November 26, 2015

4 Secrets of Holding On to Your First Love

, vice president, Southwestern Union Conference in the North American Division

Have you ever felt like you don’t have the same enthusiasm for spiritual things that you had when you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior? You go to church, you study the Bible, or you pray, but you don’t feel like doing it?

If that’s your situation, you’re not alone. The same thing happens to many of us at one time or another. In our Christian journey, we experience a sense of spiritual stagnation.

Let me share with you a little bit of my journey.

I didn’t grow up in a Seventh-day Adventist home. I was 15 when my father died, and that left me with a tremendous emptiness in my life and a great sense of loss. Right at that point in my young life, I was trying to make some sense of it."Eddie" Canales and his future wife, Angie, during their dating days.

It was then that God used a dear Adventist family to bring me hope. At that time, I was living in a town close to San Jose, California. I met some members of this Adventist family, who held a small group ministry in their home, and they invited me to join.

From the first time I attended, I began to experience God’s presence in my soul and hope and peace came into my life. The more I continued attending these meetings, the more I experienced God’s blessings. What a joy it was for me to participate in the small group program. When we prayed, I would feel God’s presence in our midst. The songs we sang brought joy to my heart. In the meetings, they shared testimonies and praises about the prayers that were answered and the blessings they had received.

This experience increased my faith in God. I learned to trust in a God who is real and who is interested in our needs and always ready to answer our prayers.

Soon I was attending church. I remember the great joy I felt that Sabbath morning when I accepted Jesus as my Savior through baptism.

What a delight it was to attend prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, Sabbath School, the worship service on Sabbath morning, and the youth program on Sabbath afternoon. And believe it or not, I enjoyed going out witnessing, distributing literature, giving Bible studies, and inviting people to attend church with us. Later I found joy as a literature evangelist, going door to door selling Christian literature, giving Bible studies, and praying with people.

Progressing or Regressing

However, as the years went by, I started losing that enthusiasm for the spiritual things that had brought such joy before. I was still attending church on a regular basis and serving God in the literature ministry, but something was missing. I wasn’t experiencing the same joy I had experienced before. I felt I was not growing spiritually.

Maybe you’re going through a similar experience in your life. You feel spiritually stuck. Maybe you feel that rather than progressing spiritually, you are regressing.

The real issue is not the fact that you are experiencing spiritual stagnation. Rather the issue is why it is happening to and finding the way to overcome it.

The apostle Paul advised the Christians in Ephesus, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

To begin with, notice that our model for our spiritual growth should be our Lord Jesus Christ. A lot of Christians get discouraged when they see other Christians not living up to what they profess to believe.

When the Lord Jesus Christ sends the messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, notice how He rebukes the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” But if you notice in verses 2 and 3, He commends them for their faith: “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.”

At the beginning, they did things right. They held on to the faith, even under persecution and hardships. But, evidently, as time went by, the Ephesians lost their enthusiasm in their daily living. As the Lord put it, “They had left their first love.”

But it is interesting that when the Lord Jesus points out a problem to us, at the same time, He provides the solution. In verse 5 He says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.”

4 Insights From Then and Now

Let’s look at you and me. What were the things that you and I did at the beginning of our Christian walk that kept us motivated and excited in our Christian journey? Among the first things I did, I can think of four that kept my faith kindled and brought joy and happiness into my Christian journey.

1. Pray regularly. Prayer played an important role in my spiritual growth. Early in my Christian life I learned that there is power in prayer and that God answers prayers. Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, 8, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you; for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Prayer is the breath of the soul.Eduardo Canales, vice president of the Southwestern Union, today.

Let me explain what I mean by this. I read an article in an American Airlines magazine about the importance of learning how to breathe deeply. I didn’t know that through breathing we eliminate 70 percent of our body’s toxins as we exhale. Sixteen percent is eliminated through perspiration, and the other 14 percent by other means. When the toxins of doubt, problems, temptation, and sin are poisoning us, we need to fall on our knees and open our heart to God. We need to tell Him what we are feeling, what we are suffering and experiencing, and then we will discover that we are in fact starting to get rid of those things that are causing us worry, sadness, fear, and pain, and we will find relief for our souls.

2. Read the Word daily. I feed myself from the Word of God on a daily basis because I learned early on that Bible study is the food of the soul! I learned also that there is power in the Word of God. And the reason for this is that He inspired it. In Timothy 3:16, 17 we learn the following, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

3. Attend church. I was excited about attending church. I wouldn’t miss church service for anything in the world. We need to be careful and never neglect church attendance. I can’t explain it, but there is a special blessing we receive when we worship God corporately. On Sabbath, I can stay home and worship alone, if I choose to, but I will lose that special blessing. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to attend church services — Sabbath services, midweek prayer meeting, evangelistic meetings, and youth programs.

In Hebrews 10:25 we find this advice, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

4. Share your testimony. In my limited Bible knowledge, I was telling others about my faith and about what Jesus meant to me. The other day I was talking to a friend about the importance of testifying about what Jesus has done for us.

He said to me: “Eddie, I don’t have a testimony to give, I wish I had one! I grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home, attended Adventist schools. I have always been in the church, never in the world.”

You may feel the same way. You may think, like my friend, that only a Christian who used to be a drug addict, a drunk, or a prostitute has a story to tell. My response to my friend was: “You do have a testimony to give! Just think of all the people you grew up with — at the Adventist schools, at church, and even at home who no longer remain in the faith, but you still do! That is your testimony! Tell others how God has delivered you from temptation, bad habits, and sin each day of your life. By God’s grace, you still remain in the faith. Tell others the blessings you have received, as a result of living the Christian life.”

Let me tell you about a prayer list I have. In this list I have names of people who I pray for every day. But besides this, each day of the week, I intercede especially for a specific member of my immediate family. Even though I have been doing this for a long time, it was only a few months ago that I told my family members of my prayer practice.

My Daughter’s Story

It was a Thursday morning when I was getting ready to pray that I felt impressed to send a text message to my eldest daughter. I wrote: “I have never told you this, but every Thursday I pray for you that God will bless you and do something special in your life. Is there anything in particular that you want me to pray on your behalf to God?”

Soon I had a response from her via text. She wrote, “Daddy, pray for me that God will give me the strength to make the changes I need to make in my life.”

I soon replied: “Don’t worry about trying to make changes in your life. Just make sure you provide the positive environment in your life by doing the following things, in order for Him to make those changes in your life.” I continued, “No. 1: Pray every day. Communicate with God. Tell Him how you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing, and how you’re suffering. No. 2: Study the Bible daily, even if you don’t feel like it. No. 3: Attend church on a regular basis, even if don’t feel like it. No. 4: Tell others what Jesus has done for you and what He means to you.”

I concluded my text with the following, “If you do this, you will not even notice that changes are happening in your life, but others will be able to notice those changes in you.”

My dear friend, if you feel you have lost or are losing your first love, and you don’t know what to do in order to experience that enthusiasm and joy you used to have for spiritual things, don’t despair. There’s hope for you. What Jesus has done for others, He can do for you! Follow His counsel, “Repent and do the first works.” Pray daily, study the Bible daily, attend church on a regular basis, and share your faith with others, and you will find that your faith will be rekindled in your life. You will find joy and happiness in your Christian journey once again.

This appeared in the Southwestern Union Record.