Monday, July 30

First Things First (Part Two): Tending the Fires of First Love

During the summer, our family loves to grill out.  These days we use a gas grill because it's so easy to heat up quickly and to control the temperature, but years ago we used real coals on our Weber grill.  It's an art to know just how to arrange the coals so they'll heat up quickly and how to spread them around so you'll get maximum heat over the largest area possible.

One thing I observed back then is that the coals will often get white-hot, but the fire doesn't last forever.  It might still be warm the next morning, but eventually the fire dies out.  To keep the fire burning, someone needs to attend to it.  Someone needs to add more fuel or stir things around or keep the coals from takes intention and work to keep the fire burning strong.

For most of us, our spiritual lives are like those coals.  When we first come to faith in Jesus we burn white-hot with passion for the Lord.  We burn with a passion to know Him and to make Him known.  But over time, something happens...our flames die down, our passion isn't that we don't want to follow Jesus - we still do many or most of the things we're "supposed" to do - but somehow we aren't connecting.  We aren't experiencing Jesus in the same way.  And while there may be some heat in the embers of our hearts, the truth is we've largely lost our first love and our faith has become more duty than desire.

Read: Revelation 2:1-7
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Jesus begins his letter to the church in Ephesus by commending the believers.  They had done well.  They worked hard.  They clung to the truth and persevered in the midst of difficulty.  They could not tolerate wickedness and sin.  They carefully examined the teachings of those who claimed to be apostles and they correctly discerned which ones were false.  They stood firm in the face of opposition for the cause of Christ and did not grow weary.

If someone had handed out a report card, this church would have received an A+ for "truth."  They would have gotten a trophy for "best work ethic," "best anti-heresy program," and "best endurance".  This church would have been exalted as an example of what the church should be.  Today it would be featured in Christianity TodayLeadership Journal, and the like.  The church staff would author "how to" books so others could learn to be just like them.  They would make videos and put on seminars designed to create more "Ephesian-model" churches.  Certainly such strong positive comments from the Lord Jesus would make this one of the top churches in the world!

But Jesus had more to say in verse 4: I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Yes, they had done right things.  They stood firm for the truth.  They taught and sought and defended the truth...but something was missing.  They did right things, but they didn't do them from a heart of love for Jesus.  They might have done them out of a sense of duty.  It could have been because of tradition.  Maybe it made them feel better about themselves or it gave them a sense that they would have enough points to make it into heaven.  Whatever their motivation, on thing is certain, they did not do the right things for the right reasons.  They did not do their good deeds from a heart overflowing with love for Jesus.

It isn't that they stopped loving Jesus altogether, but that the intensity, the passion, the strength of their love had waned.  Ben Sawatsky writes, "Ephesus had become a larger church with a broader reputation, but tragically, it had also become a smaller church with a shriveled first love."  Their hearts were no longer wholly for Jesus.  The fire of their hearts did not burn white-hot.  They had become a flicker.

How does a person lose their first love?  An interesting truth about Ephesus is that it was located on the Cayster River where it flowed into the Aegean Sea.  Silt would build up where the river met the sea and it was necessary to drag the river to keep the silt from getting to much.  Today, Ephesus is nearly six miles from the Aegean Sea.  The Ephesians had stopped dragging the river and getting rid of the silt building up.  The city ultimately died from neglect.

Losing our first love is like that.  It usually isn't a sudden decision to run after something sinful.  Rather it's a slow process of neglect.  It comes after a period of carelessness and inattention.  It comes after a period of lapses in personal discipline.  It comes from thinking the fire which burned so brightly yesterday will provide enough warmth for today.

First love is lost gradually as we continue to serve and do the things we should, but fail to take time with the One we (should) do them for.  We serve, but lack a deep, intimate relationship with the One served.  As the coals in our Weber lose their heat when left unattended, so our lives lose their spiritual passion when neglected.

What can we do if we find our first love waning?  How do we keep the coals of our hearts burning white-hot for Jesus?  In verse 5 Jesus encourages the Ephesians, and us, to do three things:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Remember: Jesus says they should remember from where they had fallen.  At one point they had a passionate first love.  The fire burned brightly and strongly in their hearts.  They needed to think back to that time.  We should do this too if our inner fire is dying out.  We should remember how close we were to Jesus at that time; how we couldn't wait to read his Word; how we couldn't stop telling others about how he loved us and them; we should remember how living intentionally for Jesus was so easy and joyful and life was filled with his presence and blessing. Remember that height...remember how great it was...remember...

Take time to remember when your heart burned white-hot for Jesus.  What were the things you did in those days?  What has changed?

Repent: The Ephesians had lost their first love.  It wasn't Jesus who had changed or moved away, they had.  They had made choices over time that allowed their hearts to grow cold.  They had stopped living intentionally.  Perhaps we have too.  And like them, we need to repent.  We need to repent of the indifference and distance and messed up priorities in our lives.  We need to confess them as sin.  We need turn away from them and choose to begin living our lives for God again.  We need to allow our hearts to be broken and to rid ourselves of anything that might stand between us and God.  We need to strip our lives of the idols we've built that kill our first love.  We need to repent.

If the Holy Spirit reveals things you've done - or not done - that have led to the loss of your first love, admit it.  Don't try to rationalize or blame, call it what it is - sin - and receive God's forgiveness.  Repentance is turning away from the wrong and turning toward what is right.  Commit yourself to living intentionally and ask Jesus to rekindle the fire of your first love for him.  

Repeat:  Jesus said to the Ephesians they should repent and do the works they did at first.  They needed to repent and repeat what they used to do.  They should go back to that time when their hearts burned with holy fire and repeat those things.  We should too.  We should repeat the things we did when we walked most intimately with Jesus but perhaps have been neglecting.

Once you've committed to living intentionally, start doing it!  Make a plan for how you will begin to live life on purpose to create space in your day for the Holy Spirit to work in you.

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