were well-known experts in religious law. Many of them were small landowners and traders. Knowing this, we can extrapolate a few things about Simon:

  • He was probably well-respected in the community. 
  • He probably had a good, clean reputation, since Pharisees held strictly to religious traditions.
  • He must have had a home nice enough to host Jesus and his friends for dinner.

Not everything about Simon is negative. He invited Jesus and his friends over for dinner. He was hospitable. He seems like he was trying to do the right thing. On the outside, he seems to be what many of us would consider a good guy. He could be any one of us. 

But then we learn a few other things about Simon:

  • He did good things on the outside (being hospitable, inviting Jesus to dinner) but hid his real thoughts. He was “in his head,” not saying out loud what he really thought. 
  • He was a critical observer. He looked down on Jesus and the sinful woman, noticing what he perceived as their faults without admitting any of his own. 

I (Messer) relate to Simon.  I can be very self-righteous, especially in our marriage. Scott used to call me “Officer”—because I really thought my role was to catch the ways he was doing wrong and report him to others so they could help him. 

Even as recently as last week, I saw my self-righteousness come out in my relationship with Scott. Scott had been asking me to stop using our credit card and slow down my Amazon orders. Last week, I got the mail and saw a credit card bill in his name. Are you kidding me? I thought to myself. Here he is telling me not to use the credit card and he is using one! 

So, I went to Scott and confronted him on this perceived double standard. “You told me not to use the credit card, but you get to use it?” I asked indignantly. 

Scott said, “Did you open the envelope?” Of course, I hadn’t. When I opened it, it turned out to just be a rate change notice.

Like Simon, it is very easy for me to criticize others instead of being humble and aware of my own sins and weaknesses. When I get that way, I become full of myself—convinced I’m right, but empty of the things that matter like love, gratitude, and mercy.

Now, let’s look at the “sinful woman.” What do we learn about her? 

The sinful woman

  • This woman “had lived a sinful life.” She was familiar with the guilt, regret, and shame that come from sinful choices. 
  • She had a reputation in the community. People knew “what kind of woman she was.” She wouldn’t have been invited to this dinner party because the host looked down on her and her choices. She must have been familiar with being judged, criticized, and rejected. 

I think we all can relate to many of these feelings. Many times in my life I have felt the pain of regret, the fear of being judged, and the shameful consequences of making bad choices or decisions. 

This woman—full of guilt, shame, and a bad reputation—gives us a picture of what it looks like to love God with all our soul. In the Bible, spiritual lessons often come through the people we least expect. The religious Pharisee, an expert in religious law, does not teach us to love God. The sinful woman does. 

She gave Jesus everything, the deepest parts of herself. Here are a few lessons we can learn from this woman about what loving God with all your soul looks like:

She cared more about God than what people thought

This woman had a bad reputation and yet she showed up at a party she wasn’t invited to. That alone would take monumental boldness. She could have been kicked out or humiliated. She would have to face the critical stares of many self-righteous people. But she showed up anyway. And not only did she show up, she went out of her way to lovingly express her gratitude for Jesus. 

How did she get this boldness? We later learn that her heart was deeply moved by Jesus’ love and forgiveness. This forgiveness meant so much to her that any concern about other people’s opinions of her flew right out the window.

She was vulnerable and unguarded

She stood right behind Jesus and cried. She didn’t hide in the crowd to watch him from a distance. She let down with Jesus, crying tears probably filled with pain, sorrow, and regret—as well as hope, relief, and gratitude for the forgiveness she knew he offered. The soul is by definition deep and emotional. If we are not willing to vulnerably open our hearts, we cannot love God with all our soul. 

She sacrificed

She brought a special jar of perfume to Jesus. This perfume was costly and may have been the most valuable item she owned. Loving God with all our soul means recognizing that nothing is more valuable than our relationship with God and being willing to give him everything.

She was humble

It must have taken great humility for this woman to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears in front of so many other people. She wasn’t vying for position or praise at the party. Instead, she served him —carrying out a humbling task with great willingness and eagerness. This was a way for her to admit her great need for Jesus as well as her gratitude for him.

She was self-aware

This woman knew herself and how much sin she had, which left no room to look down on anyone else. She wasn’t spending time criticizing or judging other people.She was just genuinely grateful for Jesus.

Pause and reflect

  • As you reflect on these two people and their relationship with God, who do you most relate to? Simon or the woman? Why?

Gratitude gives us love for God

As he so often did, Jesus made the most of this opportunity to turn it into a teachable moment. He knew Simon’s thoughts, and responded to this religious man with a lesson about love:

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain lender. One owed him 500 silver coins. The other owed him 50 silver coins. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back. So he let them go without paying. Which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who owed the most money.
“You are right,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman. He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water to wash my feet. But she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss. But this woman has not stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 
46 You did not put any olive oil on my head. But she has poured this perfume on my feet. 47 So I tell you this. Her many sins have been forgiven. She has shown that she understands this by her great acts of love. But whoever has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.”

Luke 7:40-47 NIRV

Jesus used this illustration to teach Simon (and us) what it takes to love him with the deepest, most vulnerable parts of ourselves. In the story Jesus told, the guy who had the most debt forgiven was the most grateful and loving. 

The sinful woman gave God her all because she was so incredibly grateful for his forgiveness. Gratitude is key to loving God with all our soul. The Bible tells us that we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:10). We can’t love God with all our soul if we have lost our gratitude for him and all he has done for us. 

