The aged apostle was banished to the desolate isle of Patmos, exiled for the crime of spreading Christianity. The powerful Roman Empire was seeking to obliterate the Christian movement. The apostles Paul and Peter had already met violent deaths under the sadistic emperor Nero. The seemingly invincible Roman Empire appeared poised to triumph over the fledgling church. Isolated from his fellow believers, hardened convicts his only companions, John prayed for his Christian brethren.
One Lord’s Day as he prayed, John heard a loud voice. He turned toward the sound and saw something so terrifying and awesome he fell to the ground as if he were dead. In that moment he beheld the risen Christ standing triumphant among His churches. The book of Revelation relates the details of this transfixing event. Christ revealed His keen awareness of the condition of the churches during John’s day. He knew how each congregation was coping with the pressures and temptations the world was pressing upon them. The church at Ephesus enjoyed an especially noble heritage, having been founded by the apostle Paul (Acts 19). The Ephesian church had witnessed amazing miracles. The risen Christ commended them for their discernment and their forbearance: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rev. 2:2—3). John wrote to the believers at Ephesus, relaying the Lord’s pleasure with them. Surely it encouraged them to know that the Head of the church declared them to be orthodox and discerners of true and false teaching.
But then those unsettling words: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). The Ephesians were orthodox, but they had neglected their love relationship with their risen Savior. The Lord gave this strong directive: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).
People are generally unaware of how far they have drifted from God. When God told His people to return to Him in the prophet Malachi’s time, they responded by asking, “In what way shall we return?” (Mal. 3:7). They were tragically unaware of how spiritually disoriented they had become. They dutifully performed their religious rituals and regularly attended weekly worship services, assuming this evoked God’s pleasure. But God’s appraisal of such behavior was pronounced by the prophet Isaiah: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isa. 29:13). Allowing your heart to shift from God is dangerous: living in a state of misguided complacency can be fatal. One of the key steps to revival is having your eyes opened to see the spiritual height from which you have fallen.
Martin Lloyd-Jones lamented the fact that “the greatest problem confronting us in the church today is that the vast majority of professing Christians are not convinced of the ‘reality and the desirableness of revivals.’”1 Church leaders may document their growing attendance and increased contributions. Congregations can point to their spacious modern facilities and a wide array of church programming. Surely God is pleased with them. But God insists we look deeper. He asks us to consider what our walk with Him was once like. We must review what Scripture says pleases God. Looking back over our spiritual pilgrimage will reveal if we have wandered away from a relationship with God into service for God.
You may feel unsure of how needy you are for renewal or whether your church needs revival. Let’s review what God intends for our walk with Him to be like. Examine your life and your church against the following scriptural backdrop to see if you have departed from God and from His ideal.
Blackaby, Henry T., Claude V. King, Richard Blackaby, and Anne Graham Lotz. 2009. Fresh Encounter: God’s Plan for Your Spiritual Awakening Revised. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.
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