I'll warn ya, this is long. (I know that's not incredibly unusual for me.) But my heart is heavy and I don't know how to condense this. Sorry ahead of time.
Studying Revelation for the THIRD time--as I try to relate what little I've learned from the previous two turns through it to a very patient and forgiving group of women--has been painful. I'm now supplementing Beth Moore's wisdom with Ann Graham Lotz's wisdom, found in her book, A Vision of His Glory: Finding Hope Through the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Ann said something recently that was both painful and wonderful as it brought some enlightenment to me about the state of my heart.
Let me back up. The first time I took Beth Moore's Revelation study, I was greatly grieved by a passage in chapter 2. Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus, and after offering them some commendations for their deeds, hard work, and perseverance, He warns them, "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." I knew without a doubt that God was speaking to me. I've often recalled with GREAT longing the intimacy that I shared with God at one time, but I didn't know how to get back there. I've struggle with it for years, and more intensely for months, until recently. God used Ann to articulate feelings and thoughts I couldn't fully understand or express. Here's what she said about personally hearing Jesus' call to repent and return to her first love:
"Because a 'first love' is an emotional, affectionate, passionate love, and because emotions really can't be controlled or dictated, I responded, 'Lord, how? I want to repent of losing my first love for You. I want to stop not loving You emotionally and affectionately and passionately. But how, Lord? I am willing to repent, but I don't know how."
That has been my question for months. Years. Like Ann said, "Although I had been having times of daily Bible reading and prayer, although I enjoyed fellowship with other believers and was serving the Lord, I was not spending time in concentrated Bible study on my own" (emphasis mine). She goes on to say she had been giving out messages that had been previously prepared, but she had studied nothing new or fresh in months. I could not believe how much I related to her on all points.
God is a personal God. He wants to speak directly to us. But I had gotten in the habit of hearing Him speak through others. That is not intimacy. And it is not a fulfilling relationship with the Lord. And it left me extremely frustrated.
I equate it to only hearing our husbands (insert boyfriend, friend, parent, child, sister, etc.) through a messenger. Imagine if every time our man wanted to speak to us, he sent his messenger, and every time we wanted to share a funny story, or seek his advice, or receive some encouragement, we relied on a messenger to tell us how he laughed, or relay his counsel, or give us his hug. Um, not quite the same, huh? I'm not really sure that's a relationship at all. Or, if it is, I'd venture to say it's an affair--with the messenger.
But I wonder how many Christians go through their entire faith walk, relying on messengers to tell them how awesome God is. I wonder how many of us never feel God speak to us personally, or never receive supernatural comfort or peace or reassurance, firsthand. I wonder how many of us never feel the freedom to share our deepest, darkest secrets and questions with Him. Never get angry with Him. Never laugh with Him. Never dance with Him.
Think about it. The people with whom you have the most intimate relationships know your full range of emotions--tears, laughter, and yes even anger. Now how intimate are you and God?
I feel a weird ache in my stomach right now as I type because I've been on both extremes--from denying God to knowing Him intimately as my first love. The later is bliss. The former is misery. And anywhere in between is pure frustration. I'm here to tell you the frustration of believing Him to be the One True God but not experiencing intimacy with Him is almost as bad as the misery of not knowing or believing God at all.
I wonder if we as Christians often find ourselves frustrated with our faith walk because we are hearing others' stories about how God spoke to them or healed them or comforted them, and all the while we are wondering, "Why doesn't He do that for me?" He would! He wants to! He's waiting for us to seek Him as the treasure that He is. We are starving, and He is our food; we look at Him--our feast--then turn around and keep on moving. We wonder from one food substitute to the next, trying to satisfy our hunger when all the while there's this feast: the Bread of Life. What in the world?
I wonder if the reason so many Christians seem to live lives that are indistinguishable from the world is because we have lost our first love. Maybe if we're honest we never really had our first love. Maybe we believe that the God of the Bible is the One True God but we don't really know Him. Maybe we even know ALL ABOUT Him, from Genesis to Revelation, but we don't really know HIM. The One Who has come to give us life--life more abundant than most of us are really enjoying. We are looking for fulfillment, for something more than what we've got, but we refuse to trust Him when He tells us that He is everything we are looking for. So we go to church, read our devotionals and Christian books, try to be kind and good and patient, and wonder why the heck we are so frustrated and unsatisfied. We don't know Jesus!
