First Love! Since this is Valentine’s Day month thought we’d talk about love. Do you remember your first love? Most of us do!
Did your first love break your heart or did you break his?
Maybe you are married to him!
When you think about your first love do you cry, laugh, smile, or cringe?
The first boy I “liked” was in 6th grade and it wasn’t much of a romance, but it was my first journey into the world of this boy-girl thing, which conjures up embarrassing moments, but still I remember him fondly.
While it’s fun to remember and talk about our first loves, today I want to turn our attention to a more important first love.
FIRST LOVE OF JESUS
How about your first love of Jesus? Do you remember when you decided to get baptized, become a member of the church, or excitedly took steps in response to an altar call? Is your first love of Jesus as clear in your mind as the first boy you loved?
Do you remember having fun with your first love, spending more time with him, and wanting to know everything about him? How about Jesus? After you made a commitment, did you do the same with Him?
Raised in a Christian home and nurtured by a faith filled mom, I don’t remember a time when I received Jesus. It was always a given. There was an appropriate age for baptism in the church I attended. Therefore, I was baptized at eleven, which was more about tradition than receiving Jesus.
However, I do distinctly remember an occasion when I committed my life to Christ and experienced a first love type of excitement and enthusiasm, which resulted in a fulfilling, fervent, and exhilarating prayer life. However, in time it faded.
I also remember joining a new church that was full of life and joyfully served in the ministries there. Additionally, I grew to love my brothers and sisters in Christ as never before. I wonder if that is how the Ephesians felt when they first gathered together as believers?
EPHESIANS FIRST LOVE
“Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you” (Ephesians 1:15—16 NLT). This verse is part of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. He praises their faith and warns them to guard against false teachings. An instruction we should all heed.
Much like today’s culture, Ephesus was not any easy city for believers to flourish. There was much to distract them from their first love. An intellectual center, which included decadent lifestyles and pagan beliefs best described this important city that is located in modern day Turkey.
There was also a temple built for the god of Artemis, and many people made money building shrines and making statues for and of Artemis. Additionally, a bustling marketplace provided the community with a well-established social life and lucrative business practices.
However there was a difference between Ephesus and the United States: freedom of worship. It is something we take for granted and we tend to forget there are still many places in the world where persecution exists. In Ephesus, enforced emperor worship required the people to offer incense before entering the above mentioned marketplace; this action acknowledged the emperor as a god. In other words: no offering, no business. It made it tough to make a living.
But this church thrived amidst all this and Paul loved, encouraged, and praised the people who belonged to this congregation.
EPHESIANS FIRST LOVE LOST
We will hear about the Ephesians church later. Unfortunately, their faith seems to be idling in neutral when we read about them again. Kind of like my prayer life waned after the initial excitement of my commitment to Jesus.
In Revelations, there is a message through the inspiration of the beloved disciple John, which begins with praise for their work, patience, endurance, and perseverance. However, there is a complaint: “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first” (Rev. 2:5 NLT)!
How can that be? Look at all He praised them for, seems a little petty to have a complaint about them. So what does it mean? Revelations goes on to say the Ephesians had fallen. Yes, they had forsaken their first love and needed to repent.
Ouch. Where does that leave me? How about you?
HAVE I LOST MY FIRST LOVE?
Reading this passage forced a hard question: Who is my first love and what does it mean to forsake it?
It is obvious from the praise in Rev. 2:5, that the Ephesians were still going through the motions of a “good” church body, but it seems that they were doing more for show and out of duty. Good deeds didn’t make up for genuine love of Jesus.
An example in my own life came to mind: one year post VBS the teachers cleaned their rooms on Saturday. Unable to be there at the scheduled time, I arranged to prepare my room for the Sunday school classes early Sunday morning. However, when I showed up Sunday the room was ready to go!
When I asked about it, the pastor and his wife told me that they just went ahead and took care of it. I thanked them and received a rather tepid response. Obviously this act of “kindness” was not an act of genuine love. This caused some resentment on my part and I was a little out of sorts. In truth this act didn’t lift my spirits, it hurt my feelings.
While there is no comparison, it helps me understand why God wants our service to Him to be out of genuine love. Sure the work was done and it saved me some time, but I didn’t feel appreciative or loved. Instead, I felt betrayed, criticized, and unloved.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MY ACTS OF SERVICE?
