Teaching Kids to Love the Lord With Their Strength

19 Feb

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

—Mark 12:28-31 ESV

Each Saturday evening after church, our family of four piles into the car and heads to dinner. While the restaurant may differ from week to week, the routine does not.

“So how was church, kids?”


“What did you do today?”

This typically prompts a discussion on songs they sang, games they played, and Bible verses they discussed. Not long ago, the lesson was on the greatest commandments: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

As one who grew up going to church, I have known these verses for as long as I can remember. I have thought deeply about what it means to love the Lord with all my heart. To the Jews in the ancient near east, the heart was the seat of the will. To love the Lord with all our hearts means to make a decision to choose His way.

In Preaching That Speaks to Women, Alice Mathews states that “While biblical writers sometimes used heart and soul in overlapping ways, loving God with all our souls implies loving God with the vital psychological part of our being.”[i]

Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin often says that “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” If we are to love God with our minds, we must actively seek to grow in the knowledge of Him. We do this by studying the Bible, engaging with the text; listening to sermons and thinking about what the preacher said.

But how do we love God with our strength? Much has been written on the former; less ink spilled on the latter.

Loving God With Our Strength

The Greek word translated to strength in Mark 12:30 is ischuos, and means “strength, might, and power.” It also means “force and ability.” The word implies exertion and action.

Therefore, the next question we ask ourselves is this: What does it mean to love God with exertion and action?

This was our dinner table discussion that night, and my son boiled it down to this: We love God by doing things for God.

“That’s right!” I exclaimed, “But let’s look at the next part of the verse. What did Jesus say next?”

This time Caitlyn beat Nick to the punch.

“Love your neighbor as yourself!”

“Very good,” Mike replied. “Here’s the thing. Jesus gave His life for us so that we can go to Heaven and be with Him forever. And because everything in the universe is His, we can’t pay Him back. We can’t do anything for Him except love and worship Him. So if we can’t give Him anything He doesn’t already have, how do we do things for Him?”

“By doing things for others?” Nick asked.

“That’s right. By doing things for others,” Mike said.

Mathews writes that to love God with our strength also involves developing and flourishing in our God-given gifts.[ii] Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, writes that the Holy Spirit gifts each believer for “the common good.”[iii] To love God with our strength is to be the hands and feet of Christ Himself.

“So what are some things we can do?” I asked.

Their answers were beautifully simple. We could hug someone who is sad. We could cook for someone who is sick. Give money to the poor and blankets to the homeless. All of these are wonderful ways to introduce our children to the concept of loving God with our strength. As parents, however, there is more.

Discipling Our Children

Mathews argues that each believer has the call and responsibility to develop our gifts so that we can effectively serve the Body and build up the Church.[iv] As parents, we are to steward not only our gifts but the gifts of our children.

Early on my husband and I spotted the characteristics of a leader and a communicator in our daughter. Whenever possible and appropriate, I bring Caitlyn with me to conferences and events and have her pray for the women from the stage before I speak. In doing so, I’ve watched her confidence soar.

Our son has the tenderest of hearts. Even at the age of nine, he feels deep sorrow for the poor and less fortunate. He has given his hard-earned allowance more than once to various charities. As his parents, Mike and I must encourage and cultivate Nick’s gift of mercy.

Wholly Loving Jesus

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus summed up the concept of the loving God with our strength this way:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

—Matthew 25:35-40 ESV

We train our children to love Him with their hearts by showing them what it looks like to surrender to Him. We actively love Him with our minds when we have dinner table discussions about Him, and also by reading the Bible to our children and asking them questions to get them thinking about the text. We teach them to love Him with their souls by modeling our own love and devotion. And we encourage our children to love Him with their strength by observing and emboldening their gifts, and by serving the Body as a family.

What are some ways you and your family serve the Lord together? Post in the comments and let’s discuss!
[i] Alice P. Mathews, Preaching That Speaks to Women, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 47.

[ii] Ibid., 116.

[iii] 1 Cor 12:7

[iv] Alice P. Mathews, Preaching That Speaks to Women, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 116.


One Response to “Teaching Kids to Love the Lord With Their Strength”

  1. Rebecca Dear February 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    Thank you so much, Rebecca, for this post. I have followed you for years, even through your days on KSCS. You have encouraged me as a Christian woman many times through the years. I love that your main emphasis is always on being a student of God’s word. God has brought to my mind these 2 verses in your post a lot lately, but especially the latter part of the second commandment, which I believe even less ink has been spilled on…Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. In the Christian world, it seems the message is to always put yourself last…how do we do that if we are to love ourselves so we can love others? What does loving yourself look like?

    I struggled many years in my 30s with alcohol and it cost me my first marriage. Loving myself is hard because I’ve hurt a lot of people in my life. I am now 53 years old, married to a wonderful man, a grandmother, retired because of health reasons, yet find myself struggling to study as I should. In part because of the pain I’m in every day and partly because I just don’t know how. I am currently writing out 1st and 2nd Corinthians using a journible and I’m loving it! I’ve downloaded several apps to aid in my studies and just reading this post makes me want to dig in to the latter of the second commandment!

    Could you share some of your best Bible study tips? The resources you use? If you’ve posted on this before, could you point me there? I hope this makes sense and doesn’t seem like rambling. You have a gift, no one has encouraged me more in the studying of God’s word, so thank you!

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