Remembering Our First Love

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
-Revelation 2:1-7

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Or, if you’re like me and were raised in a Christian home, can you recall that time in your life when you made the faith your own? For many of us, those are the moments of the birth of new life in our souls, of freshness and forgiveness, of a passionate love for Jesus burning in our hearts. It’s the moment of first love, when God reveals himself to us with grace and clarity, and we finally understand how deeply loved we are by our Creator — that is when our love for God explodes out of our hearts and flows out into the world around us through our words and actions. We love God so much that we just can’t hide it!

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to stay in that place. It’s difficult to maintain that level of passion and emotion over the course of our lives. I told Jesus this in prayer the other day. I said, “Look, it’s hard to love you when you’re not physically present on the earth. I don’t mean that you’re hard to love, because your character and the things you’ve done for me — how can I not love you? I’m just saying that it’s difficult to maintain this love in your absence.” I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, I’m just trying to guilt Jesus into returning right now! (It’s not working.) I recognize that I was speaking purely from an emotional level (frustration, disappointment) in that prayer, and that Jesus’s absence is no excuse to not be present to the passion of our love for him. After all, he has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us, and he is always urging us back to our first love.

But the world tends to distract us from our love for Jesus. The tedium and monotony of our daily routines, the triviality of consumerism, and the banality of entertainment have a way of dulling the senses — especially our deepest feelings for our Savior. The more that our love for God is at the surface of our souls and not buried beneath the anxieties and distractions of modern life, the more we will feel a passionate love for him. I am not as passionate about God when I spend a lot of time on my phone. There’s something about that screen that can pull me away from the One I’m supposed to feel most passionately about. Love isn’t a feeling, of course, but we do feel love. We have an emotional response to love and our presence to it, and the more in touch with that love we are, the more we will feel it on an emotional level. Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.

Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.

What Jesus is after from the Church in Ephesus, and from us, is that they become present to the passion of their love for him. It’s not that they don’t love; it’s that they have grown cold to love. Their souls have become distant from their first love, and a great chasm of fear and rule-keeping has opened up between them and Jesus. They didn’t fall off the path, necessarily, they just forgot why they were walking on it and who they were following.

Jesus actually praised the Church in Ephesus for quite a lot. He praised them for their hard work and perseverance. He was pleased with them for not tolerating evil people in their community. He loved that they tested the so-called apostles who showed up at their doors and exposed the false ones for the charlatans that they were. He even praised them for their hatred — their hatred, that is, of the practices of the Nicolaitans. (I’m not sure what the Nicolaitans were doing or believed, but Jesus hated it, so it must have been bad!) But what do all of those things sound like? They sound like a biblically-faithful, boundary-guarding, doctrine-policing, world-hating kind of church. You know the kind I’m talking about. Faithful, but fundamentalist. Doctrinally pure, but emotionally empty. Their faith has become a bunch of rules, and they live with fear and anxiety toward the world, and even toward other parts of the Church. The “bad people” are everywhere out there, and they live in such a way as to protect themselves from becoming infected by them.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Jesus. It’s good to work hard and be faithful, even when the world and, increasingly, the believers around you are rejecting God’s ways. It’s praiseworthy to persevere. It’s wise to use discernment when a new preacher or teacher comes along. Wickedness should not be tolerated inside the church, and we should definitely hate whatever it was that the Nicolaitans were doing. But if we’re doing all of these things AND we’ve forgotten our first love, then we’re in danger of losing our place in the kingdom. (He said it, not me!) You might still be doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing, but if you’ve lost your love for Jesus, then you’re not doing those things for him. You’re like a car coasting down the highway after it’s run out of gas. Eventually you’ll grind to a halt and, without love, you won’t be able to get started again.

Repent and do the things you did at first!

So how do you get your first love back? Jesus said, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” But what does that mean? Repenting means turning around. It means that you need to change the direction of your life. This always requires real change that you work out with your body; it’s not something that happens only in your mind or heart. If we want to bring our souls near to the fire of our first love, we need to walk back the journey we have taken in our bodies since then. Here are some practical things that you can do to reignite your passionate love for Jesus.

  1. Don’t get on your phone in the morning until after you’ve read Scripture in a real, physical Bible. Read a portion of Scripture, meditate on what you’ve read, and then pray about what you’ve read. I use a journal to help me do this, and I write my meditations and prayers in different colors. (Don’t laugh, it helps me!) Find the tools that you instinctively know how to use and do that. Make this a daily practice that you do with your body, not just with your eyes staring at a screen. And don’t give up or get down on yourself when you miss a day!
  2. Meet regularly with other Christians. Find folks who are ahead of you on this journey, some who are at the same place that you are, and others who lag behind you. Learn from some and help others. Be present in their presence. Look at them in the eye when they’re talking. Ask questions about them before you share stories of your own life. Don’t break a commitment to meeting with someone(s) for any reason.
  3. Find a way to serve, whether at your local church or in a ministry somewhere. Do it alone or with others. Get involved in something that’s bigger than yourself, that points you beyond your own small world. Ask Jesus to be with you when you go there. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He meets us in our service.
  4. Read good books and ignore social media and news networks. Make sure that you have more input from God and his kingdom than from the world and the kingdom of Satan. If you’re easily influenced, be influenced by God! If you’re looking for truth, find it in his word and in the writings of his Church.
  5. Take walks or hikes and pray, either silently or out loud if no one else is around. Get out into more natural environments if you can, away from the city and suburbs. Go to the places that God has made so that your soul can hear his voice more clearly. Dump your crap on Jesus. Tell him everything you’re anxious about. Confess your sins to him. Listen for his voice as he speaks back to you.
  6. Finally, when you’re looking for a show to watch, watch The Chosen. I’m a big critic of Christian media but this series is genuinely amazing. Not only is it as good as anything you’ll see on Netflix, but it makes me fall in love with Jesus! It brings my soul directly to the fire of my first love. I cannot recommend this show highly enough. Even the trailer brings me to tears!

Even though Jesus had a lot of praise for the Church in Ephesus, we know that we can’t be like them. We also know how easy it is to become what they became: rule-following, doctrine-checking, persevering, and unloving. Our love for Jesus is our most valuable possession. Our love for him powers and amplifies our love for others. If you find yourself cold and distant, do one or more of these six things and start walking back that journey away from the fire of your first love.

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