My church is monstrous thing. It's probably considered a mega-church, even though that term sits in my mouth about as easily as vinegar. There are more than 50 campuses worldwide, a well-known, well-traveled, well-studied, well-published pastor, and worship leaders who win Dove awards in their spare time, when they're not flying to India to care for orphans. It's a wonderful place. But sometimes, I get a little too caught up in it.
In a thriving church, it's easy to allow responsibility for my personal holiness to dwindle, to have others "do it for me." I can feel filled up as I let the pastor's words soak in, or as I allow the worship to move me. During the service, I drift aimlessly in the direction of holiness, carried and pushed by the waves of worshipers who surround me. And I'm intentional and focused on worshiping my Savior. But then when I leave church I feel more of a contact-high than anything else.
Wasn't that great? I pray as I pull out of the church parking lot. I love my church. God, thank you for my church. I'm so thankful for my pastor. He's the best. And the worship leaders are so great, so focused on you. Lord, make me like them.
I hear myself say these words, and I know I'm missing something. I can sense that these are partial, surface prayers.
By the time I'm pulling into my driveway, I feel empty again. And I think that maybe this emptiness is coming from being in love with the wrong thing.
In Revelation 2:1–7, Jesus Christ reveals himself to John, addressing the church of Ephesus. Jesus commends them for all the wonderful things they're doing. He says that they're hard workers, perseverers, and protectors of what is right. I bet they had great church services too.
But then verse four punches its reader in the gut.
"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place" (italics added).
This is not good.
Jesus knew that this church had gotten good at being "good." They were great at "doing" church. They were so nice. They wanted the best for everyone. They probably did a lot of kind things.
The problem was, they'd forgotten that you go to church to meet with God. And I did too.
Like the church in Ephesus, my "first love" for Christ alone has become elusive. Some days it appears that my heart has given up on chasing it down and bringing it back into the light. I'm filled with a sense of distance and unworthiness, but instead of returning to the throne, I busy myself with more good deeds. I wonder if I've ever caused Martin Luther to roll in his grave.
I think we all feel this way sometimes. Like we're standing outside a crowd, watching them partake in the beauty of Christianity while we self-consciously itch our arms and look around, hoping no one will notice us. We close our eyes and raise our hands and hope to catch some of that Holy Spirit that everyone around us seems to be experiencing, but often, we're left empty and frustrated.
Fortunately for those of us, like me, who have been feeling lost in the masses lately, we have a Savior who loves drifters. He understands our natural, human desires toward sin and apathy.
He knows that at times, we get too caught up in the blessings he has given us to spend time sitting at his feet. He understands it, but he doesn't leave us alone. He comes back for us.
Jesus is the shepherd for the lost, and for the lost again. Under the grace of Christ, we're never really lost anyway.
A few chapters later into Revelation, Jesus says these words, this time to a different church struggling with lukewarm faith:
"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me" (Revelation 3:19–20).
Jesus doesn't give up on his people. In this passage he spoke to an entire congregation of fruitless, passionless Christians. I think it's safe to say that these people had forgotten their first love. Maybe they, like me, had been letting the "church experience" carry their spiritual lives. But Jesus loved them, and he told them the same thing he told the church in Ephesus. The same thing he's telling you and me. Let's get this relationship back to what it used to be.
I like that idea, so here's what I'm going to do:
I will repent—ask forgiveness of my Savior, and look my sin straight in the face.
I will spend time in prayer—real time, talking to God, and sharing my doubts, fears, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I will ask for his advice and seek his will. These are the things I did at first. These are the things I need to return to.
I will read his words—not words someone else wrote about God, or an article written about a famous Christian. Those are good things—but I need to stop being afraid that once it's just me and the words of God, his words will fall flat. They don't.
Christianity was never meant to be impersonal. It was never supposed to be done for me. Faith requires a one-on-one relationship, not a mega-church standing ovation. And somewhere along the line, I forgot about that.
I still love my church—the worship, the pastor, and everything else. But I'm done letting them do the heavy lifting for my faith.
So this is where I leave you. It's between me and Jesus now. And I can hear him at the door.