I think we have all been there. No one goes into a relationship with the thought that it will become apathetic, let alone with the thought that it will fail. But life does seem to get in the way. Tiny stresses become large fractures. Lack of communication becomes a silent black hole. That love that would endure forever has gone by the wayside and we are flummoxed as to how to return to it. Keeping a relationship whole and healthy, vibrant and rich takes time and effort and commitment.
Our relationship with the Lord is no different. We enter into this beautiful time of first love with Him when we receive salvation. We feel this adoration for Him because He loves us so much. We don't have to schedule time with Him, we just can't wait to talk to Him, to pray, to give Him praise and worship. We feel so intensely a depth of love and gratitude that to just sit in His presence is enough. We believe we will always feel this way, nothing can ever change our deep love for Him. And then time sets in. The worries and frustrations of life pile up. The day to day minutiae seems to bury you under a weight that you cannot shake off. Job, school, children, finances. They all take a toll and that passionate first love fizzles to barely a spark.
I have mentioned before the book we are studying, "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. He talks about God's overwhelming love for us. This crazy love that defies explanation. This God who created the universe in all of its diversity; planets, stars, oceans, mountains, towering redwoods, flowers, lady bugs, and slugs. He created all of that, and He created it for us to enjoy. And He created us so that we could enjoy Him and He could enjoy fellowship with us. This great and mighty God, wanting relationship with us.
For those of us who have children, we remember when they were first born. Oh how we celebrate and delight in that new child. We cradle that child lovingly, calming them when they are distressed and whispering to them tenderly. We sing them soft lullabies and and progress to more lively tunes like that good ol' Barney theme song, "I love you, you love me." Now picture our amazing God feeling all of that towards us. "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing," Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV). This is the love that He has towards us. And this is the love, that when we received salvation we zealously promised ourselves we would always return to Him.
When did it get so hard to keep that promise. When did our first love wane. When did the troubles of life, when did all the trivialities in our existence cause our devotion and ardor to dim? Personally, there is no 'aha' moment. It is a lifetime of detritus that has built up that seems to have diminished my earnestness for His presence. It can be compared to the scale deposits from hard water that build up over time. You cannot see into the pipes, you only realize the problem after your pipes have clogged up and the water no longer flows through freely. What a picture of how our Christian life can become. How do we get rid of the blockage, how do we return to that free flow of His life, His Spirit.
I kept hearing a scripture over and over in my mind this week. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation," Psalm 51:12. That is what we need to return to. When you read that verse in context, it is because David has realized his sins against God and earnestly seeks restoration with His maker and a return to right relationship with Him. What we have to realize though is that it is not just the sins of adultery and murder such as David committed that can separate us from God. As mentioned above stress, worry, busyness, over-commitment, living life can get in the way of our relationship, our love for Him. In Revelation 2:4-5a it says, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first." (ESV) It is not being said here that they turned their backs on God, they just got too busy doing rather than being. They were going through the motions of Christianity rather than living for and loving Christ. It became religion rather than relationship. Sounds familiar. Going to church Sunday and living how we want the rest of the week. Giving God a pittance of our time rather than dwelling in His presence. Allotting 5 minutes for requests rather than living in an attitude of prayer and worship. We slog through the bible rather than reading with anticipation those living words. Our relationship has become apathetic and dull. How do we get back to our first love? We must follow the words of our Lord and remember, repent and do.
We must first go back and remember that time of first love. That joy we had in the knowledge of our salvation and the gratitude and peace we walked in. I remember when my husband Jim and I separated after almost 10 years of marriage. Talk about apathy. Instead of those zealous young lovers we were now barely roommates, tolerating each other rather than celebrating our love for each other. When the scales were removed from my eyes and I could see where our relationship had fallen to, I got down on my knees and asked God to forgive me and to give me a new love for my husband. Then in a move that I know was all God, I gathered together all of the love notes we had sent each other. All of the pictures, all of the little mementos of our time together and put them all in a box, wrapped it up and gave it to him for Christmas. I told him to look back and remember. To remember our love, our history, the laughter and the joy. To remember where we had been, and to look at how far we had fallen.
The next step is to repent. We have to be sincere and candid about our indifference, our lethargy in our relationship with God. When did it become so ho-hum. Seriously, we are talking about the God who created all that we see. The God who parted the Red Sea. The God who allowed Sarah to conceive in her old age. The God who turned water into wine. The God who healed the leper. The God who gave His Son to die on the cross for us. Apathetic, unmoved, lukewarm. What an indictment against us. That brings fear and conviction to my heart. I don't want to live that way. I want to be like a child, constantly in wonder at all that He has given me. I want to be astonished at the sunrise, amazed by the cloud formations, awed by a child's laugh. Lord, forgive me for being casual in my love for you. Forgive me for being lackadaisical in my regard for you. Forgive me for when I have been remote and withdrawn. And Lord, as David said in Psalm 51:12, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit," (KJV). That word 'free' in the Greek means inclined, willing, noble, generous. You have already so willingly given me life and love, and generously given me salvation through Jesus, now with Your Spirit give me the wisdom, the wherewithal, the strength to live a life of passion for You. It is all by Him, from Him and through Him. And it should be our privilege, our desire and our good pleasure to give it all back to Him.
Remember, repent and do. Do what? Do those first works. It takes time, effort and commitment, but He is so worth it. Time spent in studying His word, time spent reflecting on all He has done. Time in worship and prayer. Time spent with others and being free with our resources to help others. In other words, returning unto Him all that He has given us. But most importantly, giving Him back that love, that desire for kinship, returning to that covenant relationship. Returning to that first love, that first joy, that first passion.
David's prayer in Psalm 51 is for restoration, for renovation. It is a prayer for renewal and rehabilitation. It is the prayer of a broken heart. It is the prayer of a broken spirit. And it is the prayer that God hears and answers. Because He loves us so much. And today it is the prayer of my heart, my soul, my spirit. God restore unto me the joy I had when I received your gift of salvation and hold me firm with the strength of Your Holy Spirit.
Amen and amen
Image of definition of restoration from Merriam-Websters Learner's Dictionary