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. - Revelation 2:3-4
The preacher opened his bible as he did every morning. As he read, two Old Testament chapters and two New Testament chapters, he jotted down notes. He turned to Revelation 2. The preacher had read the passage hundreds of times before and was scanning more than reading when suddenly his eyes were arrested.
...you have abandoned the love you had at first.
You have abandoned the love…
His eyes moved to his notepad and he read what he had written that morning. Flipping back through reading notes from the previous days, weeks, and months he felt his body go cold and the blood drain from his face. Tears began to fill his eyes.
This was his personal devotion notebook, yet all his notes for the past several months, he realized, were points to teach others. His personal devotion time had become another bible study and sermon prep time. He’d been feeling thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. Ministry had changed from a labor of love to a toil of obligation. Suddenly the preacher realized why.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. - 1 Corinthians 13:2
His relationship with Christ had grown cold. Love had been replaced by duty. Intimacy with Christ had been replaced by an intellectual pursuit of theological understanding.
These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. - Matthew 23:23b
Slowly the preacher sank from his chair and kneeling on the ground, hands folded, eyes streaming he bowed his head and reconnected with the God he’d been merely thinking of for far too long.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. - Matthew 22:37
Relationships are dynamic. They ebb and flow. They wax hot and wane cold. Like a campfire, they require constant tending or they can fade and eventually die. We see this keenly in our human relationships.
Best friends in high school or college are now complete strangers. Old flames are now ashes. Often this is caused by distance. High school friends go to different schools and grow apart. College roommates get married, find jobs, move to different cities and grow apart. But it doesn’t require distance. Married couples who once were passionately in love begin to grow apart as well. It seems crazy that two people living in such close proximity can grow distant to the point of severing their relationship, but it happens. Relationships need to be constantly tended and affections stirred. It’s not for nothing, in this era of distractions, that we’ve seen a plethora of articles, books, conferences, and resources of every kind reminding us to date our spouses and make family relationships a priority. This applies equally to our relationship with Christ.
The single most important thing we can do for those we lead (including our families) is to keep our hearts close to Christ’s. Everything else will flow out of that. It’s an occupational hazard that a pastor’s devotion time becomes another lesson prep time. Our minds are full of all that must be accomplished and as we read and study we constantly think of others to whom the passage applies. As Christ warned, we tend to get so focused on the spec in others eyes that we fail to be aware of the log in our own.
I am an inveterate list maker. Every meeting must end with action points. The temptation now is to give you a bunch of steps you can take to keep it fresh. But this misses the point. Remember the story of Mary and Martha:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. - Luke 10:38-42
There are those of you who are natural Marys. You have no idea what I’m talking about. Praise God! Don’t lose that, because there are so many of us Marthas out there who start off with love as our motivation but quickly become sidetracked by busyness. To those Marthas (like myself) I give one action point: Stop! Just stop. Rediscover your first love.
Jason Franklin is a follower of Christ, husband, father, pastor, and missionary for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While studying to be a missionary overseas Jason realized his own neighborhood was a cross-cultural mission field. Since then he and his family have worked to help churches purposefully see beyond themselves and reach the unchurched. He is currently serving as a ministry consultant among struggling churches along California’s north coast.