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 strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
This passage is known in Hebrew as the Shema, sometimes referred to as Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel”). It was and is an integral part of Jewish daily prayer services and religious holidays, often combined with the Vehayah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) and the Vaiyomer (Numbers 15:37-41). Clearly, these words were spoken specifically to Israel—to the Jews—and not to the Church. But I suggest Christians would do well to make this passage a central part of our lives as well seeing as how its main thrust—a proclamation of faith in and love for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—is one that is applicable to us today. In a day and age where people conflate the God of the Bible with Allah, the Great Spirit, or any number of other false gods, it is vital that we understand and recognize who God is and Who alone is God. In fact, as Christians we hold a different belief as to the nature of God than does an Orthodox Jew who daily recites this same passage. Orthodox Jews do not recognize Jesus as their Messiah. Christ repeatedly claimed unity with God, meaning the phrase “the Lord is one,” includes Him. As Paul wrote, “for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” That was and is blasphemy to Orthodox Jews, as evidenced by their attempts to kill Jesus and rejection of Him to this day. So even though Christians have much in common—in terms of origins of faith, up to and including this passage—with Orthodox Jews, we disagree as to the nature of God because they missed the One they were—and sadly still are—waiting for.
As key as our understanding of God is, it was the second part of the Shema that Jesus quoted when asked which was the greatest commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” However, it is of note that Mark’s Gospel records Jesus also quoting the beginning of the Shema: “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’”  Whether or not this passage exists in the Old Testament and whether or not it was/is significant in Jewish religious practice, it is of vital significance because Jesus issued it as a directive, and furthermore, He cited this as the greatest commandment, upon which all the others were based. We would be remiss if we did not pause for a moment to consider what is meant by loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength. It is not a call to halfhearted commitment nor to mere lip service. Rather, God is to be the focal point of all we do. And that hasn’t changed since these words were initially given to Moses. Clearly, then, we would be wise to follow the commands in the Shema.
So naturally, that raises the question of how? Judaism, as too often was the case, took God’s commands and followed them incredibly literally—if not actually. The Pharisees, for example, “ma[d]e their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.” A phylactery was a small box containing Scripture verses and that was worn around the forehead. They literally bound God’s commands to their foreheads, but as our Lord’s rebukes repeatedly pointed out, they failed to obey those commands. Even the incorporation of the Shema into twice daily rituals can become nothing more than a mumbled recitation done to technically fulfill a command. Is that what God wants, a mere functional observance or procedural obedience? If I recite a few words on schedule or slap a Bible verse above my front door, am I good?
No, of course not. Instead, I think the model for practicing the Shema is given to us throughout the New Testament. Paul wrote to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” He instructed us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” We’re told to “pray continually.” The theme here, and throughout the Bible, is that our Christian faith is not supposed to be a one-hour, once-a-week obligation. Faith isn’t something we do; it is supposed to be who we are. We’re to “clothe [y]ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Fathers are taught to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And we’re all to use Scripture “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” as Paul wrote to the church in Colossae: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom . . .” The essence of the Shema is that our faith is supposed to be a part of everything we do.
We need to be intimately familiar with God’s commands—we need to know them but we also need to practice them. We should meditate on them—not with an emptying of the mind as has become the connotation of meditation, but by fixing our thoughts on God and His Word. We should think deeply, ponder and reflect, let Scripture infuse our minds. We cannot be passive in raising our children or teaching them to follow God. Their souls are at stake! We must daily guide and direct them in the ways of the Lord. And not just at “Bible time” or during “family devotions” but throughout the day, when hanging out together, when walking along the road through God’s creation, or when resting in Him as we lay down to rest at night. We should get past football scores and weather predictions and “how’s work?” conversations with our Christian brothers and sisters and contemplate the Word of God with each other, formally and informally. It is not that we are to physically affix God’s commands to our bodies and our homes, but that they should be as good as bound there because they are with us wherever we go.
I’ll reiterate, as Christians, we would do well to make the Shema a vital part of our lives. Recognize and remember who our God is, make Him the center of our lives, and make His Word essential to our everyday life—particularly when it comes to leading the next generation of disciples to Jesus.
 John 5:17-18, 8:12-58, 10:30, 14:6-11, 17:20-22
 I Corinthians 8:6; see also Ephesians 4:4-6
 Matthew 22:37-40
 Mark 12:29
 Matthew 23:5
 Colossians 3:1
 Ephesians 5:18-19
 I Thessalonians 5:17
 Romans 13:14
 Ephesians 6:4
 II Timothy 3:16
 Colossians 3:16