When a person receives Christ as his Savior, he experiences the delight of “first love” for the Lord. God’s Spirit witnesses with his spirit that he is a child of God (see Romans 8:16), and this newfound relationship brings great wonder, joy, and freedom.
However, relationships take work! Just as people can grow cool or distant toward one another when they fail to give their relationship the attention it needs, so can many Christians fall away from their first love for the Lord. When a believer does not give his relationship with the Lord the focus and attention that any vibrant relationship needs, his love for God will grow cold.
In a vision to the Apostle John, Jesus addressed His disappointment regarding this very issue with the church at Ephesus: “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works” (Revelation 2:4–5). Not only did He point out where they had erred, but He also encouraged them to remember where their relationship had been and make the necessary changes to restore the former relationship. Have you ever found yourself in this position, having strayed from the nearness of God and needing to rekindle your love for Him? Do you long for the warmth and closeness of that initial relationship with God, but you don’t know how to go back?
Why does our love for the Lord cool in the first place? Our love for God can certainly wane when we lose our sense of needing Him. Our need for God brought us to Him for salvation. Later, as God continues to meet our needs, we tend to forget that we had them! We begin to feel self-sufficient and foolishly believe that what we have gained was due to our own wisdom and effort. The church at Laodicea also experienced this same problem in their relationship to the Lord, eliciting this admonition from Jesus: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). We see this scenario over and over in God’s Word, and we see it in our lives today!
Remember, Repent, and Do the “First Works”
Jesus gave clear instructions to the Ephesian church regarding returning to their first love: “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4–5, emphasis added). Recalling your salvation experience and your first love for the Lord can be a starting point to help you recognize changes that have developed in your relationship with God since then. Do you have a greater or lesser sense of your need for God now than you did when you were first saved? Are you cooler toward Him and less interested in spiritual matters than you once were?
If so, the next step of rekindling your first love is to repent of your indifference toward God. Repentance involves a change of mind, heart, and direction. Forsake the thoughts, attitudes, and actions that have drawn your attention away from wholehearted love for the Lord. This principle is such a crucial turning point, that the Lord even said it twice. Repent, receive God’s forgiveness, and return to His path for you.
Then, after remembering and repenting, renew your commitment to do the first works of your faith. In other words, return to the activities of the faith that you were zealous to do when you first came to the Lord and wanted to spend time getting to know Him. These first works often include basic spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, meditation, giving, fasting, and serving.
Oftentimes, as we grow in our knowledge of the Bible and God’s expectations of us as His followers, we become busy, distracted, even consumed, with other “good works” toward our relationships with others. The result is we skip right over the more fundamental spiritual disciplines intended to strengthen our most important relationship—our relationship with God. In the words of John Wesley: “Don’t seek after a ministry; rather, anticipate the fruit of a disciplined life.”
The use of the word work indicates effort is required. Returning to your first love does not happen without effort on your part, but God will give you grace to follow through. Those first works, including the disciplines of the Christian life, are ones that you rejoiced in doing when you first tasted salvation. However, they can become “stale,” or less of a priority, if you are not careful. Recall the joy you had in your spirit in those early days. Each of these activities are part of God’s design to deepen your intimate relationship with God.
Look at Spiritual Disciplines Differently
We tend to think that the more faithful we are for God—i.e., the more we do—the more spiritual we will feel toward God. But quite the reverse is true. The more we mature, the more needy we realize we are. Even the great missionary, the Apostle Paul, considered himself, “the least of the apostles,” “not meet [worthy] to be called an apostle,” and “less than the least of all saints” (see I Corinthians 15:9 and Ephesians 3:8) because he recognized that he—a former persecutor of Jews—stood in most need of God’s grace in his life.
Let’s look at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life from a new perspective—not “checking off a box” to get closer to God, but putting ourselves in a place to receive from Him because of our absolute neediness. If our goal in each of these disciplines is to understand more deeply our total need and dependence on God, then we will discover the “poverty of spirit” to which the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Seeing our need will lead us also to rediscover our first love for the Lord.
