Key Scriptures: Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27, Deuteronomy 30:6, Deuteronomy 10:12, 1 John 3:18, 1 John 5:3, 1 John 4:18-19, Psalm 119:11, 1 Samuel 12:24, Psalm 119:2
Guiding Question: How can we know if we are truly loving God with all of our heart?
Optional Introductory Activity: Ask students to think of a friend or family member who they would say is “madly” in love with someone or something. What are the signs that make them believe their friend or relative truly loves that person or thing? Record student answers to refer to later.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Briefly tell students the stories found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Make sure to emphasize the various difficulties Ezra, Nehemiah and the people encountered in rebuilding Jerusalem and in particular the Temple and the walls around Jerusalem. What were some of the difficulties Ezra, Nehemiah and the people encountered in doing what God called them to do in the rebuilding of Jerusalem? Why do you think they continued to push to complete the projects in spite of opposition?
Cyrus ruled the Persian Empire, based in what we now call Iran. He is known for not taking his defeated enemies captive like the Babylonians. He believed allowing them to stay in their homes and worship their gods would make them more loyal subjects. Since the Israelites had already been taken captive by the Babylonians, he allowed them to begin returning home.
Ezra was in one of the first groups to return. One of their top priorities was to rebuild the Temple the Babylonians had destroyed. Usually, when people were returned to their cities in the ancient world, they would rebuild the walls of their city first. These walls were their protection against attacks by any number of enemies. Why was it so important to Zerubabbel, Ezra and the people to rebuild the Temple first? What were some of the possible risks of that decision? It’s important to remember the people had been taken into captivity as a punishment from God for not obeying Him. It makes sense they would want to worship and obey God, who had not only sent them into captivity, but now rescued them from it. The Temple was where God’s Spirit resided, so they wanted to make sure God was with them.
Nehemiah didn’t go to Jerusalem with this first group. As cupbearer to the king, he had a somewhat dangerous job, (tasting wine before the king drank it to make sure it wasn’t poisoned), but he also was considered an important and highly trusted official (the king had to trust the cupbearer didn’t poison his wine before he gave it to him). Nehemiah would have been considered one of the most influential people in the kingdom and probably resided in a rather luxurious lifestyle within the palace.
Yet when Nehemiah heard things weren’t going well in Jerusalem, he was willing to sacrifice that lifestyle and ask the king for permission to return to Jerusalem and help rebuild the walls. Why would Nehemiah give up his position – one of the best in the kingdom – to return to a city that was not completely rebuilt and was possibly dangerous because of the lack of city walls? Why do you think he spent so much time praying before he went to talk to the king? Why do you think he and the people kept rebuilding the wall, even with the constant harassment?
Nehemiah ended up staying after the walls were completed. In fact, he became governor of Judah. After twelve years as governor, Nehemiah returned to the king’s palace. Yet, when he returned to Jerusalem some time later and found out Eliashib was disobeying God’s commands regarding the Temple, he was quick to correct the situation. He also found that the Levites and musicians had left their jobs carrying for the Temple and gone home to focus on their fields. Nehemiah also made sure this situation was corrected and those charged to take care of the Temple were doing their jobs properly. Why was it so important to Nehemiah that he corrected these things?
Nehemiah’s top priority was to please God. To Nehemiah, that not only meant obeying God, but also making sure the people were doing what was pleasing to God. He was willing to travel almost a thousand miles (on foot, donkey or carriage) more than once, subject himself to hardships while in Jerusalem and give up one of the best positions in the kingdom for at least twelve years to do what God wanted him to do.
Would it be fair to say, from what we read in the Bible, that Ezra and Nehemiah loved God with all of their heart? What evidence do you find in the passages to support your belief? Ezra and Nehemiah were familiar with the Law. They knew they were supposed to love God with all of their heart. Anything less from them would not be pleasing to God. Read Mathew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27 and Deuteronomy 30:6. Why do you think this command is in both the Old and New Testaments multiple times?
God wants us to love Him with all of our heart. What do you think that “looks like” in your life, if you love God with all of your heart? Loving God with all of your heart is an abstract concept that results in concrete expressions of that love. It is more than just a warm fuzzy feeling about God. It is more than just the words “I love you God”. It includes those things, but it’s much more.
Read the following scriptures. What are some of the concrete evidences we love God with all of our heart?
- Deuteronomy 10:12 – fear God, obey God, love God, serve God with all your heart and soul
- 1 John 3:18 – love not in word or talk, but deed and truth
- 1 John 5:3 and John 14:15 – love of God is keeping his commandments
- 1 John 4:18-19 – perfect love casts out fear, we love because He first loved us
- Psalm 119:11 – store up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you
- 1 Samuel 12:24 – fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully, with all your hearts
- Psalm 119:2 – blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart
- 1 John 4:7-8 – love others if you are born of God
- Matthew 6:24 and 33 – put God first…number one priority is God
Skills Activity: Review the main points from the lesson. Loving God with all of your heart is not a skill. However, because it is an abstract concept, even many teens will struggle to know if they do indeed love God with all of their hearts and how to move towards that goal if they don’t as of yet. Different teens will be at different points in their love for God. There are several possible ways to continue the discussion and help them find ways to grow in their love towards God.
- Watch the movie End of the Spear. (Watch before showing teens and get parental permission if you believe it is necessary.) This movie show the story of a group of missionaries who were murdered by the people they had come to teach about God. In spite of that, a few of their widows continued to work with the people. As a result, many became Christians, including some who had participated in the murder. After the movie, discuss how the love these people had for God made them willing to risk their lives. Ask students to think of ways they will be courageous in their current lives if they love God with all of their hearts.
- Spiritual disciplines. There was a study done that found if two people discussed the answers to a certain number of very personal questions, they were extremely likely to fall in love. Other studies have found spending a tremendous amount of time with someone can often have a similar effect. Your students can’t interact with God in the same manner they interact with other people, but they can grow closer to God by spending time with Him. Spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, reflecting on scripture, memorizing scripture, etc. can help students grow closer to God. You may want to introduce students to artistic Bible journaling, Bible reading plans, scripture art, prayer journals or other methods of encouraging them to spend more time interacting with God.
- Share examples of extreme love people have shown because of their love for God. Botham Jean was murdered by a woman. At her trial, Botham’s younger sibling forgave the woman who killed his brother. Share this and other examples with students. Discuss how they are able to act in ways that are so loving that people who aren’t Christians have a hard time understanding how they are able to do it. How does their love for others reflect their love for God? What are out of the norm, loving things students can do each other that demonstrate their love for others and loving God with all of their heart?
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. Do you think you love God with all of your heart? Why or why not? What is something you can do to help your love for God grow?