Among many Christian women today there is a growing attitude that spiritual intimacy and renewal come from involvement in more and more activities. We somehow conclude that God is most pleased with us when our schedules, our relationships, and our ministries have been maximized.
If we're really honest with ourselves, though, many of us would have to admit we're doing more and enjoying it less. At the very center of our quest for deeper intimacy with Christ there is a nagging emptiness, a dullness, a joylessness, a distance that penetrates our inner spirits. We wonder how this can be. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today as Christian women is to keep first things first—to keep our love for Christ passionate and alive. Consequently, every day we have to work at putting our First Love as our top priority which will often mean some conscious rearranging of our priorities.
I've often struggled with this in my own life and have had to seriously examine myself recognizing the desperate condition of my own heart—facing the reality that I can so easily suffer from heart trouble.
The Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-4 was another group of believers who experienced severe heart trouble—the kind of heart trouble that threatened their love life with Jesus. They were church people like you and me who made the mistake of getting caught up in the busyness of the ministry losing sight of the purpose in the process. From all appearances, they looked like the perfect church—committed, dedicated, good Christians, living for Christ, or so they thought. However, Jesus looked into their hearts and came up with a very different diagnosis. I wonder if He were to look into our hearts the first ladies of the church—what diagnosis he would have for us?
In verse 4, Jesus harshly rebukes this busy little church, "Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." This busy, separated, sacrificing church had abandoned or left their first love, replacing it with sound doctrine and busy activity—not bad things in themselves. Sure, these believers were involved in ministering for Christ, but they carelessly put all of their emphasis on service at the expense of deep devotion to Christ. They had reached the place in their lives of all output with no input. If we're not careful, we can make the same mistake.
Have you ever noticed how busyness has become a way of life in our society—even in the church? It's almost an addiction. We often think that the busier we are, the more spiritual we are. As the Church of Ephesus exemplifies, that is simply not true. Jesus wants our hearts, not just our hands and heads. "The most crucial danger to a leader is to be so busy as to neglect to love Jesus, to fail to live a life of ardent devotion and 'in-loveness' to Jesus."'
Christian service is a poor substitute for Jesus Himself. We must ask ourselves, Do I want to run myself ragged doing things for God, or do I want the best part—being His friend and loving Him face to face? Yes, service is very important, but not apart from the one whom we serve. If our focus is only on important, but not apart from the one whom we serve. If our focus is only on ministry rather than our walk with Christ, we will never truly put Him first.
There must be a balance, of course, but more often than not we err on the side of being too busy. Millie Dienert once said, "Any activity we involve ourselves in that is not directed by the Holy Spirit is just a bunch of busyness." How true. Sadly, we get to the places in our lives and ministries where our activities become passionless, even Christless. We need to be careful that we do not become busied out or "hurried out" of our relationship with Christ.2 Christian living is living in love with Jesus! Daily, we must choose to love Jesus.
How do we know when we've lost our First Love? I believe it begins when we lose our sense of needing Christ. When you think about it, it's our need for Christ in the first place that is the very motivation for our salvation. But often, once God begins to meet the needs in our lives, we tend to forget we still have them, don't we? We become self-sufficient and self-absorbed. I'm sure those in the Church of Ephesus were running the church efficiently. They knew how to implement all the right programs. They knew all of the latest techniques and formulas for ministry. However, they left out the Lord in the process. They became busy for God, not busy with God and there is a big difference. What we are in public stems from what we are in private.
Whether we realize it or not, we are always in deep, acute need of Jesus Christ in our lives. We are in danger of losing our First Love when we don't recognize the continual depth of our need. That's why praise is so important in the Christian life. It keeps us aware that everything we have in life only comes through God's loving and gracious hand.
Perhaps you haven't fallen into the busyness trap like the Ephesians did, but there are many other traps that have the potential to give us heart trouble: possessions, success, relationships—to name a few. God did not create us to find satisfaction in things—not even in ministry. He created us to find complete satisfaction in Him. Did you know that fear of loss is often God's first signal to us that we have transferred our dependence from Him onto something or someone else? What arc you holding on to today? What's giving you heart trouble? Are you willing to let it go so you can be a First-Love Christian? We often wonder why we're so weary, always running on empty. Only Jesus can satisfy. Only He can keep us from heart trouble.
Well, this could all get pretty discouraging and hopeless, but we need to go back to our text. In verse 5 we discover that Christ doesn't just rebuke the believers there; he goes on to give them a prescription for their heart trouble: "Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." The Ephesians were first "to keep on remembering" the height from which they had fallen.
What does that mean? These believers had once enjoyed a close relationship with God; they were to remember and recall that. We must never forget what Christ has saved us from. We need to remember the depth of His grace, and forgiveness in our lives—we need to remember the cross. Have you lost the thrill of knowing Christ? Then go back and remember what it is that caused you to fall in love with Him in the beginning. Think about those first days as a believer.
Secondly, to rekindle our First Love we are to repent. We must change our attitudes and affections. Like the Ephesians, we must turn away from our coldness and our indifference, and return once again to a vital relationship with Christ. Likewise, we need to realize our own sinfulness and susceptibility to let other things—good things—take first place in our lives. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things." We need to know our own hearts well and the competitors that live there. At the first indication of heart trouble, we need to repent and pray for God's power to keep Him first. If our hearts are truly focused on Christ, the world can never steal our love for Him away. This will mean regular time in God's Word and prayer so the Holy Spirit can condition our hearts to love Christ first. Susanna Wesley told her children that anything that dulled their desire for God was sin for them. Each of us must regularly assess our own lives and develop an awareness to the areas that can easily hinder our love for Christ. Having regular "First Love checks" can help us keep Christ first.
The last part of the prescription is a warning to read the label carefully. Jesus told the church that He would "remove the lampstand from its place." In other words, the church would cease to be an effective church if they continued on this loveless course. They needed to return to Him to experience the continued blessing of God on their ministry. The same can happen to us. There may be times when God cuts us off from all ministry because we're having heart trouble. Yet in so doing, God reminds us that we're created for Him. He wants our hearts, not what we can do for Him. We will only experience an effective ministry as we focus on our love for Christ.
The most important and difficult task before us today as ministering women is to make more room in our hearts for God and to keep Him first. One of the ironies of ministry is that the very person who works in God's name is often hardest pressed to find time for Him. Just as the clerk in the candystore often loses his taste for candy; so the person who ministers can lore his love for God. Busy ministry, if we're not careful, can in the end become the breeding ground for the development of a cold heart towards God—a lost love.
Are you suffering from heart trouble today? Then remember, repent, and return again to your First Love. For we were created to know and love Christ. The best thing in bringing us the most joy, purpose, fulfillment, delight and contentment is knowing and loving Him intimately.
Oh, that we would always be First-Love Christians!
* Scriptures are from the New International Version.
1 Wesley L. Duewel, Ablaze for God, (Grand Rapids: Asbury Press, 1989), pp. 101.
2 Gigi Graham Tchividjian, A Woman's Quest for Serenity, (Sugarcreek, OH: Serenity Communciations, 1981) pp. 74.