A Balanced ApproachBy Nathan Mates
Hopefully, the commandment above is unfamiliar: it is Jesus's noting of what the first and most important commandment is, followed by loving one's neighbor as oneself. These words were very familiar to Jesus's audience of the time: they are an echo of Deuteronomy 6:5, though Jesus adds 'mind' for a 4th component.
This commandment reminds us that we are made of several parts that are to work together. Starting with our heart, that reminds us that we do have emotions and feelings. Our soul is the eternal part of ourselves, connected to God. Our mind encompasses our reasoning and direction for our lives, and our strength encompasses our current physical bodies. These four categories distinguish us from other creations-- angels have a soul, but are not limited to a physical body like we are. [Angels have taken human form when needed, but they are cable of giving that form up without too much trouble.] Plants have a physical body, but no mind or soul. Animals have a mind, but I don't believe they have a soul in need of salvation like ours.
Given this commandment from Jesus, how well do we follow it? For most, following part of it is easy, but other parts may be harder, yet which part(s) we may find difficult vary from one person to another. How is this possible? We're all different, and some people (myself included) favor the mind and intellect-- it's easier for us. Other areas, such as using one's heart and emotions, is harder for us. Other people are different; they may find matters of the heart more natural, and intellectual matters difficult. Others find more spiritual issues natural, etc. With 4 categories, there's quite a lot of ways to split up our energies.
Differences between humans are natural and to be expected. God is the ultimate creator, the ultimate expression of creativity, and that applies not only to his work in creating the universe, but also to us. God made us all subtly different, and gives gifts to us as his spirit determines, not as we desire. [See 1 Corinthians 12:11] We are not to beat ourselves up for not being like "someone else," and definitely not to try and remake others in our image, rather than nurturing their distinct gifts. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, we cannot look down on any other part of the body of Christ, which we all fit into.
However much we can't bash the differences between the categories, it is important to not get unbalanced in our own worship of God. Jesus calls us to love God in all four categories-- heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus didn't focus on just one category, yet due to our own preferences, we may tend to do that. For an analogy, a car drives much better on four balanced or equally sized tires, compared to the unbalanced case. Focusing on God purely intellectually can lead to a lack of trust, or lack of experience of his love in return. Focusing on God purely emotionally can lead one astray as one follows only on the experience, and not able to discern sound doctrines from false ones.
Going back to the balanced car analogy, it may be a good idea for us to occasionally take stock of our condition, as if checking the tire pressure. [Those of you with cars do that, right? That's another good habit to pick up.] If a particular area is underinflated, it may be worth it to spend some time addressing it. Those weak in the heart areas may want to spend some time listening to God speak, rather than treating prayer time as a monologue. Those weak in the soul may want to spend time in the Holy Spirit and exercising of one's spiritual gift(s). Those weak in the mind may want to dedicate more time to Bible reading. Those weak in the strength area may want to take more time reviewing God's continued support for our lives, as a reminder of his strength and encouragement for the future. In doing this, it's good to keep your strong areas up, rather than neglecting them in favor of other areas.
Continuing on in Jesus's words, we have a commandment to love others as ourselves. As we are made in God's image, the same ways of communicating tends to work. Just as we have our own strengths and weaknesses, others around us have similar imbalances. While the building up of other's weak points isn't necessarily for us to do (though we may remind them of it, like this article does), we can, in love, learn how others around us prefer to be interacted with. Once we know that, we can talk and work with them more effectively.
Most of us would prefer a cut-and-dried method of determining how to interact with others. However, actually loving others takes time and effort to determine the best way to do so. True love, agape, takes a conscious choice of the will, to proceed even when things get difficult, to follow God's leading no matter where it goes. The rewards of taking this approach are much greater than any method characterized by waiting for other people to do all the hard work.
The habit of observing how others prefer to be interacted with may help our witness to others-- the loving of our neighbors enough that they come to Christ. Some people may be intellectually resistant to the gospel, but open to talk aimed at their heart. Others, the reverse. It may help to think of people as a house having four doors, being attitudes of communication to them. A frontal assault on one heavily defended door will only antagonize someone, while walking around to another side may let things work much better. This realization calls us to observe others first, to learn their preferences and habits first, and learn from that. This knowledge of what people can and can't handle multiplies our effectiveness in witnessing to them.
In short, we need to consider all the various ways of loving God, and build up our weak areas. In loving others, it will help to observe them and work with their best areas, which are not necessarily our best areas.