A New Look at Prayer
Each of these five aspects of prayer is designed to help you maintain your first love by reminding you of your sense of need before on God:
- Praise and honor of His name reveals the need to live so that God’s name is not blasphemed (see Romans 2:24). You cultivate your love for Him through worship and adoration. Take time to ponder God and His acts in creation. Reflect upon His intimate involvement in the circumstances of your life. Sing praises to Him. The more you meditate on Who He is, the more you will see how much you need Him. “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
- Confession recognizes your unworthiness before a holy God and His immeasurable mercy and love for us, His children. As you are confronted with your sin, you realize anew your need for moment-by-moment power from Him for your victory. (See I John 1:9.)
- Thanksgiving reflects an understanding of your dependence on God as you thank Him for meeting the many specific needs you have every day. (See Matthew 6:25–33 and Psalm 23.)
- Intercession is the means by which you acknowledge and share the needs of others before God’s throne. (See Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 1:9–11, and I Timothy 2:1–2 .)
- Petitions bring to your mind the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs that you face each day. Your own resources cannot meet these needs—you need God’s intervention. (See Psalm 86:1–17.) These requests reveal your motives. Are you seeking to advance God’s Kingdom, or are you attempting to build your own kingdom (i.e., satisfying your selfish desires)? (See James 4:3.)
A New Look at Bible Study
Studying, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture enables you to grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. But the initial function of getting into God’s Word is not to grow but to see your need to grow. As a “newborn babe” you are to “desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2). The awareness of your need for God will fuel your desire for His Word.
George Müller gives the following testimony about the value of getting into God’s Word daily: “I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.”
As you learn more about God’s holy standards from your Bible study, do not be discouraged by how far short you fall in reaching them! Transform the temptation to become discouraged into a deeper sense of need before a loving, merciful Heavenly Father. This awareness of your need is vital motivation for maintaining your first love.
A New Look At Giving
Jesus instructed His disciples, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Generosity offsets the compulsion to be “rich, and increased with goods” (Revelation 3:17)—a state of life that can cool your love for God. Giving a tithe (ten percent of your income) or more is not simply a way to financially support the church; the tithe is a regular reminder that all you have belongs to God. (See I Timothy 6:17–18.) As you practice cheerfully giving of your resources (see II Corinthians 9:7), you will see your faith grow in proportion to your dependence on God to provide for your needs. Your fellowship with God will deepen as you experience His response to your giving (see Luke 6:38).
A New Look at Fasting
Fasting is one of the most effective reminders of your need to depend upon God for your “daily bread.” This spiritual discipline effectively demonstrates the reality that life does not consist of your possessions (see Luke 12:15 and Deuteronomy 8:3) and deepens your awareness of your need for the Lord.
God through His prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). If you have allowed other things to steal your affections, your heart is less focused on loving Jesus. Fasting is a way to forsake the attractions of the world, such as food, entertainment, sports, or other “loves” dulling your love for Christ. Forsaking those items or activities by fasting for a period of time breaks their hold and gives opportunity to replace them with times with God. As Jesus Himself fasted, He declared: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
A New Look at Service
One of the greatest benefits of Christian service is not to those who are served, but to those who are serving. Ministering to the spiritual needs of others forces you to see new areas of need in yourself. As a result, you come to realize, understand, and appreciate your greater dependence on God. Ask the Lord to give you ears to hear His voice as He brings needs to your attention and directs you to meet them—in His strength, with His love, and for His glory. As you serve in His name, you will experience the joy of the Lord, which is your strength. (See Nehemiah 8:10, John 13:13–15, and Galatians 5:13–14.)
Statements such as “I am not capable of teaching that class” or “I cannot witness” totally deny the power of Spirit-led Christian service. No one is sufficient unto themselves; rather, they are totally inadequate to do anything apart from God’s power working through them. Paul explained, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling . . . That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3, 5). Remember the joy of your salvation. Repent of neglecting your relationship with the Lord. Put your priorities in order and do the most important activities first. Your most important priority is to fellowship with God. God longs to spend time with you! Seek to spend time with Him. “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8–9).