How do I lose gratitude?

In our experience, these are few common things that steal our gratitude:

  1. Complaining – Complaining focuses our minds on everything we don’t have and everything that seems to be going wrong in our lives, and makes us forget all the things that are going right. It is important to express our feelings to God, including our discontentment about areas of our lives we don’t like, but if that’s all we do or primarily what we do, our love for God will suffer.
  2. Comparing – Comparing our lives to other people’s lives is a sure way to lose our gratitude. Everyone’s life is unique, and if you look at anyone around you, you will certainly see something in their life or schedule or family that seems more appealing than what you have. But when you compare, you often focus only on what you don’t have instead of remembering what you do have. 
  3. Forgetting answered prayers – Sometimes, we ask God for something and he answers, and then we move on without acknowledging what he has done. As parents, we experience this with our kids all the time. We sacrifice for them, give them things they want, and expect at least a thank-you text. But if they move on to the next thing they want without acknowledging what we’ve done for them, it hurts. Likewise, it hurts our relationship with God when we don’t take time to acknowledge the prayers he has answered for us and the desires he has fulfilled.

Scientific research confirms that gratitude has a positive impact on our mental health and our relationships. In one study, one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. Gratitude is powerful and it’s important to take time to make sure we bring gratitude into our relationship with God. 

If you feel you have lost your love for God, know this: gratitude can bring back that loving feeling.

Take action

  • Spend time being grateful in prayer—not asking God for anything just thanking him. 

Forgiveness gives us love for God

So I tell you this. Her many sins have been forgiven. She has shown that she understands this by her great acts of love. But whoever has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.

Luke 7:47

The woman in this passage of the Bible showed great love for Jesus because she understood his forgiveness. We can’t love God with all our souls without recognizing and understanding how much we have been forgiven for. And we can’t recognize how much we have been forgiven for without recognizing our sin. 

In our lives, we have noticed several things that make it hard for us to recognize and talk about our sin:

We want to prove to ourselves and others that we are not sinful. 

The Bible refers to this woman as “the sinful woman.” There is no question that she was sinful. And actually everyone has sin (Romans 3:23), so we could all be referred to as “the sinful man” or “the sinful woman.” Jesus came so that we could be forgiven of our sins, and he shows us by the way he treats this woman that he will accept us. 

The sinful woman accepted that she was sinful. She didn’t try to pretend she was good. When I try to pretend I am good, and don’t humbly own up to my sins with God, then talking to others about them is painful. It feels like a beat down on my confidence. 

We can and should have the kind of experience the woman had with Jesus every time we spend time with God. When we recognize and admit our sins, we can experience the same gratitude, love, forgiveness, and security that she found in her relationship with Jesus.

We are concerned about our Christian reputation. 

When I (Scott) first learned about Jesus’ forgiveness, I was so relieved and felt like I could be honest about any sin. But now that I have been a Christian for some time, I have become more concerned about my reputation as a Christian. I feel afraid to admit certain sins, because I can feel like Christianity is about having a perfect performance instead of realizing I can never earn my salvation on my own. 

We feel insecure about what others will think of us. 

When our focus shifts from God to people, our fear of rejection can stop us from wanting to admit our sins or shortcomings. The woman in the story was singularly focused on Jesus. She wasn’t concerned with what others thought because she knew only Jesus’ view of her mattered. 

Admitting our sins to one another can be uncomfortable at times, but when we understand that everyone has sin and the goal of talking about sin is being close to God and each other, we can get more comfortable having conversations about it. 

We don’t want to change.

To be honest, sometimes we like our sins! The act of telling others about them will naturally awaken our conscience and bring about some kind of expectation to change those sins. So, sometimes we want to stay in our sins, and that’s why we don’t want to tell anyone about them. 

We take God and forgiveness out of the conversation. 

In 1 John 1, the Bible says when we walk in the light, we are continually forgiven. Unfortunately, sometimes we lose focus on God’s forgiveness and confession becomes a religious ritual in which we list off our sins to another person. We also begin to look for people to relieve us of our guilt in ways only God can. 

Sharing our sins with others is important (James 5:16) because we can pray for each other, be close to each other, and help each other change. But ultimately only God can relieve guilt, and if confessing sin is only about reporting your sins to another person you will not be motivated to do it for very long. 

As Christians, it is very easy to think that becoming aware of sin is something negative, embarrassing, or shameful.  

That’s because we have taken Simon’s view and belief about sin, instead of taking Jesus’ view of sin. Jesus showed us through the sinful woman’s life that it’s okay to freely admit our sins because when we do, we will find freedom, forgiveness, and a deeper love for God. 

Admitting our sinfulness is not bad, not negative. It is what we need to help us see our need for God. Without a deep understanding of God’s forgiveness, we cannot love God with all of our soul.

Pause and reflect

  • How do you feel about readily admitting and talking about your sin? Why?

Gratitude and a deep understanding of God’s forgiveness are key to loving God with all your soul. We hope this story of Simon and the sinful woman helps you develop or renew your love for God in the same way it has been helping us. 

How To Love God With All Your Soul 7

Scott has over two decades of experience working in the ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife Messer are raising two teenagers, while working to grow their local community through mentorship and community service.

How To Love God With All Your Soul 7

Scott has over two decades of experience working in the ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife Messer are raising two teenagers, while working to grow their local community through mentorship and community service.

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