Never have I been more sure of anything than when I was a teenager in love. Try as I might to pretend those many, many years of awkwardness and regrettable haircuts never really happened, there are some memories that you can’t forget: first crushes, first dates, first kisses and all that. She’s the one, I’d secretly tell myself. Then of course I’d come to find she was most definitely not the one, and I’d move on to the next crush. She’s the one, I’d tell myself again. It’s all I can do to keep myself from pulling out my old journals and writing “Diary Of A Moron” across every cover. But hey, at that stage of my life I was still forgetting to zip up my fly from time to time. I think we can agree that nobody expects teenagers to be experts on love.
Today I am mere months away from getting married to someone who thankfully did not know me during said awkward phase of my life, and thankfully I’ve learned a thing or two about love since then. But when I turn my thoughts to the church and the life of the Body, I’m alarmed by how many Christians seem to wield a similar attitude towards their relationship with God. At one point they had a passion and a zeal for the Kingdom, but at some point it just tapered off. Following God didn’t turn out to be what they had originally thought. Nobody said there would be lows as low as they’ve experienced when they were being prayed for at the alter after the service. No one seemed to mention the constant diligence that would be required in order to keep from falling back into old patterns of sin. They had a great first date with God, but it’s almost as if He forgot to call them back.
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In Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage (which I would highly, highly recommend you pick up), Keller tells a short story to explain how his feelings towards his wife have changed over time:
“When [my wife] Kathy first held my hand, it was an almost electrical thrill. Thirty-seven years later, you don’t get the same buzz out of holding your wife’s hand that you did the first time. But as I look back on that initial sensation, I realize that it came not so much from the magnitude of my love for her but from the flattery of her choice of me. In the beginning it goes to your head, and there is some love in that, but…there is no comparison between that and what it means to hold Kathy’s hand now, after all we’ve been through.”
You probably don’t need thirty-seven years of marriage to know Keller’s spot on here. Anyone who’s been in any sort of relationship knows that feelings between two people wane from time to time. Your best friends right now are the ones who’ve stuck around, not the ones who were simply the most fun when you met. Those friendships have changed and evolved over time, and my guess is you’d say they are more precious to you today than they were at their inception. Love grew in a place where love didn’t exist before.
Assuming for a moment we all affirm this to be true…why then do we so often come to God expecting the same electricity we felt at the beginning, when we first came to know Him? It seems that too many of us never move beyond this initial stage of relationship with the Father. We get caught up in the flattery of having been chosen by God, and the beauty of election becomes little more than a gust of ego gratification for our souls; we cheapen God’s grace because we’ve fallen in love with a feeling rather than a promise. In effect, we become amateur lovers, stuck in a moment we can’t get out of, trying to recapture the magic of our youth when the wild, uncharted territory of maturity awaits us.
This is what coming to know God is like. At first we are overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of grace, and we feel as though we have lightning pulsing through our veins. Eventually, though, we come to find that these emotions were the spiritual equivalent of puppy love: certainly real enough to us, but lacking the substance that characterizes true love. And certainly there is a time and place for infatuation in relationship. But at some point, that feeling is set aside for an even bigger prize. Love longs to go deeper, not to recapture a feeling and feel it forever. This is mature love, and it is the kind of love our Father harbors for us and invites us to partake in.
Don’t settle for one date with God. Better yet, don’t let your feelings dictate how you go about your day! This Gospel is too important to be passed over because we found it too difficult for our liking. Press into God today, and watch what He does next.