Confusing Nostalgia With First Love: You’re Growing More Than You Think

A lot of preachers tell you, “Remember when you first came to Jesus? Remember how awesome that was? Wasn’t there a time when you were more spiritually high than today? And look at you now.”

I understand what they’re saying. They always quote Revelation 2:4-5, because that’s a scary book with a scary name with scary verses. What they mean is: You’ve grown cold to this whole thing, it’s become a routine to pray and praise, you’ve seen all the Christmas plays and Easter revivals, you’re getting jaded to the dress-your-best on Sunday thing. So get back to where you were.

“Wasn’t there a time when you were more spiritually high than today?”

But — this is always true. It presumes a false scale in which hyped-up emotions are equivalent to “first love.” We can look back on Sunday School and call those the glory days, but a lot of times we’re confusing childlike faith with childish feelings.

I get why preachers use this kind of guilt: because it’s quick, efficient, easy, and they’re probably doing it the way they’ve been taught.

Yet if we’re motivating others by moving backwards, we’re only beating up the dead.

A preacher, much less anyone else, is never supposed to be pointing backwards. God doesn’t see lost potential, but possibilities. To obsessively look back at the past is more in line with the tricks of the devil.

What’s so great back there? Because when we first came to Jesus, we still had an incomplete view of God, still used the Bible to judge others, had an immature view of our mission and calling, had splinters of the old life lodged in, still felt like the church was a cult-ish club, and still thought faith was how guilty or emotional we felt on Sundays.

The stuff we’re longing for back there is not as great as we remember.

Nostalgia is a cute telescope, but leaves out the wide view.

Dear Christian: Despite what you might be currently feeling, you’re growing more than you think. Sure, we’re in danger of lukewarm complacency and spiritual crash and moral drift and biblical doubt and unreasonable fear. Certainly we need discipline and duty; those should not be dirty words. But it is a terrible thing to bury your head in the past and claim that God was better there.

Our tiny three lb. brains are constantly trapped between the innocence of the past and the hope for something better. We’re torn between the Golden Age and our disdain for the new. It’s intoxicating to “head-travel” to a better time. Old people want to be younger and young people want to be older; we all want to be young and old at the same time.

God does not work this way. He is simply alive. His restoration is both perfectly original and perfectly new. In a sense He will restore us to the Garden, but not by giving us an exact copy of Eden. He’s making a new one. He gives hope to the old and He blasts maturity on the young. When Jesus told us to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, he implied that maturity does not have to come at the cost of innocence.

Solomon says stop asking those fruitless questions of the past. Paul says God is still working in us. And later he says to forget the past and press toward Him.

I hope we speak this way to each other. I hope we’re encouraging others and ourselves towards the new, not as a recapturing of glory, but as paving a path forward. Even when we learn from our past, I hope we’re not telling our wives and kids and friends, “Remember how it used to be? How much better it was?” That will immediately drown us in spiritual debt, when we could be looking to the untapped investment of the future. Even if we get the bad news we’ve been dreading, if our situation is devastated, if our world is upside-down — there’s no sense in looking back.

There were some nice things back there, but I’m grateful today. For fuller understanding, for a wider scope, for more of Jesus. Being jaded is not such a bad thing; it protects us from manipulation and reverie. And if there’s anything we can learn from the past, it’s to see how far we have come.

Keep moving.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
— Isaiah 43:19

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
— 2 Corinthians 5:17

— J.S.

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