I’d like to ask you a question and I want you to be honest with yourself when you answer. How are you doing? Let me ask again, how are you really doing? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit, or are you broken and tired from the burdens and trials of life and ministry?
If you’re on the proverbial “mountaintop,” that’s great! Praise the Lord! But, my guess is that a few of you reading this are at the end of your rope. You haven’t seen the fruits of your labor that you’d hoped for or expected. Maybe you’re resentful of others around you who don’t seem to be carrying their own weight in the ministry. Perhaps your team is great and you’re seeing a harvest, but you’ve been going non-stop as far back as you can remember and you’re just burned out.
If you’re struggling today, you can probably sympathize a bit with the church in Ephesus, to whom God speaks in Revelation 2:1-7. You see, the early believers there worked hard in the ministry, and they were good at it. We’re told that they were tireless, discerning and persevering. Even in the face of hardships and persecution the church continued to serve those in need. What a church!
The problem with those in the church in Ephesus was that they labored so hard in ministry that they lost their focus and the source of their motivation. The church had forsaken its first love. Ephesus was like the New York City of its day, and I’m sure there was a lot to be done: They were busy feeding the hungry, attending to the sick, preaching in the streets … and they were so wrapped up in the process of doing God’s work that they had no time for God Himself.
We’re called to so much more, however, than just “staying busy for Jesus.” If this struggle is all too familiar in your life and ministry, look again at the first half of verse 5. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. In these two little sentences, God gives us three key steps to take in order to return to the correct path.
First, “consider how far you have fallen.” Simply put, we need to remember. For those of you who are married, remember how you felt when you and your spouse started dating and falling in love; remember that passion for each other where you didn’t want to spend a moment apart. The believers in the church at Ephesus are commanded to remember back to when they had first encountered the Living God and were bursting with excitement. Just as marriages can become mundane if we forget that original passion and don’t make an effort to keep it burning, so it can be with God. We can go through the motions and do the work but not remember the desire we once had for Him.
Second, “repent.” It feels odd to say we need to repent for doing ministry, but the fact of the matter is that – according to the passage – it had reached the point where the people of the church were ministering with the wrong spirit and motivation. Perhaps they were laboring because it was expected of them, or perhaps they were doing it because they liked the nice things the other Ephesians were saying about them as they worked. Whatever it was, they had unwittingly come to the point where their motivations were wrong, and the issue was bad enough that God called them to repentance.
Finally, “do the things you did at first.” Or, as I would put it, renew your relationship with Him. When I was first beginning my evangelistic ministry, I sat down with my grandfather, Billy Graham, to seek his advice. His simple suggestion to me then, I believe, would have been the answer for the church at Ephesus, and it’s the answer for any of us who are struggling with the same issues that faced those early Christians. On that day as we sat in his living room, he said to me, “Will, pray, pray, pray, and study, study, study. Looking back, I wish I had done so much more of both.” He continued, “I wish I knew the Bible as well as your grandmother does. She knows it better than anyone I have ever met. And we could have done so much more if we had taken fewer speaking engagements and spent more time on our knees in earnest prayer.”
I’ve always found my grandfather’s advice so simple, yet so profound. Think about it: if you commit one hour each day to developing your relationship with your spouse, that relationship will grow and flourish. Similarly, if we give God the best of our time (not just the scraps that we manage to find where we can sneak Him into our schedule), and focus that time on building our relationship with Him through concerted prayer and study, I believe we will quickly remember and reconnect with our “first love.”
I’ll ask again, how are you doing? Are you busy and burned out? My friend, it doesn’t have to be this way. Remember, repent, and renew. God will lead you and your ministry from there and use you in ways you cannot even begin to imagine.
Will Graham is the third generation of Grahams to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the banner of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). Will is the grandson of Billy Graham and the oldest son of Franklin Graham. He studied at Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since beginning his North American evangelistic ministry he has spoken to more than 50,000 during his Will Graham Celebrations. Will now serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. He and his wife, Kendra, live near Asheville, N.C. and have three young children. You can connect with Will on facebook and twitter. More at BillyGraham.org.