When someone tells you to ‘be very careful’, they’re either patronising you – or doing you a massive favour. Most of us can think of times when we’ve been told to take real care, and have been very pleased that we took the advice! Maybe it was a dangerous road. A fast business deal. An unstable relationship. Or maybe it was something as simple as a wise word from a caring parent as you were growing up and learning to navigate the simple hazards of life. Being warned to ‘be very careful’ can be wise and timely advice – especially when it comes from someone who loves us.
That’s why the old man Joshua says exactly these words to the people he loves just before he dies. He says (in Joshua 23:11) ‘be very careful to love the Lord your God.’
Derek Spicer is an octogenarian in York who mentors many, having much life experience and great wisdom to distil. I always value a conversation with him. He’s one of my biggest blog fans and often encourages me with an email or short ‘thank you’ after I’ve written – for which I’m very grateful! Derek recently told me that he’d been challenged by these words of Joshua and so I told him to put some thoughts down and maybe I could turn it into a joint-blog. So here it is: The Porter-Spicer Blog, on ‘Being very careful’.
When someone tells you to ‘be very careful’, how do you respond? Do you genuinely take care? Or do you proceed as before, ignoring the advice?
We read in Joshua 24 that God’s people made a remarkable response when he told them to ‘be very careful to love the Lord your God’. They publicly declared that they’d ‘serve’ and ‘obey’ the Lord. Sounds great. But look carefully. They didn’t actually commit themselves to carefully love the Lord. They promised duty, not love.
Duty is good. Duty is important. Doing your duty is honourable. Noble. Commendable. But it’s not love. It’s doing something because you should rather than because you want to. So slaves, employees, politicians, soldiers, in fact most of us can find ourselves serving and obeying others at times. And for society to work and life to go on, that is how it often has to be. But let’s not mistake duty for love. Being very careful to love is something different. Something deeper. Something that springs from a very different kind of relationship.
Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase of Joshua’s advice says: ‘Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God’. That reminds us to be alert and on guard in protecting this special relationship and echoes Jesus’ commendation to the man who summarises God’s commands as ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). So we have real consistency here between the teachings of Joshua in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New. That’s important.
So how do we do it? How do we take care in our loving of God? The answer is to take care in the same way that we would in any other loving relationship.
• Taking Care with our TIME
Giving time is crucial to any relationship. Giving time to a loving relationship is like pouring water on a plant. It gives it life, energy, sustenance. If we don’t give our time, the relationship will wither and die. Spending time together enables us to exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings and helps us really understand and get to know each other. That’s true in a marriage or in a friendship, or in a parent/child relationship. And it’s the same with God. We need to be very careful in this!
• Taking Care in our COMMUNICATION
Most marriages fail because of lack of communication. Implicit in spending time together is the importance of communicating – talking and listening to each other. In our relationship with God that means spending time in his presence reading what he says in the bible and discerning the voice of his Holy Spirit as we listen for his guidance. It’s about spending time in prayer being open and honest about life and spending time thanking God and telling of our love for Him – just as we would tell a spouse or close friend how much we love and appreciate all they mean to us. We need to be very careful in this!
• Taking Care with our ACTIONS
People in love express that love in all sorts of physical ways, like holding hands, or hugging or kissing. But love is also expressed in other practical ways, like paying the bills or doing jobs round the house. We use our skills and share our money – hopefully not out of duty but out of love. Similarly in our relationship with God it’s important not to hold back our talents or money, and to do so motivated not by duty but by love. We need to be very careful in this!
Loving God like this is perfectly modelled for us by Jesus Christ – who himself was careful in his love for others and God. He intentionally lived a life of (what the bible calls) grace – unconditional, undeserved love – flowing from the love-relationship he shared with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus shows us that all love-relationships marked by this kind of grace are costly, but also fulfilling. And they always involve risks. Petersen’s use of the word ‘guard’ suggests Joshua was aware of the risks of failing to love God very carefully, which is why he goes on (in Joshua 24) to explain some of these, whilst also emphasising the good things that will come from being very careful to love God.
Not loving God
Our society carries the scars and pain resulting from broken relationships. Our newspapers are constantly filled with stories of breakdown between lovers, nations, politicians, sports personalities, employers and employees. They remind us that failure to carefully love God normally results in the failure to love those around us.
More positively, there are clear benefits from carefully loving God, as there are from loving others. Despite our shortcomings we know that even our frail love can bring forgiveness, freedom, peace and healing to others, and so as we love God we should expect to see these gifts flow to us and from us to others. That’s how grace works.
Our longing for God’s transformation of the North is not half as great as God’s desire to receive our love. That’s the response he’s looking for inYork and beyond, for God is longing for a people transformed, one by one and family by family, by his extravagant gracious love.
Both Derek and I are challenged by Joshua’s encouragement to ‘Be very careful to love the Lord your God’. It’s made us ask ourselves: are we being careful in loving him – with our time, our communication and our actions?
How about you?