Satan has lulled us to sleep. He wants us to think knowing about God and knowing God are one and the same. If our enemy can keep us in this place of complacency, then we'll never be all that different from the world, even though we know we should be. And if we aren't what we know we should be, then we are frustrated.
So what can motivate us to live radically sold-out, satisfying lives? Knowing the One we are living for. We won't be frustrated and we won't be concerned about what anyone else thinks (those silly comparison games) if we know we are pleasing the only One that matters. A verse comes to mind: "Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galations 1:10).
It is my heartfelt prayer tonight that every single person I know knows the Most High better than s/he know anyone on this planet. That each of us will seek Him as the greatest treasure, and seek Him more often than we seek food or water. That we put intimacy with Him before intimacy with our husbands, boyfriends, children, parents, or friends. (And this one really steps on my toes...) That we place a higher priority on KNOWING Him than SERVING Him. That we love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
If you've never experienced His all-consuming love in a way that literally blew your mind, maybe now's the time to ask Him to be your everything. Ask Him to blow your ever-lovin' mind! No, I mean it. Tell Him your doubts--that He really exists, that He really loves us, that He really can act on our behalf, that He really still speaks to His children, that He really can perform miracles, that He really can satisfy your EVERY longing--and ask Him to remove them, every one. Then give Him some time to show off. Exhibit a little bit of faith: open his autobiography, daily, and trust Him to reveal something new to you. Ask Him to speak to you. As Beth says (yes, that would be Beth Moore), get a yes in your spirit: "Yes, Lord, I know you're gonna speak to me today!"
Or, if you've witnessed God's amazing power and you can clearly recall the feeling of being head-over-heels in love with God Almighty, but you haven't done any flips in a long time, maybe now's the time to ask Him to show you how to repent of losing your first love and reignite the passion. I did.
Ann said that when she asked God how to repent, He seemed to say two things: 1) "Remember" what I did for you on the cross, and 2) "Do the things you did at first" (Rev 2:5). When she thought about what she had done at the height of her love for Christ that she wasn't doing at the time of Jesus' rebuke, she knew the thing that was missing was in-depth personal Bible study. So did I. She said she began that very day to open Scriptures with the intention of having personal time with God. So did I. And it is not for the purpose of preparing a lesson, or doing homework for a class, or checking it off my to-do list, or for any other reason than to enjoy some time with a King, a Savior, and a Friend. She said she began seeing immediate results. So did I--the very first day!
His Word is powerful. We cannot encounter it without being transformed. God tells us that His Word is just like the rain and snow that waters the earth and does not return to the heavens without accomplishing the purpose for which He sent it. In the same way, when we read His Word, looking for Him to speak, expecting Him to act, He sends it forth into our hearts and it will accomplish His purpose in our lives and we will be satisfied, and better still, we will be transformed into His likeness (paraphrased from Isaiah 55 and 2 Corinthians 3:28). I am believing in a transformation. I hope you will join me.
I know I've quoted this before, but it's one of my favorite promises in Scripture; when Satan tells me I'm a mess, I come right back, with this: "Though outwardly I'm wasting away, inwardly I'm being renewed day by day." God promises it, and because I've witnessed His promises fulfilled, I know this one's true too. He makes ALL THINGS NEW. That includes me and you.
I'm confessing my sin of omission (failing to have concentrated Bible study) with you today because I think accountability is crucial. God tells us that if we know the good we ought to do and don't do it, that is sin for us (James 4:17). I know I need to diligently dig into the Word every day. God says, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Why? Because "The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires" (Hebrews 4:12). It is alive and it brings life. He wants us to diligently dig into the Bread of Life because we are hungry. Some of us may have even been hungry for so long that we have gotten used to the feeling and don't even know that we are hungry. This is a real phenomenon. If you go long enough without food, you don't want it as much. But you still NEED it. You need the nutrients or you will become unhealthy. You'll waste away, unconsciously.
So, it's my theory that if we go long enough without Jesus, we don't want Him as much. But we still NEED Him. We need the life-giving power of His Words or we'll become unhealthy. Wasting away, unconsciously. I've been there and, not only is it dangerous, it is miserable.
I appreciate reminders. Feel free to ask me if I've been pierced by the sWord lately. =)