First Love: Rekindling Your Heart for God
I was sitting in the balcony of a huge convention center, surrounded by 12,000 other Christian leaders when the speaker asked a simple question that caught me by surprise. It was one I’d heard asked before but hadn’t given thought to for a while: “Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?”
A tremendous sense of conviction swept over me, and I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit: Mark, what happened to the kid who used to pace the college chapel balcony seeking My face? There are few things more painful than being convicted by the Holy Spirit. It’s because God loves us so deeply that He breaks us where we need to be broken. But you can’t listen to just half of what He has to say. It’s a package deal. If you tune out His convicting voice, you’ll also miss His comforting voice or guiding voice. So as I sat there sweating in my seat, I chose to listen. The Lord brought back to my mind memories of the raw spiritual intensity I once had for Him—and revealed how calloused my heart had become in my more “mature” spiritual years. And it wrecked me.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one God was speaking to—my whole church team later confessed they’d been convicted of the same thing. So instead of racing off to lunch, we spent some time together crying, confessing, and praying. I think we were the last ones to leave the auditorium.
Remembering first things
Providentially, I found myself just a few days later standing in the chapel at my alma mater where I was scheduled to speak. So I climbed up to that old balcony where, decades before, I’d spent hundreds of hours pacing back and forth just seeking the Lord. It was during those sacred prayer times that my heart first broke for the things that break God’s heart and He began to shape my soul with His passions. It was there that He began replacing my ideas with His, giving me a God-sized vision for my life and His Kingdom.
I began to pace and pray as I’d done in my early years—and realized that in many ways, I’d basically become a professional Christian. My heart didn’t beat as strongly as it once had. My pulse didn’t quicken in God’s presence as it used to. But something monumental was happening: the Lord was taking me back to a primal place. He lovingly reminded me that the college kid with a huge heart for Him was still there, somewhere inside me. I realized that, if I wanted to get back what I once had, I’d have to return to ground zero: the foot of the cross. I’d need to do the things I’d first done, like practicing spiritual disciplines. And above all, I’d have to commit to rediscovering what Jesus said matters most: loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).
In Revelation 2:3-5, God commends the early church in Ephesus for their patient endurance and diligent work for Him. But He also levels a holy accusation: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (NIV). It’s His call for the Ephesians to return to the basics. And if you’ve also lost some of your passion, His call to you is the same: Remember and repent. These two things are interconnected; remembering is part of repentance. Sometimes the way forward is backward.
Is there a chapel balcony somewhere in your past? A place where you met God and He met you? A place where you had an epiphany of His unfathomable love for you? Maybe it was a sermon or book that became much more than just words, or an experience when the Holy Spirit birthed something new in your spirit. Maybe it was a mission trip or retreat where you swore you would never be the same again. Or maybe it was a supernatural dream, or a decision you made at an altar. Part of repentance is going back to those places so that the Lord can renew the first love we once had for Him.
Going back to go forward
Whenever I’ve lost my way spiritually, I try to retrace my steps. That’s essentially what we do every time we celebrate Communion: we make a pilgrimage back to the foot of the cross. And going back to that most primal place helps us find our way forward. So let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where His glory flooded your soul and left you speechless with wonder. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of supernatural zeal to follow Him wherever He might lead you.
I wonder if Abraham ever journeyed back to Mount Moriah, where the Lord tested him and then gave his son Isaac back to him, providing a ram in the thicket. Who knows, maybe he even kept a horn to remind him of God’s grace. Did Jacob ever camp out at Bethel again? Might Peter have rowed out to the spot on the Sea of Galilee where he once walked on water? I bet Zacchaeus let his grandkids climb the sycamore tree where he got his first glimpse of Jesus. How many times did Paul travel the road to Damascus and stop at the mile marker where he got knocked off his high horse? And if you were Lazarus, wouldn’t you have made an annual trek to the tomb where you were buried for four days? Maybe even put some fresh-cut flowers by the doorway?
The primary reason we lose faith is because we forget the faithfulness of God. Maybe that’s why the word “remember” is repeated 250 times in Scripture. We have a tendency to remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember. And that’s why God would so often say to build altars or establish memorials.
I have a sacred picture that hangs behind the desk in my office. During a prayer walk through a cow pasture in Alexandria, Minnesota, when I was 19 years old, I felt called to ministry. That cow pasture is my burning bush. So a few years ago I went back to that hallowed ground and hired a photographer to go with me. Why? Because I can’t afford to forget that place. There are days when I need to turn around, look at that photograph, and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I don’t just need to remember. I often need to repent. Then I need to do what I did at first.
Is there an altar you need to build? A place you need to make a pilgrimage back to? A spiritual practice you need to resurrect? Nothing propels us into the destiny God has created us to live out like remembering and repenting—and falling in love with our First Love all over again. Do what you did at first; your life will never be the same.
This article was selected from In Touch magazine. Subscribe for free at intouch.org/subscribe.