Darkness is never so dark as when a redeemed soul isn’t satisfied in God. The richness of the Scripture has no taste. The preacher’s sermon deflects off fleshly armor. Prayers seem to be stamped, “Return to sender.”
Distractions intrude the best attempts to have quiet moments with God. Your heart sighs. Memories of blazing intimacy with Christ make the soul now shiver. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it” rings truer than other lyrics. You may even fear that, after all of this time, you aren’t really his.
I have experienced several of these seasons during my decade as a Christian. It is a valley of the shadow of death, a desert wilderness in which Satan comes to tempt and deceive.
During these times, I’ve wanted to blame God for where I ended up and double down on my rebellion. But the haunting question God asked his spiritually callous people shoots down all my excuses, “What wrong did you find in me that you went far from me?” (see Jeremiah 2:5). When we find ourselves far from God, he is never the one to blame.
And this makes the darkness darker. I know that spiritual dullness often results from my treating God like a pigeon in the park to whom I leisurely throw the crumbs of my leftover devotion after a long day of caring about other things. In such seasons, God allows my joylessness to snap me out of treating him as a hobby, to learn afresh to seek his face as if he was, well, God.
“My love threatens to grow cold when the familiar becomes taken for granted and neglected.”
I have even dressed up my desertion in religious robes. I might refuse discipline by calling it legalism; refuse God’s presence, calling it freedom; refuse to commune with him, calling it salvation by grace. Christ’s blood becomes that which was shed so that I might safely ignore him.
Of course, I overbook my schedule to hide my negligence. Like a criminal mastermind, I premeditate alibis to exonerate myself from spiritual complacency. When questioned, like those other guests who also wickedly excused themselves (Luke 14:16–24), I keep my calendar close at hand to justify not attending my Master’s banquet. I write off the whole bit about loving Jesus above everything or I can’t be his disciple, calling it rhetorical hyperbole.
Even though I love Jesus, my love threatens to grow cold when the familiar becomes taken for granted and neglected.
Leaving Your First Love?
Despite Satan’s insinuations, you are not the first to experience this paralyzing lack of happiness in God. After commending the church at Ephesus concerning their patient endurance, intolerance of evil, suffering for Christ’s name, and exposing of false apostles, Jesus confronts them. Although this church looked amazing on paper, he turns to one central issue, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).
They had a zeal for orthodoxy, but they had lost their love for Jesus. They showed up for Bible studies and debated the heretics, but lost their pure love for their Lord. They stood against evil in their midst, but tolerated a sluggish love towards Jesus and each other.
They privately were abandoning Christ in their public crusade for truth about Christ. They were exchanging Christ himself for theological images of their Savior. It is a scary reality that the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but good deeds and theological precision as well.
“You are not the first to experience this paralyzing lack of happiness in God.”
And Jesus was going to remove their lampstand if they continued to sled down the hill that Matthew warned against: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12–13).
But Jesus loves his church and has compassion towards his faintly burning wicks. So, Jesus counsels them, and us, in three ways:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)
The first step God calls us to may be surprising: remember. This is not some great feat for spiritual giants. It is merely the act of a child looking back upon former days.
Do you remember when God first awakened your soul? Do you remember the excitement you had when he plucked you out of darkness? How joyful did you dance, from an orphan to a son, a dead sinner to a resurrected saint, an enemy with God to his beloved? Do you remember?
Did you once run to prayer, not to take your daily dose of spiritual medicine, but because your Great Love waited for you there? Did you ever sing in the silence with the psalmist, “There is nothing I desire besides you” (see Psalm 73:25)? Did you stay up late to undress your soul before him? Did you rise up early to put on heavenly attire? Do you remember?
Remember quiet mornings of choosing the good portion as you sat at his feet. Remember the glory that you saw and the Savior that you sang to when you were filled with “joy unspeakable.” Remember the time you invested in eternity when you met with other believers to worship him. Remember.
From the conviction that comes from realizing where you once stood, repent. You have left Jerusalem for Egypt; the Promised Land for Canaan. Don’t just try to do better next time. Don’t just feel guilty and hide behind the bushes of good intentions. Go to your Savior in the blood of his Son and cry out for mercy, confessing your coldness to him and asking him for grace.
Tell him you’ve grown cold. Tell him you’ve entertained other loves. Repent to your God for not loving him as he deserves. He stands ready to forgive and restore. Your High Priest will sympathize with you, therefore, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, KJV).
Amazingly, God calls us to return to where we once fell. He does not call us to make up for lost time and be a mile ahead of where we used to be. He calls us back to that fresh fire of love towards him and neighbor. It is a call to action. It is a call to return to the habits of grace. It is a command to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).
“God allows my joylessness to snap me out of treating him as a hobby.”
And beyond the standard means of grace, it is worth considering what makes your heart sing for Jesus Christ. Is it long walks in nature, early mornings with your guitar, writing poetry, reading Christ-exalting fiction, diagraming philosophical arguments on the true nature of beauty, evangelizing college students?
What is it in this season? Prioritize it. The door is not locked, the story is not over. You can have a sweet relationship with God in Christ again. He has given you more breath so that you might use it to seek him, cry out to him, wait on him.
Show yourself on the horizon. He will run to you in due time.