I had a great chat recently with a wonderful man who has truly devoted his life to pursuit of God. He is a local pastor who has served faithfully at his church and around the globe for many years. I will probably write sometime about the value of these faithful men and women who have devotedly run the race set before them. They have much to offer. But this week, I want to reflect on the conversation we had.
This man told me he is heartbroken over the way many, like in the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2), have lost their first love. He unpacked this as a loss of desire. He asked, “Where are the all night meetings, the waiting for God to show up in our church services, the spending hours on end together and alone to meet with God?”
As this thought has been rolling around in my head, I have been reading through Acts in my daily scripture readings. I am reading of a group of people that seemingly spent every possible moment seeking the Lord and walking out his instructions.
I love the story in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas are sent out. I’m particularly struck by the part following God telling the church in Antioch to send out these two. The community fasts, prays, and seeks the Lord before blessing and sending out Paul and Barnabas. I don’t know what else is happening in the lives of these believers, but they seem to drop everything to be with God.
My point is not to quit your job so you can, on a whim, fast and pray. I’m asking, what do I set as priority? What distracts me? And honestly, how many things do I desire above meeting with the living God?
Desire is what drives us. We pursue the things our hearts are for. Our time goes into those things. Our money goes into those things. We have many desires, both as individuals and as a church, that drive our actions.
Jesus gave warning to the church of Ephesus in Revelations. The warning is, you have lost your first love and your desire to be with me. Things will not go well with you if you keep going as you are. Come back to your first love, come back to me.
Repentance is the process of turning towards Jesus. It is turning away from the things that don’t bring life and towards the one that is love. Sometimes we take a look at just the things we know are altogether wrong and turn away from them. I think there is a deeper issue we must face. We must look at our lives and ask the question: What do I desire? We must turn to Jesus and ask that same question.
First love has dual meaning for us as followers of Jesus. Love for God is foremost and God is the source of all love. He is literally the first love. When anything comes above him in desire, we need to repent. We need to repent of those times we have put him on the backburner. But more importantly, we must ask God to give us a desire to be with him, to encounter him, to hear him speak. We were made for this, to be with him. We need (both personally and in our churches) to desire the presence of God, not for what he will say, although he will speak, not so that we will get marching orders from him, although he will guide us, but because it is where we belong. It is where we find our rest and our peace (Shalom).
I am reminded of a song written by friends of mine as I write this, “Where I Belong” by Life Support.The whole song speaks of longing to be in the presence of God. I encourage you to take a listen and let it draw you back to your first love.
The voice of the prophet, as in Revelations, is in our midst now to draw us back to the heart of God. Let us not be like the many who heeded not the message from God, but let us repent of our ways and return to our first love.