I believe Jesus gives us the three crucial steps we must take in order to recover our first love. Listen to His words to the believers in Ephesus in Rev. 2:5a: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
First, we must remember the intimacy we once had with the Lord, the closeness we once enjoyed, the fellowship we once experienced. It really was a glorious height, and the Lord is calling us back to that height. He is jealous for it too!
Second, we must recognize that the forsaking of our first love is actually a sin, the sign of backsliding in one way or another. And it is a sin that Jesus takes very seriously, actually warning the Ephesian believers that if they did not repent as a congregation, they would be no more: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:5b). So, rather than blaming others or blaming circumstances, we should acknowledge our sins before the Lord, whatever those sins may be.
We forsake our first love by putting other things before the Lord or by getting caught up with the things of this world or by allowing wrong attitudes to fester in our hearts or by practicing sin or by yielding to the flesh or by becoming “professional” in our ministries or by making our walk with the Lord into a dry habit. Forsaking our first love can happen in many different ways, but all of them, on one level or another, are sin.
I know that in some cases, believers suffer terrible hardship or tragedy or prolonged struggles, because of which they find themselves distant from God. Our Father understands all this and rather than rebuke us, He simply calls us back to that place of refreshing or renewal. But for most of us, the problem is that we forsake our first love through wrong choices or wrong priorities, which is why one of the first steps back is repentance.
Third, we must “do the things we did at first.” This means there are practical things we can do to restore the intimacy – the things “we did at first.”
Have you ever read a Christian book on rekindling the spark of love in a failing marriage? In a book like this, you will not only be shown how to diagnose the nature of your marital problems, but you will also be given specific, practical steps that will help you to correct the problems. For example, a book written to men might remind the husband about the early days of his relationship with his fiancée/wife. In those years, he used to call her several times a day, send her flowers once a week, take her on a special date every Saturday, be sensitive to her unspoken needs and desires, always put her first, leave her little love notes, and let her know how special she was.
But all that was a long time ago – to be exact, five children, three apartments, one house, four moves, six jobs, and about thirty pounds for him and forty pounds for her. Things aren’t quite the same anymore!
What does this husband need to do? He needs to do the things he did at first. He needs to re-ignite the romance and make an effort to renew and deepen the relationship. He needs to set aside quality time with his wife and for his wife, making her happiness his number one priority. He needs to let her know how important she still is to him and break away from his routine for her sake. He needs to love her again as his bride!
That’s exactly what we need to do with Jesus when our love turns cold. We need to renew the relationship! How? We set aside blocks of quality time to meet with Him, pouring out our hearts to Him in prayer, sharing our innermost thoughts and burdens. We lift our voices to Him in worship and adoration, singing the songs and hymns that have been so precious to us through the years, expressing our appreciation to Him with thanksgiving and praise.
We saturate our minds and hearts with His Word, meditating on His truths, learning of Him, receiving from Him, growing in knowledge and grace. We think back to the awe and wonder of those early days, and we seek to recapture that sense of divine nearness. And whenever we feel prompted, we share our faith with those who don’t know the Lord.
According to Matthew Henry, believers who have left their first love “. . . must return and do their first works. They must as it were begin again, go back step by step, till they come to the place where they took the first false step; they must endeavour to revive and recover their first zeal, tenderness, and seriousness, and must pray as earnestly, and watch as diligently, as they did when they first set out in the ways of God.”
Then, over a period of time, as we do these things – not with a “time-clock” mentality, not as a spiritual performance or out of a religious habit, not to earn brownie points or somehow merit His favor, but rather because we love Him and long for Him and want to deepen our fellowship with Him – His Spirit begins to flood our hearts, and before you know it, He becomes the most precious One in our lives. He becomes the reason for all we do, the center of our attention, the highest object of our affection. Then, all our good works – serving Him, sharing our faith, giving sacrificially – become expressions of love, the overflow of a heart enamored with the Master.
That’s what it means to “do the things we did at first.” That’s what it means to return to the height from which we have fallen, to repent and return to our first love. God eagerly awaits our move back towards Him! He remembers what our relationship used to be like, and He expresses it in vivid terms as a mournful husband: “The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the desert, through a land not sown.”’” (Jer. 2:2)
On Monday, January 1, 1750, John Wesley made the following entry in his journal: “On several days this week I called upon many who had left their ‘first love,’ but they none of them justified themselves: One and all pleaded ‘Guilty before God.’ Therefore there is reason to hope that He will return, and will abundantly pardon.”
Yes, God will abundantly pardon. The Lord will receive you again, no questions asked. And it is in this pursuit of the Lord that we become holy, as Oswald Chambers said, “Holiness is the characteristic of the man after God’s own heart.” We were made for Him, and in Him we thrive. In fact, the ultimate thing that will keep us from sin is the nearness of the Lord in our lives. If God is near to us – and we are conscious of the fact – sin will be far from us. In this light, M. P. Horban could say that, “True holiness is learning to enjoy friendship with God.” Our holy Friend will make us holy too!
And so, just as we did in our first days in the Lord when He convicted us of sin and made us aware of our disobedience, we do the same things today as we return to our first love, dealing with sin ruthlessly, cutting it off rather than merely cutting it back.
Does anything hold you back? Does anything stop you from renewing your relationship with the Lord? He has promised to draw near to those who draw near to Him (Jam 4:8a), and, as John Bunyan quaintly put it, when we take a step towards God He takes a step towards us, but His steps are larger than ours! Now is the time to pursue the Lord with all of our being. Our God will fully restore!