Remember, Repent, Return


No one really likes to take a test. No matter how well prepared we are, we remain at least slightly apprehensive until the grade is posted. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an elementary student wanting to see the score for a spelling test or an Olympic gymnast hoping for a 10—the time between performance and evaluation seems to drag on forever as we wait for the judge to speak.

In Revelation 2, John received a message from Jesus to deliver to the church at Ephesus. The message contained the results of their examination. On part one the grade was an “A.” “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” (Rev. 2:2-3).

But part two didn’t go as well. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (4-5). Part one of the exam looked pretty good on the outside. But part two went deeper and looked at the heart.

As a young pastor I experienced a similar assessment from our Lord. On the outside everything looked good. People were getting saved, our church was growing and we were pushing back the darkness in our community. The most effective evangelism was home Bible studies using the Stowe (Ohio) Home Bible Study format. Discipleship was done with Navigator materials. In addition, we sponsored evangelistic banquets and other large group events. An encouraged city leader stated after one of the banquets, “More was accomplished for God in the city tonight than what has been accomplished in years.”

Hard work and perseverance were achieving fantastic results! By percentage of growth, we were the fastest growing church in The Alliance at that time. But then came part two: While pressing toward the goal, my heart had drifted from a passion fueled by unreserved love for Jesus. While achieving great results on the outside, I was growing empty and tired inside.

The Master had the same three words for me that He spoke to the Ephesians: Remember, repent, return. He graciously challenged me to remember the days when infatuation with Him motivated my achievements. When I was seeking Him, the results followed.

He exhorted me to repent—to turn from any lesser motive and live for Him. I had Kingdom motives but not “first love” motives. Obedience, duty and obligation had obscured my vision, and I wasn’t captivated by Jesus.

He invited me to return to the place of refreshing and true energy for service—to an unencumbered love for my Savior. It is at that place, filled with His Spirit and occupied with His presence, that we’ll find true rest for our souls.

I learned a valuable lesson from that exam. Jesus’ words in Revelation 2 were as much for me as for the church in Ephesus. While I was busy with ministry and things were going well, I had drifted from the best place.

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