When the pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He replied:
“You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 NASV)
Can anyone be commanded to love God or love anyone for that matter? Yet we are told this is the greatest commandment for a believer. How do we do it? The Apostle John provides the answer:
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NASV)
The key to being able to love God is first understanding and believing that God loves you and this is our “great” struggle to obeying the “greatest” commandment.
A study by Baylor University, published in the journal Sociology of Religion, concluded that understanding God loves us is even an important key to successful prayer.
The study looked at the impact of prayer by people who suffer from serious anxiety disorders such as extreme worry, fear, self consciousness and even obsessive compulsive behavior. When people suffering from these type of problems prayed for help, their prayer was more successful in dealing with these issues when they believed God loved them, compared to those who weren’t convinced God loved and cared for them.
The study analyzed the results of a 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of 1,714 individuals. The survey, conducted by Gallup, questioned people on issues of worry, anxiety and compulsive disorders.
According Dr. Matt Bradshaw, an assistant professor of Sociology at Baylor, the study showed that a person’s attachment to God played a significant role in how much their prayers helped them. If they believed God loved them, their attachment was stronger and their resulting prayers more beneficial.
“Through prayer, individuals seek to develop an intimate relationship with God. Those who achieve this goal, and believe that God will be there to protect and support them during times of need, develop a secure attachment to God. In this context, prayer appears to confer emotional comfort, which results in fewer symptoms of anxiety-related disorders.”
However, for those who prayed but were not convinced God really loved them, their prayers were less beneficial in helping them deal with their issues.
“Other people, however, form avoidant or insecure attachments to God — meaning that they do not necessarily believe God will be there when they need Him. For these individuals, prayer may feel like an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with God. Rejected, unanswered or otherwise unsuccessful experiences of prayer may be disturbing and debilitating — and may therefore lead to more frequent and severe symptoms of anxiety-related disorders.”
The researchers concluded there were a number of factors at work.
This included how a person perceives God. Do they perceive God as loving or do they look upon God as being judgmental or one who doesn’t care about their needs?
If a person perceive God as loving and concerned, this made a difference in how much their prayer helped. If the person believed God was remote or uncaring and perhaps even judgmental, their prayer was less effective.
This tied in with another of the study’s conclusions. Bradshaw said, “If you expect prayer to matter, it just might.”
In many ways, this study shows the important connection between trust and belief. It is one thing to believe God, but it is entirely a different matter to trust God. Do you believe God loves you and has your best interests at heart? Because trust impacts your faith.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASV)
Baylor University is a private Christian College based in Waco, Texas.. Baptists started the University in 1845 and today it has over 15,000 students.