But I have to wonder, do I complete my tasks and ministry responsibilities with joy and love or am I just going through the motions? So easy for all of us to fall into this trap of apathy, but God is clear that lukewarm apathy is not what pleases Him. In fact, he tells us to repent of this sin (Rev. :5) and that he will spit us out if we don’t straighten up! (Rev. 3:16)
Even Isaiah addressed this problem – so it is an ancient one:
“And so the Lord says, ‘These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote'” (Isaiah 29: 13).
So what are we to do?
Well, I will be honest, I don’t have a magic answer or formula. However, I have a few suggestions below. I would love to hear some of your stories about times you left your first love of Jesus and how you overcame your apathy. Please share in the comment section below. It would be a source of comfort and help to me and I’m sure our readers.
GIVING JESUS A VALENTINE FROM THE HEART
Choose a place in your home or outside where it is quiet. If you have small children ask someone to watch them for a few hours so you can get away mentally and emotionally. Perhaps you can do this during nap time or right before bedtime.
There is an online retreat center called Retreat, Reflect, Renew Ministry. There is a small cost, but it might help you refresh and draw closer to God in the comfort of your home.
If you have the ability, funds, and time you might carve out a day or a weekend for a retreat. Even a hotel room works, but most areas have some retreat centers that are relatively inexpensive. Check online or with your church for some local suggestions.
Ever notice how God encouraged silence before a major event?
Noah was a preacher, but God silenced his preaching before the flood by having him enter the ark seven days prior to the destruction. (Genesis 7: 1—5)
Remember how the Israelites walked around Jericho in silence before they shouted on the 7th day and the walls came tumbling down! (Joshua 6:10 and 6:20)
God was silent for four hundred years between the Old and New Testament times. A long silence before the most important event in history: Jesus’s birth.
Silence is biblical, so how do we make it effective in our own lives? Try this Christian retreat center that encourages silence. I’m sure if you search on line there are other centers out there. Going to a silent retreat center is one my goals for 2020.
If you can’t get away, you can still practice silence at home. Get started by checking out a past blog: Silence: Is it Biblical? This post shares information about being silent before God.
Focus on the following verses: Psalm 46:10 and 62:5. Also read and meditate on Isaiah 30:15 and Habakkuk 2:20.
Find your own way to be silent before the Lord.
Start your day with Psalm 136. Then on the hour take a few minutes to think about what you are grateful for in your life. Keep a list! Don’t just think about the “big” blessings like health, shelter, etc., but also the little things that happen in your life. Be alert to “lucky incidents” for these are blessings from God.
At the end of the day review the list. I think you will be surprised at the number of blessings. You can continue this exercise by posting a paper on the back of your bedroom door and every evening list your blessings for the day. It provides perspective. Asking children to participate in this exercise gives them a reality check that also teaches gratitude.
Meditate on Scripture
Choose a favorite verse or better yet focus on verses about revival. Look up revival in a concordance or online and find some verses to meditate on. To get you started, here are three: 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 80:19, and Psalm 51: 10.
Write the verse and circle the words that stand out or that are most meaningful to you. Your Bible may have related Scriptures to look up in the footnotes or at the side of the page. Use these tools, or a concordance, to find relevant passages that expand your study.
Continue the chain by writing down the related passages and circling the important words. This process may enlighten you to the meaning and depth of the original verse.
Why is prayer last? Because I know that when you’ve lost your first love of Jesus, praying is hard, and I didn’t want to scare you off before we even got started!
However, it is something we need to do. Don’t lift up meaningless words to God. Instead, kneel and pray fervently, beseeching God to bring back your desire to know Him and spend time with Him. Don’t give up. Continue this prayer as often as you can and wait for God’s response.
To help focus your mind on prayer set a timer as a reminder to pray at different intervals throughout the day – maybe even into the night. Get on your knees, lift your hands, or prostrate before the Lord. If you can, take a walk with God and ask Him, no beg Him, to revive your heart and soul.
Read Mark 9: 14—29 and pray as this father did: “help my unbelief.”
Another way to keep your focus is to play worship music in your home, allowing the words to infiltrate your mind.
COMMENTS ON FIRST LOVE
As mentioned above, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. Your thoughts might help a sister in Christ revive her faith.
Tell us about a time you forsake your first love.
Advise us on overcoming spiritual apathy. I’m sure many of have stories of their own and unique suggestions not listed in this article.
On the lighter side, share with us about your first love or your favorite Valentine’s Day celebration. Have some fun with this.
Blessings until next time.