How can I return to my First Love? I feel like I have a really strange struggle: I don’t desire God. I’m not doubting God, but I doubt my devotion cause of my idolatry. I’ve had this problem for a few years: I love reading books on systematic theology and listening to online sermons and serving, but I struggle to read the bible or pray or love God daily. Maybe this is just the curse of a reformed Calvinist (you joke about us all the time lol). I almost want to unlearn everything to love Him again.
My very dear, dear friend: welcome to the Christian life.
Let’s tackle this one at a time. Please feel free to skip around.
1) Many of us put absurd spiritual parameters on our “progress” so we expect to sustain how we first felt.
A true long-term sustainable faith will never feel like it first did, and it’s not supposed to. How could it? Coming to faith in Christ is always exciting at first — but keeping up that level of emotionalism is impossible.
Think of a hit TV show in its first season. New characters, plot lines, scenarios, dialogue: it’s all so fresh and thrilling. But even a TV show that maintains high quality will be a little stale by the third season, because we become very familiar with the tropes and twists and writing.
Think of a marriage: the honeymoon phase. This doesn’t last forever, but many people expect the “butterflies” and “electricity” to keep going. When it doesn’t, disillusionment leads to adultery or divorce or both. Because it doesn’t “feel like it used to” or the very lame “I love you but I’m not in love with you.”
Please don’t do that to yourself. We are done with arbitrary shackles and false goal lines.
If you can push past the initial barrier of fireworks and fog machines, around the bend is a breakthrough in faith that might not “feel” like it did, but was never meant to: because up ahead is an ocean-deep realness that feels more real than feelings ever could.
2) We tend to confuse nostalgia with first love, and that’s a mistake.
When the preacher asks, “Was there ever a time you felt Jesus more than you do today?” — he is totally asking the wrong question.
In fact, a lot of that “first love” was probably mixed in with false emotions and weird theology and wrong ideas. The more I get to know someone, the more real that friendship becomes: warts and all. Of course it’s real in the beginning — I don’t mean to question that — but I would never trade what I have today with my very first naive understanding.
Let’s quit looking behind us for a reference point (Philippians 3:12-16). Satan would love to see you panic here, but those crisis moments are often God surgically removing those distorted first ideas and strengthening your faith to another level.
Our spiritual walk is also a crazy up-and-down animal that is never some increasing line on a graph chart. It’s all over the place. Even today, I snapped at some cashier in Walmart (who was possibly a racist and was downright rude, which still doesn’t absolve me) when I knew better. I kept thinking, “How could I have thrown away my Christianity to yell at this woman?” — but that’s pretty dumb theology.
Our default setting is sin, and while we get a little better along the way, an act of righteousness is always a miracle. I felt pretty bad: but bad enough to know I need a savior and not so bad that I avoided Him. That’s the only way that would actually empower me to do better next time. Each day is a new day that forgets yesterday, and that’s how repentance and grace work.
3) Embrace both the emotion AND intellect.
Mostly everyone begins faith in emotion and moves to intellect, but these are not mutually exclusive principles. It appears you might want those old feelings back and you want to unlearn the academic stuff: but now that’s a false dichotomy.
You see: I know all the crazy obscure doctrine and I’ve read over 300 Christian books; I got enough head-knowledge to fit a textbook that would kill you and your extended family. None of that is a good thing. Hardly nothing in church surprises me on an emotional or intellectual level at all. I’ve rolled my eyes enough in church to map out the inside of my brain.
So my solution: I became jaded to my own jadedness. That was the combo-breaker. I quit measuring myself on how I “felt” or if my “brain was tickled.” I just stopped all that and came around to Jesus. I know he loves me and I love him too, and most days that’s that.
If that makes me an idiot, then fine — I’m His idiot.
And believe me: I love the Reformed Calvinists (God help them) as much as the Charismatics and the inner-city ministries and the megachurch and the new hipster church down the street. I no longer care to have a reactionary faith that excludes others. I appreciate the emotional part of my faith as much as the intellect. It’s a tough balancing act, but that’s the journey. Let’s not pit them against each other more than necessary.
4) I learned that deep commitment to God and to people no matter how I feel is what leads to true growth.
When I can persevere despite myself, that’s where I breach a surface-thin faith. When I can weather the storms by Spirit-powered obedience to the Lord, my faith becomes that much more authentic and gritty and real. Our faith thrives when it survives: and the scars proves it.
In Revelation 2:4-5, Jesus tells the church in Ephesus, “You have forsaken your first love,” but notice after that he does NOT say, “Now go feel the things you did at first.” Instead he says, “Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Please hear me that I’m not endorsing “do stuff to get saved.” But clearly we as Christians are called and designed for a mission, and if we’re not neck-deep in the midst of broken people inside AND outside the church, we’ll get tempted to wander off or just lose sight of the big picture.
If we’re not loving broken people like Jesus, then Christianity will remain an abstract doctrine. That’s also why Ephesians 2:8-9 also has a verse 10.
5) I expected the valleys around every corner, and I became okay with the struggle.
It’s okay to struggle. Embrace it and receive the grace. It’s okay some days to just want to throw the Bible in the trash; we experience those seasons too. That’s why our mountaintop moments will also inform our valleys.
I don’t mean to be too cute here, but trees during the winter actually deepen their roots to draw more nutrients, and that’s exactly what Christians are called to do in their own winter seasons (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:19, Hebrews 12:11). So I keep reading my Bible, some days getting nothing except to ask God to be patient with me one more day. And He is.
That’s not an excuse to be lukewarm. Get with someone and be honest. Tell your pastor, mentor, close friend — get right down to the truth. Pursue after Christ. Be brutally real with God, and it’s His grace that will restore you every time. Deepen your roots, prepare for the next season, and learn to doubt your own doubts.
Maybe you heard all that before: but you and I, we’re such forgetful people, aren’t we? Don’t panic, my friend. You’re further along than you think, and God is doing His wonderfully wild work in you.
Faith … is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
— C.S. Lewis