It was a clear sky and warm day as I walked home from work, praying, as is my custom, and attempting to find that place in the heart where one connects with the Spirit. Like many, I can become distracted easily from prayer. Our world is filled with distractions, from political chaos to the latest update on social media, or urgent texts from friends (that aren’t urgent at all, but when the phone ‘dings!’ we just have to see what it is!). On this particular walk, my mind was on a tangent thinking about injustice. My heart was unsettled, my mind spiraling in a useless inner tirade of anger. Every few minutes, I would remind myself that I was supposed to be praying. Yet, even my attempts at prayer were mere extensions of my distraction.
“But, Lord you don’t understand, these people are—”
The breeze picked up and the Spirit whispered, “Be still, let go, and know that I am God.”
I breathed in deeply. “Lord, have mercy on me,” I replied. “I get so caught up in all these outward things. Help me to see you…to hear you…to find my home in you.”
I listened closely. Those who listen for the Lord’s voice know there is a silence of spirit that accompanies his voice. Then he said, “First and foremost you must love me. Those who forget their first love lose their way and get caught up in the world and its systems. Am I your first and foremost love?”
My heart was struck. Tears came to my eyes. I kept my heart silent…I needed to pause, breathe, let go and know that he is indeed God. I walked on in silent prayer, my heart focused on Jesus. After a short time, a picture formed in my spirit. I saw a little boy sitting by a river. Sunlight danced on the water and the river flowed by peacefully. The little boy held a fishing rod and sat at ease dangling the line in the water. As I took this scene in, I saw Jesus come and sit down with the little boy. My heart lept with both joy and sorrow. I knew the little boy was me, but I didn’t understand why I was fishing. I was joyful for the Lord’s presence, but I could sense two grieving hearts…my own and his. I realized I’d been carrying this grief for at least a couple of months if not more and one element of it for much longer. Being the courageously spiritual person I am, I withdrew from the picture and told the Lord, “Not now…that is too much for me.”
He graciously let it go…for a time.
A few days later, I was out for a walk, praying in my heart, allowing the words of the Jesus Prayer to wash through me. Once again, a sense of grief welled up within me and I heard the words of Revelation 2:4 in my heart, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Tears came to my eyes again. I recalled the Lord’s words to me from a few days earlier, “Am I your first and foremost love?”
“You know you are, Lord,” I told him, then added, “Be my first and foremost…be the most important one in my heart and my life. Jesus you and you alone are my deepest love. I will worship nothing and no one else.” As I prayed this, I was drawn back into the picture of the little boy fishing with Jesus beside the river. The Lord began to speak to me about my own grief and this time I didn’t withdraw. I walked with tears on my face, but it was night and no one was around to see, so I didn’t need to worry about looking like an oddball. He comforted me and I had the privilege of comforting him. He spoke gently to me, “Eric you are catching some treasures you lost in the river, but you are also catching some new treasures.” Hope returned to my heart in a new way. Love bloomed in an unexpected way. His kindness and mercy filled my vision of who he is. He is my first and foremost love, and amazingly, he views me in the same way. He considers his love for me the most important thing in the world…just as he considers his love for all people to be the most important thing in the whole universe.
Revelation 2:4 is part of a message for the church at Ephesus. The Ephesians have done some things quite well: they have patiently laboured in the faith and have not allowed false apostles or evil people to come into the community and destroy it. Their works and moral state are looking good…but something vital is missing. In fact, what is missing is so profound that the Ephesians are warned they are in danger of losing their place in the kingdom. They have left their first love, which was their passion and love for Jesus himself. When this love is lost, the love of neighbour is also lost. When love for God and neighbour are left behind, then a church ceases to fulfill its calling to keep the commands of Jesus, which are to love God with one’s entire being and to love one’s neighbour with their entire heart. Jesus calls on the Ephesians to repent and do so quickly. Jesus is asking them, “Am I your first and foremost love?” This was an incredibly important message at a time when people were expected to worship the earthly, political power of Rome and its Emperor. This was not an option for the church. Christians had and have only one King, and he alone is worthy of their worship. To worship any other power, to give one’s heart to any other king, was to lose one’s lampstand. I thought of the great heroes from Daniel 3 who refused to kneel at the sound of music before the golden idol Nebuchadnezzar made, knowing it would cost them their lives. Yet, they would not bend their knee to any earthly power…they knew the truth: only God is worthy of worship. The Ephesians needed to recall…to remember this truth. Jesus, the king of heaven, was to be their first and foremost love and the only one they would worship with all of their hearts and give their love to. There is an important message for all of us in this short letter to the Ephesians. Do we think of ourselves as having done the work of faith well? Do we consider ourselves upstanding and morally righteous? Have we spotted the false teachers before they came into our midst? In short: have we got it all together, neatly ordered and well oiled? The Ephesians did, but they did the unthinkable in the course of getting there. They left their first love.
When we give our hearts over to the powers of this world, and yes I mean politics and political ideologies, we leave our first love behind. When we give our hearts to our religious systems and elevate them above our first love…we forget him. When we give our hearts to the passions that destroy: anger, hate, judgment, arrogance, self-righteousness, accusation, refusal to show mercy or love to both our neighbours and enemies etc.., we leave our first love. How do we know we have left him? How do we know he is no longer our first and foremost love? We know by the fruit of our hearts, the focus of our minds and our spirits. Do we love Jesus more than anything else? If you believe this is true, then you must answer his question: Do you keep his commands? And what is his command? He makes it clear in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” And in Matthew 22:37-39, where Jesus is famously asked what the greatest commandment in the law is. “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Love is the evidence of the Life of the Spirit indwelling the heart of the one who calls Jesus their first love. We live in a world filled with invitations to leave Jesus behind. We are invited every day to forget God and focus on the world, others, and ourselves. We are invited to make excuses for why we can and should ignore the teaching of Jesus and his gospel, yet still call ourselves his disciples. We are invited to think in worldly terms instead of kingdom of heaven terms. We are invited into forgetfulness of heart and mind. We are invited to leave our first love and give our worship to our politics, our leaders, our like-minded friends, our own egos, our careers, our entertainment, our nation, and on and on the list goes. This grieves the Holy Spirit. This grieves our Lord Jesus Christ. We become lost when he is no longer our first and foremost love. We become people who forget who God is and what he is like. We talk more about the world and its powers and ironically more about the devil and his schemes, than we do about the wonder and majesty of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
I can no longer grieve my first and foremost love. As I was walking this morning, I heard the Lord say to me, ‘What is it that you want?” I didn’t hesitate in answering, “Lord I want you to be my first and foremost love and I want to know you as intimately as I can in this life.” I believe the Holy Spirit is stirring up this question in other hearts around the world, in every nation where his children dwell…for the kingdom of heaven is not bound by man-made borders, and respects none of them. The kingdom of heaven rises up where two or three are gathered…two or three who speak out in their hearts and minds, with lips pouring out true worship and love for Jesus, singing and saying, praying, “Lord, be our first and foremost love. Let us know you as intimately as we possibly can in this life. Lord, Jesus, you are our only God…our only master. Lord, be the only one we worship—ever. Lord, fill our hearts with the truest love so that we can love you, our neighbour, and even our enemy, as you have loved us.”
You are invited every day to remember God. You are invited every day to open your heart to more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. You are invited every day to walk and talk with the living One. If you needed a reminder and an invitation, I am happy to extend these to you.
I invite you to return to your first love. I invite you to give Jesus the full devotion of your heart and mind. I invite you to pray, ‘Lord, be my first and foremost love.”