Do you ever find yourself “serving Jesus” and hating every moment of it? That tends to happen when we lose our perspective in the midst of “doing” many good things. The Apostle John, writing in the book of Revelation, records a brief message from Jesus to a church full of people who were really good “do gooders” but had also lost their way. Jesus tells them exactly what had happened:
“I know how many good things you are doing. I have watched your hard work and your patience; I know you don’t tolerate sin among your members, and you have carefully examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but aren’t. You have found out how they lie. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. Yet, Jesus says, there is one thing wrong; you don’t love Me as you did at first!” Revelation 2:2-4
This is the problem that produces a spiritual burnout: trying to live right and do good, but not loving God as we did when we first came to Christ. For some of us, our first love has been carried away in a whirlwind of Christian activity. And we might even find ourselves trying to recover what has faded by redoubling our efforts to make our faith work. But still, we wonder if this is all there is to the “abundant life” Jesus promised. So, what’s the answer? Jesus gives the answer in Revelation 2:
Think about those times of your first love (and how different things are now) and turn back to me again and work as you did before. Revelation 2:2 5a [Living]
In other words, work and live right and do good, yes; but do so because you are passionately in love with God. And so, Jesus reminds us to “keep first things first” because above all else:
The Christian life is a love affair of the heart.
A man came to Jesus one day and asked:
‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ Matthew 22:36 38
Christianity is first and foremost a love affair with the ultimate Person. A.W. Tozer wrote:
“We Christians have almost forgotten that God is a person, He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may … He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions.” And here is the key: “The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed [person] is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.”
Did you get that? Tozer says that the whole of Christianity is about your heart and soul and mind being in love with God, first. That’s why Jesus tells those of us who are on the edge of spiritual burn out:
Your joy will be restored as you continually fall in love with God.
That means making a conscious effort to express your love to God through your affections. And I know this is very different and difficult for some of us, especially for men. It doesn’t feel natural for some of us who are not emotionally wired to speak to God this way. But in your quiet moments alone, just try saying, “God, I love you. Father, I feel comforted by Your care.” Try calling Him “Father” more than “Lord.” He is both; but “Father” is a lot more affectionate than “Lord.” Try singing His praises to Him. Spend more time reading about Him and talking to Him. Reconnect with the Person who is the reason for living right and doing good and it will have an extraordinary effect upon your Christian joy.
Now, I’m aware that someone reading this might think: “This sort of things is a little too mushy for me. Besides, I show my love for God by what I do instead of in what I say or how I feel? Isn’t living right and doing good the best way of expressing our love for God?” The answer to your question is both yes and no. Maybe an example from marriage illustrates what I mean.
Suppose at my upcoming wedding anniversary, I stop by the florist and pick up 38 roses for my wife, one for every year we’ve been married. I get to the house, and give her the roses and she says, “Thanks, honey you shouldn’t have.” And I say, “Well dear, that’s just what a good husband does. And I’m a good husband and it’s my duty to bring you roses on our anniversary. I’m committed to doing what’s right.” How do you suppose that would go over? But suppose if I answered instead, “Sweetheart, 38 roses aren’t nearly enough to express what you mean to me and the way I feel about you. You’re special and I’m blessed to have you as my wife; it’s the least I could do.”
Which scenario do you think Kathy would prefer? And which do you suppose would give me greater joy in the “doing”? In both cases, I do the same thing. She gets the roses. But in the first case, my action is born of a sense of duty. In the second, my action happens because I love her. It is this second scenario, based on my affection for who she is as a person, which stokes the fire of my affection in our marriage. And it works the same way in our relationship with God. Our continual affection for who He is as a Person stokes the fire of our heart.
So how do you go about stoking this fire in your relationship with your heavenly Father? Obviously, to do this, we need to understand something of who God is as a Person. That may seem a little overwhelming at first; but it’s not as difficult as it might sound. You don’t need to know everything about God to love Him. All you need for starters is the knowledge that He is infinitely good and that He infinitely loves you enough to send Jesus Christ to die for your sins.
God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.
If you want to understand who He is, just meditate on that thought and it will set you in the right direction. With that minimal and yet very profound understanding of God’s love, it becomes possible to love Him from the heart deeply. We love Him because He first loved us, the Bible tells us. But to grow in that love, I think that there are two things we must continue to do. First, to set your affections on God:
You have to make a decision to love God.
A.W. Tozer writes:
“To love God with all our heart, we must first of all will to do so. We should repent of our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. The soul need but will to love and the miracle begins to blossom. We shall soon find to our great delight that our feelings are becoming less erratic and moving in the direction of the willed tendency of the heart. Our emotions will become disciplined and directed. We shall begin to taste the sweetness of the love of Christ. Our religious affection will begin to mount evenly on steady wings instead of flitting about idly without purpose or intelligent direction …But first of all, we must will, for the will is the master of the heart.”
This is why the Bible says:
Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1
You have to decide what to set your heart upon. And the continual prayer of our heart should be:
“God, it is my desire to love you with all my heart.”
And that leads to the other thing you need to do to set your heart upon God:
You have to pray constantly for your own heart.
You not only have to make a decision to love God, but you also have to pray for your heart to stay fixed upon that decision to love Him. Our heart is fickle. In one moment, we decide to love God, and the next our heart can be easily swayed, which is why Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
I am anxious for you with the deep concern of God himself anxious that your love should be for Christ alone, just as a pure maiden saves her love for one man only, for the one who will be her husband. But I am frightened, fearing that in some way you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to our Lord, just as Eve was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden. You seem so gullible … 2 Corinthians 11:24 [Living]
And we are! We’re so helpless that we even need the help of God to keep our hearts focused on Him. That’s why the Bible is full of prayers about the condition of our hearts. Even the “want to” of loving God comes from God. So consider praying some of these prayers for your own heart, and trust that as you pray them, God will answer and renew and grow your love for Him. Pray:
- Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil … Psalm 141:4
- May he turn our hearts to Him … 1 Kings 8:58
- Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. Psalm 119:18
- I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … Eph. 1:18
- Give me an undivided heart … Psalm 86:11 (7)
These are the kinds of prayers needed if we are to grow in a passionate love for God. If you’re feeling spiritually burned out (or even if you’re not), make a decision to love God more fully. Just tell Him: “Father, I want to love You. This is the desire I want to see developing in my heart.” And then start praying these prayers a few times a day, or as often as you think of them. It will make a difference, because above all else the Christian life is a love affair of the heart. It is the first thing that must come first, for in loving God our joy is found. So love Him; and love Him more each day.
 The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer, p. 13-14
 The Best of A.W. Tozer, Book 1