The writer of Ecclesiastes asserted boldly many thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the sun”. The ancient date of that statement has always been a poignant reminder to me that we aren’t as wise as we think we are for all our modern sensibilities. We struggle with the same basic issues that are common to humanity, despite our scientific and technological advances.
God stands enthroned over all of His creation. From His vantage point outside of space/time, He watches as His purposes unfold, including the groaning of creation as some of His crowning creation “seek Him, feel their way toward Him and find him”. (Acts 17:27)
We fit into His purposes by doing just that – to know God and to grow in the knowledge of God is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for us.
We easily get mired in the mundane concerns of daily life. Our future planning is often limited to the benefits we can obtain in our years in these jars of clay we call our bodies. We often fail to give full room for the eternity God set in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) We fail to allow the Holy spirit to have full sway in our hearts and our lives.
We are easily distracted and easily preoccupied by lesser things than our relationship with God the Father and His purposes.
I am forever grateful for the grace He has shown to us in the sacrifice He made for us that He has made a way for us to come to Him despite our frailties and sinful tendencies, and to continue coming to Him who receives us in Christ. I am more indebted to His mercy and grace now than ever before. His lovingkindness is truly new every morning.
As we watch the time closing out on 2020, looking backward, and straining forward, I am borrowing from another writer for my own ten reflections on 2020:
- Back in March, the early word that resonated with me was “reset”. With a national and virtually global shutdown due to COVID, the time was right to reset priorities. What the enemy of our souls may intend for evil, God uses for good. The “time-out” we have experienced is good time for reflection, introspection, repentance and re-ordering of priorities in line with the longing for eternity God put into each of our hearts.
- God has given us the gift of time in 2020. What we do with it is up to us. What we do with the time we have been given will set the course for our future. Will we use this time to draw nearer to the lover of our souls? Will we use it to grow in knowledge and relationship to Him who loves us and gave Himself up for us?
- With no movie theaters open, no concerts, plays, sports events and other amusements to preoccupy us, we have more time for reading, for reflection and mediation, for prayer and consideration of the important questions, like the purpose of life and what happens after death. If there was ever a time to “dig into” these things, now is the time!
- I am reading through Revelations now, having read through the Bible to this point chronologically from the start. So, I am reminded that God rebukes and disciplines those He loves hoping that we will repent (Rev. 3:19) and respond to Him who stands at the door and knocks. The promise He gives us is this: “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me”. (Rev. 3:20)
- For those who know God, He is calling us “to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. I have felt this more urgently (perhaps) than before. He has given us time to focus our efforts on these things so that we can “run with perseverance the race marked for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith”. (Heb. 12:1-2)
- I am reminded also that the end, collectively and individually, will come like a thief in the night. If we only knew the exact day and time, we would be ready, right? But we don’t. Jesus said we won’t. It isn’t for us to know the times. Therefore, while the day is still called today, we need to ready ourselves and always remain ready.
- Not knowing the day or hour of Jesus returning, or our own ends, or that of our loved ones, isn’t it time to get serious? Do your loved ones know you love them? Do they know Jesus and the love, hope, forgiveness and newness of life that he offers?
- How many of us have been “spiritually sleepy”, hitting the snooze button as Christ knocks at our doors… again and again. It’s time to “Wake up, oh sleeper! Arise!” And Christ will shine on you! (Eph. 5:14)
- How many of us have grown spiritually lazy and fat? It’s time to get in shape! If Revelations reminds us of anything, it is that trials and tribulations are going to come. We need to be braced and fit for the fight. The fight is spiritual, as “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12). Thus, we need to get into spiritual shape, putting on the full armor of God so that we can stand up to the schemes of our enemy.
- Finally, the article from which I take these ten reflections poses this question: “What if … 2020 is your last warning from your loving Heavenly Father to return to your first love?”
The final reflection is from Revelations 2:1-7 and the words spoken to the angel of the church in Ephesus. These words are to believers, followers of Christ.
The believers in Ephesus lived exemplary lives. They toiled with “patient endurance”. They could not bear with those who are evil. They rightly discerned the apostles from the false prophets. They held up under trials and tribulations for the sake of the Gospel, and they had not grown weary in process, but God had one thing against them. Jesus said to them, “You have abandoned the love you had at first”.
The Ephesians sound like many a modern congregation, filled with people who toil in quiet obedience – day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year – but there is no life, no passion, no expectancy or gleam in the eye like there is in a lover who is enraptured by the love of her life. They sound like me, quite frankly…. The works God acknowledges (the toil and patient endurance, the inability to bear with those who do evil and the testing and rejecting of false prophets) is not enough.
God wants more from us. He wants us to remember and repent and do “the works [we] did at first”. (Rev. 2:5)
What this seems to be saying is that commitment to truth, by itself, isn’t what God wants from us. What counts is not simply a commitment to truth, but the motivation behind it needs to be love for God. Obedience by itself is not what God is after; He is after our hearts and wants hearts that are after him.
If God isn’t our first love, we are putting other things first. We are prioritizing other things. Not just our time, but our hearts. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that we have nothing if we have not love. If we are not motivated by love, even giving up our lives counts for nothing.
If we are not motivated by love for God, we drift into a cold and lifeless faith that amounts to nothing more than rote religiosity, duty and mental exercise.
In one commentary I read, the author speaks of a “lethargy of conservatism” and “noisy Pharisaic zealotism” (like a clanging gong). We must not settle for a lower state of spiritual life than what we once desired and knew.
If what is meant by “our first love” is nothing more than feelings, then I suppose we are all doomed, but I don’t think it means that. We don’t control our feelings (though feelings often follow actions). The instruction is to “do the works you did at first” (not to feel the way you felt at first).
Before that, though, we are instructed to remember. And then to repent. Remember what it was like when you were “on fire for the Lord”. Then change your attitude and your ways. Finally, do the things you did at first.
At a bare minimum, it means do not continue as you have been. Do not allow yourself to settle into the mundane routines of everyday life.
Lift your eyes to the hills! Lift your eyes to the heavens! Lift your eyes to the God who is enthroned over all the earth! Consider He who is the beginning and the end, who loves you with an undying love that He demonstrated by going to the cross for you!
Today, I seek to remember my first love, to repent of my attitude that settles for ordinary obedience and to act as if the world brims with the expectation of the return of the Lord of my life. Reader, hold me accountable! Even as I urge you to the same end.