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The Silent Test of First Love
January 1, 1995
Dear Friends in the Faith,
This letter goes out to each of you who the Lord has kept in my heart after so many years of past relationship. How and why the Lord has knitted us together remains a mystery. Nevertheless, in keeping with this, I feel bound to still write you on the occasions when something impresses my heart in a particularly strong way. So unless you've been without paper for 5 days and are in a dire hurry to light your wood stove with this letter, I hope you will take the few minutes needed to read it. The message may kindle something far more important than your stove.
What I want to say to you is nothing new, yet it is now more important than ever. As John said, it is the message "we have heard from the beginning." I hope you will let it sink in despite its basic familiarity. Let me prelude with these thoughts:
I believe we are all at a very critical place in our personal walk with the Lord as well as in church history. Most of us are at that place where our original zeal for the Lord has greatly burned out. Having followed the Lord for a fair number of years, we've pretty much seen all there is to see of the church world. Meanwhile, we've tested out and drawn our conclusions about all the doctrines and spiritual issues that affect us. It seems there are no new issues, no real new movements, and no further significant revelation.
We've reached a ceiling in all there is to apprehend. Everything begins to look alike and sound alike. "If you've seen one church, you've seen them all. If you've discussed one issue or heard one revelation, you've wrestled with them all." We feel like we have encountered all the work God has done in man that it is possible to encounter.
Yet in our hearts we know there is more. There has to be. We even have a sense that this "something more" is on the horizon, even at the door. Yet it has not come to us. It's at this point that I believe the Lord has brought us to a very great watershed of testing. And I believe whether we pass this test has a lot to do with whether we are carried into the next realm.
What then is the test? Simply, it is the test of first love. It is the test of abiding in the Lord. It is the test of enduring intimacy with God the Father when there is absolutely nothing else to motivate us spiritually.
Let me explain what I mean. During the heat of growing in the Lord—as we grapple with issues, movements, revelations and oppositions, there's a certain dynamic that arrests our attention and keeps our interest in God alive. (Some of you are still in such situations where the heat of adversity is galvanizing your faithfulness.) In such seasons, there is always something or someone to talk about!
It is during such times that most of our tightest spiritual relationships are formed with others. Those we meet during our seasons of mutual conflict become strong allies with whom we develop a certain bond. Think about it. The strongest and closest friends you have today are probably those with whom you have shared the greatest testing over particular spiritual issues, church crises, and personal temptations.
As I survey the history of my relationship with each of you receiving this letter (a history spanning anywhere from 5 to 20 years), I note that I came to know all of you during my most intense period of spiritual struggle and conflict, a conflict in which you have shared to one degree or other.
But that was then. This is now. Life has cooled down. Over time everything has become very quiet. So what happens once you have fought all there is worth fighting over? What happens when there are no more "new issues" to stimulate fellowship because all issues sound alike after so many years?
The truth is that, without all the excitement of new matters to rivet our attention, we lose interest—in the Lord, and in each other. In fact, we are in a major church-wide state described by Paul Cain as "divine boredom." In this season, we are stripped of the natural interest that stimulates our growing relationships with God and with one another.
This leads to the question: What happens to us spiritually once all the factors of interest that first galvanized our fellowship are gone? What is our relationship with God finally made of when all spiritual stimulation is removed? And what of our relationships with one another? What is there to keep us together or provide a point of reference for fellowship once every issue around which fellowship can be generated becomes boring?
This, my friends, is where I believe we are at a critical juncture of silent testing. This is the test of first love. When everything else has been said and done and gone, when the newness is worn off and the strength for any more struggle is burned out, do we still have a place of intimacy with the Father? Do we continue to cultivate and abide in that place? Not only so, but is such intimacy all by itself able to provide us a place of mutual fellowship?
Can we spend time together in the quietness of the Lord's presence—without something to talk about, without some revelation to impart or point of issue for discussion? Or is our relationship only crisis-deep, issue-deep, and revelation-deep after all? Is intimacy with God unable to give us an incentive to want to be together and just sit at His feet for the sake of it?
