To the Girl who Closely Follows All the Rules and Still Doesn’t Feel Close to God

Dear girl who closely follows all the rules and still doesn’t feel close to God,

I remember the feeling. I was fourteen years old, lying in my dark bedroom, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling like a starless night sky. I’d pray to feel something, see something. A constellation of His presence. A confirmation of His love. 

I just wanted to feel close to God. 

I followed the rules. I read my Bible. I knew He loved me. But in the midst of my hustle, I never considered the reverse. Did I truly love Him?

PC: On the Heights Photography

Do we love Him? 

It’s this very question Jesus asked of Peter three times, “Do you” – what? – “love Me?”  (John 21:17)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21)

God loves us. We love Him. And only then do we follow His commands. If we mix up the order, if we try to take action without love as our motivation, we find lifeless religion.

Could you imagine if one day, when you’re married, your husband came to you and said, “I don’t love you anymore. But, don’t worry. Nothing will change”.

He promises to sleep with you, go on family vacations, work hard, and eat dinner together. None of that would change.

I honestly can’t imagine. It would be heartbreaking.

Yet how often do we have this unspoken posture before God?

We show up to church. Sing the songs. Serve in the nursery. Read the Bible. But we do not love Him like we once did. 

That’s exactly how the church of Ephesus found themselves – religious and loveless. The mega-church in the middle of a thriving metropolis was no longer motivated by love.

PC: On the Heights Photography

Going through the motions

In the book of Revelations, there are seven letters to seven churches (our inspiration for this blog series). Ephesus is first. How fitting. Kinda like a favorite child, the church constantly received a lot of love and attention. Priscilla, Aquilla, Timothy, John, Apollos, and even Paul were missionaries there. They received the entire book of Ephesians and letters through Timothy.  Spoiled? I think so!

Bustling with activity, four major roads led to the city, exposing the church to various heresies and world religions.  It was the center of idol worship, and the economy was driven by the idol-making industry. In the middle of the city stood the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Book of Acts records an uprising, led by Demetrius, the silversmith, when his idol-making trade guild was threatened by Paul ministry to the Ephesians! (Acts 19:23-20:1)

Although the church was surrounded by the pressure to conform, this church was anything but worldly. They were committed to truth, closely following the rules and carefully protecting doctrine from false teaching.

The letter acknowledges all the things they were doing right:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, 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” (Revelation 2:2-3). 

All good things. How surprised they must have been to hear the next verse:

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

They performed well. They stuck to the rules. But at the end of the day there was no heart behind it. They’d forgotten their first love.

Thankfully, the letter doesn’t end there. It reveals the secret for falling in love all over again.

PC: On the Heights Photography

Remember and repent

Remember therefore from where you have fallen. Repent, and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5)

The way back to love is to remember. Remember how it felt to first fall in love.

The church of Ephesus was constantly getting love and attention from Paul and the apostles, yet they became numb to it. Perhaps they came to expect it? Thought they deserved it?

I don’t really know.

But I do know that in order to embrace what we are saved for, we must acknowledge what we are saved from. We must never forget that we need God’s forgiveness for our sins.

Like any relationship, you have to own up to your failures in order stay close to each other. If my husband and I never faced up to our failures, we would not have the happy marriage we enjoy today. We’ve apologized when we needed to apologize and asked each other for forgiveness over and over again.

Humility draws us closer to Him while pride isolates us from receiving His grace and forgiveness. The moment I pridefully think I deserve God’s love is actually the moment it feels farthest away.

If you’ve found yourself falling out of love with God, I need to ask you this – do you really understand what He did for you?

God’s love doesn’t exist on our terms and isn’t dependent on our feelings. His love existed 2000 years ago on that moment in Calvary from the creation of the universe and forevermore. He created us. He came to save us. He loved us then. And He loves us now.

When I remember everything He’s done to give me the forgiveness I so desperately need, I fall deeper in love with Him. It motivates me. It motivates me to get out of bed, to repent of my sin, to think outside myself, to love others (John 21:17). But most of all, it motivates me to love Him more.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1

Love your fellow church girl,

Ashley

PC: On the Heights Photography

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