The First Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, being, mind, and strength is part of the foundation for living in God’s kingdom here and now. We ask: How do we love God? How can we experience the presence of God in our daily lives?
For guidance we can learn much from Jesus who had an intimate relationship with God throughout his life. It was so close that he addressed God as “Father”, or in the vernacular as “Abba” (Papa). We get a glimpse of this in the Four Gospels.
From his early years Jesus surely learned the sacred Shema:
Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
(Deuteronomy 6:4 New International Version).
When Jesus was twelve, he worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem during the festival of the Passover. He lingered to talk with the teachers (Luke 2:41-49).
After his baptism by John Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness in solitary prayer and fasting (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). He resisted Satan’s offer to gain authority over all the kingdoms of the world. The price was to fall down and worship the devil. Jesus admonished Satan, telling him that it is written, “You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10).
Returning to Galilee, Jesus’ ministry of healing, teaching, and preaching was supported by a life of prayer. To get away from the crowds he went out to deserted places to be alone in prayer (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Matthew 14:23). Once he prayed to God all night long (Luke 6:12).
In the place called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives when Jesus faced the probability of capture, persecution, and death, he prayed intensely, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).
Affixed to the cross, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” (Matthew 27:46). This is the opening of Psalm 22 that begins with a litany of despair before turning to praise and acknowledgment that “Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations” (Psalm 22:28). Jesus last words were “Father, into your hands I entrust my life” (Luke 23:46).
Beyond his private prayers it is quite likely that Jesus knew and used the standard prayers that the Jewish people had for different parts of the day and for special occasions. Some of these same prayers are recited by Jews today, such as a prayer before the meal: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Perhaps Jesus said this prayer at Emmaus after his resurrection when he took bread, blessed and broke it (Luke 24:30).