“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one…”
Writing these tennis devotionals, it’s probably one of my favorite tasks of my year. To open up the Scriptures together, to try to impart understanding, to try to find something that will actually change your lives…well, it’s an immense challenge. And I love immense challenges. So, here we go.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
Okay, you’ll notice that Jesus’ answer here is a straight-up quote from Deuteronomy. If Christ is saying this quote is “most important” well, we’d better pay attention to it. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to roll this quote around and see exactly what it is getting at. We’re going to pick up all the flavors that are hinted at within this tasty morsel of Scripture and see what Jesus finds so delicious here.
First of all, let’s look at some sentence structure. I know, language class in the middle of tennis camp, but play along with me. So the verse goes: “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” In Hebrew, this part of the verse reads like this:
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
Literally translated, this would read in English: Hear, Israel, the LORD, God, the L ORD: one. So this is mind blowing when you think of what it could mean. Many times in Christianity we are taught that God is three-in-one. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A kind-of God-community. Well, right here in this verse we have a shade of that. The Lord (1) God (2) the Lord (3) are one. Three-in-one! The idea behind this is that though God may be made up of three entities, these entities are in such a tight relationship that they are actually one-in-the-same. Mind-bending and raising many questions, but frickin’ cool nonetheless.
What’s important here, for our study, is that this community is one. It is essential that God is one. You see, set against in the time of the Israelites, this one-ness is a bold statement. At that time, most people of the world believed in thousands of gods. A god of the sun to make the flowers grow, a god of the river to keep back the floods, a god of fertility to help you have babies, a god of leisure to bring pleasure to your lives. Each god had their own way of being worshipped, and if you worshipped them the right way they would bring you prosperity in that aspect of your life.
So you conducted each aspect of your life in a different way. When you were planting crops in the fields, and you didn’t want famine, the recipe of worship went like this: you took wheat and mud from the Nile and shaped it into infant form, then cover it with papyrus and linen and put it in a cedar coffin that is carved like the Falcon god so it can be flown to Nephri, the god of the crops.
Or if you wanted to have a baby boy, you worshipped the god Min, who said you had to run around a certain obstacle course set up by the priests, and carry different objects along the way.
And the list goes on and on. For each aspect of your life, you had a different set of rules that you played by. A different set of priorities. A different reality. A different god.
But that’s not how the LORD saw things at all. God’s statement is that God is one, in fact, God is the only one. The only set of rules. The only set of priorities. The only reality. The only God. One.
What that meant for the Israelites is that they shouldn’t go dancing around the fields asking for rain, or forming infants out of mud and wheat, or racing around an obstacle course in order to have a baby boy. In other words, they shouldn’t be asking a god to create a new reality for them. Instead, they were to recognize that there is already One reality, and they should be trying to figure out how to get their lives aligned with that One reality, that One set of priorities, that One God.
This is what God means when he says: “Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Hebrew understanding, your heart is all the things inside you, for example, your personality, your character, your thoughts, your desires, your spirituality, your emotions, etc. Your strength is then the physical things that you do: your work, your conversations, your physical worship, etc. The soul is the joining of these two things, that’s why it is in the middle of them in the sentence. Love the LORD with heart à soul ß strength. You take your everything and align it with God’s.
So One God, One set of priorities, One reality under which we take all that we are and try to serve. How does this apply to tennis? Well, I’ll suggest two things for your consideration.
First, we need to be careful that we don’t treat tennis as a god. In other words, God is asking us to submit tennis under His priorities. We don’t want to be like the Egyptians, where each aspect of life has different rules. In tennis, the goal is the same as the rest of life, to bring our team under the reality that God is the only one. We also have to be careful to not use and expect God to work like the Egyptian gods were supposed to. It’s not if we do this then God will let us win. You can’t follow a formula and expect God to then act the way you want Him to. That would be using God to create a new reality. Instead, we join God in what He is doing through tennis.
So, second, what is God doing? And how do we join God through tennis? Well, I have a firm belief that God is doing many awesome things on the earth. Delivering people from sin and captivity, surrounding them with supportive communities, teaching people that He is in fact the ultimate reality, and inviting all people to join Him in these causes.
For us, this tennis team is a chance to join God in the second of those actions: surrounding people with a supportive community. It’s obvious that Christ was concerned about this. In John 17, Jesus prays that “they (his followers) may be one as we are one.” That’s the ultimate reality that we need to join God in this season. Becoming one.
So the goal for us this year, in your humble coach’s eyes, is to be one. A community that is glued together so tightly that we are simply one. A community of tennis players pursuing the reality that is God’s. What does that look like? What does that feel like? What could happen if this becomes our reality? Those are the questions for us to pursue…