Seven years ago, I heard a sermon that rattled my bones and made me realized I loved being a Christian more than I loved Christ.
A letter is intensely personal. I remember writing a letter to a friend while in college, sharing my concern over a relationship he had started. It was hard to write, but later, he thanked me and told me it had deeply impacted him.
What if you got a letter from God? We’re good at reading the Bible as a historic document, even as ‘God’s Word’ in a general sense. But there’s a big difference between seeing the Bible as God’s words to the world and seeing the Bible as God’s words to me.
Jesus cared enough for these churches in Revelation to send them a letter through the apostle John. He challenges the churches to see themselves as He sees them, and to return to Him. The first letter, to the church at Ephesus, changed my life.
Before we go any further I encourage you to take one minute to read the letter here.
When Jesus Threatens to Walk Out
The church in Ephesus had a lot of things right. They worked hard, they endured through hard times, they called out lying preachers, and they weren’t giving up. By most standards, this was a solid church. But then comes the indictment.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
So serious is this charge Jesus brings against the church that He says, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In other words, “Change your ways, or I will abandon your church.”
Does it shock you like it shocks me that Jesus is threatening to abandon a church? Maybe it seems strange because I’m used to regarding the presence of God as a right, not a privilege. If I go to a decent church full of upright people who work hard, then God will be with us. But according to Jesus, that’s not entirely true.
The cornerstone of our devotion to Christ is our love for Him. Better stated, God is present in our churches when our actions are grounded in love for Jesus.
If I love the experience of worshipping God more than I love God, that’s wrong. If I love working hard for God more than I love God, that’s wrong.
Before I go further, I want to clarify: Jesus isn’t waiting for an excuse to dump you. All seven letters in Revelation are marked by two key words: “I know.” Jesus knows us through and through, and He is unflinchingly committed to us.
The words of Jesus sting, but they were never meant to leave us hurting.
How to Return to Our First Love
God’s love for us is unchanging. He warns us because He loves us. After warning the Ephesian church, Jesus tells them how to come back.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.
[callout]Jesus outlines three simple points in this verse:
1. Remember the height from which you’ve fallen.
2. Repent from anything that keeps you from God.
3. Do the things you did at first.[/callout]
First, remember what it was like when you were closest to God. Think about it, and ask, “What happened?” Examine your life for roadblocks between you and God. Finally, think about what actions caused and resulted from closeness to God, and do them.
Love is not a three-step process. I’ve only been married six months, but I can tell you: real, deep love is work.
Love is a lot like a garden. It’s a lot of work, but there are definitely steps you can take toward success. It takes cultivation, discipline, and patience. I love what Oswald Chambers wrote about love:
[share-quote author=”Oswald Chambers” via=””]Neither natural love nor God’s divine love will remain and grow in me unless it is nurtured. Love is spontaneous, but it has to be maintained through discipline.[/share-quote]
Fifteen-year-old me wept. God had gripped my heart with His fierce love. So often since then, I’ve come back to God to confess my love facade and to refocus my gaze on Him. There will always be weeds to pull up, but there is incredible fruit, too.
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
How do you cultivate a love for God in your daily life? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!