Getting Back to Loving God

But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) This verse jumped to mind as I was deciding what to share in my final post this year. Reflecting back on this past year, Jesus’ message above to the church at Ephesus took on a new meaning for me. Yes I’m still a steadfast follower of Christ but I wondered, has my love for apologetics replaced my love for Jesus?      

With the full weight of that thought sinking in I began thinking of how my relationship with God has changed recently. God certainly calls people in different ways. For me that calling has been a hunger for God’s truth and a passionate desire to share that truth with others. I know my love for God is real but my relationship with Him flows more from my head than from my heart.

I’ve been a Christian for about three and a half years now and an amateur apologist for about eighty percent of that time. I read popular and college level apologetics books almost faster than I can order them. Last year I drove to southern California to attend a three day apologetics academy. This year I’m taking apologetics courses online through Biola University. A night alone for me usually means an opportunity to watch some sort of apologetics related debate. I’m doing (or at least learning to do) what I believe God has called me to do – and I’m all for it!

But has my love for the work of God replaced my love for God?

This is a question that anyone who follows Christ needs to ask themselves. As an apologist, do I learn and share to win arguments or do I learn and share to give glory to God? If you’re a Christian and you’re serving in some capacity, do you serve to feel good about yourself? Do you serve to be recognized? Or, do you serve so people are drawn to Christ through you?

About a month ago the lead pastor at our church said something that really impacted me: “Is the way that I’m doing the work of God destroying the work that God is doing in me?” This statement wasn’t the main point of his sermon but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Anything that we place above God in our lives becomes an idol – even the things God gives us to do.

Once a week I meet with a group of guys for an early morning Bible study. We’ve been working our way through the Gospel of Luke lately and something Luke wrote about Jesus’ mother, Mary grabbed my attention. Twice, in the second chapter of his Gospel, Luke writes: “Mary treasured these things (speaking of Jesus) in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, 51)

Mary treasured her experiences and memories of Jesus. That’s such a beautiful picture especially considering the unusual circumstances surrounding her son’s life. No matter how popular Jesus was (initially), no matter how impactful His teachings or powerful His miracles, Mary treasured Jesus as Himself.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and it seems my focus has become misplaced. Rather than studying to know Jesus better I’m usually studying to understand difficult doctrines or to refute some argument against Christianity. Neither of those things are bad but if I’m not doing it for Christ why am I doing it at all?

A question of misplaced priorities

In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul says: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” He said something very similar to the Colossian church: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

I don’t think I can honestly say that my focus lately has been on the glory of God. Yes, I want people to accept Jesus and yes, I want to help them overcome obstacles keeping them from God. My problem as an amateur apologist though is that I often find myself wanting recognition for my work. My desire to make a name for myself is competing with my desire to make God known.

Taking a gift from God and running with it is risky. When we don’t focus our attention on the gift-Giver the gift quickly becomes all that matters.  While this risk exists for anyone serving God perhaps some of us are more prone than others. How long has it been since you’ve considered, since I’ve considered, that Jesus is better than our best efforts?

A season of change

Perhaps this Christmas it’s time to reexamine the way we’re serving God. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on the way God is using us, or, (dare I say) the way we’re allowing ourselves to be used by God. I’m not suggesting we drop what we’re doing and start over – that’s not my point. I’m simply saying (to myself more than anyone) that it’s time to return to the love I had at first.

God is doing amazing things in my life. He didn’t abandon me through twenty years of indifference and He continued pursuing me through ten years where I hated Him. God has given me a purpose that I never could have imagined and a dream of entering into ministry in a full time capacity. Perhaps I’ve made myself so busy lately that I haven’t remembered what God has done for me.

I don’t know what my future holds but God does and it’s time I started trusting Him more. Wherever you find yourself in your relationship with Jesus maybe it’s time for a fresh look at who He is and what He did for you.

Jesus stepped off His throne in Heaven and willingly entered this world with all its muck, mire and suffering. Forgoing His divinity, Jesus experienced life as a man and was tempted in every way that we are. Jesus left a comfortable home life and purposely set out on a mission that He knew (because it was His plan from the beginning) would end in His death. Bearing the full weight of our sins, Jesus was beaten and nailed to a cross to die like a criminal.

Here’s the amazing part: when Jesus died, He didn’t die for us – He died AS us. Jesus suffered the penalty we all justly deserve. None of us can possibly work our way into a right relationship with God. Jesus died for our sins and  rose three days later making forgiveness and eternal life possible for everyone. I hope I never cease being amazed that God would do such a thing for me.

This New Year rather than making some unrealistic resolution, I want to grow closer to God.

I want to remember that the only reason I love God now is because He loved me first. Making a case for Christianity nowdays is a process. And don’t get me wrong, my passion for that process keeps growing. But rather than getting so caught up in the process, I want to focus more on the Person. Rather than focusing on making a case for the religion, I want to make a case for the Relationship.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He said: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)

If our focus is anything less than “God first” we’re missing the mark. It’s only by loving God that we can be transformed and used by Him. When God’s love flows through us we experience a peace and hope that draws people to us. By loving others we’re able to model the love and self-sacrafice that Jesus embodied.

There’s so much to look forward to as we continue giving our hearts and minds to God. As a “head-first” type of Christian, I find verses like Romans 12:2 very assuring:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

By remaining focused on Jesus I look forward to the work He’s planned for me – and that’s something worth treasuring.

Merry Christmas!

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