Up until now, I always thought that service to God and relationship with God were equally important. Almost two years ago I published a blog post titled, “Is it Possible to Repay God?”and while I meant well, scripture proves that I had it very wrong.
The church at Ephesus consistently gave their service to God but they failed to realize that what He really wanted was their hearts. While delivering what seemed to be oral progress reports to the seven churches, Jesus had this to say to the Ephesians when addressing them in the book of Revelations: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelations 2:2-4 NIV)
In other words, the members of this particular church were spiritually-disconnected busy-bodies.
After reading and studying these verses, I had to pause to conduct a spiritual health assessment and it was at that moment that I began to see myself in Jesus’ words. I began to understand that yes, God wants us to serve our brothers and sisters but not at the expense of an intimate and meaningful relationship with Him.
As further proof of this assertion that God prioritizes relationship over service, let’s look at a very familiar passage in Luke:
“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42 NLT)
Mary discovered the one thing that is worth being concerned about.
Sometimes we have to be still long enough to discover those things that truly deserve our attention and those things that can wait. Being too busy can cause us to completely miss what God is trying to do in our lives. We often complain that He isn’t speaking to us but we don’t realize that He’s trying to, only we are unable hear Him for all of the racket in the background of our ever-racing minds. For all of the busyness in the name of productivity. Such busyness only leads to depleted joy, strength and enthusiasm. And what good does it do to pour ourselves out in the name of building God’s kingdom if we’re pouring from empty vessels?
When exhaustion takes over, it changes our attitude. We find ourselves doing things out of obligation rather than out of passion. Spiritual deprivation is impossible to hide and ignore and believe it or not, it weakens our effectiveness.
Staying in continuous alignment and relationship with our Father not only pleases Him but it keeps us strong. It helps us to keep going. It helps us to stand. And He knows this. He knows it is to our benefit that we do so. We have to position ourselves to hear from Him and sometimes that means that we just have to be still. They say that prayer is when you talk to God and meditation is when you allow God to talk to you. How often do you meditate? How often do you take a moment to just turn the music off in your car and give Him an opportunity to speak? This is how we return to our First Love. Simply by making room for Him in our lives.
While it is necessary to have Martha’s in the church, it is more necessary that each of us, even those in high positions, take time to be Mary. God wants to be the number one priority in our lives, even above service done for Him.
Thanks be to God that we have a loving Father that brings our heart’s condition to our attention so that we can repent and then redirect our focus. He told the church at Ephesus about themselves not out of anger but because He missed the fellowship with His children. God desires a lot of things from us but chief among them is relationship. And it is common knowledge that relationships – any relationship – takes work. Why would this one be any different?
The Bible says that faith without works is dead but through the message to this church we learn that works without relationship is also dead. Remember: works cannot save us, only salvation can do that.
So while you’re writing out your New Year’s resolutions, renewing abandoned commitments and thinking about all of the things you’ll focus on this year, make sure that your relationship with your Father takes precedence over anything else on your list – including both secular and ministerial pursuits alike.