In the book of Revelation, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for many great things, yet He appeals to them to return to the initial love they had when they came to Him. Often as a new year begins, we reflect on things we should change. Often these grandiose goals revolve around weight loss, change of diet, or curbing any given addictions, and while these are good things, many of us fall short of “resolutions” we make in January, simply because it has become the norm to do so. Yet Christ calls us as we begin this year, as He did with the church at Ephesus, to return to our first love, in a sense he calls us to begin, again.
The phrase “first love or “the love that you once had” that is used in this passage is interesting to me. It tells of a group of people who at one time had a relationship with God that they held with passionate regard, yet somehow they no longer posses that passion or relationship with Him. While this is a tragedy that we struggle with ourselves with God, it’s also a trend that has become the social norm with foods, hobbies, careers, and even our families. The things we desire today may not be the things we desire tomorrow. While this is completely innocent when my loyalties to the old Mexican restaurant in town are lured in by the new place across the street, it is deplorable when we carry this ideology over into our relationship with our children, our spouses, and most importantly God.
There is something we should point out here about the idea of “first loves,” they are not something that is lost overnight. Take this for instance, when I was between the ages of 7 and 11 there was nothing more exciting to me than watching the Atlanta Braves baseball team each and every night of the regular season. My dad was pastoring about an hour from Atlanta and I loved when we got to go to games, but I was almost as content sitting in my bedroom watching every second from the National Anthem to the final pitch of the 9th inning, I was obsessive. Skip ahead in time and I could not tell you the last time I watched a baseball game. I’m not sure I could make it through more than an inning of an MLB game, at this point in life it is fair to say, I’ve lost the love I once had for the game. What is interesting about this, however, is that I didn’t just wake up one day and go from loving baseball to despising it, there was a gradual descent. During the off-season, I started playing football for my JR. High, and soon my family moved away from a local team, and I started playing guitar. I’m not sure when I watched my last baseball game, I just know that due to other interest, my desire for baseball faded so far into the background that now it no longer exists.
This is what I’m afraid happens to many of who have been a part of the Church for any length of time. We realize that our spiritual life is less of a Fun Run and more of a Long Haul (as discussed in an earlier blog), and if we are not careful this can lead to a spiritual life that is void of an actual loving relationship with God. Nothing can be further from our initial desire; it just happens if we aren’t careful. Yet, more importantly, nothing could be further than our Father’s desire to have a loving relationship with us. Since God’s desire for us is often stronger than ours for Him, He has built into our spirituality a “life hack” to this situation if we are willing to do life His way. Let me explain.
If we look back in Exodus 16, we see that God gave the Children of Israel a test. God told His people that while they were in the wilderness He would provide them “bread from heaven.” However, the people were instructed to only pick up the bread they needed for that day. If they kept more bread than what they needed for that day, it would be consumed by worms. This God says, in verse 4, that He would test if the Children of Israel would obey God. Like most rules that God gave us, there was a very specific purpose to this “test.” God wanted to see if His people would trust Him daily.
Imagine if God gave us everything we needed all at one time, we would have no need to rely on Him, and we would have no need to trust God. He was testing the Israelite community, as He continues to test us to keep us close, to keep us in a constant state of reliance on Him as our supply. This concept is laid out by Jesus Himself, in His model prayer he tells us to ask for our “daily bread.(Matthew 6:11)” Then tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but to focus on today (Matthew 6:34). See, when we see our relationship to God as something requiring our active attention every day, it keeps us grounded in that relationship, it re-binds us daily to our “first love,” and if we take this daily task seriously, we will never find ourselves drifting away.
Paul reminds us that living for God is a daily pursuit of denying ourselves and seeking God. He puts it this way:
“I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31)
God has designed us to live this way, not only gives us bread daily but also enough mercy for each day.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are NEW EVERY MORNING; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-33 (ESV)
Our salvation and relationship with Christ was never supposed to be a “one and done” prayer or experience. When we rely on some experience from our youth or an infant baptism as our sole tie to Jesus, it is very easy to find ourselves very distant from God. It is easy to lose the love we once had when we don’t cultivate that relationship daily, that is why God wanted to keep the Children of Israel close to Himself by sending bread from Heaven.
Jesus declares in John 6 that His is our “Bread from heaven.” Yet, the test has not changed. Let us not see our Christian life as a simple decision made, nor simply focus on beginning to pursue God again only as a new year dawns. Let us see this race we run, this relationship forged for us as something that every morning we must always begin, again.
Grace and Peace to You.