"But I have this one thing against you, that you have left your first love." (Rev. 2:2-5)
Tracking when I began to grasp the concept of a "First Love" relationship with Jesus has been aided by going back and looking my study bibles. The faded red ink underlining the verse, and the handwritten notes in the margin of my college New Testament are the trail markers of a young man on a journey of discovery.
Scribbled in "Bic Pen Blue" at the top of "The Revelation of John" are the words, "Continuously contemporary, this message applied then and it applies now." As I looked at my notes in chapter two, I found underlined in red, "that you have left your first love." Underneath written in the same faint color are the words, "No personal relationship with Jesus."
The first encounter I can document having with this powerful verse appears to have taken place while I was in a Bible Study at Baylor University. It was led by close friends, Bobby Livesay and Bob Bryant. Both men eventually completed their graduate studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and became accomplished pastors. I cannot thank God enough for bringing these men into my life during my college years. They introduced me to serious, personal bible study and challenged me to apply ancient truth to contemporary life.
While serving at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth, we were privileged to host a singing and drama group called, "The Jeremiah People." They had a song in their program called "First Love." It contained a dramatic monologue that stirred my heart as much as their music. It pointed out the danger of allowing good things to crowd out the best thing in life. It warned that it was possible to be so engaged in the work of the Lord and still somehow lose the love for Jesus that was once such a vital part of the relationship. It was a call to a believer to return to Jesus and allow Him to restore what has been lost.
In January of 1976, David Walker and I presented a weekend of ministry to the students of Sagamore called, "First Love Awakening." Tony Dyer had sent us a brief outline of a program he had begun called "Disciple Now!" We implemented the concept under the "First Love" theme and saw God do a mighty work in the lives of our young people. Who knew that 34 years later this ministry would still be impacting the lives of students. Thanks, Tony!
By the summer of 1978, I was serving as an Associate Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I led them to close out each summer with a Back To School Crusade and we called it "First Love Awakening." I would invite the camp preacher to return to our home base and spend four days challenging our students to apply on their campus what they had committed their lives to at camp. It was a timely reminder that it doesn't take much time for our love for Jesus to cool off, and become a faint memory rather than a flaming movement of God in our lives.
Recently, I have been asked to lead prayer conferences with three great pastors in three different states. These invitations give me hope of a movement of God that is focused on our need for prayer and for spiritual awakening. I have been priviledged to be with Don Andrews and Haven Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kansas, Keith Kurtz and The Vine Community Church of Thomson, Georgia, and Bobby Bressman and Pleasant Hill Baptist Church of Tyler, Texas.
Bobby Bressman was a sixth grader in my student ministry, when his mother, Melody Horn, was my Executive Assistant at Broken Arrow. God has used Bobby in a great way to call the people of Pleasant Hill to the priority of a first love relationship with Jesus. My prayer conference with him was spiritual preparation for a spring revival. He had remembered the "First Love Awakening" meetings we used to have in BA, and wanted to do something similar at his church with Jon Randle who was scheduled later in the year. I was so pleased that he remembered, and honored that he asked permission to use the idea. I assured him first love was an idea Jesus had first, and it belonged to Him, not me. Still it was nice to be asked. Thanks Bobby!
I have been a student of prayer and spiritual awakening for about 40 years. During the 33 years of our marriage, Dana and I have prayed for God to allow us to be part of something only He can get credit for. As I continue to grow in my understanding of this great work of God, I am learning that the greatest first love awakening that can take place is the one that happens in my own life. Thanks Dana!
My friend, Michael Catt is fond of quoting his mentor, Vance Havner. One of Dr. Havner's finest gems states, "The devil will let a preacher prepare for a sermon, if it will keep him from preparing himself." The first love relationship of a man of God for the Son of God often seems to be the prelude for a greater movement of God in the lives of others. Thanks Michael and Dr. Havner!
As I pray for "First Love Awakening" in my own life, I am challenged by four words.
- Remember: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen..."
- Repent: "...and repent."
- Redo: "...and do the deeds you did at first..."
- Remove: "...or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand."
Jesus gave great commendation to the work of the Lord that had been done by the Church at Ephesus. He saved His strongest condemnation for the one thing they could not live without, a first love relationship with Him. Jesus says seven times to the churches in Revelation, "I know." He always knows when a person is more in love with the work of the Lord than they are with the Lord of the work. He expects them to do something about it, when He tells them the truth. Thanks Jesus!
"First Love Awakening" is not so much an event to be planned as a flame to be fanned. My father, Don Miller, has often said, "Anything that cools your love for Jesus is sin." That is where this separation between the work of the Lord and the Lord of the work is so dangerous. Satan is the great counterfeitor, and he is always the enemy of the best. He will let a believer do what is good as long as it consumes all of his time and energy and leaves nothing for the first love of his life, Jesus. Thanks Dad!
For my prayers for "First Love Awakening" to have any integrity, they must lead to a personal renewal of my own love relationship with Jesus. It is this love of Jesus that becomes too real to be contained. It must absorb me first before there is enough in me to spill out on others.
My understanding of prayer and spiritual awakening leads me to believe that revival is something God does to the Church and in the Church. It is a saturation of the people of God with the Presence of God. On a wider scale, awakening is something God does in the lives of people outside the church. It is a community saturated by the Presence of God.
This widespread awakening seems to take place when revival of people in the Church lingers long enough for people outside the church to notice the change. Cold hearted people seldom warm others to a profound love for God. A revival movement of God cannot be ignored by people in the Church. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit takes over in the lives of God's people they leave the four walls of the Church and saturate the streets, shops, alleys, homes, work stations, factories, shops and every place they go with an overflowing expression of praise to God. When revival of the Church becomes an awakening, it cannot be ignored by people outside of the Church. This awakening will either create a hunger for this kind of love in their own lives, or it will generate a hate for it in their hearts.
If you can remember a day or a time in your life when you loved Jesus more than you love Him today, you are in need of a "First Love Awakening." Taking a walk down memory lane is meant to be an about face. Prayer is the only hope for a turn around experience in your life. Focus on spending time with the Lord of the work before you take off to do your work for the Lord.
Jesus is the Light of the World. Pastors, people and churches who fail to reflect the light of His Presence become accustomed to the dark, and invite Jesus to remove them from being a lighthouse to people in peril. Sing it loud! Sing it proud! This little light of mine. I'm gonna let it shine! Thanks Sunbeams!