My purpose in asking these questions is not to condemn, but only to hold a mirror to us for our self-examination. During a recent trip, I had the rare opportunity to visit with a number of my old friends in far flung areas, friends with whom I have shared together in past battles that led to our relationship. But as I shared the company of each, I received the distinct impression that for us to have some mutual intimacy-based time with the Father was somehow "foreign" and would be an "intrusion" upon our time together.
There were plenty of "old hat" things to talk about—some issues, some revelation, and some other relationships— all now so dry and having outlived their meaning for generating our fellowship. Yet somehow, I felt a bit "embarrassed" inwardly over the simplicity of proposing that we just have some quiet time before the Lord together—without having to "minister" anything. I felt that to have proposed such a thing would have disturbed the "flow" of everything else going on because no one was really predisposed to having such a time of intimacy. The thought of some quiet time with the Lord simply did not seem natural.
So we must ask ourselves—what is our fellowship really made of? What is the state of our first love and intimacy with Christ? Are we enduring at cultivating such intimacy, or is it that life now just goes on for us as usual since there is nothing more to arouse our interest in the Lord and in sharing His fellowship together?
Again, I believe this is the silent but all-determining test to which we have been brought as a people in this hour of the church age. It is like the silent test that was given to Gideon's army as they lapped water from the brook. At a most inconspicuous moment, they knew not they were being tested. Yet all those who failed the test assumed to that time they were ready for the battle. Sorry. They had to be sent home.
And what is it we then are assuming about our readiness for that next realm? Does our past zealous faithfulness during the fires of conflict qualify us for what's ahead? Or is it perhaps the silent test of abiding in the devoted love of Christ after the fires cool?
In the Matthew 25 parable about the ten virgins, we read that all the virgins were asleep when the bridegroom came. Had we written the parable, we might have said that the 5 foolish virgins slept while the 5 wise virgins stayed awake. After all, in light of all that the scriptures say about alertness when the Lord comes, that would have made sense.
But no. Jesus said all the virgins were asleep. I believe the sleep was the "divine boredom" we have been talking about. It represents the absence of motivating issues that would have served to keep the virgins awake. It shows a church that has come to the place where there's nothing more to talk about because everything spiritual has finally become "old hat"—the scriptures, prophecy, revelation, issues, doctrines, churches, movements.
All the virgins were bored. They had seen it all. There was nothing new to talk about. All original activating forces to spiritual ministry were gone. So what separated the wise from the foolish?
I believe that the wise virgins were those who retained and cultivated their intimacy in the Lord even when there was nothing more to challenge their natural interest in God's workings. These never lost their first love nor departed from it when the more exciting contests came along. When issues were hot, they never allowed the concerns at hand to displace their supreme interest in the Lord. And when the issues died away and boredom set in, their loss of natural interest didn't lead to their loss of interest in the Savior. Whether life was hot or cold for them, they never ceased cutting out a secret place for the Lord in their lives.
You are all obviously aware of how little I have to write these days. That's because I've said about all I have to say and I have nothing more to add. In myself I have come to that place of "divine boredom." Even when I do have something new to say, I become quickly uninterested with it as with everything else spiritually.
But though I feel emptied of any previous fire I may have had for the Lord, I pray that I will not depart from my first love. In recent days, all I've heard is one word from the Lord, "Abide in me..." Even since my last letter when I posited for you all the possibilities for our next direction, the Lord has simply said, "Don't worry about it. Don't give it any more thought." So this is where we are, friends.
Because this is where we are, and I also know it to be true of many of you, I write to encourage you not to abandon first love any further, and to rekindle it wherever you may have lost it. I want to see us all pass the silent test. But I fear we might not all pass. So I write you to motivate you to come back to "square one" with me.
Let's re-establish our walks with the Lord and with each other on the foundation of intimacy with Christ—not on our memories of the battles we have fought together or even the happenings, issues, and revelations of past and present—all of which have become old and moldy anyway. Let's not be embarrassed to simply get together to love on the Lord. "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." (Hosea 6:3)
written from Merrimack, New Hampshire
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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